Four Lies Of Legalism

Can you remember a time when you felt fear – deep, mind numbing, body shaking, thought blinding fear? Perhaps you experienced a terrible thunderstorm, the wind so loud you wondered if the roof on your house would stay on. Maybe you had to drive through a blizzard or a torrential rain storm and you were praying all the while you were on the highway that you wouldn’t crash. Quite possibly you witnessed a fight or were threatened in some way. Perhaps you feared for the life of a loved one and for hours you didn’t know what to do or where to turn.

Being afraid isn’t our favourite place to be and so when we feel like we’re in unsafe situations we look for things to hold onto, things that’ll bring order to the chaos, things that’ll anchor us and give us the assurance that we’ll be safe.

This feeling fearful or unsafe thing isn’t limited to the physical world. We can feel fear, emotionally, socially, and mentally, and every time we feel fearful in those situations we seek safe places – anchors. Sometimes those safe places are good places to be, but often they are not. That’s why some people try to hold on to unhealthy ‘anchors’ such as drugs, abusive relationships, alcoholism, or some other ‘vice’ in a deluded attempt to alleviate a fear in the moment. The problem is that it doesn’t stop the fear. In fact, it only exasperates the fears already being faced.

We Christians may not admit it, but we often do the same thing as it pertains to our walk of faith. There’s a tendency to believe that it’s the extra ‘things’, the rules and regulations in our ‘religiosity’ that we need in order to be safe, to anchor us. So, we set up traditions and rules with a spiritual skin wrapped all over it and then call it religion.

In Colossians, Paul refers to four lies about traditions and regulations that 90% of us Christians admit to having held onto at some point in our faith journey (the other 10% lied about not going there). The thing is that they don’t add a lick to our spiritual identities and most certainly do not make us ever feel sufficiently safe in our eternal futures. Legalistic rules filled with tradition or perceived biblical rules, that end up just becoming cheap substitutes for what should be the goal of our lives as Christians – To glorify God in and through our lives and to enjoy being in his amazing presence forever.

What could be these 4 lies then that Paul speaks to?

Lie # 1 – Legalistic rules and regulations will make you an acceptable Christian

“Therefore let no one pass judgement on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath.” – Colossians 2:16

So often we find ourselves worried about what others think, about making sure we look good and that we are doing the right ‘Christian’ (religious) thing. What ends up happening is that we surround ourselves with so many religious safety nets that we can’t see Jesus for the rules. Jesus wasn’t about rules – he was about relationship.

Much too often, we come into the body of Christ and are quickly introduced to something other than the gospel… legalism. Legalism refers to an emphasis on man-made rules and prohibitions as the standard for spirituality. Someone tells you how wrong it is to indulge in certain practices that ‘they’ have deemed unacceptable in the Christian community.

These individuals are not only convinced that these practices are wrong but consider it their duty to judge you as less Christ like because you do them! “Don’t play cards… Don’t watch movies… Don’t drink wine… Don’t get a tattoo…etc.”. As if Jesus isn’t near good enough to have taken care of the law for us. Listen, if you are convicted by the Holy Spirit about some of those things in your life then by all means listen to and obey the Holy Spirit as you’re convicted, but it’s not your or my job to convict others where there is no conviction in their lives about these things or practices…you nor I am the Holy Spirit.

Obviously, there are house rules that we as a community must live by… thou shall not kill (good house rule). Thou shall not commit adultery (another good one). Love each other (a great law to live by). But where there isn’t a direction by the word of God I can’t go around and hold up man-made laws or traditions as though they have the same weight as the word of God. Where one person has liberties in an area with God another may not. We can’t make those demands on others let alone ourselves.

Just look in Romans 8 where we see how Jesus fulfilled the law, both its moral demands and its ceremonial demands. “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” – Romans 8:3-4

If keeping the Law could not make us acceptable before we received Christ, why do we think that keeping the law can make us acceptable after we are believers? Or as Paul rhetorically phrased it… “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” – Galatians 3:3

Sadly, many genuine believers are living under some form of a yoke of bondage, thinking if I just do this or do that, I’ll be more acceptable to God. They may not say this overtly but their actions betray them.

The point is that the consumption of food and drink is in itself no basis for judging a person’s acceptability with God or standing in God’s family. To be sure Paul had to deal with the abuse of food and drink; the problem of eating meat offered to idols and the problem of drunkenness (1 Corinthians 8, 11:21; Romans 14). But his approach to these abuses was never to forbid food or drink. It was always to forbid what destroyed God’s temple and injured faith. He taught the principle of love, but did not dictate its application with regulations in matters of food and drink.

Lie # 2 – Legalistic rules and regulations say that Jesus isn’t sufficient

“These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind.”  – Colossians 2:17-18

I recall watching the cartoon version of Peter Pan as a child and being fascinated by the shadow of Peter. It had a life of its own and in many ways, was an independent entity apart from its owner. I remember as an 8-year-old trying endlessly to ‘awaken’ my shadow so that we could enjoy separate adventures – together. Remember I was only 8. It didn’t take me long to discover that In the real world  a shadow has no substance, and for that matter has no independent existence. It simply is a proof of the fact that there is a reality somewhere behind it making it happen. It is not solid or real – simply a copy of the real thing. Much like Pepsi is to Coke. No matter how hard I tried to make my shadow ‘real’ it was always going to be lifeless, it was always going to be just a copy. Paul is stressing to us that legalism through rules and regulations are only insufficient “shadows” that do nothing to put us into right relationship with God and most certainly don’t make us safe.

