Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Let's not be Pharisees

Mar 7:8  You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men."
Mar 7:9  And he said to them, "You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition!

Having been raised in Fundamentalism it is not difficult for me to see a connection between it and Pharisaism.  I want to be clear that I am not saying that all Fundamentalist are hypocritical legalists, but the system lends itself to some similarities.  Also, some of the things I am going to point out are things that we all must be on guard for because it is easy for any of us to miss the point of biblical principles and go to one extreme or the other.

I remember my pastor of a large Fundamental church saying on more than one occasion that if the world moves away from biblical principles in some way, we Christians must move the other way.  So for instance, if the dress hems moved up I guess our women’s dress hems should move down, if the world drinks we must be teetotalers, etc.  This preached well in such churches because Fundamentalism tends to over react to the world around them.

And in that we can see a connection to the mindset of the Pharisees.  The Pharisees were so concerned that God’s Law not be broken that they went too far the other way and made up laws so that they wouldn’t get near to God’s actual law and then taught that these man-made laws were equally important as God’s laws.  Of course, the result was that they became judgmental because they assumed that if you didn’t live like they did you were not as holy as they were; your standards were lower than theirs.

Growing up we would hear a lot about keeping your standards high and your convictions uncompromised; to lower them was to compromise with the world.  This is all well and good if your “standards or convictions” were biblical.  But if your standards are a result of over-reaction to the standards of the lost then you are in danger of making up things in order to be different from the world in ways that God has not commanded. 

In the above illustration, if I am living as best I can based on my understanding of God’s Word and the world moves further away from God’s standards; why do I have to move at all?  To move in the opposite direction is to do something similar to what the world has done; it is to do things my way rather than trust that God knows best.  If I am living biblically then to move either way is to move away from that which is biblical.  So I end up making up my own list of rules in an effort to be holy which is exactly what the Pharisees did.

This results in my becoming “more holy than Jesus”!  The principles laid out in the Bible aren’t enough to be a good testimony of the grace of God so I need to develop stricter standards than God thought necessary.  And the real problem here is that I then must assume that those who don’t do as I do are sinning and so I can see myself as a “better, more committed” Christian than those compromisers out there.  And, again, this is exactly what the Pharisees did. 

To be sure the Bible doesn’t give us detailed commands in every area of life.  It sets forth principles to guide those that love the Lord and want to honor him in the way they live (which describes every true believer, by the way).  So we consider these principles, such as “Do all for the glory of God” and we decide what is wrong for us and right for us in gray areas or subjects that the Bible doesn’t speak to directly.  What should happen is that we can agree to disagree with other saints in these gray areas and work and fellowship together in service to the Lord.  But when we have a spirit that what I think is right is right for everyone, even in those things that the Bible doesn’t address, then I begin to judge everyone else’s hearts and motives and I become a Pharisee.

One way this is practically important is because if I don’t have this level of maturity it will be impossible for me to fellowship with people who don’t agree with me on secondary and tertiary matters and the church becomes even more splintered than it is anyway.  I have yet to be in a church in which someone (usually a husband and father) who assumes he knows it all and so if the church leaders don’t see things his way, it is his responsibility to take himself and his family away from the ministry of God’s Word because evidently only he knows the truth in every matter and so only his views are safe for his family.  Evidently the pastor will lead his family into all manner of sin if he lets anyone else but himself lead them. 

We all have to decide what is right and wrong for us according to the principles of God’s Word but we can’t make such things into laws that we then expect everyone else to live by.  Such legalism only divides and it is making obedience to the Lord more than the Bible teaches; it is being “more godly than Christ” and that, of course, is nonsense.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Let's Stop with the Excuses

1Pe 2:20  For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.
1Pe 2:21  For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.
1Pe 2:22  He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth.
1Pe 2:23  When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.
1Pe 2:24  He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.

Christians have always struggled keeping themselves untainted by the culture around them.  Today we see this as many Christians, nominal but also true saints struggle with what has been termed determinism.  Briefly it is the idea that we are a product of our environment and genetic makeup so that freewill is illusionary.  Theologically it results in the belief that we are what we are by birth and so we can’t help but sin.  So for example the homosexuals use this to say that they have same sex attraction because of their genes and so it is God’s fault they are the way they are so they can’t and shouldn’t change their behavior.

Of course, there are many problems with this but primarily it is an attack on the biblical definition of sin and also an attack on the gospel itself.  The above passage offers one example in which those who find themselves in adversity cannot blame their attitudes and actions on their environment but must bring them under control through the power of gospel truth.  Peter offers Christ as the ultimate example of obeying God regardless of the pain and difficulty to do so.

So if our environment isn’t an excuse to sin what about our genetics?  The Bible teaches that this also is no excuse.  Sin has affected every person’s genetics for sure.  We are all broken by sin and we are all born with the desire to live for ourselves and not the Lord.  Our natural propensity is to put our desires ahead of both God and others.  This is seen in that we get angry when things don’t go our way and sometimes we want to hurt others as a result. 

The Bible teaches us that we are to subdue these sinful passions and love our enemies instead.  We can’t use genetics as an excuse to murder someone because we have a will that is to control what our bodies do.  So being born with a violent temper just means that it will be more difficult to control it but control it you must or suffer the consequences.  Up until the last couple of decades even a worldly society understood this.  But now we are being told that personal autonomy is more important than laws that govern our baser desires.

The Bible teaches us that we are all broken sexually as well.  Before the Fall men and women would have only been attracted to a person of the opposite sex and would have no difficulty being faithful to only their spouse because they loved God supremely and so would have obeyed whatever God told them to do.  But after the Fall our sinful nature is at enmity with God and loves self supremely and often this is seen in that we are attracted to things we shouldn’t be.  But nowhere does the Bible say that since we have a sinful nature it is okay to disobey God and act on whatever desires we have.  After the Fall our environment and genetics make loving God more difficult but they do not excuse sin.

As Christians we have been given new natures and the power of sin has been broken so that we can say no.  So it is especially disturbing when false professors stand in our pulpits and tell us that it is okay to practice the most perverted of sins and that God made them that way so it is his will.  This makes God the author of sin.

I say this hits at the heart of the Gospel because the whole reason God saves us is so that we can live for him and not be dominated by sin.  Is this not what this verse and many others teach?  1Pe 2:24  He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.  Instead of things beyond our control determining how we live, the power of the Holy Spirit controls us. 

He revolutionizes our thinking so that we don’t have to think in a self-destructive way any longer.  It doesn’t matter if you weren’t loved; now you are.  We no longer can say that I am not a loving person and so don’t have to love because God loves us in his Son and that love is shed abroad in our hearts.  Change is possible, change is commanded, and we are free in Christ to live differently than the way we were born.  Greater is he that is in us, than he that is in the world.  This is why the political correctness mess today strikes at the very heart of the gospel.  Christians are not to identify themselves by their past sins or past abuse but instead start living in the reality of what Christ has done for you and to you.