Tag: law (page 1 of 2)

Is Evangelical Christianity The Antichrist?

There is great speculation in regards to the reality and essence of the antichrist. Differing descriptions are given throughout the Bible, many of which have been leveraged by Hollywood-style dramatization. Be it a real person or government— many entities or a singular manifestation, the one thing that holds all viewpoints in common is the clear presence of an anti-Christ spirit that stands against Jesus in action, word, and creed.

For many, the predominant conclusion is that the antichrist is some kind of carnal, sin-dripping, non-believing, God-hating entity from the world that desires to thwart all things Christ, especially when viewed as a singular, eschatological figure. Popular, individual candidates have been Hitler, Obama, Caesar, and Napoleon.

For those Christians who paint with a broader brush, identifying the antichrist is centered on looking for the brightest blip on the radar screen of organizations, ideologies, and cultural realities believed to be wielding the most anti-christian, sin-seductive activity in the world. Homosexuality, ISIS, and liberalism have been frequently declared as primary contenders.

Bottom line, whoever or whatever is determined to be deserving of this diabolical label, the “antichrist” serves as yet another “they” or “them” that fundamentalists can rage against and leverage with fear for the conversion of souls.

It all seems so cut and dry, does it not? Revealing the antichrist is simply a conservative Christian, finger-point away.

Not so fast.

If you asked Jesus to cast a spotlight, revealing a person or people who are best qualified for the antichrist label, He wouldn’t bull’s-eye a demonic candidate from the sinning world, not even a Herod, a Pontius Pilate, or the likes of a Roman Empire— though all certainly anti-Jesus in their own way. Rather, His eyes would gaze straight into the heart of the religious, as they have pierced many times before.

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.”  –Matthew 23:15

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.  In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”  –Matthew 23:17-28

In the same way, I find it interesting when examining the primary biblical descriptions used by conservatives in determining the antichrist, or a spirit thereof.

“Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction”  -2 Thessalonians 2:3

“By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.”  1 John 4:2-3

On the surface, it would seem these two passages serve as a slam dunk for conservative Christians in the identifying of the antichrist as a worldly, liberal, pantheistic, wayward, sin-loving, Jesus-debunking, progressive-minded entity who dwells outside of their Christian fundamentalism.

However, a deeper look reveals something much different.

First, the “lawless” person described in 2 Thessalonians is widely misunderstood. It’s a reference often used by conservatives as a clear determination that the antichrist is one whose lifestyle is characterized by licentiousness and a blatant disregard for doing what is right and good in the eyes of God. Therefore, the antichrist is easily revealed by their disobedient, sinful, morally rebellious actions. Find a person or reality that is living or advocating choices of sin, and there you have it— easy peasy, lemon squeezy, you’re the next contestant on “The Antichrist is Right.”

However, “lawlessness” can’t be referring to the Law or fulfilling any kind of legalistic, moral standard or spirit thereof through personal performance, as Paul declared, we are “under Grace, not Law.” In fact, it is under this Grace that Jesus flips the tables of religious thinking and ushers in a radical new way of calibrating our life and living, turning our attention fully away from any efforts to appease God (Law) through our faithfulness, to a focus on simply loving people (a life of Grace).

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” John 13:34

The truth is, if there is any kind of “law” in our lives, under Grace, it is solely to love people— completely, thoroughly, and unconditionally. This is to be the singular, exclusive focus and foundation of any impulse or action in our Christian lives.

Being “lawless” isn’t adopting a life of moral rebellion or missing the mark of Christian obedience, but rather, becoming a loveless person. For to be lawless, is to be loveless. Period.

Second, the passage from 1 John 4 focuses on Jesus and His manifestation of God— in other words, the author is appealing for a firm understanding of who Jesus is and what He brings.

For conservatives, this passage, and others like it, are wrapped as clear admonitions that an antichrist label can be firmly affixed to anyone or anything that doesn’t properly repent of their sins, turn to Jesus as their salvation, and sandblast their lives into moral, conservative purity.

This is the very essence of the Evangelical gospel of who Jesus is and what He brings— the world is bad, people are a project, and we have exclusive revelation and rights to the solution. Believe in our Jesus, repent of our list of sins, become discipled in our “sin recovery and management” programs, agree to stand against all the things we stand against as you learn to spiritually police a wayward world, and adopt our elitist lifestyle of “hating the sin and loving the sinner” all while you sing choruses of how “on fire” and “radical” you are for Jesus— hands in the air of course.

Oh, and one more itsy bitsy, wee-little thing. If you don’t subscribe to this playlist, our same people-loving Jesus will drop-kick you into the eternal barbecue pit down under where somehow you will be separated from an omnipresent God to be tortured forever as people in heaven high-five with rousing hymns of “He is Holy and Just.” Not to mention, we will be forced to draw the only conclusion available—since you are anti-us, you are obviously anti-Christ. We love you, we really do… but.

The problem is, that’s not the Gospel. That is not who Jesus is and what He brings.

Jesus is Grace, and Grace is the Gospel. It’s all Grace.

There is only Grace. Period.

This is the divine, cosmic assertion from the megaphone of heaven that rings salvation to the broken and torment to the religious.

Through the cross, it’s all one-and-done. Salvation, for all. Wholeness, holiness, sanctification, righteousness and justification, for all. New creation life, without blemish or condemnation, for all. Grace, love, acceptance, and affirmation, for all.

None are better, only different. Grace, the great equalizer—lifting the condemned, deflating the condemners, writing us all onto the same page and into the same plot— rendering all our performance as irrelevant to the leveraging of God, and ourselves over and above another.

Salvation isn’t something you get, sanctification isn’t something you become, holiness isn’t something you achieve, it’s who you already are and what you already have, because of Jesus.  And faith— your effortless, beautiful awakening to all this, that Jesus has fully furnished and finished on humanity’s behalf.

As you believe it, you feel it, you desire it, and you live it. Grace upon Grace. Breathing for the first time.

There is nothing left to do, only everything to believe— God is love, Jesus is Grace, and His Gospel is peace.

It’s as simple and good as that.

Everything else is just a spiritual veil to an empty life— a vaping of the Law as if it’s the Gospel, inhaling death as if it’s life.

The most anti-Christ thing one can believe is that God is anything but pure love, Jesus is anything but Grace, and our lives should exhibit and manifest anything but unconditional love for all people— no “ifs,” “ands” or “buts.”

The most anti-Christ thing one can do is to look to our efforts, however spiritual they may seem, and believe any of it actually works with God or ourselves— brainwashing people into a life of spiritual striving and a subtle positioning of oneself as better than another, having the capacity and even a calling to judge, change, or condemn.

That, is to believe and do what is pure evil and anti-Christ.

For the message of Grace takes the Law and sin so seriously that it bows down its entirety to the sobering reality that no one can summon the will nor apply enough spiritual “to do’s” to master or manage it. It takes Jesus so seriously, that no bible, denomination, organization or person can perfectly reveal the Father but Him. It takes Grace so seriously, disarmed by the awareness that nothing else works to change or empower. It takes God so seriously, that love is all He is and all He brings, exclusively and completely. It takes the Christian life so seriously, that all we can, and are capable and called to do, is to simply love, as God first loved us, without condition.

It’s Jesus + nothing, or your gospel is nothing but anti-Christ ladened, bad news.

Yet sadly, as much as I love all my Christian brothers and sisters and wish my observations and experience could surmise a different conclusion, I can’t identify a more Jesus-misrepresenting and loveless manifestation on earth outside of Evangelical Christianity— whose blatant hallmarks are a law-mixed, performance-driven gospel, legalism, judgementalism, bigotry, discrimination, condemnation, and spiritual elitism— all in the name of Jesus.

Disgusting.

To be sure, for some, they are unaware of what comes in the Evangelical to-go box from which they consume. For others, they do not subscribe to all the artificial adding and fillings immersed in this brand of faith —doing their best to eat around it. In that way, the term “Evangelical” will always be imperfect in its use. For that, I apologize.

However, if your are looking for the antichrist or its spirit among us, before you go pointing fingers, perhaps a mirror would best do. Somewhere along the way, we have too open our eyes to the heights from which we have fallen.

What is and has been the primary catalyst behind the uprising of rampant prejudice in America and beyond?

What is turning more generations of people away from Christianity and the person of Jesus?

What keeps more people from loving freely without restraint, restriction, condition or apprehension?

What has caused more people in the LGBTQ community to lose hope, spiral into depression, and even hang a noose to take their own lives?

What has marginalized, minimized, and deprived more women of their equal rights, status, gifting, calling and capabilities within the faith community and all of life?

What has enticed and imprisoned more people into a life of sin and hypocrisy through the proclamation of the Law and the mixing of it into the Gospel?

What has personified God more as an angry, vengeful, schizophrenic drunk who storms out of heaven to love you one moment and hate you the next?

What has done more to turn “church” into a club of pretentious people who talk amongst themselves and judge the world?

What has inspired this great nation, from our birth all the way into our present, to justify more acts of violence, hatred, privilege, and greed?

One answer: Evangelical Christianity

Behind every legislation of discrimination, transgender suicide, homophobic rant, sin-enslaved  human, dechurched follower, and disillusioned Christian is the touch of Evangelical Christianity, in part or whole, directly or indirectly. This is the print our steps are making and the legacy we are leaving— a ministry of emotional, spiritual, and physical death pimped as the way, truth, and life.

Oh how we Christians have become experts at not only missing the point and the plot, but missing the very people and creeds contributing most to the sabotaging of all that is truly Jesus and what He brings.

Look no further, it is us, we are the “they”— the fallen from Grace.

Perhaps, of all that would seem to be so easily anti-Christ, we are the most anti-Christ of all— loveless, Graceless, and therefore, Jesus-less— addicted to our self-requiring Gospel and a love filled with conditions, the very attributes that Jesus discerned and declared as most anti-Himself.

What Has Your Christianity Done To You?

There’s a diabolical way Eskimos kill wolves. Taking a long knife, they coat the blade with frozen blood, placing it upwards in the snow. The wolf smells the blood, feverishly starts licking. As the blood-sickle numbs the wolf’s tongue, their clueless to the moment the razor-thin edge slits it wide open, shifting the animal to consuming its own blood unaware. Doing so, in a frenzy of oblivious delusion, the wolf literally drinks itself to death. What tastes like it’s yielding life, is actually ending it.

Look in the mirror. There’s blood all over our mouths. Dripping down.

Not just your mouth, but your hands, your feet, you heart, your soul. The outside sees it, smells it. Don’t you? Like rag-shirted zombies that think they are alive, believe they’ve been resurrected. Groaning, moaning, needing someone to devour. The walking dead.