In my wallet you might not find much money but you will find pictures of my kids. I value these photographs and look at them occasionally when I am away from home. But what would you think if I propped up these pictures all over my house or office and talked to them and tried to relate to them? You would think I’d gone a little crazy – and rightly so. But, more than that, I would lose connection with the very people whose pictures I hold. They would end up feeling ignored and our relationship would be damaged and would most likely end.

That is what Paul says is wrong with shadows. If you continue to give the shadow key significance after the real person or thing has been identified, you’ll only end up killing your opportunity to enjoy the real person or thing itself. here’s the point. There are times we put more trust than we think into our rituals or regulations than we do in Jesus. If you don’t believe me then ask yourself… do you feel better about your relationship with God after you read the bible for a week or if you have been attending church every Sunday for three months than when you didn’t read the Word as much or missed church for a few weeks? Or do you feel that God’s depth of love for you is dictated by how well you serve him? Or have you ever said, “Well i’m not really being that good of a Christian” as if you were the one sanctifying you?

I absolutely understand that we learn more about who God is as we read and pray and serve… but we need to do those things out of love & not because they are rules, things we need to do as a ‘good’ christian. What Paul is telling us is that the reality in our faith is Jesus, not other ‘things’ such as rules, regulations or otherwise. It’s him, not the shadow, that journeys with us through life, who comforts us when we need it and gives us the strength to face temptation. But when we forget that, we then are believing that rules & regulations are more sufficient in making us Christlike than Christ himself.

So do we truly believe that Jesus is sufficient? Truth is that God couldn’t love us any more than he already does. Remember that God doesn’t have lots of love to give – He is love and so is an endless reservoir of love. But when we trust more in regulations and those rules we place on ourselves and others… then it means we really don’t believe that God really loves us like he said he does or that Jesus is truly sufficient enough to take care of us… because if we truly believed the truth about him, well then we’d never rely on those shadows again.

Lie # 3 – Legalistic rules and regulations deny the authority of Jesus

“And not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. – Colossians 2:19

Jesus is to be “the head of the body,” a metaphor that demonstrates the authority of Christ over the church as well as the dependence the church is to place in Christ (Colossians 1:18). That’s what the writer of Hebrews puts so much effort into doing throughout the book of Hebrews. Attempting to show us the superiority and authority of Jesus Christ over and above all of the shadows of the Old Testament. We are not to content ourselves with shadows when we can fill ourselves with the real thing. And “Jesus is ‘the real thing’.

When we die to self and live to make him known, when we can’t help but love our fellow disciples, when we crave the word of God, when we welcome discipline and tribulations in our lives because we know we are being made into the image of Christ, when we seek out fellowship with other believers because we love being with God’s people we can know that as we grow, all our spiritual growth has as its ultimate focus – Jesus.

Avoid the false teachings, the legalistic rules, the empty rituals and the unsatisfying regulations that move us away from Christ, and instead take advantage of the things God has given for growth.

Lie # 4 – Legalistic rules and regulations will make you holy

“If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations – ‘Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch’ (referring to things that all perish as they are used) – according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.” – Colossians 2:20-23

The false teachers in Paul’s day practised asceticism, which was a poor attempt at freeing the spirit from the ‘prison’ of the body. The view that the body was evil eventually found its way into the church. In fact, there were many who began to find ways to punish their bodies believing that this was a way to free their spirit from the body. A monk named Anthony, the founder of Christian monasticism, never changed his vest or washed his feet. I’m sure his cell probably smelled like a lot of guys’ dorm rooms. Even Martin Luther, before discovering the truth of justification by faith, nearly wrecked his health through asceticism.

Paul addresses a similar issue in Galatians 4 writing that while we were children, we were held in bondage under the ‘elemental’ things of the world. Elemental is from the Greek meaning “rank” used to speak of basic, foundational things like ABC’s or 123’s. Paul was saying that these rituals of human religion they were engaged in were elemental because they are only human, and could never rise to the level of the divine.  But he asks then that now that they’ve come to know God, how in the world could they go back to grade 2 – to the ABC’s? Do they really think that these rituals, holy days, and rules of diet will do it for them? Do they really want to be enslaved all over again?

Legalism only leads us back to unchristian slavery instead of freedom in Christ, and in any event, doesn’t free us from our lusts, at the very best keeps them on a leash which just isn’t good enough. Rules and regulations will not, and cannot make us holy.

The great news is that through our union with Christ, we, the redeemed are set free from man-made rules designed to promote spirituality and holiness.

What are the legalistic rules, regulations & traditions that you or I hold onto while we live out our own faith journey experience? What are those things we need to let go of in order to truly experience freedom in Christ and find safety in our relationship with God? True Christian safety and freedom never comes from restraining desires by rules and regulations, but from the death of evil desires and the springing to life of good desires. And this can only happen as we grow in deep love with Jesus and know him intimately, asking him to fill us with his spirit in order to be empowered to live for him. And as we grow we can know that he will complete the work that he began. “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” – Philippians 1:6

Effective Prayer: 5 Perspectives For Disciples Of Christ

Isn’t prayer just something done to look good in front of grandma at the supper table, or something just before the message on a Sunday morning because that is just what we do? Have we ever really thought about the vital importance of prayer in the life of a believer?

