If you do not forgive others their trespasses and the message of Grace.

I was at church recently for a sermon on forgiveness and Matthew 6:15 was used as a warning for the consequences of not forgiving others of their sins against us. In essence, it was stated we could go to hell if we had unforgiveness in our hearts. This started an after-church discussion between myself and someone who was troubled by the statement.

The (valid) point of my friend was that the statement was casting a heavy burden on those in the congregation who might be struggling with unforgiveness. All of a sudden, in addition to their struggles, their very salvation was being called into question. I have to agree with my friend here – the wording of the pastor could have unnecessarily burdened some people, especially as he did stress the point on a few occasions during the preaching. My friend commented that he saw the heaviness of the crowd after the statements by the pastor.

My friend’s points were these:

  • In Matthew, Jesus wasn’t speaking to Christians. This was pre-salvation as Jesus’ sacrifice hadn’t occurred yet, and therefor what he was saying didn’t apply to the new covenant. My friend even commented that he “felt like he had one foot in one covenant and one foot in another.”
  • No where in the new covenant (all New Testament books aside from the gospels) do we find such a statement. The need for forgiveness is regularly spoken, but it is never followed up by the opposing if suggesting that hell is the consequence of unforgiveness in our own heart. For this case, I checked carefully, and I believe he is correct. You can not find such a statement regarding personal unforgiveness in the rest of the New Testament.
  • The reason the opposing if isn’t found elsewhere in the New Testament is because if you are truly saved, then all your sins are forgiven – even the sin of holding onto unforgiveness against someone who has wronged you (or continuing to struggle with unforgiveness even if you desire to let it go). We all will have sins when we die, and Jesus’ sacrifice will have covered them all. Another good point!

My friend and I hark from slightly different pedagogical views regarding the grace of the New Covenant. He is very much a “Grace” man. While I am fully satisfied by the teachings of absolute grace, I also believe there are some areas of scripture that are somewhat glossed over because, well, “grace covers all, and if we realize the grace we have, we will no longer be the type of person we were before we realized such grace.” (the quotes is my feeble attempt to put the ideology of many Grace preachers into one sentence). It’s not that I’m saying their beliefs are wrong. It’s that I am not convinced they are wholly right. While the gospel is very simple, we can fall into the trap of treating it simplistically.

As example, the idea that the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) are not part of the new covenant comes from common grace teaching. Whether the intention is there or not, the idea is common with modern day grace followers. The old seems too easily “done away with” and since Jesus hadn’t been sacrificed, the gospels are part of the “old.” Whether it was intended or not, this concept came out in my friend’s points. Since Jesus wasn’t speaking to saved people, it was as if we didn’t need to consider his words as true for the New Covenant. I pointed out that if they are not true in the new, then they either have to be true in the old or a lie, and since heaven wasn’t simply granted by having a forgiving heart, then Jesus’ words of Matthew 6 can’t just apply to the old testament.

So then if they are not the one (New Covenant), and they are not the other (Old Covenant), what are they? I believe Jesus was the living body of the perfection of the old (He followed the law perfectly), lived out so that he could then unjustly take on our imperfections pointed out by the old (when he drank the cup) so that we could then receive the grace of the new. Jesus was the fulfillment of the one and the bringer of the other. And in light of that, his words work.

As my friend pointed out, if one is saved, forgiveness will simply “happen.” Just as a tree doesn’t struggle to grow fruit (the fruit just appears), so too will we not struggle to forgive others. It will be our nature, because it is the nature of Jesus in us. That does sound good, but even as Christians, we are still human, and many well meaning sincere hearted people will have and have had a different experience. Some people will struggle, and in this case of grace teaching, they will be downcast because they know in their heart they hold animosity towards someone who wronged them, despite their prayers and the teaching that says their fruit, like that of a tree, should just “appear” without struggle. These people are in danger of becoming disheartened, and walking away from a gospel that doesn’t deliver on its promises.

Just because we never see a tree with clenched fists straining to push out that pear doesn’t mean that the growing of fruit isn’t a laborious process. It is actually a lot of work to convert sunlight and water/soil into fruit. It also takes a long time (sometimes years before the first fruit is seen), and is much more productive with the assistance of a vinedresser. (See my post here).  Yet, with this truth, Jesus’ words work. If we are in him, forgiveness will be a fruit, and if it is not, then we are not in the vine, and that fruit will not appear. The difference is the process. No fruit tree, planted as a seed, bears fruit that instant. There are many Christians in the growing process who are still working towards maturity, with the Vinedresser – and given time, they will see their fruit. Let us be careful not to condemn them on the way. God knows where people are at in the process. My prayer for the sermon would be that people who think they are a Christian, yet have never truly accepted Christ, will realize they are not right, that they are fine with their unforgiveness, will repent, and will begin their journey from seedling to fruit bearing giant.