What’s happen to you? What’s happen to us? The people we’ve become.

These words, not trying to be destructive, just trying try be descriptive. This is life and death.

Most Christians don’t even realize what their Christianity has done to them.

Hard to see it, even harder to say it. But, you’ve become a monster.

Not just you, all of us.

Look at ourselves. The heights from which we have fallen.

In the Garden of Eden, it was enough that God is love, you were fully human, created in His image to fully love. It was as simple, complete, and beautiful as that. Nothing to add. The Gospel of the Garden. Life as it’s intended. Everything to enjoy. Freely loved, freely loving. Bliss upon bliss, heaven forever. The ultimate life. An eternal flow of endless loving and being loved, all without limits, without restriction. Seated high, only shadowed by the angels. Imagine the freedom, the release to love expansively. The forever smile that reality painted on our souls.

But then, numb to the scheme, we fell for the Law. We bit the lie that there are conditions. Conditions, limitations, expirations to being loved and to loving. It’s not free, to give or receive, nor is it to be freely given or received. Lies upon lies, licks upon licks, swallowing the evil whole. In so doing, in our condition-believing, we didn’t become more human, we actually became less. Our souls slit wide open. Our hearts bleeding. Our fall from Grace, by falling for the Law. Confusion set in. What felt like distance from the Divine, was all in our minds, not God’s heart. That’s what conditions do, they taste like life, but are sure death. Projecting onto God a reality that is not His, not ours, not anyone. God didn’t go there, we did.

Jesus came to reveal, to lift the veil, to change the mind, to sober the trance. To awaken us to what has always been, that God loves humanity as if the Law never existed. In His heart, the timelessness of eternity, conditions never have. No fine-print, demands, or a distance. From Moses to Jesus, God’s ardent revelation to humanity of the dance-of-death created by the futile pursuits of human performance and God appeasement. It doesn’t work. The diabolical drama of the Law, with all its systems and calculations, is not just undoable, it’s errant. A wrecking ball, a blade in the snow to all that is truly God and life giving. Jesus, revealing God as Law-fulfilled, condition-less. For if the Law, in writing or Spirit, were inerrant there would be no Jesus, the Word, the Way, the Life.

In fact, the only two people in Scripture that Jesus proclaims are people of “great faith,” were both Gentiles, not Law-conscious, condition-believing Jews. One was a Roman and the other a Canaanite. What they had in common wasn’t an off-the-chart spiritual record, it wasn’t some laser-like capacity to point out sin. It wasn’t even church-attendance or ardent-worship awards. Rather, what was intrinsic at their core was that both of them had no awareness of the Law, no sense of a God of conditions, none at all. They shared the untainted, un-seduced clarity of mind and heart to see and believe in God as He truly is. Their “greatness” of faith was in direct correlation to their awareness of the “greatness” of God’s unconditional love. These weren’t conditions to God-relationship that were being pushed aside, overlooked, or covered over. In the framework of their God perspective, there weren’t conditions at all. Jesus sees this, their eyes-wide-open awareness of the true nature and heart of God, and declares, “Now these guys, they get it.”

Later, when Jesus points us to the spearpoint of God’s Old Testament intention, the summation of all that can be summed up, He pleads for one thing, genuine God-love and the loving of our neighbor as we love ourselves.

Don’t be duped by your Christianity. In these words, Jesus isn’t pushing for us to press into the Law, meeting more conditions and expectations, getting more religious and ambitious. Actually, He’s begging you to see the imprisonment that comes with it, and our forever release from it. As if it never existed. That Good is good, and His love endures forever.

For how can you truly love without reservation, believe without inhibition, with complete mind, heart, and soul, in a God of conditions? How can you truly love anyone, in any way, with love-limitations? You can’t. If it’s not unconditional love, it’s not love at all. If it’s not an unconditional God, it’s not God at all. It’s Satan’s slick substitution… religion. That’s what you’re feverishly licking. Drinking death, believing it’s life. You’re not loving God and people, you’re religion-ing God and people, and calling it life in Christ.

Jesus is yearning from the depths of His being for our return to being fully human…

Fully human… awakening to the awareness that you are unconditionally loved by God who is nothing but love.

Fully human… loving humanity without condition, without restraint nor reservation.

Fully human… seeing the goodness, the divine hand in all God has created.

Fully human… embracing our release from the Law is if it never existed.

Why? Because Jesus knows, only then do we have the capacity, the freedom, the genuine desire, the rest within our mind and heart from which to truly see Him and therefore to truly love Him, manifesting that love to ourselves and to others. A rebirth, a new creation, a new species, a return to being fully human.

Free to be loved fully, free to love fully. No brake pumping, no leash pulling, guilt tripping, fear mongering, no if, ands, or buts.

This is heaven come down, to love lavishly as you are lavishly loved. To see no conditions, to give no conditions. No governor on the love accelerator. No chains, no ceiling, no amount that it is “too much.” Grace upon Grace, upon Grace, upon Grace, all the more. More and more love, as far as the eyes, the heart, and the mind can see.

Free at last, free at last, thank God, we are free at last.

God created you to be fully human.

But that’s not what you’ve become, that’s not what your Christianity has done to you. Not to you, not to us.

We’re not fully human, our Christianity has made us into something far less.

We’ve made God into a schizophrenic drunk, storming out of a bar, wrapping His arms of love around you one moment, sending His son to secure the world’s salvation, only to drop-kick countless souls into a hell of eternal torture, while singing choruses of divine justice and holiness, with beer steins raised, as He winks at you with a grin in His eyes. He’s no more than the elf on the shelf, watching, judging, waiting for that opportune moment to push humanity under His thumb and yank us all back from too much happiness. Never knowing when you might push Him too far and dislodge the pin of His wrath-grenade. His love is the warm-up band, the appetizer for the main thing… your repentance, allegiance, rule-keeping, and good behavior. Don’t give Him what He wants, you don’t get what He’s got. The valves are turned off, the supply is sanctioned, and a blockade is formed, welling up to an eternal separation of fiery, skin melting despair.

You don’t need Hollywood to know that anything with more than one head, one heart, one vision is a monster.

This is what we’ve done. All of us.

Turned God into a monster, a two-headed, two hearted, two-visioned monster. A crazed, conflicted god who loves… but.

Sadly, the very image we’ve made of God, is very the person, the very people we’ve become…

Sure, you love people… but. There’s always a “but.” “But” this, “but” that. Your “Sir Mix-A Lot” version of love sings, “I like love with big ‘buts’ and I cannot lie.” Always with a condition, some kind of spiritual fine-print. A loop hole, a way out. Checkpoints here, checkpoints there, gotta make sure it doesn’t go too far, too soon. Grace is dangerous, you just can’t go around giving it to everyone and anyone. Always stopping short of acceptance and affirmation, as if yours are the hands that wield God’s stamp of approval. Your love is labeled, compartmentalized, predicated to those who are willing to subscribe to a terms of agreement. Dished out for free, but with silverware you have to pay for. Your love is not love at all, it’s a monster. And we, the walking dead, devouring whole groups of people… enemies, people with whom we disagree. Races, genders, gay people, transgender people, the rich, the poor. Killing countless with the poison we are pimping as love. Casket, after casket, after casket.

Sure, you have faith… but. There’s always a “but.” You just can’t let go of your addiction to the sound of your own performance. To-do lists, rules to keep, sins to overcome. It’s all so flesh intoxicating. Building your kingdom, your own following, your own story of success. Jesus and you, changing the world. Sounds so spiritual. Trying to line it all up, to fruit-up the vines, all to convince yourself of what you are not; that you are lovable, valuable, qualified, and worthy, as is. Dare I say, forgiven, equal, and whole. Nothing to improve, heal, or reconcile that Jesus hasn’t already. The self-righteousness is bleeding out of your every pore. All your hand raising, money giving, engraved Bible studying, self-promoting, enough is never enough. So much going on with your lips, but your heart, it’s restless. More and more to do, to become, to improve, to achieve, to show. Building your tower to God, calling it faith and faithfulness. Like Mary in the scriptures, making sandwiches Jesus never ordered. To believe is to rest. But on the bed of rest, you will not rest. You got to have some skin in the game, a security blanket of your own weaving. Jesus is not enough. The cross not finishing. His Grace, not sufficient. With every striving and trying, doing and performing, your proclamation of un-faith. Hoping to sign-up the world to chase with you on the this endless treadmill of spiritual, hypocritical exhaustion, praying they won’t see it’s all one big veil to an empty life. Your Christian life is no life at all, it’s a monster. And we, the walking dead, devouring people into this slow death of spiritual futility disguised as faith.

Sure, you have Grace… but. There’s always a “but.” We need to have a balance. It’s just can’t be all good news. God’s not soft, He’s rock-sovereign. Condemnation, sin-deciding, it feels so right, so good, so leather-bound biblical. Bringing another low, putting them in their place. Discipline, confronting, punishment. Positions, platforms from which to look down. The Bible says… the Bible tells me so. Verse quoting, debate engaging, enemy declaring. We gotta speak the truth in love, the proctologist who’s smiling so gently with his truth-finger up your rear end. Playing spiritual doctor, posturing yourself as the divine physician. As if your eyes can x-ray the disease, and you’re skilled enough to cure it, let alone, the one commissioned to do it. It’s all one big game of spiritual hide in seek in compounds with crosses on top. Talking amongst ourselves and judging the world. Spiritually navel gazing as we complain about how bad the world is, with thankfulness for how good we are. The Bible replacing Jesus, words about God trumping the Word of God. It’s all so convenient. Yet, all so irrelevant. The world and Jesus, just wants to spit it all out of their mouths. Your Grace is not Grace at all, it’s a monster. And we, the walking dead, imprisoning the very people Jesus has set free.

No one falls from the Law, you only fall from Grace, the summit of all that is God and all that is good.

Oh, how we have fallen, the decay that has set in.

We’ve swallowed the blade whole, numb to the death we think is life.

You call it a Gospel, but it’s no Gospel at all. It’s the worse news ever. That God loves you… but, that I love you… but.

That’s not heaven, that’s hell.

A two-headed Monster.

That’s what we have become, what our Christianity has done.

Religion creates the illusion you are experiencing and pleasing God when in reality you are hiding from Him and missing His heart.

We, who so boastfully declare to have it, have completely missed it.

They, the world, are not the monsters, the ignorant, the inhumane, the Godless… we are.

Most Christians don’t realize what their Christianity has done to them.

It’s about time we do.

Is Evangelical Christianity The Wizard Behind the Curtain of America’s Moral And Spiritual Decline?

