[Originally published in The Fort Bend Herald]
One of the most difficult concepts of Christianity involves a series of commands that relegate us to love pretty much everyone, everywhere and in every situation. While the sentiment of that seems truly noble and altruistic, many find themselves in a very difficult crisis of faith for the simple fact that there are some people we honestly find very hard to like. “Liking” involves commonality in thought or position. It involves someone we consider compatible and worthy. It involves reciprocity. Indeed, all of us have those around us of whom these traits simply do not exist. We simply do not “like” everyone. How, then, are we to love them?
The first order is to confirm the need for such indiscriminating love in the scriptures. Indeed, Jesus tells us to love our neighbor (Mt 22:39). The apostles teach us to love one another in the church (Rom 12:10) and our spouses (Eph 5:25). These emanations of love seem easy enough to fulfill; or at least a realistic goal to shoot at- until we realize that even these two commands come with caveats: Jesus said to love our neighbors as ourselves, and Paul instructed husbands to love their wives as their own bodies.
But wait: it gets worse, for Jesus further said that we should love even our enemies! (Mat 5:43-44) This instruction, he follows with, “For if you love those who love you… do not even the tax collectors do the same?” (v. 46)
Now the sentiment is getting downright troublesome. Let’s face it, it’s hard at times to love even those people we share Thanksgiving Dinner with – let alone those who have earned the moniker of “enemy.” For all practical purposes, the very definition of “an enemy” is someone that in the very least we do not like at all. How, then, are we to love those we (sometimes for good reason) simply do not like?
The bad news is this is not an easy pursuit, even when properly understood. The good news is most of us have completely misunderstood this set of commands because of language issues.
“Love,” in English is an extremely flexible term. We love our spouses and we love our dog. (Surely those two do not mean the same thing.) We love certain forms of art. We love chicken fried steak and we love our children. Each of these things gets coined as “that which we love” but with significantly distinct meanings and inferences that actually separate this idea of “love” into numerous categorically different things altogether.
In the New Testament there are two different Greek terms translated into English as “love.” One term is the term most similar to that “love” we claim for our families and friends. The other is a sense of the idea of “love” that frankly, we do not use very often in conversational English. (There is no Greek equivalent to our love for chicken fried steak to my knowledge… that must be an English thing.)
The lesser used term for “love” in the NT (about 20 times) is phileo (phil-eh’-oh); often referred to as “brotherly love.” Such is the namesake for the city of Philadelphia and various other English terms with the “phile” suffix. This term is best understood as “relational” love. It is that “I love you because you and I have a personal connection.” This term best fits with our love of family and friends, because it is reciprocal: the love we have for those we “like.” Most of us are thinking of THIS type of love when we hear the command to “love your enemies.” But, relax – that is not the command we have been given.
The second and far more common “love” in the NT (over 250 times) is agape (ah-gah’-pay) (n) or agapao (ah-ga-pah’-o) (v). This is (potentially) unreciprocated love. It is a love that is chosen, deliberate and service oriented; but not necessarily relational. To love in this manner is tantamount to Jesus’ golden rule: to treat others as we wish to be treated. This is the love we are administering when we give money to help feed or clothe total strangers. It is the love we are sharing when we stop to help a stranger on the side of the road. These are not reciprocal actions: I’m not helping because I realized that was a friend of mine I just passed on the highway. These are chosen, deliberate acts of service to others out of reverence for their creator and recognition of their need.
While both types of love are commanded in scripture in various scenarios, we are ten times more often commanded to agapao those around us: love through service and with potentially nothing gained in return. THIS is the love we are commanded to give our enemies. We are to value them as human beings and provide them with dignity and service when able. We should help them when in need. We should speak kindly and act compassionately even if they are our political enemies or are on the “other side” of the culture war. It is this love that God demonstrated toward us in that he loved us while we were his enemies (Rom 5:8). In the same manner, we are to love our enemies; even if we don’t happen to like them.
For as long as I can remember there has been a silent cultural message that “if you’re good enough” God will accept you as his own and secure you a permanent place at his side in eternity. From Country and Western songs to Hallmark movie nights we are captured by the idea of a person realizing the error of their ways and making amends to a new status of a life well-lived. This trend has been exacerbated in recent years by a multitude of teachers and preachers in the church who are attempting to remodel Christ as a life coach who desires to lead man to his true potential. Turning from the old “you’re a sinner headed for judgment” model of reaching the masses, the new sentiment is “get on the wagon with Jesus and become something wonderful.” I have to admit it has a nice ring. It’s the stuff that after school specials were made for; grabbing oneself by the bootstraps and initiating the full potential of the human spirit in order to overcome the strongholds of one’s past. Such stories are inspiring, entertaining and motivating. After all, who among us could throw a stone at someone filled with good works, kindness and sacrificial service to others? Indeed, these are the very characteristics that Jesus modeled and are the substance of the inner working of the Holy Spirit in the life of his chosen.