Just as the pastor didn’t seem conscious of those in the process (this is my perception, not a statement), I also fear regarding those who simply want to dismiss large sections of the scripture because it is “old.” The reality is, everything fits together, and everything has a purpose in our current lives. Jesus wasn’t simply speaking words that would become irrelevant once the New Covenant was put into place. His words were often the bridge, and his words were often a demonstration of the expectation we should have regarding our lives. We should expect to be forgiving, and if we are not in the process of being such a person, we should not expect that we are right with God (even if we know we have unforgiveness, we should know it is not right and we should know if we are in the process of dealing with that). Jesus was given to say “You have heard…” in reference to an old testament law or Jewish belief. But he followed those with the expectations he wanted people to have – and then with his sacrifice, made possible for them to have. But even in these cases, both the traditionalist and those who follow the teachings of grace need to be aware of the process. No one new to Christianity suddenly can follow the law, nor can they immediately correctly follow the ways of the New Covenant, but if truly saved, they will be aware of their progression in the transition from the one to the other.

Paul was aware of this transition. As he aged, his revelation of his self went from being a “sinner” to “chief of all sinners.” His revelation of God’s grace through Christ covered every inch of his failures… but he was still aware of the failures. Modern day grace teaching sometimes seems to forget this, and people can become condemned as they don’t see what they are taught being played out in their lives, or they become nonchalant about sin, because it’s “covered.” These two foibles have always been with us.

For the first, Romans 7:15-20 shows Paul’s struggles with the process of Grace and the annoyance of being forced to remain in our flesh after salvation.

For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

Grace teaching often preaches that we simply will not sin because we are in Christ and are no longer sinners. We will not sin because we will not want to sin, because we are aware of the grace bestowed upon is. This is not true, as Paul frustratingly points out in the verses quoted above. Well meaning people who hear the grace message may find that Paul’s words are playing out in their lives rather than the words of the grace preacher, and not understanding how that could be, they become disheartened.

For the second, Paul addressed it in Romans 6. “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not!” It is clear that sin did occur in the new testament church as recorded in scripture. Paul had to address the quarrels among God’s followers. In 1 Corinthians 8, Paul speaks of those who sin because they take their freedom for granted (in eating food sacrificed to idols) without considering their weaker brothers – and thus wound their conscious, and sin against Christ (see Romans 8:12). These passages do not go well with the ideology that we won’t sin because of grace, or that our fruit will simply be there because of Jesus in us.

For the preaching of Grace, I wholeheartedly agree – no matter what we do or how often we seem to really, really mess up, we are covered by his grace. It is grace that makes us free – not our works.

But we are still told to work. If we don’t, we are still forgiven, but, we will be less than we could be in Christ.

For example, Romans 6:12-13 warns us about what we allow to become our habits. We are warned to “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” God’s grace covers us either way, but we still must make a choice, and from Paul’s words in Romans 7, we know that the choice isn’t simply a matter of “we won’t sin because of grace.”

Colossians 3 states that we are to “put to death” whatever belongs to our earthly nature. This is something we must choose to do. The scripture does not happily state, “Christ will put to death for you so that you don’t have to worry about your earthly nature.” Grace does indeed cover all, but each one of us must still “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (see Philippians 2:12-13). It is a joint effort between God’s complete grace that fully redeems us in and of itself, regardless of our works, and our diligent efforts to give ourselves to the Grace of God and grow into the Christian we are supposed to be. We are indeed given free will, but it is still we who must choose, and we are given specific choices we are supposed to make.

So, in all, no, we will not go to hell simply because we have unforgiveness in our hearts. Jesus’ words in Matthew are valid, because if we are truly saved, we will be on that path towards forgiveness, even if we don’t realize it (but God does know the path He has us on, and He knows the order in which He will have us deal with our various sin habits). What we often forget, and often can’t even see until it is over, is the process, and not being mindful of that process leads us to claim “truths” that others may not see in their lives, which can be discouraging to them – whether that be saying “they will go to hell for having unforgiveness” or saying “grace covers all and knowing Jesus’ grace, you won’t even sin anymore.”

The Danger of Emptiness/Doing Nothing

I recently wrote on The Biology of Our Own Works. In it, I talked about the necessity of everything we do being joined with Christ, for on our own, no matter how righteous our works may appear to be, they will fail to bring the life of Christ. This essay will build on that topic.