I am not a fan of being on the communicating end of negative things. Most people don’t enjoy that role, I certainly don’t. As one who has to field a lot of critical knocks on my own door, I know what it feels like to be misunderstood, misrepresented, and criticized irresponsibly. So, as I write about things that are not so positive regarding Evangelical Christianity, I do so with much carefulness to avoid becoming a part of the problem, as I truly desire to be a part of the solution.

As I address issues related to Evangelical Christianity in this writing, I am well aware that many Evangelicals, many of which I have as close friends, have wonderful hearts, do great things for Jesus, and are not aware of any harm in which they may or may not participate by being connected intimately or in part to Evangelical Christianity. That was true of me when I was an Evangelical pastor. In fact, I would suspect many Christians who would fall into the category of “Evangelical” don’t even realize it, nor have they considered any negative ramifications to the beliefs they hold and the Evangelical culture thereof.

Yet, when I observe something so alarmingly and clearly wrong, harmful, and deceptive, I feel a responsibility to at least articulate what I see and believe. Not with a spirit of condemnation, but with one of deep concern. No one person or group is perfect. Certainly, not I. For so many years as an Evangelical, I didn’t realize what I was truly participating in and what its ramifications truly were in people’s lives.

From as early as my boyhood sand box experiences, I have learned that many of the people who are repeatedly pointing at problems and things they don’t like from an aggressive, self-righteous posture are often those themselves who have something to conceal. From the bully on the playground to the podium pounding preacher, behind nearly every harsh, judging, fear-inducing, intimidating, and problem-pointing finger is often a Wizard of Oz like coward hiding behind a curtain, concealing the real issues.

The overarching chorus of Evangelical Christianity for years has been that the world is bad, needs to repent, and become like them. They passionately declare their morals, beliefs, and standards are not only the foundation of America, but that which is needed to reverse, what is in their minds, a terrible, declining culture. There is an inner consensus among many Evangelicals that if people just believed, lived, and acted like them, America would be a much better place.

Spokespersons and leaders of Evangelical Christianity such as Franklin Graham almost weekly, make public statements repeating this rehearsed theme that the world is bad, needs to repent, and become more like them in adopted values and lifestyle. A prevailing sentiment seems to suggest that if we would just return to the days of “Father Knows Best” where everything was seemingly simple and clean, things would be so much better.

Many of these statements, communicated in many and various ways, are often textured with judgement, fear tactics, and condemnation of a world that, in their minds, is not so simple and clean anymore. The underlying message is, “we know best.” “We are right, you are wrong, we have it, you don’t; repent, turn to our Jesus, become one of us, or pay the price.” Like in a scene from The Wizard of Oz, from behind the curtain, as the room fills will smoke and the volume knobs of this rhetoric is turned up with deep, Darth Vader tones, many approach the microphone to communicate their displeasures and religious prescriptions at the world, all while declaring it to be “the Gospel.”

Years ago, this Evangelical wizardry was directed against divorce and remarriage, later the issue became blacks marrying whites, today it’s homosexuality and gay marriage.  All with the same battle cry, “we are right, you are wrong; repent, turn to our Jesus, think, believe and behave like us, or pay the price.” This has been the underlying missional/discipleship philosophy and posture of Evangelical Christianity for decades. “You are lost, we are found, our job is to get you to our Jesus and “disciple” you to think, believe, and behave like us.” The world is our project, people are a notch on the “got saved” belt. Baptism is an initiation rite, and membership is the entry way into our club.

Of course, it’s never articulated like that, but having been an Evangelical pastor for many years, I know this to be true. This is their Gospel, this is their “salvation,” this is the Evangelical “vision.” In Evangelical Christian produced movies, tv shows, concerts, churches, books, and alike, this is the flavor of Gospel being communicated.

Recently, many Evangelical Christians and leaders have turned up the heat on declaring that America is in desperate moral and spiritual decline. As they gaze out into the world and even within their own organizations and churches, they realize there is a growing number of people who don’t believe and behave as they prescribe. In their mind, the world has turned away from their brand of Jesus, Bible, and Church, and therefore is the cause of all things that are eroding our culture. With labels like “lost,” “sinner,” “progressive,” “liberal,” people who don’t fit their mold become the mission to change, and if resistant, become a kind of enemy.

Yet, like in the The Wizard of Oz, things are not always as they appear.

While smoke billowing Evangelical Christianity declares the world bad, those unlike them the source of blame, and the solution being to repent to their Jesus and learn to think, believe and behave like them, there is a coward pulling the strings behind a curtain. In fact, the one pointing fingers at all the problems in the world has in truth, ironically, become a major contributor to the existence of those problems. Yes, pull back the curtains and see for yourself, Evangelical Christianity is perhaps the greatest contributor to the moral and spiritual decline of America they so detest.

Now, this a bold statement that will surely offend many and likely cost me in relationships and otherwise.  But before you write me off, disown me, or label me a heretic, hear me out.

God is love. He loves everyone unconditionally. Love is not a characteristic or attribute of God, it is who He is. God can do nothing else but love.

Out of His nature, which is love, it is articulated in scripture that through Jesus (the personification of Love), the Old Covenant of Law given through Moses has been replaced with a New Covenant of Grace given through Jesus.

As one writer described, “you are not under Law, but under Grace.” Romans 6:14b

This is a cataclysmic, cosmic shift in how God relates to people and people relate to God.  Yet, Evangelical Christianity is super slow to the party.

It is a complete transition away from a conditional relationship with God and life that hinges on some level of our spiritual performance, and the ushering in of an unconditional relationship with God and life that is based solely on Christ’s performance. It is not just a move away from the letter of the Law, but the spirit of the Law as well. Let me repeat that, “it is not just a move away from the letter of the Law, but the spirit of the Law as well.” It’s not just Ten Commandments, Leviticus stuff, it’s any form of work, condemnation, judgement, performance expectation, condition, effort, or striving applied to any spiritual aspect of a person’s life. And let me add this, everything is spiritual.

The Bible in its reading and understanding must be interpreted through this covenant of Grace, whose personification is Jesus. This new covenant of Grace began at the cross.

Grace, with no mixture of the Law (or the spirit of the Law), received through faith, is the pure Gospel.  And Faith, it’s not a work, effort, or doing, it is a rest. It is not a spiritual performance, it is a spiritual awakening to what Jesus has already done, without your faith, worthiness, or participation. It is not “faithfulness,” it is “faith.” And that faith, a gift from Jesus as well.

Because of Grace, Jesus has not only done something  for all people, but also to all people. Beyond having peace with God for eternity, Jesus has made all people into a new creation. At the cross, humanity became a finished work. It was one and done. Period. Jesus didn’t just die as a human, He died as humanity. The old you, was crucified with Christ. Salvation (wholeness) has come.

As a new creation, you are the righteousness of Christ, holy, sanctified, forgiven (past, present, and future), justified, lacking no spiritual blessing. There is no work to be done on your life, you are completely complete. Grace has rendered spiritual growth as something you already are, not something you become or do. The Christian life is not about becoming something tomorrow you are not today through spiritual gymnastics, but about being more of who you already are because of Jesus, through believing. Your performance does not determine you identity, your identity determines your performance. Grace is the beginning and end of everything you are, do, and become. This is the Gospel, that your part is to realize you have no part, only believe. Anything less than this pure Grace Gospel, is Law.

With this in mind, writers in the New Testament, vehemently described how mixing this Gospel of Grace with remnants, portions, or vibes of the Law is not just false and damaging, but evil. Any form of condemnation, work, spiritual performance, earning of intimacy with God, intolerance, judgment, personal striving, finger-pointing, or communication of a God who loves conditionally is to mix the pure Gospel of Grace with Law and to render it a means of death not salvation.

“And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law. You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace” Galatians 5:4

For this writer, a minimal spiritual performance or act so innocent, symbolic, and simple as circumcision, reflected the presence of the Law and when mixed into a person’s life rendered them severed from Christ. Yikes!

Sadly, knowingly or unknowingly, much of what Evangelical Christianity presents to believers and non believers in regards to the Gospel, discipleship, and the Christian life is a mixture of “Law” at best, if not pure Law. Many of them declare unconditional love with conditions, spiritual growth through personal obedience, sin overcoming through sin management, discipleship through behavior modification and doctrinal unity, and the Christian life an increasing level of personal devotion to Christ. I don’t care how you slice it or how much lipstick you put on that pig, it’s Law, Law, and more Law.

What many Evangelicals declare as needing to have a “balance,” of Grace and Law, one can just hear many of the New Testament writers declaring, “bullshit!” Not because it’s fun to be vulgar, but because of the ramifications of a death cocktail mixture of Grace with Law. Mix the Gospel with any amount, however small, of the Law, and guess what you have? Law. Let me bake you a cake, and drop a wee-little speck of poop into it. Just a smidgen. Don’t worry, you won’t notice. It’s fresh out the oven, you going to eat it?

As one scripture writer discovered, the ministry of the Law is death and condemnation. (2 Corinthians 3:7,9)  That same writer also discovered that it is actually the Law that entices people to sin. (1 Corinthians 15:56) Yes, the Law… in letter or spirit is the great sin enticer; not pornography, Miley Cyrus, rap music, or Play Station.

See first, the Law in all its forms, in letter or spirit, condemns. Find me a person with a sin problem and I will have found you a person with a condemnation problem.

Second, the Law appeals to the flesh. The flesh, is not our evil lustful side as some would have us believe, it is actually when we attempt, through any kind of effort on our part to gain or receive from God something He has already freely given; salvation, forgiveness, intimacy, blessing, favor, righteousness, holiness, sanctification, and the list goes on and on.

This is a futile, evil endeavor. It’s a dead end.

First because God has already given completely that which is trying to be gained, and second, because you can’t gain, earn, or receive anything from God through your performance, effort, pursuit, pressing in, or actions, no matter how spiritual they may seem. To do so, is to fall from Grace and declare the cross as foolish and insufficient, and yourself as capable and worthy at some level or another. That is what it looks like to be deceived, to walk in darkness, to water-down the Law (as you think you can handle it), and therefore, to minimize and marginalize Grace (because you think you don’t completely need it). It is the height of anti-Christ. It is to be bewitched by another Gospel, which is no Gospel at all. And worst of all, it is to entice and imprison people to sin, hypocrisy, and a lifestyle thereof.

The Evangelical prescription for sin is at best, a mixture of Gospel and Law. God loves you, BUT… you need to repent (which in their mind, wrongly means “to change”). Do these spiritual things, apply these formulas, attend these groups, solicit this accountability partner, press into this experience with God, say this prayer, read this book, partner with Jesus, attend this conference, take these steps, believe these beliefs, be all you can be for Jesus, follow these rules etc. etc. Problem is, it not only all doesn’t work, it all makes things worse.