Such ideas represent the heart and soul of a moralistic gospel approach. The model is simple: “Work hard, do better and God will accept you.” And, the presumed merit of such good works is that they will somehow erase the stain of a former life that was decidedly “not good enough” in God’s eyes. But will they really?
Several years ago I saw a news story on television about a woman who was discovered just miles down the road from where I lived. The woman had been missing for many years. She was not missing in the sense that she was lost, but in the sense that she did not want to be found. This woman was an upstanding member of a nearby town. She worked hard, had built a respectable life and was highly regarded by everyone who knew her. She was active in her church and local schools and was known as a model citizen. Yet, she had lived many years under an assumed name for fear of her past. In fact, she had been convicted of horrible crimes at a younger age and had somehow escaped the custody of the state in order to assume a “new” life and identity as the person she wished she had been all along. She had truly changed her ways. Likened to the gospel of moralism, one might consider that she had erased her former sins by her current good life.
When this woman was discovered by authorities the television news became hyperactive about her story. Some argued that she had lived a good and respectable life in the time since her heinous crimes and should be allowed to continue her new-found “good life.” Others argued that this woman could not possibly have been guilty of the crimes that she had been convicted of, for she had proven her mettle publicly for so many years. But, at the end of all such sentiment there was one thing that stood resolutely in the way of her freedom: the law.
The issue this woman had was not her inability to do well by her community. Her issue was not that she was unfit to exist among the other humans in harmony. It was not that she lacked the potential to fit in, be nice, get along with others or that she had failed to do any sufficient good works as deemed proper by the community. Her issue was that she had resolutely broken the law in a major way and had been sentenced to punitive discipline by the law. It frankly did not matter how good of a life she had lived the past number of years or how many people she had helped. Her punishment was indifferent to her good works. This woman had been formerly convicted of murder. She owed a debt to society that could not be paid by simply “doing better from now on.”
This story illustrates perfectly the issue of a moralistic gospel. The scripture says in Romans 3:23 that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” You’ll notice the accusation clearly: “all have sinned.” The problem man has with God is not that “you have not been good enough.” The issue is that “you have sinned.”
Sin is a specific crime with a prescribed penalty announced from the very beginning of time: “the day you eat of it you will surely die.” The penalty for sin is reaffirmed throughout the scriptures, being clearly shown again in Romans 6:23, “for the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” In short, our crime of sin is so substantial to God that we have been prescribed the death penalty for it. We can attempt to hide, rebrand our life and/or gain the sentimental approval of everyone around us, but we will never get away from the perfect law that condemns us as sinners. Our penalty will be paid– either by us or by a gracious intercessor.
Friends, the gospel message has never been that God loved you so much he sent Jesus to earth to show you how to live better. The gospel message is- and always has been- that God loved you so much he sent his innocent Son to earth to die for your sins and pay the sentence that you owe.
Because it is our sin – our offense of the law – that condemns us before God, there is simply no manner of good works that we can live up to that will ever save us. There is no statute of limitations on sin. It is a crime punishable by an eternal sentence that must – and will – be paid.
The good works performed by we who are in Christ are symptomatic of our salvation, but can never be the substance of it. Our issue before God is not a lack of good works. It is our offense of sin. For that reason alone, you will never be good enough. Rather, trust Christ’s provision of atonement on your behalf to save you from the wages of your sin and you will be transformed to the worthy and “good enough” creation you need to be.
|Apostasy is creeping into the church from televisions, books and star-personality tours of rich and blasphemous self-proclaimed prophets of God; many of whom are the most famous pastors and teachers in the U.S. These counterfeit shepherds teach that faith is a material substance more powerful than God, accessible to all men, and capable of creating anything man’s heart can desire by the mere utterance of faith-filled-words. This doctrine has leached into all areas of the theological systems of what are known as “Word of Faith” churches. Virtually every major area of systematic theology in this movement has been taken captive by the repercussions of this primordial error.|
In this heresy, God is limited. Man is unlimited. Satan fills a necessary role in atonement for sin. Health, wealth, power and all means of temptation are heralded as virtues of the faith while millions empty their bank accounts for the promise of such ambition.