I love reading the story of Nehemiah because it’s in his story where we have a great example of how crucial prayer is to the life of the believer.

“The words of Nehemiah the son of Hacaliah. Now it happened in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Susa the citadel, that Hanani, one of my brothers, came with certain men from Judah. And I asked them concerning the Jews who escaped, who had survived the exile, and concerning Jerusalem. And they said to me, “The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire.” – Nehemiah 1:1-3

In 455 BC, the people of Judah and the city of Jerusalem were in a terrible condition. Over 140 years earlier, Nebuchadnezzar and the armies of Babylon had invaded Israel and had carried many of the people away as slaves. The walls had been destroyed and the gates had been burned.

Meanwhile, Nehemiah is serving as a high official, the cup-bearer to the King of Persia, at the capital city of Susa 800 miles away from Jerusalem. His role as cup-bearer is to sample the wine and the food of the king to make sure it’s not poisoned, among other roles. He is in a palace living in luxury, drinking the best wine on earth, not that little box of blush that you have in your refrigerator. He’s eating incredible food, wearing the best clothes and completely safe, no real threat to the Persian Empire at this point. I mean, this guy is living the life!

Yet, with no television to update him, no Twitter feed for him to watch pictures of his people suffering 800 hundred miles away, he’s knocked to his knees when he hears of the news back in Jerusalem. His guts turn, and he weeps before the Lord and begins to fast and pray.

By its very nature, fasting suggests that something is wrong. Eating is a normal part of human existence, so abstaining from eating implies a disruption in the very rhythm of life. When Nehemiah’s world crashed his first response was to get rid of all the distractions, food being a big one so that he could focus on the one place he would receive strength… God. He recognized that his strength and hope could only come from God and not from another piece of pie.

So, here’s a question for all of us. When our world crashes around us, when life becomes hard where do we turn? God or the refrigerator? God or sex? God or shopping? Or sports or more wine, or more of anything else but God? Nehemiah is an example of the pattern we should follow.

When the world shakes us up we should get down on our knees.

1) Prayer gives us a right perspective of others

Nehemiah was radically compassionate because he had a God sized compassion for the hurting even though he didn’t know them personally. Here’s a question for all of us to consider. Is God just telling us this is what Nehemiah felt, or is he setting before us what he wants out hearts to look like? If you look at the Bible’s expectation on us as believers in Christ, we are to feel and be bothered like our man Nehemiah was even for people we don’t even know.

What God has called you and me to, as the people of God, is to live out a type of radical compassion and empathy. As the community of faith, we are to model to the world outside of us what it looks like to be the people of God. It is being mindful of the hurts and hang-ups of others and entering into that in some very simple ways and some very complex ways and being the picture of Christ’s love and compassion for his church in our presence and in our interaction with those around us.

If our hearts are filled with compassion for the hurting, causing us to be more committed to the Lord’s commission than we are our own personal agenda, the potential is limitless of what God can & will do through us. But it won’t happen with any depth, longevity or visionary focus if we don’t learn to pray, because it’s when we fall to our knees that we are then able to have a right view of those in greatest need.

2) Prayer gives us a right perspective of God

The prophet Zephaniah describes God in a fantastic way. “The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in His love He will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.” – Zephaniah 3:17

The ‘mighty’ warrior who ‘delights’ in us… My dad was involved in prison ministry. I recall as a boy of 13 going into a maximum security prison on a family day once or twice with him as he took me along to see the other side of life.

During those visits, I recall the huge prisoners with muscles bulging, tattoos everywhere, shaved heads, chewing on rusty nails – sitting out in the communal area waiting to visit with their kids. And those were the women.

What fascinated me was that no matter how big and scary these prisoners were – their own kids would run up to them and fully embrace them. To me they were scary, but to these kids they were mom & dad.

To everyone else namely the enemy the devil, our father is a big, powerful warrior to be feared, but to me he is my dad and he absolutely delights in me. In fact, Jeremiah states, “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” – Jeremiah 33:3

God wants us to call on him so that he can share with us incredible blessings that we might otherwise have missed had we not reached out to him through prayer. And it’s through communion with God in prayer where he begins to change our hearts to reflect his heart of compassion.

3) Prayer gives us a right perspective of circumstances

Nehemiah knew that life’s circumstances change on a daily basis. In fact, things can go from good too bad to worse in a very short time. Even still he knew that God remained in control. At the start of Nehemiah’s story there was no tangible evidence in that moment that God was being faithful and God was keeping his promises.

The Jewish nation is scattered like the wind all over the ancient world. They have lost the land flowing with milk and honey. But Nehemiah’s prayer in verse 5 was saying, “You are faithful. You are good. You are a covenant-keeping God. You have not abandoned us. You are here even in our hurt. You love us. You will keep your promise.”

As disciples of Christ, we know who is really in control. In our humbling of self, we are admitting that we are but mere humans that don’t have the ability to save the world, who do not have the strength to keep going, who do not have the staying power to keep on keeping on. We are saying to God, that while we do not have these abilities, we know that he does. God has the ability to change us and use us for his ultimate glory. Nothing happens without God knowing about it. God can’t help being sovereign over everything – every time… it’s who he is.