For much of Evangelical Christianity, the Gospel is “behavior modification” through some level of personal effort or spiritual performance. All of this, declaring the Law and packaging as the Gospel, and then wondering why people fall away and morals decline for both nonbelievers and believers.

If you take the Law seriously, if you take Grace seriously, if you take the consequences of mixing any amount of Law with the Gospel of Grace, it is clear that much of Evangelical Christianity has actually been prescribing the cancer, not the cure; at best, withholding the cure. Whether they realize it or not, they have been baking cakes with crap in it, and then wondering why people are getting sick, spitting it out of their mouths, and not getting any better. All while some of them have the gaul to sprout their spiritual feathers, get mad, bark their religious rants, throw up their hands, and act so disgusted (and surprised) when they see a nation that, in their minds, is spiritually dying. Of course it is! That’s what happens when one supplies the cancer as the cure. That’s what happens when you feed people cakes with crap in them.

A few years back, the Barna Research Group showed that the overall divorce rate among Evangelical themed denominations was between 27-34%, while the divorce rate among atheists… 21%.  Evidently, in our country, you have a better chance at having a holy, Jesus-like life out of church than you do in it.  If perhaps the largest Christian representation in America, Evangelical Christianity is engaging in the ministry of the Law, should we be surprised at the amount of spiritual decline we see in America? Should we be surprised that people are seemingly more enticed and imprisoned to sin now, more than ever? That’s what the Law does. Should we be surprised that Christians exposed to Evangelical Christianity don’t get better, and the world that is watching, has become disinterested and “done” with church.

The truth is, the spiritual prescriptions of  much of Evangelical Christianity entice and imprison people to sin, not free them. We can change nothing in ourselves or others. The Holy Spirit does that, and that through pure Grace, not Law or any mixture thereof. The very thing that many Evangelicals declare as too soft (Grace) is actually the one and only thing that has the teeth and grip to change anything.

As one scripture writer discovered, “For the Grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, teaching us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.” Titus 2:12

What teaches, what changes, what influences?  Grace.

Jesus mentioned that you can sense a certain amount of the quality of a spiritual thing by the fruit it bares.

Much of Evangelical Christianity has sadly produced… 1) selfish, consumer minded Christians who believe that “church” is about meeting their particular needs. Thus, Christianity isn’t growing but is actually in severe decline as believers are continually shuffling around to whatever church has the best show and better meets their needs 2) Christians who believe the Bible is equal to Jesus/God and place their understanding of it over standing with people and declare their particular understanding to be “truly biblical.” 3) churches where Christians mainly talk amongst themselves and judge the world, believing they’re right and everyone just needs to become right like them 4) celebrity pastors and leaders who franchise church, their egos, and a performance-driven, hyped up perversion of the Gospel. 5) churches that might welcome a sinner or two into their mix as they look down upon them as their “mission”, but don’t truly “want” them unless they clean up and adopt their values and beliefs. 6) Christians who believe the Gospel is a mixture of Grace and Law, Jesus does His part, but one needs to do their part, or else. 7) Christians and Christian leaders who believe their job is to point out sin in the world, and declare that God loves people so much that if they don’t say a certain prayer and clean up their act, He will justly throw them into an eternity of torture by demons, flames, and a desire to die that will never be granted; calling it all… good news.

In my humble opinion, no one is perfect, especially me, but that is no fruit.

I believe much of Evangelical Christianity, particularly those who embody a more judgmental, prideful, elitist, legalistic, and performance-driven Christian flavor would do well to repent (which really means to “change your mind”) about Jesus, the Gospel, love, bible, the Christian life, sin, and Church so that these areas and their understanding thereof reflect the pure Grace of God and the finished work of Jesus on the cross.

I believe much of Evangelical Christianity would do well to focus on modeling Jesus who is pure Grace and unconditional love. They would do well to stand with people over and above their biblical stances on the issues. They would do well to learn to rightly divide the word of God between the Old Testament and the New, interpreting all scripture through the lens of Grace as Jesus did.

They would do well to move away from “hating the sin and loving the sinner,” and just loving people, period. They would do well to let the Holy Spirit discern and change people, and instead, concentrate on doing their job, which is to love people, unconditionally. They would do well to direct their finger pointing to the loveliness of Jesus, not to the ugliness they deem to see in people. They would do well to trust Grace to do what only Grace can do, which is most everything they think they are capable of doing and charge everybody else to do.

They would do well to live from a posture of, “all of have sinned and fallen short” as Grace levels the playing field for everyone, and everyone needs Grace equally.  They would do well to stop marginalizing, labeling, belittling, and treating as second class citizens those who sin (in their judgment) differently then they do. They would do well to proclaim that God loves, accepts, embraces, favors, and blesses all people far beyond what they could ever imagine. He is not angry, vengeful, waiting to punish, or licking His lips to pour out wrath, but rather, His love is deeper, wider, stronger, and more generous and scandalous than they ever imagined.

They would do well to teach, preach, declare and manifest Grace, and Grace alone. Shout it from the mountain tops. Let every word drip with Grace. Then and only then, will any one person, group, country, nation, or world change.  This is the Gospel.

It’s all Grace, or it’s not the Gospel.

For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work… Romans 1:16

Awakening to Grace

The Grace of God has done something far more radical and marvelous than you probably realize, not because you are incapable of understanding, but because you have likely never been taught it. Yet, it’s the most profound, ecstatic truth in all of life!

In simple terms…  Jesus has done it all, your journey is to believe it all, as you do, you will live it all… effortlessly.

This is the essence of awakening to Grace.

The applications of this understanding are mind blowing and life changing, here are a few examples… I call them The Big Seven.

1) There is no more work to do on your life. 

On the cross, Jesus remade you into a new creation; whether you realize it or not, no matter what you have done or are doing with your life.  You are a finished work, a new creation. Completely done… finished, period, end of sentence.

He made you Holy, pure, righteous, sanctified, forgiven (past, present, and future) of all your sins, lacking no spiritual blessings, partaking in the divine nature, an heir and priest in the Kingdom, having all the fruits of the Spirit, Christ living in you and as you, that’s who you are. There is nothing left for you to do, you cannot improve on what Jesus has done to you. You Journey in Christ is not become something you aren’t now, but to “be” more of who you already are. That’s the essence of “Growing in Grace.” As you awaken to your true self, you will live your true self. Trying and striving to become a better person only makes you worse in the long run. You don’t become a better person, you become more of the better person you already are. It’s about His performance in what He has made you, not your performance in trying to make something of you. Faith is the key. As you awaken to it (the real you in Christ), you will live the real you.

2) God has nothing but pure Grace and love for you and everyone else. 

God is love, and nothing but love and Grace comes from the Father to you. There is no condemnation over you or anyone else for that matter. God accepts you, loves you, and believes in you. He is not angry or disappointed with you. You are loved unconditionally, without conditions.

On the cross, the Old Covenant system of a conditional, performance-based relationship with God was rendered null and void, we are now under Grace…an unconditional relationship with God based on His performance not yours. Jesus qualified you for every spiritual blessing. You are highly favored, and the gleam in God’s eyes. There is nothing you can do to stop God loving you. His full force love is unstoppable, unyielding, and unceasing. There is not limit, restriction, or restrain to His Grace. There are no additives or preservatives to His love and Grace, it is pure through and through. His Gospel is all Grace or it’s not the Gospel.  Awakening to His love is a process of growing in your willingness to increase the expanse of your perception of how truly deep and wide is the love of God for you and all humankind.

3) There are no “to do lists” in the Christian life.

God doesn’t need you to or demand you to “do” anything. Your greatest calling in life is to enjoy Jesus. Resting, and enjoying as He carries out His good work in you as He wills in you to act according to His purposes. You job is to realize you have no part, only to believe.

As you awaken to God working through your resting (trusting), He will move in and through you, effortlessly. Without strain nor stress. When we work (strive, force, muscle etc.) God rests, when we rest, God works.  There are no “to do” lists, only “to believe” lists. As you believe the promises of God to move, use and guide you, He will move, use and guide you. There are no “big things” to do in the Kingdom of God, there are no “revivals” to be revived. You are the “big thing” God has done. You are the revival.

You just go be you, doing what you love to do in ways that honor God and watch the world change, not because of what you “do” primarily but because of who you are. Stop looking for a “perfect will” or “perfect plan” for your life. You are God’s perfect will, you are God’s perfect plan. Awaken to who you truly are, who God truly is, and just live. Enjoy Jesus, and truly live.

4) Grace does what religion, rules, guilt trips, condemnation, fear tactics, “church,”  inspirational messages, accountability partners, church programs, powerful worship experiences, and “to do” steps never could, and never will.

Grace is the power of God to change, the only power of God to change.  Try everything else… resolutions, sin management, promises to “do better,” church involvement, spiritual disciplines, re-dedications, revivals, “going deeper in the Word,”and on and on, the only thing that truly changes anything and everything is… Grace

What the Law (or any mix of it) can only reveal, only pure Grace can change. People who awaken to pure Grace don’t sin more, they sin less. The law (or any mixture thereof) is death, pure Grace is life. Grace is what teaches us to live rightly; not rules, “church,” regulations, religion, etc.  No one has ever been made Holy through punishment. There is no punishment from God being applied to you, only kindness. God does not use fear, “to do” steps, messages to “do better for Jesus,” shame, guilt trips, nor condemnation to move you forward in life. God uses the only thing that works… Grace. Grace upon Grace. The job of the Holy Spirit in an unbelievers life is simply to convict them of their unbelief in Jesus. The role of the Holy Spirit in the believers life is to convince them of their righteousness! Grace wins. Everything else loses. Taste and see, the Lord is good, He is Grace.

5) You are no longer a “sinner.”

Our actions always follow our beliefs. If you believe you are by nature a sinner, what will you do more of? Sinning, duh!

Jesus understands this. That’s why He did much more than simply improving your life or renovating it. In fact, He put your old, broken life (the one you were born with) to death with Him on the cross and gave you His life. Truth is, it is not you who lives right now, but Christ living in you. In doing so, He gave you His nature, His identity, His posture and position. As He is, so are you in this world.

You are not a “sinner saved by Grace” you are a “saint sustained by Grace” no matter who you are and what you are or are not doing with your life. Your performance does not determine your identity, your identity (as you believe it) determines your performance. Rightly believing in your true nature and identity leads to right behavior, not the other way around. Find me a person who has a sinning problem, and you will have found me a person who has a identity problem.  Awaken to your true nature and you will live your true potential, nothing less than Jesus in this world.