The following is an excerpt from the author’s upcoming book, Apostasy! This book will be based largely on the resarch work in the Wolves in Wool series on this blog.
How We Got Here
The gospel message is – and always has been – by Christ, from Christ and for Christ. At any point this understanding is corrupted, apostasy is sure to follow. If salvation is not by Christ, then it is by some other means which will ultimately take Christ’s place as the author and sustainer of salvation. The most obvious example of this is the Roman Catholic Church, which after corrupting its gospel to a sacramental and sacerdotal system of works, became more important than Christ’s own work in the church’s now-corrupt doctrine of salvation. Continue reading
The following is a public preview of the introductory chapter to the author’s upcoming book, Apostasy! This book will be based largely on the resarch work in the Wolves in Wool series on this blog.
A cancer is spreading at an alarming rate in the modern church. It expresses a heretical doctrine which exchanges the glory of the gospel of Christ for temporal gains that were once known as the very temptations of man. Heresy has become mainstream in an enormous population of Christendom. Sadly, much of the church today is too biblical illiterate to notice. The concept of orthodoxy has been given over to a competitive attitude by which doctrine is relegated to a local flavor. While heresy has always existed in the church, never has there been a time when “exotic and unfamiliar” were considered the creative virtues of preaching that they are today. The past few hundred years have been celebrated as times when enigmatic and incomprehensible creeds have been taken to task by a doctrinally savvy congregation and errors reproved by the biblical preaching of proven men of God. The tables seem to have turned entirely. In today’s religious circles it is old-school holdouts with the audacity to cling to the scriptures who are in the minority. It is a truly remnant church today which continues to preserve sound biblical fundamentals at the persistent ridicule of a new majority of doctrinal thrill-seekers.
They scream dissent from untold thousands of books, television networks and millions of websites. Entire supposedly “Christian” publishing houses have abandoned their former scriptural faith principles in favor of new proposals which, frankly, move more books off of store shelves. Christian bookstores, devoted more to their bottom line than the Lord’s, have likewise lifted not one finger in any measurable way to dissuade them. Countless modern congregations have jumped an entire generational cog; with an old-guard too tired or unwilling to fight for doctrinal purity and a new, younger work force that will only bother to show up if things are considered hip, novel, and decidedly not-too-biblical. Bereans are sparse; having been rapidly replaced by giddy, temperamental consumer-types who crave the latest “star” pastor’s deposition over the eyewitness testimonies of the apostles. The recipe for the modern pulpiteer calls for less scriptural content and more bizarre showmanship, to the extent of being positively juvenile.
Evangelicalism is in sincere trouble. Authentic Christians are relegated to a tireless search to find a church that preaches the Bible at all, as today’s pulpits more commonly stream self-help infomercials which refuse to mention, let alone offer remedy for man’s greatest issue: sin and man’s need for redemption. Churches have redefined ministry and missions in the image of public service fraternities. The gospel being proclaimed in so many supposedly “thriving” congregations is shallow enough to disappoint a Unitarian. Reminiscent are Jesus’ words to the church in Sardis, “You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead.”
Fueling these trends are a growing number of pastors who have committed themselves to unadulterated apostasy on the grounds that it produces the desired results. This new breed of pseudo-theologian teaches, through contrived and corrupt exegetical processes, things which in some cases completely reverse the truths of scripture. Man is instructed not on his depravity and need for salvation, but on his alleged posture of value before God’s grateful eye. Christ is presented not as the crucified lamb but the exemplary enabler of human potential. Scripture is not promoted as the inspired testimony of God by which men are convicted, redeemed and trained for His eternal service, but the means by which they can learn the secrets of acquiring their best life now.
While such a dire state of the church is heart breaking to those who love her, it is not something which has taken the student of God’s word by surprise. This emerging apostasy has been articulately forewarned in scripture; a word of caution to each generation that the roots of their faith will be challenged from within at a future juncture.
2 Timothy 4:3-4 (ESV)
3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.
Surely such times are now at hand. Paul could not have more articulately portrayed the state of the modern church. The tested and proven methodology of starting new churches today is to send a group of surveyors into a neighborhood to determine the type of church that neighborhood would want to support. We are, in effect, asking the lost to dictate the function of the church. We may as well be determining which fast food franchise to inject into a business center. With the platform for church growth being the edification of everything people want to hear, the church has become nothing more than another consumer-oriented business. To the upwardly mobile, churches promise a leadership role in the renovation of culture. They are assured to be doing the work of Christ simply because they engage themselves in the types of things that Jesus did. To the poor and lowly is a promise of redemption; not from sin, but from the poverty which has stricken them due to their lack of “proper application” of God’s Word. To the ill is the promise of God’s full earthly reversal of their sicknesses, if only they will learn how to properly ask him. The church has become utterly user-friendly, offering carefully researched theological products which are in demand by the intended congregational target.