4) Prayer gives us a right perspective of self

Nehemiah begins to confess the sins of Israel. “We have not been faithful. We have not kept your commands. We have not lined ourselves up with how you’ve designed the universe to work.” – Nehemiah 1:6-7

Nehemiah recognizes the importance of being honest about who he is. The truth is that the more you have an elevated view of yourself, the more it will be impossible for you to show compassion for others.

If your kids are godly because you’re awesome and not because God is gracious, then you’ll be hard pressed to show compassion for anybody who has a wayward child, because if they would have just done what you did in all your awesomeness, then they could have had a godly kid too.

If you’re financially set and not (in your mind) because God has been gracious to you but because you’ve worked and you’ve earned and you’ve set yourself up nicely and not, instead, feeling indebted to God for his mercy and grace, how impossible will it be for you to show empathy toward someone who is impoverished?

The more you are the author and perfecter of all things, the more all the blessing on your life is because of you and not because of God that has put you, in turn, into his debt, the more it will be impossible to show empathy to others who are struggling. Why? Because you’re so freakin’ awesome!

That attitude will rot out the soul’s ability to be compassionate and merciful. It will breed in us an indifference that is unacceptable before God. It will also rot out the ability to walk in unity, love, and compassion with one another and instead create a judgemental harshness among us that God will have nothing to do with.

And it isn’t until you know who you are and have a compassionate view of others and begin to have an inkling of the amazing awesomeness of God that you or I can think to know what our place is in God’s plan.

5) Prayer gives us a right perspective of our place in God’s plan

The final statement of Nehemiah in verse 11 “I was the cup-bearer…” indicates that he knew that who he was and that where he was at that moment was no accident and in many ways, he was declaring his place in God’s plan. He was the cup-bearer for a reason. Think about that for a moment, he wasn’t a prophet, he wasn’t a priest, he wasn’t a king, he wasn’t anybody particularly special… he was the waiter.

God uses who he wants to use no matter the position in life once we submit to him. He uses common fishermen, tax collectors, kings as well as shepherds, rebels and murderers like Paul and yes, he uses waiters. Regardless of your position in life, whether at church, at work, at school, at home, etc., you need to know that it is no accident! God has placed you where he has for a purpose. He has placed you where you are for his purpose! There are no accidents or coincidences with God! God has never been caught off guard… he has never once said “oops, I didn’t see that one coming.”

If our hearts are right, and we are more committed to the Lord’s commission than we are our own personal agenda, the potential is absolutely limitless. But it won’t happen with any depth, longevity or visionary focus if we don’t learn to pray, because it’s when we fall to our knees that we are then able to have a right view of self, others, our position and most importantly of God.

How Can We Know That The Idea Of Jesus’ Deity Is Not Simply An Idea Borrowed From Ancient God Myths?

I recently watched a BBC Documentary ‘The Dark Ages: An Age of Light’, hosted by Waldemar Januszczak, a television documentary presenter and British art critic, who pitched a startling idea. He claimed that Jesus is simply a deity borrowed from the mythology of the ancient Egyptian god Horus.

We may recoil in horror in response to this claim; however, this isn’t a new idea. There have been a number of skeptics over the years who have similarly claimed that Jesus was nothing more than a copy of popular dying-and-rising fertility gods in various places – Tammuz in Mesopotamia, Adonis in Syria, Attis in Asia Minor, and Horus in Egypt. As Dan Brown claims in The Da Vinci Code, “Nothing in Christianity is original.”

When the comparisons are made though, I must admit that, taken at face value, the similarities are astounding and can cast doubt on the historicity of Jesus (especially young believers who encounter this objection while in University).

A significant portion of the claims made about the similarities with ancient deities though are simply false and lack any archaeological or historical support. Sloppy research in the least and outright lies at the worst are often used in a ‘straw man’ attempt to bolster the effort of some atheists to make these deities (Horus in Waldemar’s case) look as much like Jesus as possible.

But serious research shows just how weak these claims are. Here are only three examples borrowed from J. Warner Wallace’s blog.

Claim: Horus was born in a cave, his birth announced by an angel, heralded by a star and attended by shepherds.
Truth: There is no reference to a cave or manger in the Egyptian birth story of Horus. In fact, none of these details are present in the ancient Egyptian stories of Horus. Horus was born in a swamp. His birth was not heralded by an angel. There was no star.

 Claim: Horus was baptized in a river at the age of 30, and his baptizer was later beheaded.
Truth: Horus was never baptized. While conspiracy theorists often point to “Anup the Baptizer” (claiming he was later beheaded), there is no such person in Horus’ story.

Claim: Horus had 12 disciples.
Truth: Horus had only four disciples (called ‘Heru-Shemsu’), but at some point, in his story there is reference to sixteen followers and a group of unnumbered followers who join Horus in battle (called ‘mesnui’).

(You can find many more claims and the corresponding truth by clicking here): 

There are many more examples, but even with only using three ‘claims vs. truth’ we can quickly see just how weak the attempts to discredit the authenticity of Jesus’ claim to be God really is.

What does the Bible say?

Still the question remains… Just what was Jesus’ claims about himself? Did he actually claim to be God and does the Bible shed any light on this question? To answer these questions let’s look at what Jesus himself says. In the gospel of John, he says “I and the Father are one.” – John 10:30.