6) Grace levels the playing field.

Everyone needs Grace, equally.  There are no sin levels or hierarchies. Sin is sin. God’s concern for sin is not in what it does to Him or our relationship with God. He has already dealt with that once and for all. God is not altered by our sin nor is our relationship with Him. Rather, God’s concern is the havoc in still creates in our life.

As people, we are in no position to judge, condemn, label, marginalize, or point our fingers at people with our perception of sin in their life.  The moment we do, we must do it to ourselves. If you marginalize another, you must marginalize yourself; label another, label yourself, condemn another, condemn yourself. There is no such thing as a “lifestyle” of sin that makes a person more guilty than merely a moment of it.  Either sin has been dealt with entirely by jesus in your life, or not at all. You have no management of sin in your life, only to believe and trust that Jesus has managed it already. Sin management under the spiritual disguise of “discipleship,” “maturity,” or “accountability,” are evil myths that appeal to our flesh and belittle sin into something we think can handle, manage, or overcome with a certain amount of effort on our part. Grace shows that sin is impossible to humanly manage, judge, or change. It levels the playing field to the place where all must take their hands of the “sin” steering wheel.

There is no room under Grace for focusing on the sins in our culture that are simply different from our own.  In fact, the only two times the Holy Spirit records that Jesus got angry were instances where people were withholding Grace instead of extending it to others.  Grace levels the playing field of biblical interpretation as we all realize that we need to be guided in all truth by the Holy Spirit, and under Grace, no one has the inside scoop to perfect, biblical interpretation. Besides, the Bible is not the fourth part of the Trinity, but has always been purposed on leading us into an encounter with the Trinity where He reveals Himself to us personally and newly. Grace takes away the legitimacy and place of the religious spirit and pride so prevalent in our Christian culture, rendering it powerless and useless. The more we awaken the leveling power of Grace, the more we are able to be Grace to all people and see His healing, changing work among us.

7) You are safe and secure in His arms.

You are saved by Grace, and by Grace alone. You cannot not outrun nor escape from His love. Only awaken to it, enjoy it, and live it. What He did for you and to you on the cross cannot be undone or redone. Regardless of your beliefs, choices, or feelings, God has decided to love you and change you, forever.  There is nothing that can separate you from His love. You cannot earn, merit, or keep His love intact. It is Grace.

Grace keeps you, wants you, and will not let you go. You can either awaken to it in belief, or reject in disbelief. Thus, it becoming either real to you, or foreign to you. Nonetheless, His furious love keeps reaching out that you might possess what He longs for you to receive… Grace.

Awaken to Grace. It has alway been, and always will be.

Pure Grace, nothing else. This is the real Jesus, the real you, and real life… Grace.

Wake up!

The Pharisees (Law-figures) in Your Life

“They bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by men; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues, and salutations in the market places, and being called rabbi by men. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brethren. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven.” (Matthew 23:2-9 RSV)

“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because you shut the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither enter yourselves, nor allow those who would enter to go in.” (Matthew 23:13 RSV).

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the Law, justice and mercy and faith; these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!” (Matthew 23:23-24)

The Pharisee in Your Proximity, History, or Family Tree

There are likely numerous modern day Pharisees (Law-figures) in your life, right now. They could be your parent, your coworker, your boss, your spouse, your child, your friend, your pastor etc.  They have the same main goal in your life as the Pharisees of the Bible. That is, to have influence and control over you, and to gain your conformity to their expectations. The Pharisees of the Bible have several characteristics that will help you identify the modern day Pharisees in your life right now. Here are some of the characteristics of the Pharisees in your life…

1) They are the ones consumed with expectations, rules (standards), regulations, and their way of doing things, and even more so with making sure you follow them, while not always following them, themselves. They are the law/expectation enforcers of your life; that is, their laws/expectations and ways of doing things. Their love, attention, acceptance, mood, and countenance are conditioned on your meeting of their expectations.

2) They are the ones who love attention and to be the center of it (usually having one of the loudest voices), often looking for people to follow/submit to their legalistic system of being and thinking. As long as you buy into them, are like them, and act and think like them, you are in. You will see them often having a flock of people whose common attribute is their willingness or desire to conform and be accepted by them, or who are simply cut from same clothe sharing the same system of thinking and being.

3) They are gossipers about other people, particularly about negative aspects of people’s lives. They enjoy pointing out people’s faults and shortcomings with a judgmental, grace-less spirit.

4) They are the ones who are always somehow right, love to have the last word, and typically have an answer to everything; often that make you feel ignorant, inferior, or needing their acceptance.

5) They are often hard (stubborn or unaffected) people, often carrying a stern, arrogant, untouchable, or disinterested posture where it seems you are never good enough, right, or worthy or their true respect. If you appear to come into their relational system of conditions, they will give enough softness to keep you interested, but where you do not comply, they will turn up their nose.

6) They are the ones who have a way of triggering your sense of guilt, shame, and condemnation, while being the ones you somehow feel like you need to please and earn their acceptance the most.

7) They are sometimes religious, pious appearing people, who use their beliefs to control and conform people into their system of thinking and being.

Oh Crap, it’s My Mom

O.k., now take a deep breath. You are going to be alright. You have probably already identified some people who fit into a lot of these characteristics. And what is most concerning is who these people are to you.  Chances are there is a family member in there, or a coworker, or a boss, a close friend etc.

Take a moment to continue to make a mental list of who the Pharisees are in your life right now. Why? Because how you are or are not dealing with them is having a dramatic impact on your life and probably the people you love.

Jesus repeatedly warned people of handling the Pharisees in their life with great care and caution, and so should you! He understood their potential, destructive hold on and influence in people’s lives if they weren’t vigilant.

Here are some critical things you should be doing with the Pharisees in your life.

The Big 5

1) Identify them for who they are.  No, don’t label them, but certainly see their behavior and way of relating to you for what it is. Somehow, we often feel obligated to love and even defend the Pharisees in our lives to a fault. This bizarre and twisted irony often leaves us unwilling to see their behavior for what it truly is, evil and destructive.  Furthermore, if it’s YOU that’s the Pharisee. See your behavior for what it is and turn to Grace to heal and give you a new foundation for life, living, and relating to people.

2) Identify the insecurity in you that is attracted to or codependent towards the opinion or expectations of them.

We all have insecurities and areas where we don’t measure up. We all need acceptance, love, and approval. Pharisees or more than willing to present you a way to strive to earn just that and to seemingly remedy the insecurities in your life. That is, to gain THEIR approval, acceptance, and respect.

See, the hard truth is, Pharisees exploit our insecurities and thrive on getting us to need their approval, have our submission, and seek their acceptance. It’s actually their way of justifying and gaining their own acceptance and approval.

Chances are in your family, workplace, or sphere of relationships, there is a Pharisee around which a group of people (maybe even you) seem to gravitate. Why? Because they (and/or you) are trying to gain the approval of a Law figure in their life so that they can feel valuable and worthwhile. Pharisees attract insecure people not because of their Graciousness, but because they present a system of earning ones way into acceptance as the way of healing their deep seeded insecurities. This is attractive to some because it replaces the love they do not have for themselves with a system of performance that makes it seem like they can finally  become secure and whole as a person. It is indeed a kind of family of acceptance they seek with the Pharisee, though founded solely on conditions, performance, and conformity. This relational system is evil, will not heal anything in your life, and will imprison you in the cell of your own insecurities and the never ending and always failing pursuit to heal yourself through a Law figure (Pharisee) in your life.

3) Don’t become like them.  Though the way they relate to you may have bewitched and seduced you into their sphere of control or influence, their system of relating and being ultimately does not work and falls on its face. All Pharisees are hypocrites as they can never meet the expectation themselves that they have and hold over others. Furthermore, their philosophy of influence with people and solving the deep problems in people ‘s lives only serve to put a bandaid on an ever cracking and leaking damn. They imprison the people they think they are somehow freeing by shackling them to the same religious, legalistic, guilt-motivated system that has imprisoned them. Indeed, miserly loves company. Trust Grace to be your supply and your solution. Trust it to work with people in all circumstances and situation. There is never a moment where Grace is not the right answer or response. Likewise, there is never a moment where the tenants and tactics of the Pharisees ever work, bring life, or the wholeness and security you seek.

4) Extend Grace without excusing their behaviors. If anyone needs Grace, it’s Pharisees. Unfortunately and often, the more you extend it, the more they reject it. Give it anyways, even if just to frustrate them. But don’t excuse their behaviors. Rather, confront them when necessary with confidence and calmness.  If you need to keep your distance, do so. Yet, always be willing to come to the table of reconciliation. Grace can change anyone, even the most sold-out Pharisee.

5) Turn to the Grace figures in your life beginning with Grace Himself… Jesus  What you are seeking or think you are getting in the Law figure(s) (Pharisee) in your life is what you can truly only get through the Grace-figure, Jesus. In fact, He is not just a figure of Grace, He is Grace.

Allow him to be your security, your justification, your acceptance, your approval, your worth, your value, your identity. Surround yourself with Grace-figures in your life. People who love you unconditionally, promote your freedom not control, stand with you, and have your best interests at heart. People who speak well of others, who give the benefit of the doubt, who forgive easily, and who lift up who you are, not who you aren’t.

 

Jesus loves Tattoos

Christians who harbor a religious, legalistic spirit love to tout what they are “against” in the world. I am sure some are well intentioned and simply want to be faithful, yet many live their lives examining the lives of others to see where they line up or don’t line up to their understanding of the Bible.

One such area some Christians stand against is the issue of tattoos.

It’s interesting to me that most of the bible passages people use to bash other people with for doing something they don’t agree with are often taken out of context. As the saying goes, “if you take the text out of the context, you will make a con out of the text.”

If you take a passage from the Bible out of context or don’t see how certain words have been translated over the course of time in interpretive ways, you can make the Bible basically say just about anything.

So let’s take a look at the one passage in the Bible that some believe deals with the issue of “tattoos” today.

Leviticus 19:23-28  “When you enter the land and plant fruit trees, leave the fruit unharvested for the first three years and consider it forbidden. Do not eat it. 24 In the fourth year the entire crop must be consecrated to the Lord as a celebration of praise. 25 Finally, in the fifth year you may eat the fruit. If you follow this pattern, your harvest will increase. I am the Lord your God. 26 “Do not eat meat that has not been drained of its blood. “Do not practice fortune-telling or witchcraft. 27 “Do not trim off the hair on your temples or trim your beards. 28 “Do not cut your bodies for the dead, and do not mark your skin with tattoos. I am the Lord.