Numerous are the magical prayer books which give the correct formulas for invoking God’s response to one’s request, as if He were a cosmic genie who must only be suitably addressed for his magic to work. At the end of this process, man has taken the role of deity, dictating his will to an obedient subordinate; and God himself is that humble servant. With cleverly orchestrated theological arguments which attempt to make this doctrine seem biblical, these false teachers have relegated man to a place of power, success and great personal glory, while almighty God becomes nothing more than a grand enabler of man’s creative capacity. Shortly, even Shirley McClain will be pleased to join one of our mainstream mega-church congregations.
In the charismatic world, the “Word of Faith” movement represents the largest organized purveyor of these types of consumer-oriented doctrines. This work will focus specific attention to this movement in the hopes of illuminating the truths of scripture as a warning to the millions who are being systematically indoctrinated by this group. Through religious television networks and an increasing number of local congregations buying into the sheer hype, the Word of Faith movement has generated non-stop sensationalistic and un-verifiable claims that challenge everything the world has ever identified as orthodox faith. This work is not an attempt to engage heresy in debate, but to reveal it to individual readers for what it is. The true church must understand the nature of what she will battle in the coming days and years. These groups are steadily permeating the wheat field with tares while a lost and dying world is being cross-evangelized by false apostles utterly incapable of presenting the true gospel; for they do not know it themselves.
The end result of this counterfeit ministry will be an ever increasing wake of souls who are either happily deceived and relegated to an eternity of death, or are so damaged from their failed foray into “religion” that they write off Christ entirely as a charlatan who must be of the same essence as his phony ministers. Too often the deceived think they have experienced the fullness of Christ’s grace and find it lacking. Sadly, many walk away from anything with the Name of Christ attached to it from that point forward.
To that end, the responsibility of identifying and preaching against false doctrines is of major importance to those who live to affirm and defend the teachings of scripture. While scripture clearly indicates that an apostasy waits the latter days, it nevertheless demands the faithful of Christ to contend earnestly for the truth which transcends all times and cultures.
As Jude warns,
Jude 1:3-4 (ESV)
3 Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. 4 For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.
The Seven Churches video series has been updated on the Video Study page. Parts 4-7 have been added, covering the second half of the church at Ephesus, Smyrna and Pergamum. Our apologies for the month of missed updates!
The first church John was asked to address of the seven was the church in Ephesus; a church which received both praise and rebuke from the Lord’s letter.
This week’s study focuses on the commendation to the church. The rebuke will be dealt with in next week’s study.
Overwhelmingly, it is clear from the letter to the church at Ephesus that the faith entrusted to the saints is indeed something to be contended for: as the Lord himself gives his commendation to his church for not tolerating evil men and heresy.
Today begins another new study series on the Video Blog area of Returningking.com. This series, currently being preached at First Baptist Church in Needville, TX, is an exegetical study of the book of Hebrews.
Any time a biblical book is studied, several questions are first asked concerning the author, recipients, dates and local scenarios. Understanding as many of these answers as is possible is very helpful to the grasping of the context of a book.
Today’s study begins week one of background work for the book of Hebrews.
A new variety of church-growth movement is squarely upon us. It decisively attempts to illegitimize any attempt at “doctrinal wall-building” for fear of excluding those frankly, who are unwilling to believe. This sentiment has found itself at home in an increasing number of churches in recent years; being a boon to church growth (numerically) by removing those pesky doctrinal encumbrances which often cause people to seek membership elsewhere.
“Our very survival is at stake,” we are told. The church, it is suggested, is to be about “tearing down walls” rather than building them; having entered into a “new” church-age whereby we focus attention copiously on harmony with others rather than differences. Commonalities draw us together. Differences divide us. The church is to be a place of unity, fellowship and cohesion. Anything that combats such a state of unanimity is quickly expelled as discordant, contentious and sinful. (Sadly, about the only “sin” that can be agreed upon in our modern user-friendly church culture is that of being disruptive to the alliance of “group sentiment.”) Such division, of course, is seen as a direct path to the most horrific sin of all: exclusivism. Continue reading