At first glance, this might not seem to be a claim to be God, however, look at the Jews’ reaction to his statement, “We are not stoning you for any of these but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.” – John 10:33. The Jews understood Jesus’ statement as a clear and loud claim to be God. What’s even more interesting is that later on in the following verses, Jesus never corrects them. He doesn’t put up his hands and say, “whoa, just hold it a minute guys, I didn’t actually claim to be God, you dudes got me all wrong.” The reason? Jesus was actually declaring himself God when he said, “I and the Father are one”. Jesus knew very well what he was saying and he knew how it would be received.

In John 8:58 we’re given another instance: “I tell you the truth before Abraham was born, I am!”

Here again the Jewish leaders get all up in a huff, and again get ready to stone him because of his ‘blasphemy’. Jesus’ announcing his identity as “I am” is a declaration, claiming the Old Testament name for God found in Exodus 3:14 (remember the burning bush story?).

John starts off his Epistle with “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was God.” – John 1:1, and then in John 1:14 “The Word became flesh.” Jesus is identified as the ‘Word’ and so is clearly being acknowledged as God. Following Jesus’ resurrection, Thomas the disciple declared to Jesus, “My Lord and my God” – John 20:28. Jesus doesn’t correct him, rather accepts the worship only God can receive.

We see the apostle Peter describe Jesus as God, “…our God and Saviour Jesus Christ” – 2 Peter 1:1. The apostle Paul does the same thing, “…our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ” – Titus 2:13.

Also God the Father himself said the following about Jesus, “But about the Son he says, ‘Your throne, O God, will last forever and ever, and righteousness will be the scepter of your kingdom.’” – Hebrews 1:8.

And then we discover that Old Testament prophecies of Christ, announce his deity, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” – Isaiah 9:6

Interestingly enough, the Ancient Greeks, who were immersed in mythological deity worship, never tried to claim that Jesus (or his followers) borrowed ideas from current or former deities or mythologies. The reason they didn’t was simply because they never perceived there to be any similarities. They in fact confirmed that Jesus was unique and not mistaken for any other god when Paul spoke with them.

“Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him. And some said, ‘What does this babbler wish to say?’ Others said, ‘He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities’ – because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, ‘May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? For you bring some strange things to our ears. We wish to know therefore what these things mean’.” – Acts 17:18-20

The point is that if Paul was just rehashing stories of other gods, the Athenians wouldn’t have referred to his doctrine as a “new” and “strange” teaching. If dying-and-rising gods were plentiful in the first century, why then, when Paul preached Jesus rising from the dead, did the Epicureans and Stoics not remark, “Ah, just like Horus and Mithras”?

Why is the question important?

Why is the question over Jesus’ true identity so important? Why does it matter whether or not Jesus is God?

in his book Mere Christianity C.S. Lewis writes the following:

“I am trying here to prevent anyone from saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him [Jesus Christ]: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on a level with a man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon; or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come up with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that option open to us. He did not intend to.”

In attempts to explain away the words of Jesus, modern “scholars” claim the “true historical Jesus” did not say many of the things the Bible attributes to him and as we have seen people like Waldemar do – even trying to bolster their claims by relegating Jesus to a borrowed ‘God Mythology’.

But who are we to argue with God’s Word concerning what Jesus did or did not say? How can an art critic, “scholar” or documentary presenter, two thousand years removed from Jesus have better insight into what Jesus did or did not say than those who lived with, served with, and were taught by Jesus himself?

C.S. Lewis argued, believing Jesus to be only a good teacher isn’t an option. Jesus clearly and undeniably claimed to be God. If he is not God, then he is a liar, and so not a prophet, good teacher, or godly man. Jesus has to be God because if he is not God, his death would not have been sufficient to pay the penalty for the sins of the whole world. Only God could pay such an infinite penalty, “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” – Romans 5:8

Salvation is available only through faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus’ deity is why he is the only way of salvation. Jesus’ deity is why he proclaimed, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” – John 14:6

If Jesus is simply a myth among many myths, and therefore not a prophet, good teacher, godly man, or even real, then we can do whatever we want without having to worry about God judging us. But if he does exist as God then we must recognise that we are responsible to him and in need of forgiveness from him. “For His invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” – Romans 1:20

I truly hope and pray that men like Waldemar discover this truth and declare Jesus as Thomas did, My Lord & my God, before they meet him as their Judge.

5 Key Dangers That The Prosperity Gospel Presents To The Christian

I’m not a fan of the prosperity Gospel, and in fact I believe a lot of it is just plain false teaching. But I’m also not a fan of the idea that all Christians must be poor… that’s just poor theology.

God can bless his children, and I have the greatest respect for those who are wealthy and who still have a strong relationship with Jesus Christ, because I think it must be one of the hardest things to do in life.

Christians can be blessed with riches, but we must remember their limitations. Money can buy a bed, but it can’t buy you sleep. It can buy a house, but not a home; medicine, but not health; pleasure, but not peace; amusements, but not joy. Just remember its limitations!

There are many reasons I’m not a fan of the prosperity gospel, more than I am sharing on this blog post, however allow me to share 5 key dangers that the prosperity gospel presents to the Christian. I’m sure that you’ll agree that even only 5 reasons will be enough to keep us away from that false teaching.