Seems pretty straight forward right? “…do not mark your skin with tattoos.” Not when we come to understand that though all the Bible is written for us, not all of the Bible is written to us. Furthermore, to assume that what was meant by a term in its Biblical/historical context is what it should mean for us today is a very dangerous interpretive tactic.

Thus, the importance of context. This passage in Leviticus, including the surrounding verses, is specifically addressing the pagan religious practices of the people living around the Israelites.  The focus here is prohibiting cultic worship and witchcraft. God does not want them engaged in the same religious practices that could lead them away from trusting Him as the One true God.

Furthermore, check out verses 26-27, “Do not eat meat that has not been drained of its blood. Do not trim off the hair on your temples or trim your beards.” Obviously many Christians today eat meats and don’t groom like Sasquatch and in doing so are not participating in cultic worship and witchcraft. In the context of Leviticus 19, these customs were associated with pagan rites and rituals. Today they are obviously not.

Tattoos of today are dramatically different than they were for those of Leviticus 19 in purpose, meaning, and practice. Today, tattoos are an artistic means of self expression and bodily ornamentation. It would be nearly impossible to find a Christian today who doesn’t modify their appearance for beauty or expression in many ways such as fashion, makeup, plastic surgery, haircutting, coloring, tanning, weight loss, body-building, piercings etc.  Many of these practices were associated with false religions in Old Testament times, but in our context today, they do not create nor symbolize an automatic connection with evil or pagan religion. The context today is entirely different for us and for God.  Tattoos today do not link the wearer to cultic worship practices as they did in the context of the Israelites of Leviticus 19.

Yet another reason to believe all people, including Christians, are free to tattoo their bodies is that New Testament believers are not bound by the Old Testament ritualistic and purification laws in order to establish and maintain a relationship with God. If we were, we would also be shackled to rules that would restrict shellfish, pork, hairstyles, certain fabric combinations, and even eating cheese.

Some people feel that changing the body somehow defiles God’s creation. So, does piercing ears, correcting a physical abnormality, cutting hair, clipping our nails, getting a tan or using an orthodontist also defile God’s creation?

The fact that some Christians avoid getting a tattoo and project their belief about tattoos onto others because they are trying to impress God, maintain their relationship or good standing with Him, bolster their spiritual pride, or want to condemn or judge others is all the more reason why Jesus in fact loves tattoos. Religiously and legalistically spirited Christians love to try to find biblical perches from which they can stand over and against people. Fortunately, Jesus is the ultimate perch destroyer as He levels the playing field by making faith and the Christian life about His performance, not ours; His righteousness, not our religious rule-keeping.  Jesus especially love tattoos because now they represent the freedom He purchased for all people to live under Grace, not Law; His righteousness, not rule-keeping.

Getting a tattoo certainly isn’t for everybody, and anyone can use a tattoo to communicate things that are not good nor of God. But tattoos in and of themselves are not evil nor unfaithful.

The refusal to get a tattoo for so called “Christian” reasons  should be seriously examined for underlying spiritual pride, idolatry of religious performance, and legalism. The avoidance of getting a tattoo because “I want to be a faithful Christian” may just be a matter of Biblical misunderstanding or could very well be a spiritual veil to a life devoid of Grace.

 

Parenting from Grace- A true Story

The Gospel of God’s Grace is practical to all of life. Its impact changes everything, placing a new foundation under our feet from which to live.

God teaches in His word that we are renewed in our minds.  The Gospel changes our thinking and believing, and therefore our actions.

Yet, where the practical nature of the Gospel may seem easy to render into certain aspects of our lives, “parenting” seems to be an area where we wonder how to apply the Gospel of God’s Grace.  How do we handle issues in our children’s lives like sin, discipline, correction, consequences etc.  Can we trust Grace to truly work when for so long we have trusted so many other parenting approaches?

Before we get into these parenting issues through a true life story of parenting from Grace, it’s valuable to make sure we set forth some foundational things about the Gospel of Grace that will apply to our parenting.

1- Grace is not a license to sin.  Properly used, Grace will not teach nor encourage our children to misbehave, rebel, or choose to sin.

2- Grace does not necessarily remove consequences.  Not all consequences are punishment.  Furthermore, “reaping and sowing” is a principal that has application within the life we live under Grace and the New Covenant.

With that in mind…

A True Story

Our son Harrison is 14 years old and truly an awesome you man who loves Jesus and values so many good things in life. He is wise, caring, fun loving, mature, and passionate.  Not to mention, extremely smart and a beast on the soccer field. He is my pride ad joy, and we have been joined at the heart since birth.

As with any child, despite how awesome they are, each has their own quirks and areas of challenge.

For Harrison, his greatest parenting challenge has been to learn to communicate his feelings of disagreement, frustration, or anger without down spiraling into a huge temper tantrum, argument, or meltdown.  Over the years, this has been a repeated theme that at times can get very dramatic, to say the least.

I must admit, as a father, I have not always done a good job at setting the right example as my own temper gets caught in the mix as my frustration level over flows in a boil during these episodes.

Yet, since Harrison was much younger, we have struggled to find a way to turn this behavior around and set a new course.  Unfortunately, with little, lasting success. I don’t blame Harrison so much for his struggle through this issue, but much more myself for a lack of knowledge of the Gospel of God’s Grace and trusting it enough to apply it in my parenting.

However, I am so glad to be able to share with you that now there is much good news as things have taken a one-eighty turn around with Harrison and this temper kind of issue.

So, what has changed? What has made the difference?

Let me explain.

Up until recently, our main parenting strategy with Harrison and his temper issue has been one of rule-keeping, fear, and punishment as we address the behavior in our attempt to correct the behavior.  Each time, there would be a temporary compliance from Harrison, only to result in a reoccurring of the same behavior later.  After a period of negotiation and trying to defuse this situations, even the more harsh punishments that registered as being a very unwelcomed consequence to Harrison did little to curb the behavior in the long-run.  From taking away privileges to adding on huge inconveniences and stresses, nothing worked to result in true lasting change. In fact, not long ago, I established a written covenant of behavior expectations along with agreed-upon consequences should the covenant be violated. There were even agreed-upon expectations that applied to both Harrison and Amy and I as parents.  We all signed it and felt good about it. Yet again, it did not work for very long.

I think for most parents, to some degree or another, the main strategy of behavior modification in our children is ultimately through rules, fear, and punishment, all under the umbrella and foundation of love and loving discipline.  Like you, our heart is to teach our children right from wrong and to instill in them the values and character that will serve to bless and prosper their lives. To be sure, that seems like the standard mode of operation that Christian parents should be doing.

Yet, the way God parents us through the Gospel of Grace has some real wisdom for how best to parent our children. We live under a new covenant of Grace and so should our parenting.

This was the revelation that set my strategy with Harrison in a totally different direction. If God trusts Grace to work in parenting me, I should be able to trust Grace to work in the parenting of my son.

First, I realized if I parented Harrison (particularly his behavior problem) from a spirit of the Law, I should not be surprised when his disobedience increased instead of decreased.  This is the dramatic limit of the Law we find in scripture. It does a great job of pointing out what we can’t do, where the more we try, the more we are actually enticed to break it and fall short. It does nothing to making our behaviors truly better, but actually does everything to make them worse. God used the Law to introduce the power  and need of Grace. The old covenant based on man’s performance and rule-keeping that never worked,  led to a new covenant based on the performance of Jesus to destroy sin and death that worked perfectly.  The Law shows us we need Grace. Grace shows us the Law doesn’t work. God never intended nor designed the Law to be the solution, but rather Grace.

Second, I realized that all my emphasis on rule-keeping, fear, and punishment, though well-intentioned from a heart of love, was actually doing more to imprison Harrison to his rebellion instead of freeing him. In fact, the covenant we established with Harrison (mentioned earlier) was in fact a covenant of the Law, not Grace. No wonder why he couldn’t follow it, nor would it work to change behavior.

Third, I realized that I needed to trust Grace to change disobedience and to be the guiding influence to steer our children away from sin towards living rightly. Contrary to much of what we are taught about how to live the Christian life and help others to do the same, people governed by Grace are the most free and faithful of all. They sin less, not more.

Fourth, I realized I needed to speak from Grace to Harrison’s new-creation identity, not his rebellious behaviors. An obedience problem is always first and identity problem. Harrison needed to know who he is so he could see how his behaviors were foreign to himself, and not a reflection of his true nature and identity.

If all Harrison believed about himself is that he was a temperamental teenager unable to control his emotions and always prone to losing control as evidenced by his failures to live up to the rules, then  guess what Harrison would continue to do? Yup, keep misbehaving over and over, and over again.

So, here’s what I did.

After another long, meltdown episode of shouting, after I threatened to end his soccer season, I stopped myself, stepped up to the cliff side of Grace and took a step of faith. I went to the refrigerator door upon which our covenant of behavior was placed, took it down and in front of Harrison, I ripped it up. I told him that I would not remove him from the soccer team, I believed in who He was in Christ, gave him the details of how he has everything already within him to handle these situations much better, and that I trusted that from then on, he would carry himself differently when moments of potential temper flares presented themself. “You realize Harrison, all of these battles we have from time to time are not who you are, and that loss of temper and control of your emotions is completely foreign to the young man you are, newly created by Christ?” “You are not a young man of dishonor and disrespect for your parents”  “I love you and believe in you, and know that you will be able to navigate these moments better in the future.” “No son, there is no punishment tonight.” I hugged him and walked away.

He was speechless, and then proceeded to his room.  After several minutes, I walked up to check on him. He seemed very sad.

“You did hear what I said, right? You have your soccer season back.”

“Dad, that’s not what I want anymore, our relationship is more important. I was wrong, and have been disrespecting and dishonoring you and mom.” “You are right, that’s not who I am, I see it, and I believe it.”

“Well Harrison, lets close this chapter, I know things will never be like they have been again. You know who you are, and what you have in Him.”

As I walked back downstairs, Amy asked (not being around for the whole covenant-ripping and talk thing with Harrison), “What happened?” “What did you do about all this?”

I replied, “It’s God’s kindness that leads to repentance.”

Grace can, where everything else can’t.

Since then, we have had not one single episode. Even, when there was every opportunity to do so.

The Big Take Aways

So what are the potential take aways for you as a parent to apply to your parenting?

1- I spoke to his identity first, not his behavior. Grace teaches us who we truly are because of what Jesus has done to us. As we believe in our righteousness in Christ (and a whole lot more), we will live it. Right believing leads to right living. Behind everything we do wrong is a wrong belief about ourselves and/or God. The same is true with our children.

