Thursday, January 21, 2021

defend the faith

I've been a bit quiet here lately. I think that's partly because I don't much enjoy being a voice of doom and gloom, and partly because to be quite honest, in the current political climate I'm afraid of the possible consequences of being outspoken.

"Political" probably isn't the right word, though. The issues we are facing right now aren't political, but spiritual. And it's for that reason and that reason alone that I have to put aside my fears and pray that God will give me the words I need, just like Jesus promised His disciples when He sent them out into the world.

We read from Jude at church on Sunday, and I've been pulled back to it over and over again since then. So much of what Jude wrote then is so fitting for today. He wrote to all those called by God the Father, starting by saying that he wanted to write to them about the amazing salvation they all shared. He doesn't say it, but I think that means he was wanting to focus on the beautiful aspects of salvation. It's kind of like what I would like to write about here--the amazing, unfathomable richness of God's love and mercy for us, His unending grace poured out over us, and our undeserved adoption into His kingdom.

Instead, like Jude, I feel like I instead need to share a warning. We are in a time when we are going to be called to be defenders of the faith. In Jude's words:

"I say this because some ungodly people have wormed their way into your churches, saying that God’s marvelous grace allows us to live immoral lives. The condemnation of such people was recorded long ago, for they have denied our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. [...] But these people scoff at things they do not understand. Like unthinking animals, they do whatever their instincts tell them, and so they bring about their own destruction." v. 4 & 10

That is the case in American churches today. We have people who stand behind the pulpit and say that sin isn't an issue, that God just wants us to have "health, wealth, and happiness" and that we don't actually have to live according to His commands. They preach a gospel that includes all the happy parts like eternal life and forgiveness but leaves out the hard parts-- like repentance and correction and hating sin.

While it is true that God will forgive all our sins, the forgiveness of sins requires repentance. That doesn't mean just saying I'm sorry. Biblical repentance means turning away from the sin, not living in the middle of it and saying, "Oh well, God will forgive me so it doesn't really matter what I do."

As followers of Christ, we are so often told that we shouldn't be so judgmental. There's a sign I drive by that says, "Love everybody. I'll straighten them out later. ~Jesus" We are reminded time and time again that Jesus didn't stone the woman caught in adultery. That story--which conveniently leaves out the fact that Jesus told the woman to "go and sin no more"--is used to tell us that we shouldn't tell anyone that anything they are doing is wrong. If we are truly loving, we're told, then we should stop telling people that they are living in sin. We shouldn't judge people--we should just accept them for who they are.

There's a little bit of truth in that. That's the tricky thing Satan does--he puts enough truth in his lies to make them seem believable. It's true that there isn't any sin that should exclude someone from coming to Christ. As His followers, there shouldn't be some group of people we think aren't worthy of the good news that Christ died to take the punishment of their sins.

Once someone has become a follower of Christ, however, they are called to something different, something higher. We are called to be constantly becoming more like Christ, which means turning away from anything sinful. As fellow travelers on the narrow road, we are also called to hold each other to that higher standard. In Jude's words, 

"Keep being kind to those who waver in this faithPursue those who are singed by the flames of God’s wrath, and bring them safely to Him. Show mercy to others with fear, despising every garment soiled by the weakness of human flesh." (v. 22-23) 

Or as his brother James said, "Brothers and sisters, if someone you know loses his way and rebels against God, pursue him in love and bring him back to the truth." (James 5:19)

Or as Paul wrote to the Galatians: "My spiritual brothers and sisters, if one of our faithful has fallen into a trap and is snared by sin, don’t stand idle and watch his demise. Gently restore him, being careful not to step into your own snare. Shoulder each other’s burdens, and then you will live as the law of the Anointed teaches us. Don’t take this opportunity to think you are better than those who slip because you aren’t; then you become the fool and deceive even yourself. Examine your own works so that if you are proud, it will be because of your own accomplishments and not someone else’s. Each person has his or her own burden to bear and story to write." (Galatians 6:1-5)

We are often reminded that we shouldn't expect those who are not followers of Christ to operate according to God's standards. As such, when they are lost in sin we shouldn't be surprised. All of that changes, however, once someone comes to Christ. Then we are supposed to reach out to our brothers and sisters and help pull them up out of the trap of sin, keeping in mind that we may need them to do the same for us one day. We are to speak the truth in love, not "love" people so much that we hide the truth from them. Because the real truth is, if you let someone continue to do something that is hurting them, you don't truly love them.

As a nation, especially as one that once claimed to be Christian, we have bought into that lie. We have decided that God's word is hopelessly outdated, so we need to take it on ourselves to figure out what He actually meant. We do that by convincing ourselves that the Scriptures are nothing more than a collection of writing by fallible men, so that means they are open to interpretation.

God in His ultimate wisdom, though, knew our hearts from the beginning. He knew we would be tempted to pick and choose which verses to follow based on the idea that we live in a "different time" (though when I read the Bible, I really don't think our time is all that different...) and therefore need to examine His words through the lens of our current understanding. That's why we have verses like the ones found in Paul's letter to Timothy:

"But as for the wicked and the imposters, they will keep leading and following each other further and further away from the truth. So surely you ought to stick to what you know is certain. All you have learned comes from people you know and trust because since childhood you have known the holy Scriptures, which enable you to be wise and lead to salvation through faith in Jesus the Anointed. All of Scripture is God-breathed; in its inspired voice, we hear useful teaching, rebuke, correction, instruction, and training for a life that is right so that God’s people may be up to the task ahead and have all they need to accomplish every good work." (2 Timothy 13-17)

So test everything you're hearing, whether it's from a friend, parent, spouse, or pastor. Anything that goes against the word of God is wrong, no matter who is saying it. 

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