1  The prosperity gospel presents the Holy Spirit more like a ‘Force’ to use than a ‘Person’ to love

A major problem I see with the prosperity gospel is that the Holy Spirit is seen more as a power to be put to use for whatever the believers heart desires – if of course you have enough faith. After all didn’t Jesus actually say that we would receive the desires of our hearts? The understanding is that the Holy Spirit’s pleasure is to fulfill the desires of our hearts immediately if you have enough faith. The problem with that process of thinking however, is that the Word of God does not teach anywhere that one of the Holy Spirit’s jobs is to act as a force that will fulfill the desires of my will and heart but is instead a ‘Person’ who empowers the believer to do God’s will.  “All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually has He wills”. – 1 Corinthians 12:11

2  The prosperity gospel becomes more a matter of what we say than in whom we trust

The prosperity gospel (Word of Faith) teaching presents us to a God who is not truly Lord of all, because in that teaching, he can’t work until we release him to do so. Faith, according to the Word of Faith doctrine, is not humble and submissive trust in God; rather it’s a watered down formula by which we may manipulate the spiritual laws that prosperity teachers believe govern the universe. As the name “Word of Faith” implies, this movement teaches that faith is a matter of what we say more than whom we trust or what truths we embrace and affirm in our hearts. Truth is though that our hope is in the Lord, not in our own words, not even in our own faith. “Our soul waits for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. For our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name. Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in you.” – Psalm 33:20-22

3  The prosperity gospel is about pursuing material wealth and health over of the presence of God

In Numbers 13 & 14 we are introduced to an intriguing drama regarding the children of Israel and their choice of a lifetime. When they were about to enter the promised land they faltered because they feared the giants in the land and so chose to run away. God punished them by denying them access into the land flowing with milk and honey because of their sin.

Here’s the question, what was their sin? Their sin was believing that the birthright was about the material goods – the land flowing with milk and honey. Think about the fact that the pagan nations who already inhabited the land weren’t enjoying the blessing of God and yet already possessed the land for many generations. enjoying it’s bounty.  Truth is that the Israelite people’s birthright wasn’t about the flowing milk, honey and olive trees – their birthright was about the Glory of God being manifested in their lives no matter what.

God had been with them throughout the Exodus and was going to be with them as they took possession of the land. but they forgot all about that and only saw giants guarding grapes. The prosperity gospel emphasises the gaining of money and possessions in this life, even going so far to declare that as children of the king it is a birthright. But if that was the case why would Jesus say, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal” – Matthew 6:19

Also the Bible warns against pursuing wealth. Believers, especially leaders in the church, are to be free from the love of money. “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” – Luke 12:15

Our lives need to be nothing less than the manifested presence of God in our lives so that the world who watches us may glorify our God in heaven, not our god in our wallet.

4  The prosperity gospel does not prepare the saints for tough times

“Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” – 1 Peter 4:19

When a crisis strikes, as it always will in our flee bitten sin diseased, sin cursed world, how are we to handle those times of trouble? I’m not sure what the Word of Faith folks say to the fact that we are called upon to suffer not just persecution suffering, but body-wasting-away, and disease-type suffering, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.” – 2 Corinthians 4:16 

Sadly what happens however, is that Christians in prosperity churches are often unprepared for the day when a tragedy happens in their lives.

Our hope rather should be found in and through the gospel message of renewal and transformation. This damaged world will be made right one day. Jesus will return and make things new. Knowing this helps me to look to God when I have been diagnosed with cancer, when your spouse loses his or her job, or when bankruptcy is declared because of circumstances beyond our control.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials.” – 1 Peter 1:3-6

5  The prosperity gospel can only lead to discontent and unsatisfied hearts

The teaching of the prosperity gospel belittles the true gospel to earthly betterment such as material goods, better health or better relationships. This though only leads to discontent and unsatisfied hearts. “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’” – Hebrews 13:5-6

The word ‘content’ here in verse 5 literally means ‘to be enough’, ‘to be sufficient’, ‘to be adequate’ on a continual basis. That means we come to Christ first and for Jesus’ sake alone. That means that Christ is enough even if the added things never get added.

Even if my marriage is terrible I can still find deep satisfaction because I find it in Jesus. If I am to remain single for the rest of my life I can find complete satisfaction because I find it in Jesus. If my job is a dead-end job or the boss treats me terribly, my satisfaction is complete because I find contentment in Jesus. Even if I never get that candy apple red Jaguar, or if I get sick or my child gets cancer and dies, or it seems that there’s always more month than pay-cheque. We must come to Jesus because of Jesus, Jesus is sufficient. God is enough.

“Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” – Psalm 73:25-26

God absolutely does want his children to prosper and in fact we are promised prosperity. However the promise is made for the day we enter glory. So it’s a timing thing really. One day we will undeniably be healthy & wealthy – just not necessarily today.

In the end we must know and believe that though we rejoice in suffering now, there will be great joy in the prosperity of Christ’s coming. “Rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” – 1 Peter 4:13

It’s Not Too Late – Hope for the Fight Against Porn

(Guest post – )

I could see the pain in his eyes. And fear.

His question was about his lack of assurance of salvation, and it was easy to tell this was not philosophical or merely theoretical. It was turmoil of soul over some besetting sin.

All it took was one clarifying question to uncover the source: guilt over his repeated return to Internet pornography. It was good he felt guilty, as I’d soon tell him. It was a sign of God’s grace.

By now, such a scenario was no surprise in college ministry. Here on a Christian campus, the pastoral issue that had come up more than any other was assurance of salvation. And after some initial bewilderment and a few extended conversations, the typical culprit soon became clear. Porn and the subsequent acting out.

Epidemic in This Generation

Assurance of salvation may be at an all-time low among Christians with the epidemic of porn use through ubiquitous Internet access. Sometimes it takes the form of existential angst and epistemological confusion, but often lack of assurance is the product of some deeply rooted sin. Could I really be saved if I keep returning to the same sin I have vowed so many times never to return to again?

We recently surveyed 8,000 Desiring God readers. Our study found that ongoing pornography use is not only dreadfully common, but increasingly higher among younger adults. More than 15% of Christian men over age sixty admitted to ongoing use. It was more than 20% for men in their fifties, 25% for men in their forties, and 30% for men in their thirties. But nearly 50% of self-professing Christian men, ages 18–29, acknowledged ongoing use of porn. (The survey found a similar trend among women, but in lesser proportions: 10% of females, ages 18–29; 5% in their thirties; increasingly less for forties, fifties, and sixty-plus.)

Graph of survey results

Hear His Voice Today

“Online access to porn may be new to this generation, but the invitation to repentance is gloriously ancient.” 

While the issue of online access to porn may be new to this generation — and progressively devastating to those who were exposed to it younger — the invitation to repentance from besetting sin is gloriously ancient. And perhaps no biblical text is more relevant to today’s struggles than Hebrews chapters 3 and 4.

Two-millennia old itself, the book of Hebrews points even further back into the past, to God’s invitation to repentance in Psalm 95:7–8: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts” (Hebrews 3:7–8, 13, 15; 4:7). While this offer of rest stretches across the centuries, the actual application to individual believers is restricted to those who have not yet fully hardened their hearts in unbelief and moved beyond repentance.

Hebrews is written to a group of persecuted Jewish Christians who are tempted to abandon their worship of Jesus as Messiah (the reason for their persecution) and return to the Judaism to which they once adhered apart from Jesus. Not only is such a move theologically disastrous (in terms of how one understands God and his revelation), but it is also personally, and eternally, devastating. These early Christians were experiencing the same hardness of heart that accompanies repeated sin and unfought unbelief in professing Christians today.

Into such a context, Hebrews reaches for Psalm 95 and the immediate exhortation it holds out: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” It’s a word our generation desperately needs to hear.

If You Still Hear Him

The emphasis on “today” is essential. Tomorrow is not a given. What you have is right now.

If you hear God’s voice today — calling you to Christ and his holiness — and reject that voice, your heart will be some degree harder for it, and do not take for granted that you will have next week, next month, a year from now, or even tomorrow to find repentance.

Every time we ignore the convicting voice of grace, we inch one step closer to judgment. Every conscious embrace of unrighteousness darkens the soul and adds callouses to the heart. At some point, no warmth or softness remains. Then, like Esau, who “found no chance to repent” (Hebrews 12:17), it will be too late.

“Our great hope against porn lies not in ourselves, but Christ, who has overcome, and in whom we too will overcome.”

 But today — today — if you still hear his gracious voice in the promptings of his Spirit, if you still feel the guilt, if you still sense the shame, if you still know some distaste for the impurity of sin — make today your point of turning. “See that you do not refuse him who is speaking” (Hebrews 12:25).

 

It is good that you feel bad about your ongoing sin. That’s the touch of grace. You still have the chance to turn from sin’s coldness to the warmth of a forgiving Christ. If your heart was already hard beyond repair, you wouldn’t be bothered by sin. Your conviction is his kindness.

As Long as It’s Still Today

Make today count for some new initiative in the fight. Renounce the sin while you can still muster the heart to do so. Involve a Christian friend in your struggle, with whom you can live out the priceless grace of Hebrews 3:12–13:

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

Choose righteousness today. Every concrete embrace of holiness matters. Every choice against evil, every act of righteousness in heart and mind and body. Every renouncing of sin prepares you, at least in some small measures, for choosing righteousness the next time. “We are always becoming who we will be” (Joe Rigney, Live Like a Narnian, 52), and today really does matter. Right now counts.

Where We Have Our Hope

And most importantly, fix your eyes afresh today on your advocate and great high priest, who is able “to sympathize with our weaknesses” and “who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). He is ready to dispense mercy and send grace “to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). We say no to sin by saying yes to Joy in him.

Here, at God’s right hand, sits our final hope. Not in our accountability, or our resolves, and definitely not in our willpower. Not in our record in the past, nor our ability in the present, nor our potential in the future. Our great hope lies not in ourselves, but outside of us, in Christ, who has overcome, and in whom we too will overcome.

Transgenderism – Identity Crisis Or Identity Lie?

Who would have suspected, even as short as 15-20 years ago, that the clear separation of the sexes would be questioned. Today, however it is not only questioned but the idea of transgenderism (or transsexualism) is being championed by many as a new normal.

If you haven’t seen on the news or heard about Bruce Jenner, now identifying as Caitlyn Jenner, then you must have been living on the moon.  Interestingly enough, the now Caitlyn (formally Bruce) was reported to be having second thoughts about  the transition from male to female according to author Ian Halperin. He says that the former Olympic decathlete may de-transition in the next few years and come out as Bruce once again. Apparently Caitlyn is still attracted to women and his transition has created problems for the former Olympian to meet the right woman to settle down with.

To be fair, I don’t know if Halperin’s claim is accurate or not, however the facts are that if someone is confused of their gender before hand, who’s to say they wouldn’t be confused after they transition? In many cases the identity crisis they are experiencing doesn’t come as a result of wrong gender, rather it comes as a result of not knowing who they are as an individual in their very being.

BTW… to be clear, I’m not addressing the world of a hermaphrodite, that is a whole other issue, rather I’m speaking to the issue of one clear gender self identifying that they are now, or wish to become, another gender.

I admit that the Bible nowhere plainly mentions transgenderism or describes anyone as having transgender feelings, however the Word does say plenty about sexuality. First off, we’re told that God created two (and only two) genders. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” – Genesis 1:27. The current speculation about gender fluidity is foreign to the Bible.

The closest the Bible does come to mentioning transgenderism is in its criticisms of homosexuality (Romans 1:18-32) and transvestitism (Deuteronomy 22:5).  Add to that to the fact that the Greek word translated “homosexuality” in 1 Corinthians 6:9 literally means “effeminate men.” So, while the Bible nowhere plainly mentions transgenderism, it does clearly speak to instances of gender “confusion,” and explicitly identifies them as sin.

That may be what a disciple of Jesus believes but that doesn’t stop the argument coming today from the mainstream media that those who disagree with and/or speak out against transgenderism are nothing short of hate criminals at the very worst, or uneducated bigots in the very least. After all, how can you not feel for someone who is ‘trapped’ in a gender that does not match their ‘true’ gender?

So am I bigot or a criminal because of my convictions? Personally, I feel for Caitlyn and for the thousands of others who are struggling with their gender identity. The question I think begs to be asked is just how do we respond to those struggling in this area? For that matter how do we respond to those who are in our families or places of work or friendship circles who may feel they are no longer struggling and seem to be quite happy following their transition?

If gender matters to God then it should certainly matter to me. If God calls something a sin then no matter my feelings about it I must accept it as a sin. However that doesn’t give me licence to be a hater or a bigot.

Our response as Christians should be nothing less than deeply felt compassion while becoming a people who prayerfully begin to reasonably understand transgender and sexual-orientation issues and what the Bible says about them. And then to listen carefully with those whom God may place in your life who are transitioning or have transitioned as you build an authentic relationship with these very real people. It’s only then that we are in a good position to speak truth in love. Speaking “In love” means speaking with great respect, empathy, and appropriate humility. And it means to love with action (such as hospitality), not just words as John speaks about, “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” – 1 John 3:18.

And I think that love means being slow to speak, especially on social media. If you do choose to speak, work hard to speak with an unusually respectful, gracious voice. Maybe unknown to you, someone you know is struggling with their gender identity and your words could possibly impact them one way or another, so always speak as you would to a friend.

We must lovingly point people to Jesus Christ because it is only through Christ where we discover that our identity is not in our gender, our colour, our jobs, or our societal roles, but rather it is found in being chosen by God for an amazing purpose.

To purchase this great resource click here:

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” – 1 Peter 2:9-10

When we become a disciple of Jesus Christ we are now forever owned by him and no longer a part of the world, or for that matter ourselves. We’re set apart and now exist for God to make us into his holy people, to share his holy character – which is now our identity. These new identities mean that we now have an active role in the presence of this amazing, holy God. Our life is now about priestly service and so never out of the God’s presence as his royal priesthood, no longer in the neutral zone of life but always in the temple courts. This means then that if we act in an unholy way we are acting out of character and working against our true identities. We are either finding our identities in Christ or we are out of character if we’re not.

We were created to discover our identity through a renewed relationship with Jesus Christ but when we try to find it elsewhere, whether that be in other things, other people, or in what I do or who I am, well then, it never measures up. That’s because all these other measurements are temporary. I may get a face lift but eventually age catches up with me, I may change my gender but I am still the same person deep inside. We simply can’t find eternal satisfaction through the temporary.

Yet people still keep trying, believing the lie from Satan that we don’t need God. Lying is Satan’s primary weapon against the church, and he uses his tactic of deceit effectively to separate people from their heavenly Father and the truth. He tries to convince people that God is not the answer and that our identities are found in any other place rather than in Christ. He is passing on the same identity lie he began in Eden. The lie that we find our identities apart from God. And he continues to do so because his success depends on people believing his lies because quite frankly, the more the world hears these lies the more they believe it and Satan knows this. Adolph Hitler, a man who learned how to lie effectively, once said, “If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.”

But the damage caused by listening to Satan’s lies and by trying to discover our identities without Jesus can be seen in the pain and suffering evident in people’s lives. Just look no farther than the billboards on our streets or the ads on TV. Women driven to fulfill the western world’s ideal of beauty – the dream woman, sometimes to the point of eating disorders that destroy not just the body but also the soul. Women and men, caught up in a never ending cycle of disappointment and heartache day after day because they just don’t measure up to the world’s idea of beauty or satisfaction or identity. It is only when a man & woman, put their hope in God, will they become a deeply settled & strong person who knows who they are.

Out of all the things in this life I don’t know, here’s what I do know. We’re all “trapped” in bodies that we need deliverance from. “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” – Romans 7:24. That’s why Jesus came: to deliver not just Caitlyn Jenner but also people like you and me from the hold of sin and failing disordered bodies, in order that we may be given glorious, powerful, confusion-free resurrection bodies.

“So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.” – 1 Corinthians 15:42-44.