2- I influenced heart-change through kindness, not harshness and punishment. Punishment never made anyone Holy, nor will it do so for your children. Jesus took our children’s punishment for sin and brokeness. Consequences are not always punishment. When our daughter Cailyn has to spend her time cleaning her room when she left it a mess instead of getting to go outside or play on the ipad, that’s not punishment, it’s consequences. If I yell and scream at her, telling her what a slob she is and take away her dinner from her too, that’s condemnation, shame, and punishment. I can correct my child with our condemning them, and give meaningful, firm consequences without punishing them. Punishment yields temporary obedience out of fear. Consequences yield obedience out of learning that irresponsible and bad actions have consequences that remove pleasure and self-inflict pain.

3- I trusted Grace to manage his behavior, not rule-keeping and fear. The Bible teaches that it is the Grace of God that teaches us to live rightly. If God trusts that to work with me and manage my life, I trust it to work for my children. I know that a spirit of rule-keeping and fear doesn’t work in my life, people’s lives, and my children. However, Grace does. It is the only thing that has changed me and my behaviors, it governs me into freedom and faithfulness where everything else just led me deeper into the prison of my own flesh.

4- I communicated confidence in who he is in Christ to help him have confidence, not condemnation. If Harrison bases his identity and sense of self from his performance as a person, he will be all over the map internally and therefore, externally. Condemnation is the root of so many bad things coming out of people’s lives and living.  Show our children who they are in Christ, and they will be able to determine the foreign nature of sin to their lives on their own without us having to ride them with shouting, fear, and punishment hanging over their heads.

5- There are still consequences given in our parenting, but they are from a foundation of Grace, not Law. They are based on teaching the reality of reaping and sowing in life, not punishment, condemnation, guilt, shame, and fear.

Can’t wait to hear your thoughts…

Top 5 Passages Religious “Anti-Grace” People Love

Part 1 of 6

(part 2) (part 3) (part 4) (part 5) (part 6)

Mixing is for Gin not the Gospel

Most Christians and Christian leaders love the concept of God’s Grace, but up to a point. As long as it’s mixed with what they would say is a “balancing” bit of Law (religious rules you obey) they are more than willing to cozy up to “Grace.” So, what has happened is that when it comes to salvation and the Christian life, “Grace” is seen as a kind of partner or side-kick within the Gospel. It’s seen as the softer aspect of God that tips our hat to His loving side. Conversely, the Law is seen as what makes sure people clean up their acts, do religious things, hunger for more “to do steps and strategies” and take sin seriously.  That’s why when you present God’s Grace in its purity (without the Law), typically, all bets are off as some Christian leaders become afraid of what they would call, “too much Grace.”

Yet, the Gospel is either all Grace or it’s all Law, there can be no mixture (balance) of a little bit of Grace and a little bit of Law. In fact, the Bible makes dramatic separations and distinctions between the two. A couple, among many examples…

Romans 6:14 …because you are not under the law, but under grace.

John 1:17  For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

Galatians 5:4  For if you are trying to make yourselves right with God by keeping the law, you have been cut off from Christ! You have fallen away from God’s grace.

The pure Gospel of God’s Grace (a term Paul used in Acts 20:24) has always brought a stirring of criticism among the religiously spirited. I should know, I was one of them. Thankfully, God captured my heart and changed my mind about who He is, who I am, and the Gospel of His Grace.

I suspect there are many Christians who don’t even realize how much of what they have been taught and believe is contrary to the Gospel. I certainly didn’t. Like many unknowing Christians and spiritual leaders, my heart was in the right place, but my beliefs were not. As a pastor of 18 years, I did not realize (until a couple years ago) how much of my teaching, preaching and counsel actually placed people in bondage instead of the freedom I (and God) desired for them. When it came to the Gospel, I was so close, yet so far away.

So, what is the pure Gospel of Grace? In simple terms it is this…

The Gospel

We are all born sinners in a broken world. Everything about our lives has en expiration date on a pathway to death. In the Garden of Eden, our lives were forever changed as our first parents chose selfishness and distrust over faith in God.  Sin and death became realities and it’s shrapnel has penetrated everything, breaking our fellowship with God.  What God intended for our lives and living was poisoned through and through.Without an act of pure Grace, all of humanity in its sinful brokeness was destined for death, spiritually, emotionally, and physically as our best efforts could never repair our broken relationship with God and the depraved nature of our lives and living begun at the fall of Adam and Eve.

Yet, despite all of this. God is love, and God loves you perfectly, completely, and unconditionally, no matter who you are or what you have done or are doing. So much that He sent His son Jesus, fully God and fully man to die for your sins, and all of humanity. On the cross, Jesus took upon Himself the brokeness of all creation, including you. In His death and resurrection, Jesus put your sins to death and gave you His life. A new covenant was put into place where Jesus’ performance on the cross becomes your righteousness, holiness, and salvation. It is no longer about performing to get to God (as it was in the Old Testament), but God’s performance on the cross to get to you. His life becomes your life. His identity becomes your identity. The redemptive work in your life was completed, completely. You became a new person in Christ, a new creation in fact. Your sins, past, present, and future were all forgiven once and for all. It is no longer your nature to sin (though we still do), your old nature was crucified with Jesus on the cross. Sin no longer defines you, Jesus defines you. You old self died, you new self was reborn. You have the mind of Christ. You are a partaker of the divine nature, lacking no spiritual blessing. You are in fact, the righteousness of Christ, with no condemnation over your life whatsoever. You are not only a son (or daughter), but a king and priest in the Kingdom of God. As He is (seated at the right hand of God) so are you in this world. God’s favor and Grace are forever over your life.

All of this, Jesus provided and accomplished on the cross on your behalf, and that of the whole world. The moment you believe in who Jesus is and what He did, you receive it all. Done deal. We are saved by Grace through faith.

Now, it is no longer you who lives, but Christ living in you, and as you. The same Grace that saved you is the same Grace that sustains and sanctifies you. The Christian life is about growing into who you already are in Christ. Your part is to realize you have no part, only to believe. That’s why this growth happens through faith, not your efforts. You cannot produce spiritual fruit in your life, only bear the fruit God produces.  It’s no about striving and trying to be a better person, it’s rather about believing you already are a better person and living from that identity. It’s not about shame, guilt, punishment and religious rule keeping as you live a life focused on sin and your obedience. That system of living was canceled on the cross, at the moment of His resurrection, a new system was ushered in by Jesus Himself. It’s a life of complete and ever present forgiveness, freedom, peace, and rest as you focus on Jesus and His mercy, favor, and performance in your life, not yours. It’s an obedience of faith, not of actions. It’s a life of living from His Grace, in His Grace, to be Grace to others.

This is the Gospel.

So What’s The Beef?

Sounds wonderful doesn’t it?  Yet, what sounds like true love, freedom, and life, to the religious sounds like heresy! The Gospel can’t be that good. Give people Grace and they will just sin more. Besides, how are we going to be able to manage people? You are going too soft on sin, and what about repentance! Repentance, repentance, repentance! If we don’t give people something to work on, strive for, and do, how can we keep them coming and interested in church? God does His part, but we have to do our part, or else.

A Quick Clarification

Now, let me be clear with you. There are various variations of what people believe about the Gospel of Grace. So, if you couldn’t tell from my explanation of the Gospel written above, let me be sure you know what I am not… I am not a Calvinist nor a Universalist. I don’t believe God predestined, through what they call “irresistible Grace,” to regenerate some and not others so that some believe, but others do not, thus having some go to heaven and others to Hell. How that is considered Grace, I will never know. Yet, I am also not a Universalist who believes all are going to heaven, whether they really want to or not. I find both these systems of beliefs not congruent with how I understand the Gospel. I love my Calvinist and Universalist friends, by I respectfully don’t agree with them.

5 Passages Religious “Anti-Grace” People Love

That said, there are many people who are against and critical of the Gospel of God’s Grace as I (and others) understand it. They call it “hyper-grace,” cheap Grace” and a host of other names. And, they line up their Bible passages to refute it. Here are the top 5 passages (not in any particular order) they use and an explanation of how these passages in fact, do not refute the message of the Gospel of God’s Grace. One of the blessings of believing the Gospel of Grace is that it transforms the way you read the Bible. You realize that God is not in the bait and switch business of drawing you in with love only to blast you with Law. No, He is love from top to bottom and inside and out, and He perfectly loves you. When you see this you will no longer become frightened or confused when you read passages like those listed below.

keep reading… Part 2

(part 2) (part 3) (part 4) (part 5) (part 6)

Spiritual Warfare Revisited

If you think spiritual warfare is something you do against the devil, this article will hopefully change your mind. If you think that spiritual warfare is something that you do, with God’s help, against satan, I hope this article will challenge your thinking.

It is a misguided perception among Christians that the Christian life is primarily to be an avoidance of sin. We have been wrongly taught that believers have two natures, one evil, and one divine. Therefore, our job is to make sure Satan doesn’t entice the evil side more than Jesus inspires the good side.  If anything tries to cause you to stray or drag you down, you need to fight it like you would a dog biting your leg. Take out your spiritual stick and start beating away.

Much of the current teaching on spiritual warfare has created sin-conscious, satan-conscious Christians who feel their calling as a Christian is to battle the forces of evil clawing at their lives and the lives of others. Their spiritual radar screens are fine tuned to anything that looks like, talk likes, or smells like the enemy. And when they believe they see a blip on the scope, “Demon be gone as I bind you in the name of Jesus!”

Where I would certainly and passionately agree that evil is real and we face the schemes of the evil one, I would suggest satan has done well to get us fighting the wrong battles and misunderstanding our weapons.

The truth is, in Christ, the battle of sin, death, and the devil was finished on the cross. Any battle we have with Satan is an issue of our faith (0r another’s faith) in that finished work applied to their lives, not the reality of it. Spiritual battle for the Christian is done from victory, not for victory.

Paul described our fight as Christians as a “fight of faith,” not in who can shout, rebuke, bind, or pray the longest or loudest. Spiritual battle is not a battle of might, trying, or striving, but of belief. Satan’s weapons are ones of ignorance, wrong belief, false thinking and alike. Not the dramatic devices Hollywood loves to use to sell tickets.

Is the demonic a real reality in our world today, yes of course. But not for the Christian. If you feel you have to do battle with Satan in your life on any level or terms other than that of your faith (or another’s faith), than you are fighting a false battle no matter how real it is perceived.