There is a particular belief in Christianity that Christians are called to not do a number of things. We are called to celibacy in regard to a number of activities.  “Don’t do this, and don’t do that” is the motto of many Christians.  And while it is true that Christians are not  to do a number of obvious things, is this the end of a means? I would say no.

The unspoken deception behind all these nots is the idea of inactivity. People believe that as long as the child of God is not doing this and not doing that, then he is okay. This is a dangerous deception, and this is exactly where the devil would like God’s flock to be – in the fields of inactivity. The sheep may not be eating on the enemy’s lawn, but they aren’t raising a standard against it either, and they aren’t protecting themselves from a subtle invasion of the enemy’s grasses.

The fire in our life is outwardly witnessed by our activities. We can make verbal claim to whatever faith we want, but without works, that faith is dead (see James 2:14-18). “But wait!” I hear people say, “I have faith in God. I don’t participate in the devil’s junk. Isn’t that enough?”

The very next verse in James 2 says, “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” (James 2:19). The chapter continues with examples showing that faith on its own does not bring forth true righteousness. True righteousness is brought about by the working of our faith, in actions visible to this world. The two (faith and works) work hand in hand.

Matthew 12:43-45 and Luke 11: 24-16 speak to the danger of emptiness, even when one has been delivered by God. These verses say, “‘When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of that person is worse than the first.”

If we are delivered by God, and the enemy and his influences have been driven away, it is not good enough to simply clean up and apply some decoration, expecting our deliverance to hold. We can stop doing all the things that seem attached to the sins of our former bondage, but that simply leaves us swept, with our house put in order. As the scripture above says, the ending will not be good. Unless we replace what has been removed by faith filled works of the Kingdom, the devil’s ploys will find easy re-entrance into our lives. We must continuously be furnishing and filling ourselves with the words and ways of Christ. To not do so exposes the neutralism in our heart – we way not be eating in the enemy’s field, but we aren’t working in God’s field either.

The verses previous to this story in Luke 11 say “And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe; but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil. Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters  (Luke 11:19-22).

In the parable of the man who simply swept and put in order his house, the enemy came back with seven additional demons, more evil than himself. If we are not actively seeking the strength and protection of God, then the enemy will be able to bind us and overcome us, but if we are actively seeking God’s work and presence in our lives, we will be the stronger, and the enemy will be the one bound and overcome. As Luke 11:22 makes clear, there is no middle ground. We are either gathering for his Kingdom, or we are scattering.

American Christians are easily held complacent. With all that surrounds us and offers comfort outside of continuously seeking God, it is easy to become neutral, or as the enemy might say, neutered. It is too easy to become “cold to Christ” while standing  proud that we are not “hot for the enemy.” The American church (and maybe many others) would do well to heed the words of Jesus to the Laodiceans in Revelation 3.

“‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. (Revelation 3:15-17)

How many Christians do we all know who would be well described by these verses? How many of us, if we looked in the mirror would have to acknowledge our own lukewarmness? Too many Christians do not realize their own need, and because of that, they do not seek to have that need filled by their Creator. If we don’t realize our vulnerableness, it is only a matter of time before the enemy will, as he constantly prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (see 1 Peter 5:8).

In applying the lesson of this essay, we must be careful not to mistake what it means to be filling ourselves with the works of Christ. I’ve heard people make fairly pragmatic statements that all Christians must serve in foreign missions, or that only those who work in a certain mission field are realizing the call of God on their lives. For each of us, our Christianity and how we serve is unique, and it is the combination of the callings of all of these unique Christians that make up the fullness of the body of Christ here on earth (see 1 Corinthians 12). The true litmus test of whether we are filling our lives with the substance of faith is simple:  are we living our lives in such a way that they bring glory to Jesus? This is a two part question. If we are living in sin, that is not bringing glory to our Lord. However, if we are not acting out our faith, that too is not bringing glory to Christ. We must refrain from the first, and actively seek the second.

What brings glory to our Creator will vary as we work through our salvation. There will be different seasons of study, prayer, preaching, witness, working, helping, building, fasting, etc. But no matter the season, we can always go back to the litmus test: am I living my life in such a way that it brings glory to Jesus?

The church may want to set up a lot of rules, both of things to do and things not to do, but Jesus did the opposite. He combined all the rules of the old into a simple two.

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:36-40)

If we simply make sure we are fully following these two rules, our lives will bring glory to God. We will not allow ourselves to be caught up in sin, for sin pains God (see Hebrews 4:15, Ephesians 4:29-30) and we do not wish to hurt the One we love.  God pleasures in our seeking Him (see Psalms 147:11, Hebrews 10:38-39), so if we are following this commandment, then we will continuously seek God, desiring to bring Him pleasure. Lastly, if we love our neighbors, we will work to make sure our lives are an example of Christ’s redemption, as we work with the Father to see salvation come to others. This can not be passive, for people will not come to salvation because we do nothing. We must work out our faith, demonstrating both God’s righteousness and grace to those around us.

If we do these things, we will be following the two great commandments on which all others hang, and our lives will bring glory to God. We will not be empty, but we will be full of Christ, and the enemy will have no claim on our lives.

Forty Years Ago Today

This seems like an appropriate video on this 40th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade.

My Ever Changing Political Views

One never realizes it at the time, but as an older man, I can look back and clearly see that I grew up with white middle-upper class political and religious views. This is a bit strange, as my family was hardly middle-upper class, but my surroundings were. My home was always staunchly republican (or sometimes independent, in my father’s case), as was my church, and most of the families of the kids I went to school with. The ideologies and sways of one’s political surroundings while growing up impregnate themselves into every fiber of your thinking, whether you realize it or not. So, to me… what I experienced and saw around me was normal, and it was Christian.

In college, I joined a church and a college Christian group that too felt the Holy Spirit’s undeniable calling for Christians to vote Republican. While it may not have been stated overtly, the message was clear, “How can one be a Christian and not be Republican?” To be honest, I never really thought much of it.

One of my first wake up calls came from a young lady I knew from the church and college. She was a amazingly intelligent young lady who was attending on a National Merit Scholarship. Shortly before Clinton was elected for his first term, the pastor of our college group was adamant that the Senior Bush be elected for a second term. It was very clear that if he was not reelected, the world as we knew it would very well end.  If God was God and True and in control, then Bush would win! There really was no other option presented. But Clinton won. Then four years later, he won again.

What bothered my friend was our college group pastor’s complete about-face in preaching upon Clinton’s victory. Before – if God was in control, Bush would win, without question, and if he didn’t, then that would be the end of our society. Upon Clinton’s victory, we were assured that God was still in control, and that it wouldn’t be the end of our society. This began a significant change in how I see God’s hand in things. He is (and was, before and after those 1992 elections) always in control.

I voted for Obama the first round. My friend, mentioned above, was sounding the alarm that Obama was a Socialist, but I didn’t see him as so extreme. I remember at the time I was very much conflicted on whom I would vote for, but McCain did himself in with me in one interview with Charlie Gibson on ABC news. I had recently bought a house with the poorest timing in American history, so I had of course taken an overwhelming loss on my “investment.” Additionally, I had bought shortly before the interest rates plummeted, so I was paying doubly for my mistake, and I couldn’t get a new lower interest loan to save my life.  McCain was talking in support of his plan to assist those, who like me, had houses that cost more than they were now worth and who were stuck with high interest loans.

In essence  McCain said, in response to Charlie asking about all of those people who were paying their mortgages faithfully who would not be able to get a nice low rate to refinance under McCain’s plan, because McCain’s plan would reward those who had gone into foreclosure (even if it was because the owner bought much more than he/she could afford) and thereby punish those who had been responsible (such as myself). McCain’s response was basically, “Too bad. They can afford their mortgages and aren’t having trouble. They should just be glad their neighbors around them aren’t going into foreclosure.”

Charlie countered, “even though those neighbors should never have purchased the house in the first place, and will now end up paying many thousands less than the people who did purchase responsibly?”

McCain stood firm, “Yes.”

As a new responsible home owner, I found that unfair, unjust, and unsupportable. I say, if you make $50K a year and buy a $350K home, then be foreclosed upon for your foolishness. McCain saw it differently. He lost my vote in that interview.

So that’s how Obama got my first vote. He did not, however, get my second. Much like in 2008, I was very conflicted in 2012. For me, the 2012 election was very much a “which evil do you want to vote for” election. This time, much like in 2008, there was one policy that swung my decision. I didn’t even fully decide until the morning of the election, and even as I made the decision, I knew I would not see my candidate win (I had no reason for this, except the peace that I knew in my heart I had to vote for Romney, but I also believed I knew Obama would win at the same time). Whereas my 2008 vote was ultimately decided based on my self-righteous thought that because “I pay my bills, so too should everyone else,” with the 2012 election, my decision was ultimately swayed on the candidates stances on abortion. Romney is for life, and Obama was not. I knew in my heart I had to vote my conscious on that issue, even though I knew at the time it was most likely just a personal symbolic stand, as I was fully convinced that morning that Obama would win. And if I recall, he did.

If my college pastor’s about-face on his harsh words regarding what would happen in this world if Clinton won constituted my first wake up call to how Christians view politics, it was a prayer meeting I attended that was my second. Somewhere during Clinton’s 8 years in office, I attended a prayer meeting with a group of people I had mostly never met. I knew a couple of the attenders though, and respected those people, and had long heard stories about their powerful prayer times with this group, so I joined in. It was loud, heart-felt, intense prayer. And in this prayer, I will never forget one lady praying that if Clinton did not immediately turn and do what (she felt) God wanted, that God would immediately strike him dead to remove him from office.

Luke 9:53-55: But the people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them as Elijah did?” But he turned and rebuked them and he said, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of; for the Son of Man came not to destroy people’s lives but to save them” (italics = some manuscripts add)

It was in my college pastor’s teachings that I saw the “the sky is falling/will fall if…” attitude of too many Christians. It was in the prayer meeting that I saw the Christians’ callousness towards the souls of those who we don’t agree with. I will forever remember sitting there in shock and horror at the murderous hatred that was being prayed in the name of our God.

My third eye opening moment came from the same young lady that pointed out the first. After years of having lost touch, the wonder that is facebook reunited us, and we shared a number of emails discussing life and politics (we reconnected shortly after Obama won his first election). My friend had gone to Russia in 1993 as part of her education. She spent several months there, and in an email to me which mentioned her trip, she wrote the following:

When I was in Moscow in 1993, I sat with a companion as we looked upon one of the relatively few remaining statues of Lenin.
“I don’t think they should take him down,” commented Valery.
“Why not?” I asked, rather amazed since Valery was a Christian with whom I attended church there.
“Because he is part of our history.”
“But he was a bad part of your history.  Because of his leadership, Christianity was illegal here for 70 years.”
“The Bible says we are to respect the government, and he was our government too.”
I fell silent.  What could I say to someone who had spent all but the last two years of his life under Communism?

Wow.

1 Timothy 2:1-4: I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.

Psalm 75: 6-7: For not from the east or from the west
and not from the wilderness comes lifting up,
but it is God who executes judgment,
putting down one and lifting up another.

Romans 13:1-2: Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.

Proverbs 8:14-16: I have counsel and sound wisdom;
I have insight; I have strength.
By me kings reign,
and rulers decree what is just;
by me princes rule,
and nobles, all who govern justly.

Titus 3:1-2: Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. (italics mine)

Having lived most of his life under communist rule where Christianity was fully illegal, Valery had a perspective on imposing government that few in America could ever understand, yet his perspective of scripture was absolute. How many of us in America would make excuse to not follow God’s words in the above verses because of the current government, while Valery chose to follow God’s words in the above verses despite his Government.

If God has put anything on my heart in the last few years, it’s that people are never our enemy. Ephesians 6:12 says “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Do we have an enemy? Yes! Is that enemy flesh and blood? Never! Do I struggle with this and make mistakes, putting human people in the place of an “enemy”? Far too often.

In the old testament, people were often pictured as the enemy, but the same is simply not true since Jesus came. The physical lessons of old point to the spiritual truths of now.

In January of 2013, the online publication Newsweek (formerly a well known weekly print magazine that succumbed to the “information age”) in preparation for Obama’s second swearing in ran a picture of him on the cover with the caption “The Second Coming.” It shouldn’t take any great amount of spiritual knowledge to realize the blasphemy of this depiction. A former pastor I greatly respect posted this on his facebook wall, stating that the cover was “kinda creepy.” A polite understatement, for certain.

Now, being a logical, hopefully rational man, I don’t believe Obama started calling around to various news outlets saying, “Hey, I want to be on the cover of your magazines with a caption that implies that I am the second coming of Jesus.” I would doubt Obama had much at all to do with this cover. But none-the-less…

Several commenters on on the post agreed with the creepy factor of the picture/caption. But it only took two comments before someone said “Everything about this guy is creepy!” Then another said, “Makes my skin curl and my spirit cringe. Although I know ‘our battle is not against flesh & blood, but against spiritual forces from dark places’ … seems to me that many dark spirits have congregated within this particular person’s flesh & blood. jussayin’ :( ”

Within four comments, people were proclaiming that Obama was demon possessed by multiple demons. Another comment stated that “this man is evil!” and that anyone who believes in Obama is deceived. With that comment, I was back in my childhood. “How can you be a Christian and not be Republican?” I knew instantly of many, many people whom I have met and know – that if they were to read these comments of proclaimed Christians – would not want to have anything to do with Christianity. With a simple news magazine, for a publication that is no longer even able to print a paper edition, our true enemy had found a way to get people to say things that would so repugnate half of American society that they would not want to have anything to do with the Jesus these Christians follow, simply because of the attitude of His followers.

Are we so blind to not realize that this was a big part of the enemy’s plan all along? It is so easy for us to claim to realize something is a spiritual battle, but somehow forget to fight this battle in the spirit. And so we trash talk a fellow man, alienating supporters of that man from then desiring anything to do with us, and by association, the Jesus we claim people need.

This truth has been bothering me for a while. Throughout the election season, and most election seasons before, and more and more even in the four years between election seasons, the right and the left seem to find no common ground. Because of this, we continuously attack one another, both stating we know what is best (or at least that the other doesn’t) for our country. One side of the country seems to disrespect and want nothing to do with the other side. This seems just as true within the church as outside of her walls. Interestingly, as I was working on this post, the pastor from the above mentioned facebook posting wrote me, discussing this very concept. He lived through the 60s as a teenager, and has seen the “us vs. them” mentality that can be so disruptive to a people. Having lived through this nationally orchestrated spiritual attack in the past, he comments on the even darker resurgence of this spirit he sees in our nation and world today.

We must be vigilant, and not fall prey to the deceptions of this spirit, attacking our fellow man, while letting the spirits that work behind the scenes alone to continue to work their evil. Yes, we should vote our conscious, as led by the Words of our God. Yes, we should be constantly in prayer, at battle against the darkness in this world, but we must be careful not to take careless shots resulting in casualties of souls, when we should instead be battling against the [spiritual] rulers, against the [spiritual] authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. We must know our enemy. Yes, we should be activist for what we believe, but we must be activist for or against ideologies, and not people. It is a fine line.

While this essay speaks mostly to American politics, I know that there are always going to be policies which could be argued either way. I’m not writing to show a stance that all Christians should be required to take regarding political views. My purpose is to be sure we “know what manner of spirit we are of.” I want to offer a few points from my personal views of politics, and how I (hopefully) prayerfully handle the various opinions towards the democratic or republican view of things, even when my personal flesh is not necessarily a fan of the elected people in charge.

War. Before I go further, I will state that I know some wars simply must be fought. I doubt anyone in his or her right mind would try to argue that we should have tried to “pray away the holocaust” without physically engaging the enemy. I also want to state that I fully support our troops. They are fighting for our freedom. They deserve far more honor than we give them. There are atrocities in war, yes, but sometimes the necessity outweighs the sacrifice.

Some wars, however, are less black and white in moral purpose than WWII. There were Christians on the side of the war in Iraq and there were Christians against the war (along with much of the rest of the world). I had no true moral conviction regarding oil. America produces a lot of oil. I have no idea why we insist on buying it from countries that hate us, giving them the finances to use to try to destroy us (but this is another essay altogether).

I remember discussing the war with a friend who is a Seventh Day Adventist, and devout Christian. The Seventh Day Adventists are very much against all war, it would seem, based on my conversations with this friend. My response to her was this:

“You know, I’m okay if we have to sacrifice a few Americans who have heard the gospel preached probably hundreds of times, who drive down the roads in the US and see signs about church and God and Jesus directly, who can turn to television shows about coming to know Christ. For most people, it may be about oil, but remember, this was a nation where it was not permitted to preach the gospel. And now? Now we can send in missionaries and there are churches springing up in Iraq. There are people there who had previously never heard the Gospel, and because of this war, a few people who have had hundreds of chances to hear the gospel are dying so that many people who have never even once had a chance to hear the Gospel may be offered the words of salvation. To me… this seems fair.”

I don’t think she had ever even considered it that way before. Without any offence to those who lost lives in America, as that is a tragedy that only God’s peace can begin to heal, sometimes we have to look at things from a different angle. We have to ask, “how would God want to work in this situation?” and then respond and pray accordingly.

I grew up in a relatively poor family, but we never sought out government assistance. I have always worked diligently to sustain myself, and have never sought government assistance, even in times of longstanding unemployment. Asking for help is just not the way I think. Because of this, I fully understand the republican views of economy and business. Personally, I believe that if a business does a poor job, it should be allowed to fail. In my fleshly self, I don’t want my hard earned money taken and given away to others. I believe people should work. I believe in the independent spirit, and self-sufficiency. But, do I believe that Obama is evil? Obama claims to be a Christian, and I believe him. What would the Bible say about his Christianity? What would the Word of God say about my republican beliefs?

What about the idea of “if anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” I stand by this idea. I have heard this concept quoted many times referencing the waste of government money on “lazy people who just want to suck at the governments teats.” What does this scripture really say?

2 Thessalonians 3: 6-12: Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.

The problem with applying this scripture to our government is that this scripture is speaking exclusively to Christians. As Christians, we are to strive to reach others with the Gospel – at no cost to anyone but the messenger. Yes, people should work to eat, and if they are Christian, we have every right to preach this. Otherwise, our goal should be to preach to them Christianity. Applying this Christian precept to the lost may reduce the financial burden on the government, but it will not bring more into the entrance of Heaven.

So, we can’t expect those who have not accepted the Gospel to realize they shouldn’t be nursing off the government. These people are poor, and many of these poor don’t work to change their status because they don’t believe there is hope for them. Let’s face it, the stories of those who rise up from poverty despite their surroundings are rare. Also, if the government is simply providing for them without expectation of their productivity, why not? Without Christ, those with no desire to work are under no moral obligation to do so. What does the Bible say the Church should do, and what should our attitude be?

Mark 12:40: “…who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

Luke 12:33-34: Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

Luke 14: 12-14: He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”

Romans 12:19-21: Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Galatians 2:10: Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.

James 1:26-27: If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

 1 John 3:16-18:  By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

I could only wish that I could say that I truly live by these precepts. I have a newly purchased granite counter top that proves I don’t. I live alone in an 1800 sq. foot house that could happily provide shelter for 15 other people, and I make a modest income as an educator that would feed far more than just myself. I would say that the same is true for many Christians. Simply, it’s the American way. But is it the Bible way. In honest reflection, I personally don’t believe that our government would be spending its money the way it does if the Church was spending its money the way it is supposed to. We point our fingers outwardly, but maybe we need to look with eyes that see within. Is Obama really wrong when he wants to tax the rich who can easily afford it and provide more for the poor, so that everyone can have a better chance at success in this life?

How would we as American Christians respond if Jesus came to us and said “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” (Matthew 19:21)?

Luke 12:16-21: And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentiful, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ and he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”

We must be rich toward God. But when it comes to money in America, it is difficult to justify with facts that we are not rich towards ourselves, laying up treasure for ourselves.

I realize I do not have all the answers, and my thoughts are always changing as I continue to grow. I just know that we need to better look to Christ and His teachings when speaking and acting. To not do so will continue to alienate the very people we are seeking to save (or should be seeking to save, at least). There will always be a remnant who will refuse Christ, no matter how well we demonstrate His love. But does that give us a right to give up and treat them as the very supernatural enemy who holds their eyes blind to the truth of Christ? And just because someone hasn’t turned to Christ today, does that give us any right to quit, believing that their hearts won’t yet be softened, so that they will turn to Christ in the future?

The Biology of Our Own Works

Disclaimer: Sometimes in our efforts to be “proper” we inadvertently avoid or water down some of the great truths of the Bible. Let’s face it, the Bible is not what modern culture would call a G-rated book. It’s not even PG, or even PG-13 in spots. To fully understand the beautiful spiritual truth in today’s essay, we’re going to have to just accept the fact that sometimes things on the surface may appear crass, but the depth of meaning revealed once we understand what is really being said is amazingly powerful.

Having said that…

Isaiah 64 is a chapter calling on God in repentance, admitting that we are nothing without Him, and that there is no God like Him. There are several good points in this chapter, and several truths that most people would wholeheartedly agree to. From verse 8 – “we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.”And from verse 5 – “You meet him who joyfully works righteousness, those who remember you in your ways.” Verse 6 is commonly quoted:

We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.

In the King James, this is translated, “But we are all as an unclean [thing], and all our righteousnesses [are] as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.”

I have several visual memories of preachers talking about how our very best – our righteousness – is as filthy rags. Often greasy auto shop rags are described, or dirty kitchen rags are spoken of to give the listener a visual comparison for our best efforts without God. And while these comparisons are valid and true, and even Biblical, what this verse says goes way beyond a simple illustration of our cleanness being “dirty” compared to God’s cleanness. However, in order to see the full truth of this verse, we need to be willing to admit what verbiage the Bible used when describing our righteousness. The Hebrew word translated filthy in the King James was only used used once in all of the Old Testament. It is the word `iddah, and it means menstruation. I don’t know about the average reader, but I see a big difference between a greasy auto shop rag or a dirty dishcloth and a menstrual rag. I see a difference not only in the “gross” factor, but by avoiding the true comparison the scripture gives, I see a difference that causes most to miss the fullness of what this scripture is really saying.

The Bible states that the Church is the Bride of Christ. God’s relationship with us is compared to that of a husband and wife (See Ephesians 5:22-25). This relationship must be realized in understanding Isaiah 64:6. Just as a husband should love and support his wife, so God wants to work with us, and support us as we allow Him to work in and through us to bring about His Kingdom to the lost of this world.

Too many of us have the dichotomy wrong. We see things as either righteous in God, bringing forth the works of God, or righteous in our own works, bringing forth their own good, separate from God. A revival meeting can bring forth God’s righteousness, and people can find salvation, or an unsaved person who gives thousands of dollars to the poor can bring forth another form of righteousness separate from that of God. But is this correct scripturally? While I am in no way discounting the benefit of giving to the poor, we must always remember to look at things from God’s perspective. No matter how much money is given away, and no matter how rich in material wealth the poor become, they are still poor spiritually. Their journey without God has simply been made more comfortable and they are still lost without the good news of Jesus Christ. We like to believe there is a nice big neutral ground of good that we can accomplish on our own, but Jesus said, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters” (Matthew 12:30, Luke 11:23). Read that again. If we are not gathering into the Kingdom, then we are scattering. Strong words, and I know for myself, an uncomfortable truth. In God’s Kingdom, there is no neutral ground. Those who appear to the world as “neutral” are most likely neither hot nor cold in their passion for Christ. And of those, Jesus warns that he is about to spew them out of his mouth (See Revelations 3:16).

So, what does Isaiah 64:6 say our own righteousness is? Let’s look at the anatomy of a “menstrual rag.” For those who do not recall Jr. High sex ed. let me give a quick reminder of what the menstrual cycle actually is. Every month, a mature woman prepares for pregnancy. The uterine lining is prepared for the reception of a fertilized egg, and an egg is released so that it can be fertilized. If all goes as designed, a life will be created. However, if not, the woman’s body will shed everything that was prepared, and the cycle will start again. The woman was created in honor, and has the capacity to bring life into the world, but no matter how hard a woman tries, or how sincere and loving she is in her attempts, she can not bring life into this world on her own. The woman needs to work in partnership with her husband – and so it is with us and God. No matter how hard we try, and no matter how sincere or loving our attempts are, our works can not bring life on their own. Much like the wife needs her husband to create life, we need to work in partnership with God in order to create works of any lasting value. And when we try to create good on our own, the result is equated to being no different than the result of a woman’s body preparing for life, but not joining with her husband to make that life come into existence.

Let that sink in.

We are created for good works, but we are created for good works in Christ (see Ephesians 2:10). On our own, our works are without value. The enemy has used the false dichotomy of various types of righteousness to deceive both believers and non believers. For those who don’t follow Christ, the world has been deceived into believing that their own good works are enough. How often do we hear it said, “I’m a good person, so I believe I’ll go to heaven”? As nice as it would be if this were true, our own goodness is never good enough. If it were, then Christ died in vain, for we could have been able to find our way to heaven on our own. But no matter how good we are – even if we make every effort to follow the law of God perfectly, we still fall short. Galatians 2:16 says “Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ… because by works of the law no one will be justified.” Romans 3:23 says “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” Romans 6:23 says “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” If you have never accepted Christ, know that salvation is a free gift, paid for by someone else, because we can not pay for it ourselves, no matter how hard we try.

Another deception of righteousness plagues believers and unbelievers as well. It is so easy for Christians to forget that it is by grace that we are saved, and not by our own works (or our own righteousness). (see Ephesians 2:8-9). How many Christians have failed God, or slowly fallen away, and refuse to believe that they can come back to Him until they have “cleaned themselves up.” Or how many non-Christians who know they need salvation want to “clean themselves up” before they are willing to come to Christ? It simply won’t work. Our efforts to clean ourselves up – to make us righteous – no matter how much we want to bring forth life in our lives, will fail. This deception is used by the enemy to delay our turning to (or back to) Christ, and he will do everything he can to destroy us in that time. We need simply to come to Him, as we are, knowing that He will gladly accept us. It was while we were yet sinners that Christ died for us (see Romans 5:8). If we ever need to come to Him or come back to Him, we simply need to confess our sins, as He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (see 1 John 1:9).

We live in a very gray world, but as Christians, we follow a very black and white King. Our righteousness, or our own good works aren’t simply an alternate path to goodness. Our goodness isn’t something we need to develop on our own before we can come into the presence of God. Our own works and efforts to be righteous are simply us trying to give birth on our own to what can only be done in cooperation with our Creator. Like the woman trying to have a baby by herself, our works for righteousness will never result in anything viable. We must, must, work in cooperation with our Creator. To not do so, no matter how great our work is in our own eyes, will result in something that could have been life, but isn’t.