Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Divisiveness of Human Identity

Why do we humans section ourselves off as we do? I believe it is an identity issue. If Christ is not our identity, something or someone else will be.

Romans 16:17-19 talks about this:

“I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naïve people. Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I am full of joy over you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.”

The Moody Commentary expounds on this verse:

“The Christians in Rome were to turn away from those who spread false teaching, from those who were enslaved to their own desires (vv.17-18). Their teaching caused dissensions (‘the division of a unified group into two or more discordant ones’) and hindrances (‘that which causes indignation and antagonism’). Paul was confident of their ongoing obedience to the truth (v.19)”

These verses make me take a sober look at denominationalism. What is denominationalism, if it isn’t the Body of Christ divided, as the commentary says, “into two or more discordant ones,” causing “indignation and antagonism”?

Paul, in 1 Corinthians 1 and 3, warns of this very thing when he addresses his listeners--“those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours (notice the lack of division here) and with deep concern says:

“that there are quarrels among you” (11b) and “that each one of you is saying, ‘I am of Paul,’ and ‘I of Apollos,’ and ‘I of Cephas,’ and ‘I of Christ.’ Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?...For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void” (1 Corinthians 1:12-13; 17).

“For when one says ‘I am of Paul,’ and another, ‘I am of Apollos,’ are you not mere men?
What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants not the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:4-7).

What Paul is trying to nip in the bud is the setting of the precedent that Jesus’ followers will be loyal to humans and religious ideologies instead of to Christ and His Gospel.

This is why incorporating politics into Christian discussions and organized Christian gatherings may be diabolical: it can and does set Christians apart from one another and from the love of their non-Christian neighbors. This is not to say that we go along with whatever, or ignore our consciences or don’t have a governor, senator or president that we support through our vote.

Here’s what Jesus said in the context of being asked by the Pharisees and Herodians whether it was lawful to give a poll tax to Caesar, prefacing their question with “you are not partial to any” (Matthew 22:16b). Jesus, knowing full well they were trying to trick him into a predicament that would make themselves look good and He bad, asked them to bring Him a denarius and said:

“’Whose likeness and inscription is this?’ They said to him, ‘Caesar’s.’ Then he said to them, ‘Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.’ And hearing this, they were amazed, and leaving Him, they went away” (Matthew 22:20-22).

I believe they went away “amazed” because they could not entice Jesus to bite the juicy worm of a political debate. What an example Jesus sets for us! Jesus did not engage with them because he knew their motive for the discussion was “malice” (Matthew 22:18).

Each of us can also choose to respond as Jesus did, and follow Paul’s encouragement:

“But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him—a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all.” Colossians 3:8-11

The minute that being a Republican, Democrat, Lutheran, PCUSA Presbyterian, Orthodox Presbyterian, Methodist, Seventh Day Adventist, Evangelical, Catholic and so on, is our identity, is the minute we commit the sin of dissension, jealousy and hindrance; of dividing the Body into one or more sects. The result is that what we see and focus on, in fact, what we stand firm on, is how we are different “from them.” It becomes our identity.

People will ask, “But how do you maintain right doctrine?” I, in turn ask, “Is right doctrine being maintained with manmade and corporate church dogma?”

What are the motivations for glorying in our being different from one another? What does that feed inside of us that standing firm in the Gospel of Christ does not? Superiority? Prideful self-esteem? Worldly acceptance? A critical spirit?

We are all equal in Christ’s estimation:

“But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:25-28

Is that what we don’t like? Is that the root of what divides us? That by being made equal in Christ, our fallen nature tells us we are no longer more special, more unique or more right than someone else?

If so, we haven’t absorbed the revealed mystery that is the Gospel: that Christ died for each one of us fallen individuals—each one loved equally by God (John 3:16, Romans 5:8, 1 Timothy 2:1-6).

“Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” Colossians 3:1-3

copyright Barb Harwood

Friday, March 18, 2016

Faith to Obey

In Romans 1:5 we read that obedience comes from faith. So faith comes first; obedience follows.

Some may make the excuse that they don’t have enough faith to obey, which I would then answer with:

     “Spending time in the word and prayer will grow our faith, as will meditating on how far God has brought us and how He has already answered prayer” (Romans 15:4; Matthew 7:7-11; Mark 5:19-20; Psalm 102:19-20; 1 John 5:14).

If we are not willing to put the time and study into growing our faith, then I believe we do not sincerely desire to be obedient. 

Obedience, rightly understood, is a front-end act: the Bible doesn’t say that if we obey, then the specifics of how we want to orchestrate life will materialize.

It doesn’t say, for example, that obedience will bring physical healing. While Jesus does say, in Mark 5, 10 and Luke 17, that faith has healed a person, it doesn’t delineate whether the person’s faith was in being healed or whether the person’s faith was in Jesus’ power to heal. 

Jesus is not implying that our faith will always heal us from physical infirmity (healing in Jesus’ economy involves physical, spiritual, mental and emotional. So we best be careful about limiting the word "healing" when used in Scripture to physical recovery alone.)

I have written a rather lengthy article on the topic of physical healing in Scripture, and will not repeat it here. Suffice it to say, in discussing the teaching that obedience comes from faith, that one of the things we have faith in is God’s power to physically heal us if it is in His will to do so

Our faith leads us to obey God by trusting Him for our physical healing, because we know He can do it, whether He actually does or not. And we continue to trust Him even when the specific kind of healing we desire does not come, because we can trust that God is healing and strengthening us in other ways (2 Corinthians 12:9).

The verse I like to look at here (recorded in Luke 5, Matthew 8 and Mark 1) is when a man with leprosy comes to Jesus and says:

     “If you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean.”

Jesus’ response is:

     “I am willing.”

See, the leper trusted Jesus enough to say, “if you are willing,” never doubting that Jesus can and does heal. The sick man had faith that led to obedience to trust Jesus to make the final determination as to how things ought to turn out.

This can be applied to all areas of life.

When we, out of an ever deepening and firmly rooted faith, obey, we do not concern our self with God’s end results. That alone frees us from so much of what clouds our faith to begin with. We, like Paul, can keep ourselves on the front end: steering our walk forward in faithful obedience, in total contentment that God’s will be done, come what may.

“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Cleaning the Inside as Well as the Out

We believe, with all our hearts, the Scripture’s teaching about Jesus, but do we take seriously and act on the call He makes on our thoughts and attitudes?

Do we profess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord but remain ignorant of the next step, which is to act accordingly—inwardly as well as out?

When I first began the Christian life, I grew strong in firm belief yet persisted in faulty inward living

I could be found to be outwardly serving, yet failing to live the Christian life in the more obscure and much less exotic Christian circle of home, inner attitude, and accountability to God in what I deemed to be less desirable responsibilities.

While I esteemed it correct to follow God’s call to serve “out there” in tangible ways, I neglected to gain traction with Christ’s admonition to follow Him in how I live on the inside. Like the Pharisees, my cup was often clean on the outside only (Luke 11:37-53; Matthew 23).

Progress in the inner Christian life is requisite (2 Peter 1), and if we look at this verse, it isn’t talking about increasing our time in a soup kitchen or on mission trips. I think it goes without saying that physical service is expected, and certainly a good thing. And when we talk about spiritual inner maturity we are not discounting physical outward service.

The point is that both are required (again, Jesus’ main criticism of the Pharisees is this very thing: what they did outwardly did not match their heart condition. And Jesus wasn’t expecting perfection. He was expecting sincere desire to be clean on the inside as well as the outside, never flaunting any of it).

It has been my experience that it is the outward life that is emphasized in the corporate church, while the call to be humble and self-sacrificing in word and deed within our homes—with our children, spouse and extended family—is sorely lacking. And often, the negative results are blamed on the culture, when we, alone, are at fault. 

Again, it goes back to, not what the corporate church or our local pastor emphasizes, but what Christ through Scripture and the Holy Spirit emphasizes to each one of us daily. That is up to each person to take ownership of, young and old.

I believe the world would literally be turned upside down if every professing Christian made it our first priority, in fact our very reason for being, to take it upon ourselves to actually learn all of what pleases Jesus and then to sincerely make it our daily prerogative to please Him inwardly as well as outwardly.

copyright Barb Harwood

     “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

     For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins.” 2 Peter 1:3-9

Thursday, March 10, 2016

The Corporate Church Doesn't Own You, Christ Does

“Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?...” 1 Corinthians 6:15a

“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” 1 Corinthians 6:19-20

The corporate church does not own you and does not need to be the source for what you believe, or have the right to tell you what to believe, nor does it hold claim on whether or not you get to heaven.

All of us who believe in the Triune God and have faith in His Word—the Bible—are adopted into God’s Kingdom and belong to Him, not the corporate church.

Above and beyond all the various stances and legalisms on corporate church attendance resides the God that each of us, alone, is accountable to.

Some say that the corporate church is the only way to be accountable to God; some say it is only part of the way to be accountable to God; and others, like myself, believe that ultimate accountability lies between the individual and God, not corporate church (Romans 14:4-12, 22).

Therefore, corporate church attendance, when embodied as only a tiny fraction of what makes up the total Christian life, can be discerned with sober judgment. 

So if a corporate church is telling you or any of its members something that the Holy Spirit warns may not be Biblically legitimate, the church attendee has the freedom to question, and ultimately to stop attending, that corporate church. And all Christians are free, at all times, to attend more than just one corporate church if we so choose. Membership is optional, as we are already members of the Body of Christ at salvation.

Our allegiance is to Jesus Christ, His Holy Spirit and God our Father, not a pastor, fellow church member or “authoritative” Christian author that a corporate church co-opts as their “resident” adjunct professor.

The Bible makes it clear that we, individually and collectively, are the Church—the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 6:15a; 1 Corinthians 12)—through salvation and adoption into God’s Kingdom (not by being added to a corporate church’s membership roll).

Do not let a corporate church or denomination stymie, suffocate, or lead astray your Christian sanctification and maturity. As the Body of Christ we are free to gather with any and all Christians, anytime, any place, and are not limited to—and ought not be imprisoned by—any one corporate church alone. God never intended such boundaries (1 Corinthians 1; Acts 7:48), primarily because of the inherent dangers of the flock being misled, or corporate church attendance evolving into a rote duty or spiritual work.

As Paul so eloquently says in Galatians 5:1: “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.”