When Paul introduced us to and described our spiritual armor (Ephesians 6), he was showing us what we already have in Christ! Not something we need to spiritual achieve or weaponize through our efforts.  Paul was trying to focus and awaken our faith, not commission us into spiritual fist fight of Bible shaking punches. All the articles of armor Paul identifies are important spiritual blessing and realities we already have in Christ. The issue of spiritual battle is not in what we need to do, but in believing what Christ has already done! It’s not about how we perform, it’s about believing Christ’s performance for and in our lives, it’s not about how we act, it’s about who we are as new creations of Christ, and believing it through thick and thin!

Biblically, “light” is often used in conjunction or reference to divine revelation, “darkness” is often used as a reference to ignorance or wrong believing. Paul’s teaching on the spiritual armor is purposed on giving us a revelation of who and what we have in Christ and the need to believe it. That is the “stand” we take. This is the “obedience of faith” Paul also spoke of in scripture.

We “put on” this armor through faith, not effort or spiritual karate tactics. It is the armor that does the fighting and has won the battle, not we ourselves. The moment light comes (revelation is believed), darkness vanishes with no effort or fanfare. Notice the Bible says, “…my people are being destroyed by a lack of knowledge.” (Hosea 4:6)  It doesn’t say by “generational curses,” “demonic visitations”, or even “sin.”

If you want to see where the real battle is, look to what Satan is leading people to “believe” about the Gospel, Jesus, themselves, and what is means to be a Christian.

For example, the Gospel of God’s Grace has been so distorted by the lures of Satan to the point God’s character and finished work on the cross has been made into a set of formulas, steps, and ways to enhance your life or standards to hold over people so you can feel better about your own sin. The Gospel has been reworked by mixing in just enough Law to appeal to the American “do it yourself” mindset. The Gospel is Grace, or it’s not the Gospel. It’s NOT “God does His part, you do yours.” The Gospel is, “your part is to realize you have no part, only to believe” God loves all people, died for all people, and wants all people saved. The same Grace that saves you  is the same Grace that sanctifies you. He is not angry, mad, moody, or bi polar. God’s kindness is what leads to repentance (change of mind) not punishment or fear. He didn’t come to make good people better, He came to give dead people life. We don’t give our life to Jesus, He gives us His life. We give Him nothing (because we can’t) He gives us everything (because He is love and loves us). That is the Gospel.

Through the craftiness of Satan, Jesus has been misrepresented and misunderstood. He has been customized to fit just about every agenda, theology, and philosophy. His teaching in the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) are often NOT interpreted in light of the cross, but rather as if we remain still under the Law. By some, He has been made into merely a wise teacher, moral standard, philosophy creator, or radical social justice leader.  Indeed, Satan has created a funhouse of mirrors that have distorted people’s beliefs about the truth of Jesus.

Many Christians don’t know and are not being taught who they truly are in Christ, some falsely believe they are still by nature “sinners,” are still under some level of condemnation, and are constantly being tested by God for “trueness.” Many believe that the Christian life is about their efforts, trying, rule-keeping, and striving to live better, become better, and do more. The truth is, the job of the Holy Spirit to those who don’t believe is to convict them of their unbelief, but the job of the Holy Spirit to the believer is to convince them of their righteousness, apart from their efforts!  The “labor to enter into that rest” that Paul charged us to be the foundation of the Christian life has been turned into a labor or serving, sacrificing, performing, achieving, rule-keeping, and doing. In many settings, the church has been turned into a club with a cross on top where traditions reign, political structures rule, and Christians talk amongst themselves and judge the world, instead of encouraging one another and talking with the world.   To be sure, the “Church” in many setting has been successfully sabotaged to the point it completely distorts the Gospel, manifests condemnation instead of Grace, turns good hearted believers into performance-driven Christians, and turns off and away the very people God purposed them to reach, love, and bring into the family.  The religious spirit is deeply entrenched in many a church today and has completely perverted the Gospel and the essence of the Christian life.

So, if you want a real spiritual battle, that’s where Satan is most effectively at work today, not among the sinners of the world nearly as much as among those who claim to be righteous. And for all, it all centers on the issue of right believing, not voodoo.  To be sure, Satan is not the real problem in the world that needs to be battled, it’s the epidemic he has ignited of the modern day rise of the pharisaical heart among those who claim to believe in Jesus, but live and believe by their own self-righteousness.

Not many are willing to say it, but I just did, that light might shine in the darkness.

Looking forward to your thoughts.

Are you “5 Talent” Living?

The “Parable of the Talents” in the Bible has long been interpreted with a leaning towards the basic idea that if you serve God more, He will serve you more.  Give God more, and He will give more of Himself to you.  If you don’t, you will have a lacking life and may be in jeopardy of losing your salvation. It’s the kind of interpretation that has given many a Christian a performance-based view of the Christian life.

Yet, if we don’t let the Bible interpret the Bible in its “context”, we can make a “con” out of the “text.”

The parables of Jesus were used to help people glean revelation from God about the Kingdom of God and how God works. The are highly symbolic and deliberately so. They are meant to draw the listener/reader in to the revealing whispers of the Spirit as one meditates on God’s Word.

This parable is given in its original context to a Jewish, legalistic audience. This is a key understanding in discerning God’s revelation through this parable.  The Jews were followers of the Law, and saw personal performance as their means to God and the things of God. Jesus, being the manifestation of Grace, came to fulfill the law and establish a new covenant solely based on His performance on the cross and His gift of righteousness to all who believe.

The Parable of the Talents is commonly referred to as the “Parable of the Bags of Gold.”  This too, is an important contextual issue in discerning the Spirit’s revelation of truth through this parable. The talents given in the parable were gold.

It is commonly known that “gold” in the Bible is a symbol of the righteousness of Christ. As a gift, it symbolizes God giving His best, His son Jesus Christ. Indeed, gold is a symbol of the Grace of God in Christ Jesus, providing us righteousness through His performance  (death and resurrection) on the cross, received through faith. Like gold, it is a pure gift of pure righteousness for those who believe.  Jesus paid the price we couldn’t pay so we could receive a gift we could never deserve. It is this Grace of God that saves us, sustains us, and sanctifies us.

Now for the parable. (Matthew 25:14-30)

14 “Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. 15 To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. 17 So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. 18 But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

19 “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them.20 The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’

21 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

22 “The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’

23 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

24 “Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’

26 “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.

28 “‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. 29 For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

In basic terms, the parable portrays Jesus, the master, giving His most precious gift, the righteousness of His son Jesus Christ symbolized by gold talents. The Grace of God in Christ Jesus is given to all, but what we do with God’s grace matters deeply to God.  The parable is dealing with the stewardship of God’s unmerited Grace and favor through Jesus Christ, not personal talents.

Why 5, 2, and 1?  The number 5 is symbolic of Grace, the number two symbolic of Jesus and dualism, and 1 represents God.

The people who are living a 1-talent life view God and living for God in a very legalistic way as symbolized in the parable. They know God as creator, but not Jesus as Lord and Savior. They have buried the revelation of Grace through Jesus Christ, desiring rather a life based on their performance and merit. They have chosen religion (or the absence of) over regeneration and relationship with Christ. Because they have no faith in God’s Grace in Christ, the have no reward, but rather loss. What they now have available to them in Christ, able to be received through faith, will one day have an expiration date upon Christ’s return, and in that sense, be taken away from them because they refused unto the end to receive it.

The people who are living a 2-talent life believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, but live a life mixing together Jesus and their own performance as the bases of their worth, value, and favor from God. What they may call a “balance” or “dance” between God and their performance, God calls a mixture of two covenants. By their living and how they teach others to live, one can tell they don’t truly believe that the same Grace that saved them also sustains and sanctifies them. It’s obvious that we are all designed in Christ Jesus for upright, godly living, and to fulfill and serve a purpose here on earth. 2-talent people however, believe the best method to this goal is to mix their efforts and God’s together.  They see the Christian life as “Jesus and me” instead of “Jesus as me.”  Thus, the foundation of their life and living is a little bit them and a little bit Jesus. Yet, God’s method to the goal of holiness and faithfulness is Grace. It’s His performance “as us” in this world. We are the righteousness of Christ, co-laborers, having every spiritual blessing. In the Bible, Paul declared that “in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete” (Colossians 2:9-10). We lack nothing. Jesus Christ possesses all of God. We possess all of Jesus Christ. He possesses all who believe. It’s a complete union. There is no division between us. It is not just Christ in your life, it is Christ “as” your life. This is the foundation from which Paul concluded, 13 [Not in your own strength] for it is God Who is all the while effectually at work in you [energizing and creating in you the power and desire], both to will and to work for His good pleasure and satisfaction and delight. (Philippians 2:13, AMP)  The foundation for obedience and service is faith, not self-effort nor performance. Your Christian life is a 100% you and 100% Jesus. Not 50% of each. Neither is it a 50% your performance and 50% His. It’s 100% Jesus’ performance in, through, and “as” you. You don’t need more of Jesus or more closeness with Jesus, you have all of Him and are as close as you can get, you need only believe it to receive it. Faith is the currency of heaven, not your faithfulness. It is clear that this 2-talent person had at least a faith to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and because so, his faith was rewarded.

The people who are living a 5-talent life have received God’s Grace and are living solely from God’s Grace. There is no mixture of covenants. It’s all grace upon grace, not grace with a mixture of Law (performance based rules).  There is no balance or dance, there is only being “as He is so are we in this world.” (1 John 4:17) Because they have received the pure Gospel of God’s grace through faith, they don’t sin more, they sin far less. Their identity in Christ (complete, whole, forgiven etc.) shapes their performance in life, not the other way around. It is right believing that leads to right living.  These are people who have taken all of God’s Grace and live all by Grace, and give all through Grace. For them, as they labor to rest in Grace (Hebrews 4:11), there is no striving or trying to their Christian life, there is only believing and trusting.  Theirs is an obedience of faith (Romans 1:5) that leads them to act on the promptings of the Holy Spirit with true power and multiplying effectiveness for the Kingdom. They don’t have to serve, love, sacrifice, etc. they “get” to.  It’s not a work, but an act of love from a foundation of rest. It is in and through this foundation of faith that God is able to bless and multiply. The multiplying mathematics of the Kindgom is “grace upon grace” not “grace upon performance” or “grace upon law.” All received and manifested through faith.

The only two places in scripture where it is recorded by the Holy Spirit that Jesus became angry were situations where Grace was not given (and thus obviously not received).  God is super serious about what we do with His pure Gospel of Grace, and the Parables of the Talents is one place where Jesus communicates this seriousness through parable.

For sure, don’t refuse Grace and live a 1 talent life. Yet, don’t mix Grace and live a 2 talent life. Receive, live, give, and rest in the fulness of the Gospel of God’s grace and live a 5 talent life!

« Older posts

© 2019 Chris Kratzer

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑

%d bloggers like this: