It’s our 100th episode* so we’re having some fun and taking a trip down memory lane, but we’re also talking about the impact that fads like fidget spinners and WWJD bracelets have had on Christians. Should Christians participate with these things? Listen for details about how to win our 100th episode giveaway and how to get some awesome CT merch!
*Just a reminder that this season we are breaking the episodes into 2 parts.
How Can You Help Carnivore Theology?
1. Pray for us!
4. Send a donation to help us pay the bills.
It’s our 100th episode so we’re having some fun and taking a trip down memory lane, but we’re also talking about the impact that fads like fidget spinners and WWJD bracelets have had on Christians. Should Christians participate with these things? Listen for details about how to win our 100th episode giveaway and how to get some awesome CT merch!
How Can You Help Carnivore Theology?
1. Pray for us!
4. Send a donation to help us pay the bills.
Facebook and other social media websites are a double edged sword. On one hand you can connect with friends, share funny pictures and personal events, and learn about and engage in discussions on a wide range of interesting topics. On the other hand, it’s also a place that can be filled with gossip, falsehood, pride, and unhelpful, hurtful comments and arguments. I think many of us have experienced the light and the dark side of social media.
I post a lot of different things on my Facebook feed, and they generally reflect my interests and personality. For example, this week I posted some things about being a pastor, a link to my podcast and sermon, asked for prayer for my tinnitus, invited people to the church yard sale and my home for a BBQ, shared about a documentary I watched, and a picture of Batman with a large beard, holding a comb. Most of the posts go by without incident and get a few likes, but sometimes they spark discussion.
Fallout from Failure
That happened this week after I posted a link talking about celebrity pastor, Mark Driscoll’s ministry collapse. The genesis of the conversation was that a lot of people were hurt by his ministry implosion, how the elders handled it, the disgrace he brought, and how abrupt it was. When his ministry blew up, a lot of people, especially new, young believers were in shock. They thought they had found a great church with a group of elders who loved them, Jesus, and each other. It was hard enough to get these people into a church, but when they came, they thought they had finally found a place that was different than the world. A place where Jesus was real, worship was authentic, technology was embraced, leaders were bold, and people loved one another.
And then it came out that Mark Driscoll wasn’t such a great guy. He was caught plagiarizing large sections of his books, using church money fraudulently, bullying and abusing his staff, embracing heretical teachers, and doing some other really dumb things. As a result, Driscoll was dropped from many associations and then fired from the church, his multi-site church crumbled, buildings were sold, and many, many people left the church in a lot of pain.
Their question was obvious: “We were told that everyone would let us down except Jesus. We were told that if we put our faith in Jesus then we will know peace, love and joy. We were told that this church loved and listened to Jesus – and here we go: everyone is fighting, the lead teacher turns out to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and it feels like we’ve been punched in the stomach. This was the one group that was supposed to get it right, but if they can’t keep it together, then who can we trust!?” So they left the church broken, confused, and angry – many will never return to another church.
John Piper, another celebrity teacher – one of the good ones! – was asked about Driscoll recently. The question to him was:
“[The people that are leaving are saying:] Pastor John, I’m not walking away from Jesus, but I’m done with the church. Can’t trust the leadership, held this guy in high esteem, so I’m not going to walk away from Jesus, but I’m done with the organized aspect of church.”
I posted that on Facebook and it started a conversation about the balance of personal faith and being part of a church.
I found Piper’s answer was very insightful. He said:
“If you do that [walk away from church], you’re walking away from Jesus. Here’s the reason; to say that I love Jesus, but I don’t submit to his Word is a lie. ‘He who loves me will keep my words.’ Jesus founded the church. I didn’t. Paul didn’t. Jesus founded the church. He established apostles to be, according to Ephesians 2:20, the foundation of the church. Then he built it with prophets, and teachers, and pastors and ordained that there be a structure of local churches in the body of Christ called the church. This is not man’s idea.”
I agree with that. We must acknowledge that sometimes people get hurt when they join a church. It’s a risky thing to become part of a group like this. Sometimes there are wolves in sheep’s clothing, sometimes there are arguments, sometimes God’s people let us down. But despite all that we must keep in our minds the biblical truth about church: it’s not our idea, it’s God’s (see Hebrews 10:25; Matthew 18:15-20; Acts 2:42-47; Ephesians 4:11-16; Colossians 3:16) and He tells us in no uncertain terms that His people are supposed to be part of it.
People are understandably nervous about being part of a church because they’ve seen all the evil, exploitative and fallen leaders that have come along, and they don’t want anything to do with them. They put their trust into their human father, and he let them down. They put their trust in their teacher, and were let down. They put their trust in their friends, and they let them down. They put their trust in their boyfriend or girlfriend, and were let down. They trusted their coach, their doctor, their government, the news programs – and they were let down over and over and over. And when they started to grow curious about religion, about God, about the scriptures – and they started looking at the church, they came across televangelists that wanted their money, hypocrites that pretended their faith, pastors that cheated on their spouses, preachers that talk about love but spew hate-speech, and so much arguing and fighting among people who were supposed to be united by their love for Jesus and living as brothers and sisters.
The Truth About Church
It’s only natural that they would be hesitant about going anywhere near that group. They feel the pull towards God, but don’t want anything to do with organized religion, so they take it all into their own hands – but in doing so, they are throwing the baby out with the bathwater. They don’t realize that, despite the difficulties, we really are supposed to be “under the umbrella of the church” , engaging in corporate worship and discipline, serving, encouraging, and helping one another, and shining the light of the Gospel in our community, together.
We need mature believers to help us grow closer to God. We need to be listening to the teaching of scripture, declared by someone who has been chosen and gifted to teach it – not just seeking out whatever we feel like we want to believer. We need to be challenged, guided, disciple, held accountable, and part of a loving, faith community. Not just because it’s a good idea – but because’ it’s God’s idea! And when we don’t, we are not only disobeying God’s Word, but invite a lot of spiritual dangers into our life. When we leave the care of the church and try to go it alone – or pursue God on our own terms – it’s easier to fall into error and start to believe heresy, we become myopic and narrow-minded unable to reflect a proper image of ourselves, unable to see our sins. We leave ourselves open to being attacked by our enemy the devil, who loves to get us alone and crush our spirit. And when we find ourselves in that condition, it’s far easier to be preyed upon by spiritual wolves.
And please understand that there are a lot of wolves out there – and they are eating people alive right now. Christianity is full of wolves right now, who are building up huge influence, gathering followers, and then teaching them false doctrine and lying to them about God. They are giving people false hope and destroying people’s souls.
There are a lot of things that the Christian church must do to help these folks that are falling into their trap, but I think the main one that we need to get right today is that we must hold fast to the truth. Compromise is the death of the church and if we are going to be the authentic church of Jesus Christ, following through with all that means, and standing for the faith, then we must stand for truth.
Background of 2nd John
Open up with me to the second shortest book in the New Testament, at only 245 words, 2nd John. This letter from John to the church barely even qualifies as a letter – it’s almost a postcard. Let me give you a bit of background before we read.
At the time of the writing of this postcard, the Good News of Jesus Christ was being taken from place to place by traveling evangelists and specially trained – much like the missionaries we sent out from our churches and conferences today. One of the commands that we are given is to be hospitable to such evangelists. We find that in the teachings of Christ, the letter to the Hebrews, Peter, the letters of Paul, and all the way back to the Old Testament. Hospitality to everyone from strangers to the people of God was very important – especially if that person was a missionary. They needed somewhere to stay while teaching, provisions for their journey, and sometimes money to help them along their way.
When Jesus sent out the Twelve on their first missionary journeys He said that they should go from town to town and find hospitable people that were willing to listen to their message. In Matthew 10:11-15:
“And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart. As you enter the house, greet it. And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgement for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.”
So hospitality to travelling missionaries and bible teachers was a pretty big deal.
However, just like today, some of these travelling teachers and missionaries were spreading a false gospel. Some were professional Jewish who would follow the Christian missionaries and then, when they left, teach that the believers didn’t just need Jesus, but needed to follow the whole Jewish Law too – which made sense to some and confused a lot of people. A lot of Paul’s letters address these people.
Later, another heresy came about when the Gnostic teachers who interwove Greek philosophy with Christian teaching, emphasizing special, mystical knowledge over faith in Jesus. These guys would rewrite parts of the bible and the apostolic letters. They are the precursors to a lot of heretical and pagan religions of today.
Some Christians were showing hospitality to these teachers too. Some because they had generous hearts, others unknowing that they were false teachers, and some willfully knowing they taught something else, but wanting to hear them. So John, wanting to head these guys off, sends his postcard letter to the church about this very issue.
As we read, I want you to pay attention to the word “Truth”.
“The elder to the elect lady and her children, whom I love in truth, and not only I, but also all who know the truth, because of the truth that abides in us and will be with us forever: Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ the Father’s Son, in truth and love.
I rejoiced greatly to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as we were commanded by the Father. And now I ask you, dear lady—not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but the one we have had from the beginning—that we love one another. And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it. For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward. Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.
Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink. Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete. The children of your elect sister greet you.”
Don’t Help The Heretics!
Knowing what we know about the background, it’s easy to figure out what John is saying here, isn’t it? Watch out for false teachers! Don’t help them! That’s a big deal. Consider that Jesus taught us to show love and kindness to our enemies. He met with and enjoyed the company of sinners – prostitutes, Pharisees, tax collectors. He taught His followers to love their enemies, to pray for them, serve them, turn the other cheek, give them more than they ask, follow them farther than they force you to go!
We’re to show love to believers, unbelievers, pagans, heathens and enemies – but when it comes to false teachers John says, “no not receive him into your house or given him any greeting.”
- “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.” (Romans 16:17)
- “If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” (Galatians 1:9)
- “Now we command you, brothers, sin 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.” (2 Thessalonians 3:6)
- “If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed.” (2 Thessalonians 3:14)
The Apostles, as we should, took very seriously the warning of Jesus that says that “false christs and false prophets will arise” (Matthew 24:24) and that we should “beware of false prophets that come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” (Matthew 5:15). They birthed these new churches with good doctrine, focused on Jesus, and then watched their baby church overtaken by “ravenous wolves” who wanted nothing better than to tear the church apart through confusion, division and bad theology that told people to depend on themselves for their salvation rather than God.
The Truth about Truth
So what I want to do at the end here is to take apart the meat of what John is saying to see some important points about truth, and why we need to be ever vigilant to make sure that we are living in the truth and not associating ourselves with lies.
1. Truth Connects us to Jesus
The very first part of the letter gives us the most critical point about truth: Truth connects us to Jesus. It says, “The elder to the elect lady and her children, whom I love in truth, and not only I, but also all who know the truth, because of the truth that abides in us and will be with us forever….” (vs 1-2)
John’s love for these people, their love for each other, our love for one another, our love for Jesus, and His love for us is real because it’s based on truth. That truth is personified in Jesus.
We can “know” the truth, “abide in” the truth, and “be with” the truth. Truth is not subjective, it’s objective, and for Christians, the ultimate source of truth is Jesus Christ. He is the fullest expression and embodiment of truth, literally, “the Way, the Truth and the Life” (John 14:6) – not because we believe it, or because we feel it, or because we want or need Him to be, but simply because HE IS.
Truth doesn’t change based on how we feel about it – no matter how much we may want it to. We believe God is the source of truth and that His Word, the Bible contains objective truth – meaning that it’s not based on personal feelings or opinions. It doesn’t matter what we feel about Jesus – that doesn’t change who He is anymore than our feelings about a mountain or the force of gravity changes anything about it. It just is, regardless of your feelings. It’s true, whether we believe it or not. Our lack of faith, or desire for Him to be different, doesn’t change the facts about the existence or character of God. He is immutable, unchangeable, God.
All of our doctrine and creeds and biblical writing aren’t a way for us to try to figure out (or worse, invent) who God is – but to discern what He has told us about Himself. He has given it to us and it’s our privileged to discover what He’s said. And when we mess with truth – the truth of who God is, who Jesus is, who the Holy Spirit is, what His word says – we mess with the very foundation of our relationship with God. When we step away from the truth about God, we step away from God.
2. Truth is Commanded by God
Which is what makes this is so serious. Truth is so important that it is commanded in God’s moral law. John says in verse 4, “I rejoiced greatly to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as we were commanded by the Father.”
I don’t need to get too much into this one because it is so fundamental to scripture that it’s almost imposible to misunderstand. The ninth commandment is “Don’t bear false witness” – or “don’t lie.” Scripture promises punishment in this life and the next to people who lie. The psalms say that liars will not dwell in the house of God. Jesus calls people who lie children of the devil “for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44)
We all know the destructive power of lies, misinformation, manipulation and deceptions. Which is why truth is commanded by God. And John is happy that at least “some” of them were still walking in the truth.
3. Truth is a Blessing
But it’s not just about not lying. It’s about the blessing of telling the truth because doing so is an act of love. John connects love and truth all the way through. In Verse 5 he says that the commandment to tell the truth comes from God “that we may love one another.” In verse 6 he says, “And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments…”, that commandment, from the context is to walk in the truth.
Now look at verse 7:
“For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist.”
The scriptures connect Truth with Love, and deception with “the antichrist”. He says that there are people who are going around spreading lies about Jesus, and those who lie about Jesus are literally anti-Jesus, anti-saviours, anti-gospel, anti-Christs.
- Jesus came to save, they lead people to hell.
- Jesus came to free people from sin, they make people slaves.
- Jesus came to fulfill the law, they bind people to religion.
- Jesus came to unite His people, they come to divide.
- Jesus came to help us understand the unity of our body, mind and soul, they cause us to divide our very selves.
- Jesus came to reveal God, they put a shroud over Him.
- Jesus came to serve and give of Himself, they come to use people to gain glory and profit for themselves.
One who teaches false things about Jesus isn’t just “someone with another opinion”, but an anti-Christ, literally anti-love. It is not loving to point people to false gospels, give false hope, and teach false ideas about God. No matter how difficult the truth is, a lie is never, ever better. It is never more loving to lie or promote falsehood. Truth and love are always connected.
4. Truth Requires Diligence
And so, John says that we must work hard at keeping hold of the truth.
“Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward.” (vs 8)
Truth requires work and diligence. It takes effort. He says, “Watch yourselves!” because truth can be “lost”. Truth must be “worked for” and “won”.
These false teachers and missionaries are going to be tricky to catch and very persuasive, cunning and charismatic in their presentation. They are going to look good and it will be very tempting to listen to them – because they will say what we want to hear! In the words of 2 Timothy 4:3-4,
“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”
You can hear that everywhere today. People inventing their false gods. People coming up with different versions of the scriptures. People compromising on clear teachings in the Word because it’s easier and more acceptable to do so. Church after church, denomination after denomination, walking away from the clear teachings of scripture because they are losing members and attenders. The gospel is too divisive, God is too strict, Jesus is too narrow, the Bible is too contentious, so they step away from the truth and announce that they have embraced a new idea – anyone can believe whatever they want and God will still be happy! That leads people to Hell.
How bad can it get? You might be surprised.
We’re studying a letter from a John — Here’s a different guy: John Shuck, who is a self-confessed atheist. He believes that religion is a human construct, Jesus is merely a legend, God is a symbol, the Bible is a human document, and there is no afterlife. He is currently the Pastor of Southminister Presbyterian Church in Beaverton, Oregon. Surprised?
Here’s Reverend Gretta Vosper – yep, she’s an ordained, reverend, who was ran through some kind of ordination counsel! – who is a self-confessed atheist and is currently trying to keep her job at Westhill United Church in Toronto. She says her congregation supports her desire to stay as their pastor, which I believe, since they must have read the book she wrote in 2008 entitled, “With our Without God: Why the Way we Live is More Important Than What we Believe.” This woman has a huge platform and is an absolute wolf – who is lovingly embraced by a “Christian church”.
How is this possible? Well, partly because people love lies, but also because Christians have given up a lot of ground when it comes to the truth. We’ve stopped being diligent about pursuing the truth. We’ve stopped steeping ourselves in the truth of God’s word and have left ourselves open to all kinds of falsehoods – that all sound great to our itching ears. Some believers can’t come up for a good argument for why these nice people shouldn’t be preachers – and that’s terribly sad.
5. Truth Has Enemies
We must, must remember that truth has enemies. The Father of Lies, Satan, hasn’t taken any time off. He’s working overtime to draw people away from the truth and into falsehood, so that more and more people live in fear, foolishness and fall away from the faith. He wants them in Hell and is more than willing to fill them full of whatever lies it takes – including letting them to go to atheist churches, sing feel-good songs, invent their own religion and gods, and tell them anything they want to hear – as long as it doesn’t point them to Jesus.
Truth has enemies and most Christians today have no idea who they are. It’s not just kooky televangelists and violent atheists that are the problem. There are many within our own walls that are chipping away, tearing away the foundations from beneath our feet. And we’re letting them because they’re telling us what we want to hear. We can walk into Christian Book Stores and buy books by heretics and liars. We can visit Christian websites and google “Christian blogs and podcast” and come across wonderful looking, popular, men and women who know lots of Christian jargon, but who are working against true, Christian teaching.
We need to work hard to make sure our teachers are the good ones. We shouldn’t listen to, receive, great or accept these people – like Creflo Dollar, Brian McLaren, Benny Hinn, Joel Osteen, TD Jakes, and their ilk – and yet millions of people, even Christians, are eating their stuff up. And their lies are sneaking into our churches. Anti-Christian, Anti-Biblical, Anti-Gospel teaching are found all over the place – in Beckwith, Carleton Place, Ottawa, Ontario and Canada. They are right here, in our town and among people in our denomination – I’ve met them! And people are listening to them.
Conclusion – The Belt of Truth
In VBS, during the month of July, we taught the children about the Armour of God. They were knighted today because they learned about each piece and want to follow Jesus into the battle for the truth. The scripture they learned was from Ephesians 6:10-18 and it describes the pieces of a soldier’s armour, but the one piece we don’t usually see in the pictures of the solider is the belt: Paul calls it the belt of truth. And the reason we don’t see it is because it’s the thing that’s holding it all together. Today we might call it a sort of girdle. It was the piece that kept the under-clothing together. It’s what the sword sheath hung on. It’s what kept the breastplate secure. It protected the soldiers guts. Fastening the belt meant that the solder was ready to fight. They only loosened the belt when they were off duty.
The belt of truth is the foundation of the soldier’s armour, just as truth is the foundation of the Christian life.
We must realize that truth has enemies, and that they are subtle, influential and compelling, charming and charismatic. And so we must fight for the truth, be diligent, watch ourselves, so that we can be sure that we are holding to the standards of scripture. We must commit that we will bless other with the truth, the whole truth, even when it is hard. Not only because it’s commanded by God, but because it is the most loving thing that we can do for others. Sharing truth, in love, with love, as love. Because sharing the truth points people to Jesus.
And so I want to close with the scripture that we taught our kids, about the battle all believers are a part of, and for which we must be ready:
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 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. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.” (Ephesians 6:10-18)
Do you know what this is? It’s quite famous and has been around for over 100 years. Millions and millions of people have seen this, probably including yourself. Now can you identify it? Of course you can. Interesting isn’t it? When people go to the Louvre in Paris, not too many even see the frame, do they?
Brad Paisley has a song called “Mona Lisa” which is all about a man who knows that when him and his girl walk into a room, no one is looking at him – and he’s ok with that. In fact, he’s not just ok with it, he’s thankful. The chorus goes, “I feel like the frame that gets to hold the Mona Lisa and I don’t care if that’s all I ever do.”
John the Baptist could have written that. He’s willing to be the frame that few people remember, so that people can see Jesus. And in his life is a message for all of us.
We live in a world consumed with a lust for fame. We have “Reality TV” shows that turn regular people (not really that regular, actually) into celebrities. Almost everyone has a camera phone and can immediately upload any moment of their life so their “followers” can see and immediately comment on what they are doing or eating. People on YouTube are all looking for how they can become the next viral sensation by doing something funny or dangerous. We have dozens of magazines dedicated to following celebrities – what they wear, where they vacation, what their family is doing, who they are dating. We are a society of fame junkies willing to do almost anything – even lewd, offensive or idiotic things – trading pieces of their soul so they can get the attention of strangers for only moments. And when the fame starts to slip, they do even more lewd, even more offensive, more damaging and more idiotic things to keep it.
But living to pursue fame – wanting to be the Mona Lisa so much that you won’t accept being the frame – destroys people. It destroys relationships and lives.
Yes, You Have a Pride Problem Too
Some might be tuning out thinking that you don’t have “a desire to be famous”, but we all struggle with the root problem – which is pride.
- There are some who have a messiah complex, wanting to help and fix everyone and everything around you, feeling guilty when you can’t help – and that’s a pride problem because your trying to do Jesus’ job.
- Some want to be known as the completely self-reliant, able to stand on your own, even able to dole out your riches to the less fortunate –you are the one who feeds people, you sustain the world by your own power and might – and that’s a pride problem because you’re trying to be God.
- Some want to be the Creator, the one who is so clever and smart and wonderful and creative. You want them to come to have your cooking, your art, your writing, your poetry, your garden, your lawn. You want people to look to you to as the fount beauty and joy. You want to be Jesus.
- Some want to be the final authority. You want to have control, know everything that’s going on, have a say on everything that happens, and it all must run through you. And when someone doesn’t ask what you want you get mad because you’re not getting your say. God help anyone who would disagree with you. You want authority over people, telling them what is best – and that’s Jesus’ job.
- Some want to be worshipped and adored, so you perform, and dress up, and put on your signature scent, place yourself at the centre of attention. You want what belongs to Jesus alone.
- Some want to be the fount of all wisdom and knowledge, above all in their intelligence and opinion. You know you’re smarter, more educated and wiser than anyone else, and so everyone should come to you with their questions. In other words, you want to be prayed to, and you want to answer those prayers with your own mind. You want to be Jesus.
And every one of those things are ways that we live life trying to be the Mona Lisa and not the frame. And we can learn a lot about that from John the Baptist about how important it is that we learn to accept life as the frame.
A Life Set Apart
John had known his role since birth. His father Zechariah had been told by an angel, while standing in the temple of God, that John would be set aside for a great work. The angel said,
“And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” (Luke 1:14-17)
For his entire life, by God’s decree, John was to be limited. From birth there would be things that he wasn’t allowed to do. His life would be different, and the way he lived it would reflect that. He wouldn’t be allowed to do the things that others could do. He wouldn’t live the way others lived. He would be powerfully used by God, filled with the Holy Spirit, great in word and deed, but only when he submitted himself to God. He committed himself to never drinking wine, and as an adult, went even further to committing himself to living as an Essene – a Jewish sect with strict rules about living simply and following God wholeheartedly. They lived in the deserts, made oaths of loyalty to God and one another, to hate wickedness and love truth, obey the elders, be honest with each other and be fiercely loyal to the exact words of scriptures. A new follower wasn’t even allowed to eat until he took the oaths.
They would sell what they had and give it to a common storehouse, spend their days working and studying the scriptures and other important books, and most didn’t have a family. If you broke with the laws, you were expelled from the group which usually meant you would starve to death in the desert.
John chose to live with this group not because he was an extremist or a fanatic, but so that he could concentrate on God and the mission God gave him. He gave up everything for the sake of the call.
Submitting To the Word of God
And it wasn’t just in His life that John the Baptist submitted himself to God. He also limited his message to only speaking what God wanted him to say. When he confronted Herod, it wasn’t by his own words, but by the words of God. He was a powerful, influential preacher, with a strong message, but the message wasn’t his – it was given to him.
He placed himself under the Word of God, and that gave him the strength and conviction to proclaim such a hard message to so many different groups. He knew the words of scripture, and knew God’s requirements of His people. And therefore, not in his own voice, and not by his own wisdom, and not in his own anger, but with God’s, he stood before the Pharisees and Sadducees – the religious elite of his day – and call them a “brood of vipers” who needed to repent of their sin. He stood before the crowds and commanded them to give up their comfort to care for one another. He stood before the powerful tax collectors and commanded them to be honest in their work. He stood before armed Roman Soldiers and told them not to steal and lie, and to be content with their wages. Knowing his message was not his own, but was from God, was why he could stand before King Herod and say, “You were married to one woman, lusted after another man’s wife, divorced your own, and took his. That’s sin and you need to repent!”
They weren’t his words, but were the words of God. Not because he was a prophet, but simply because he had studied the scriptures and was willing to open his mouth against sin.
We are sorely lacking in both those categories today. We lack people who understand the scriptures well enough to actually know what they say, and we lack people with the courage and conviction to actually stand up and tell people what it says. We care too much for our own opinions and our own comfort. We worry too much about what people will think, and not enough about what God thinks. And so many believers, and many churches, are quiet, weak, afraid and defeated.
Let’s talk application. There are of similarities between how John the Baptist lived, and how we are meant to live. We talked about this last week, so I’m not going to rehash it, but let’s remember that we too have a high calling and are meant to live differently.
Listen to what Peter writes to the church in 1 Peter 2:9-12:
“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. Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”
He uses very specific language to describe who Christians are and how Christians should live. We are “chosen”, “royal”, and “holy”. That means we are like John the Baptist — set apart, different than the world. God picked us, you and me, to be His own people – a special group of His own choosing. Just like John the Baptist, before we were born, we were set apart to be His. (Rom 8:29)
The Apostle Peter then tells us why we have been set apart – “that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you”. Same mission, same message, as John the Baptist. Not our words, His words. Our mission isn’t to promote ourselves and share our message, but to promote Jesus and share His message. We are not to “proclaim the excellencies” of our way of life, our church, or even our faith – but to proclaim the glory and excellencies of God.
- We are the medium, He is the message.
- We’re the envelope, He’s the letter.
- We’re the radio, He’s the signal.
- We’re the web-browser, He’s the internet.
- We’re the frame, He’s the Mona Lisa.
If people are seeing only us, then we’re not doing it right.
This hits home to me as I watch more and more ministry and secular leaders flame out around us. We all know about the people who are disqualifying themselves though sexual sin by having affairs, getting caught with porn, or doing foolish things like taking digital-pictures of themselves in compromising positions and hoping it never gets seen. And we know about the ones who are disqualifying themselves because of their love for money and they get caught with their hands in the cookie jar. We’re seeing that in industry, government and in the church. But one sin that seems to fly under the radar, and is just as disqualifying as money or sex for the Christian minister….
Some of you know who Mark Driscoll is and others of you don’t. He is mega-church pastor from Seattle Washington who has had a very dramatic effect on my life. I’ve been listening to his sermons for my entire career, subscribe to his blog, follow him on facebook, listen to his conferences, have bought almost all his books, and listen to his podcasts. I’ve jokingly called him my “patron saint” because of the effect he’s had on my life and ministry.
He’s known for his strong, straightforward, biblical leadership and preaching style. He’s edgy, media savvy, incredibly intelligent, has a near-photographic memory and can recall large portions of books and scripture at will, is evangelistically minded, biblically driven, and totally sold out to Jesus. A sermon that would take me 20 hours to prepare only takes him 2 hours.
But in the past 2 months, I’ve watched as Driscoll’s ministry has latterly fallen apart in front of him and the rest of the world. He and his church were rebuked and then removed from the church network that he started. He had to cancel the conference he started. His books have been pulled from shelves. He’s been accused and brought up on official charges by dozens of pastors that he’s worked with in the past, and who currently work for him. And just in the past week, he’s been asked to step down as pastor of the church for an indefinite period of time.
Now, I’m not going to stand up here and claim that I know what’s going on in a church 4500 kilometers away. I only know the details that I’ve seen in the news and from statements released by Driscoll and the church. But what seems very clear is that his fall didn’t come because of sexual or financial sin, but because of pride.
The accusations that have been leveled at Driscoll are all about him getting too big in his own mind and then harming those around who challenged him.. I have no doubt that he places himself under the authority of Jesus, but what caused such huge controversy and destruction in his ministry, is his huge ego. He wasn’t held accountable enough by the people around him, his pride inflated, and he started to believe he was the whole show. He lashed out verbally against his elders, fellow pastors, and other people online. He used his amazing intellect and speaking ability to crush the spirits of people around him with insults. He plagiarized people’s work calling it his own, misappropriated church funds, and consolidated power so he couldn’t be questioned. His conduct has been called “ungodly and disqualifying” and “spiritually abusive” – but it wasn’t sex or money that got him – it was his prideful character. (Sources: 1 2 3 4)
Over and over and over God says in scripture that “pride goes before destruction.” (Prov 16:8; 16:5; Jeremiah 20:23; James 4:6). On the list in proverbs of things that God hates, number one is “haughty [prideful] eyes.” (Prov 16:16) And right now, because of his unchecked pride, Driscoll is sitting at home, his church in agony, his ministry crumbling, the people around him broken hearted, and his church, his followers, and people like me are bewildered and depressed.
Yes, I Have a Pride Problem Too
And this hits me extra hard because pride is a daily struggle for me too. I fear that one day I too will be disqualified – not because I’m going to cheat on my wife or steal from the offering plate, but because of my character. That list I gave you of ways that you can be prideful are all problems for me. I struggle with all of those.
I fight against accountability too much. I spend too much time thinking about what others think of me. I am drawn to puff myself up through social media. I like it far too much when people “like” and “share” the things that I post online. I think too much about who will hear me, how far my voice will carry, how cool and creative I’m being, and not nearly enough about what God thinks of what I’m saying and doing. I spend way too much time thinking about success and not even close to enough time considering whether I am being obedient in the moment.
And, if left unchecked, if left unaccountable, if not brought under the Lordship of Jesus, if not held accountable by the elders, the church and my wife, and without God’s daily provision of grace, humility and self-control, I will one day lose my ministry. I will lose my voice. I will lose my testimony. I will be like so many of the kings in the bible who start out ok, but don’t finish well. I know that. And it scares me all the time.
But it’s not just ministers that run this risk, is it? It’s everybody. You’ve heard it before – “Character is king.” This is a mistake we all make – to care too much about what we are like on the outside, and not enough about who we are on the inside. This isn’t a new message, but it is an important one – character is king and pride kills our character.
He Must Increase But I Must Decrease
At one point John’s disciples came to him concerned that Jesus was making more disciples and baptizing more people than he was. This is when many people would panic. John’s ministry was shrinking! Someone else was getting the glory! John’s fame was decreasing! There’s a new guy down the street and everyone’s going to Him! John, John, what are we going to do? You’ll be out of a job!
“And they came to John and said to him, ‘Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.’ John answered, ‘A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.’” (John 3:26-30)
If there is one line that summarizes the life and ministry of John the Baptist, that’s it: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” And it was the reason that he was so mightily used. That’s why he could live simply and stay committed to God’s will.
He lived to bring glory to the Son of God. “He must increase, but I must decrease.” He was sent to “prepare the way” for Jesus, and He lived that way. He knew he wasn’t the main show – he was the opening act. He wasn’t the movie he was the trailer. He wasn’t the meal, he was the appetizer.
The Gospels all introduce John as the forerunner, the one who “prepared the way”. He is there to gather a crowd, get them warmed up, introduce Jesus, kick off His full-time ministry, pass along some of His followers, and then get out of the way. His job wasn’t to be on stage – it was to prepare the stage for someone else. That’s what we’re here for too.
And when people started to think he was the Christ, he made absolutely sure they knew he wasn’t. In Luke 3:15-16 it says,
“As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ, John answered them all, saying, ‘I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.'”
When people started to admire him for being such a great frame, he always pointed them back to the picture. “Don’t look at me – look at Him! If you’re looking at me, you’re going to miss everything!”
Imagine flying a friend to Paris, getting a cab to the Louvre, standing in line, fighting the huge crowd to get to front, finally getting to the viewing spot, and only being allowed your 15 second glance before you are shuffled off so others can see. – And then you go outside for some fresh air and ask your friend, “So, what did you think of the Mona Lisa?”. How hard would you smack them if their answer was, “Oh, I have no idea! I didn’t even see it. I was too busy looking at the pretty frame around it.”?
Now let’s get even more ridiculous. Imagine taking your friend, flying to Paris, getting your cab to the Louvre, fighting the crowd and getting to the front only to find that the curator has decided to take down the Mona Lisa and leave the frame. Would you be upset? Of course you would! No one comes to see the frame!
And here’s the unpopular message that you need to be told: Your life will be better if you realize that you are the frame and Jesus is the picture. If you get that confused, and try to live to be the Mona Lisa, you are going to be miserable.
There are too many people living today who refuse to be the frame – they want the glory that only God deserves. They want to be the Saviour, they want to be the Word, they want to be the Creator, they want to be the final authority, they want to be worshipped, they want to be the one that sustains the world with their own might, they want to be the fount of knowledge. They want to be Jesus. But living and trying to be Jesus is not only a miserable way to live – it’s foolish! You’ll never outshine God. He will always be the greatest! One day, the scriptures promise that every knee will bow – yours included! And worse, it’s demonic. It’s pride! It’s the path to destruction!
If you ever feel indispensable, remember John the Baptist. Our lives will be infinitely better if we figure out that it’s not about me, or you, or our church, or our plans – it’s about Jesus. We exist to follow Him, worship Him, obey Him, serve Him, and bring glory to Him. He’s the only one worthy of it. I’m not, you’re not, no one is.
And if that bugs you, then you have a pride problem. If it bugs you that you’re not the centre, you’re not getting your way, you’re not getting what you want, you’re not who everyone turns to, you’re not in charge, you’re not the focus – then you’ve got a pride problem – and it’s going to lead to your destruction.
In John 1:19-23 it says,
“…when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, ‘I am not the Christ.’ And they asked him, ‘What then? Are you Elijah?’ He said, “I am not.’ ‘Are you the Prophet?’ And he answered, ‘No.’ So they said to him, ‘Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?’ He said, ‘I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.’”
That’s our answer too. John was content with his role. “No, don’t think I’m something special – I’m not Elijah. No, I’m not the Messiah. I’m not some great prophet. You know what I am? I’m just a voice yelling a message – Jesus is coming. That’s what I am. Don’t concentrate on me, you should be worried about Jesus.”
That’s what our lives should say too, in everything we do – whether that’s at work, or at home, at school, playing with our kids or grandkids, it should all point to Jesus. That’s why Paul can say in Colossians 3:7,
“And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
Mark Driscoll writes as a contemporary prophet who feels the pressing need to address a huge amount of issues that the North American Evangelical Church is facing (or choosing not to face) today. He’s also a loving pastor, clever writer, and passionate promoter of the gospel who loves Jesus and His People and wants the best for His Church. He pulls no punches as he unapologetically pulls the skeletons out of our evangelical closets for all to see and explains why we are in such a steep decline. If you’re not alarmed, enlightened, angry, weeping, or offended by this book, then you probably aren’t reading it right.
My Driscoll Bias
Let me admit my bias. Mark Driscoll is a very intelligent, courageous, biblical, Christian leader who is sold out to Jesus Christ and who loves his church. I read everything Mark Driscoll writes, listen to his sermons regularly, and am a big fan of what the Resurgence and Acts 29 is doing. I looked forward to reviewing this book as soon as it was available from Tyndale, and as I read it, I knew what to expect and heard exactly what I expected to hear – which was a good thing.
Driscoll has always seen himself as a button-pushing, prophet and in this book he pushes as many buttons as he can. He chooses headline garnishing illustrations which shock the average person into listening to whatever he’s about to say. He is brilliant, clever, and purposefully abrasive – which is part of his charm and what drives people crazy. Regardless of what you think of his style, you should listen to him, because he’s probably right.
“A Call To Resurgence” is a powerful gateway to clear thinking about the troubles the church is facing today. It is an education for church leaders and a perfect primer for anyone who has recently looked up from behind their pew and wondered, “Hey, where is everyone?”
Driscoll is a skilled teacher who helps his readers understand the key issues, what got us to this point, and then asks us to step out of our comfort zone and make the necessary changes to our thinking and practices. He raises criticisms of every kind against the Christian church and follows them with questions that every believer (and every church) needs to answer. Click here for Tim Challies’ great overview of the individual chapters.
This book is not only worth buying for the great content of the chapters, but for the pitch-perfect appendices. His section on the history of the various Christian/Religious “tribes” in our culture and recommended reading list are worth the price of the book.
I do have a few issues with the book, though they are not many:
First, I couldn’t figure out who the target audience was. It’s not for non/new Christians because there is so much in-house discussion that is only understood by people who have been part of the church for a while. Older generations might not appreciate the aggressive language and humour. Comfortable believers won’t pick it up in the first place. I’m a pastor who appreciated the whole of it, but I wonder if much of the systematic theology and historical content might confuse or overwhelm the average attendee (or bore them). If this is a call to action for all believers, I’m not sure everyone will be able to get all the way to the end of it.
Second, every sub-section is valuable on its own, but taken as a whole, the book seems disjointed. This is a shotgun blast, not a sniper shot to the heart of the issue. He hits so many issues (history, parenting, theology, money, homosexuality, church statistics…) that the book reads like a pile of great sound bites assembled around a theme – which means that occasionally it feels incohesive. I often found myself thinking “This is really good, but why is it in here?”
Third, though his section on tribes is excellently written and extremely helpful, at times it came across as partial, biased and stereotypical. Still, if the point was show us what tribe we are in so we can evaluate its strengths and weaknesses, he did that very well.
I highly recommend this book. It’s not going to be an easy read for anyone, but I believe it’s important for everyone. Remember when your mother told you to eat your vegetables because they were good for you? That’s this book. If you read it, and get a taste for it, it will change you for the better.
Driscoll is always a treasure-trove of choice quotes. I wanted to close this out by sharing some of my favourites:
- “He was dumped like a prom date with tuberculosis…”
- “Shallow, entertainment-oriented, self-help, knockoff, consumer Christianity that offers bumper-sticker clichés in response to life’s crises fuels the movement to embrace atheistic one-ism. It’s weak sauce.”
- “Evangellyfish with no backbones will propagate the myth that God and Jesus are infinitely tolerant.”
- “The least likely person you’ll see in church is a single twentysomething male. He is as rare at church as a vegan at a steak house.”
- “When trying to evangelize, fundamentalists are more prone to use methods such as tract bombing and aggressive street witnessing, which are devoid of relationship and which unbelievers experience as the spiritual equivalent of a flasher in a trench coat.”
- “…let’s just admit that most people stink theologically and are about as ready to articulate basic Christian belief as a basset hound is ready to fly a helicopter.”
- “In our day of ample opportunity for Bible reading and instruction, we are like fools starving to death at the grocery store.”
- “Men are like trucks: they drive straighter when carrying a load.”
- “…we’d rather believe that faith is a stick and God is a piñata, and if we swing hard enough, health and wealth will come pouring down upon us.”
Last week we talked about the first purpose of Christmas, which was to Celebrate the Love that God has for us and how he proved it by giving up so much for us. Big cost, big love. I said there that one of the challenges for us this Christmas season was to live be purposeful about what we do, and to not let all of the extras push the true meaning of Christmas out of our minds. And I believe the way we do that is to purposefully concentrate and bring the Gospel of Jesus to the front of our minds. If we fill up with Him and His story, we leave less room for the other things to crowd it out.
This week we move a little deeper into our reason for celebration by talking about the second purpose of Christmas – Salvation. I really enjoyed our reading in “The Purpose of Christmas” this week because Rick Warren hit the nail on the head. His presentation of the Gospel was spot-on!
Again, it’s based on the words of the Angels to the Shepherds during the Christmas story of Luke 2. This time he pulls out verse 11 which says
“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
We Need a Saviour
I really appreciated how Warren presented the Gospel, and his model is a good one for us to follow. Not only when we are talking to others about our faith, but when we are talking to ourselves – when we are reminding ourselves about the true meaning of Christmas; the true meaning of life.
He began by reminding us our desperate desire for a Saviour. When we look around at what we are doing in our lives, we begin to realize that much of what we do – in our own energies – is driven by fear. We want to be free, saved, helped, to have hope.
We have worries about the uncertainty of the future, so we prepare our homes, save our money, buy insurance just in case, get RRSP’s for later. But even they fail us when disaster strikes, the economy collapses, and our health fails us. Then our worries drive us to seek control, put ourselves above others, to hoard and to neglect to share.
We have fear of abandonment, so we sell ourselves short to make friends we shouldn’t have. We buy things we don’t need to impress people we don’t really like. We take up bad habits so that we can distract ourselves from our loneliness. Then our fear drives us to push people away so they can’t hurt us, or to give ourselves away so they will stay with us.
In our hearts we deeply long to break this cycle of fear – but we know that we cannot do it ourselves. How do we know? We’ve tried. We’ve built up piles of money and stuff and accomplishments and trophies and still feel hollow. We’ve surrounded ourselves with entertainment, friends, food and drink, and when it quiets down we still feel sad, guilty and broken. We give, and share, and bless, and volunteer, and help, and no matter what we do the needs only grow and the problems are too overwhelming to solve, so we feel like a failure, despondent, disappointed in ourselves and others, and want to give up.
We’ve looked inside and we know that there is something wrong. So we try diets, and self-help books, we get more education, build ourselves up with degrees, skills, careers and awards. Maybe if I go to a good school, maybe if I get a good job, maybe if I get married to the right person, maybe once I have kids, maybe once I get a house, maybe once I get a bigger house, maybe once I retire, maybe once I write that book, join that group, climb that mountain, make that art – maybe then I will feel good about myself, confident in myself, crush this habit that I keep going to, feel like I’m a good person. But it never comes. It never works. God never allows those worldly, human, limited things to be enough. They will never fill the God-shaped-hole He built into us.
Religion Doesn’t Save
Why? Because the problem isn’t physical, or emotional – it’s spiritual. We are trying to use physical things, like pleasure and possessions to solve a spiritual problem. We are trying to use emotional things, like relationships and accomplishments, to solve a spiritual problem.
That’s why there are so many religions – because everyone in the world is trying to solve their spiritual brokenness. The problem is that, for most of them, it’s not working. Why? Because they are trying to fix themselves.
As far as I’m concerned, the most important chapter of the little book we are studying is the one entitled “Jesus Came to Save You By His Grace”. The reason that these other religions don’t fulfill is because they always, always, leave room for doubt. Let me read what Rick Warren said,
“In practically every area of life—school, sports, work—we are judged by our performance.… So, when it comes to spiritual matters, many assume God relates to us with the same performance-based ethic. You may feel that you have to earn God’s approval, deserve God’s love, and work your way to heaven by doing good or trying to be perfect.” (Pg 67)
He then quotes John 6:28-29 to explain that isn’t how God works.
“Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?’ Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.’”
Let me quote a little more of what Rick Warren says,
“Religion is man’s attempt to please God. Grace is God reaching down to man. Every religion boils down to one word: ‘do!’ Do our list of things, and you will earn God’s love…. So God came to earth as Jesus essentially to say: ‘You guys have it all wrong! Of course doing good things matters, but it doesn’t make me love you any more or any less. My love for you is unlimited, unconditional, unchanging, and undeserved. So let me teach you a new concept called grace. You can’t purchase it, work for it, or be good enough to merit it. It’s a gift that will cost me a lot, but it is free to you.’
While religions are based on the word ‘do,’ salvation is based on the word ‘done.’ When Jesus died for you on the cross, he exclaimed, ‘It is finished!’… So, what is finished? The payment for your salvation! The phrase ‘it is finished’ is actually a single word in Hebrew that Jesus cried out. It was stamped on bills that had been paid off and on prison sentences that had been completed. It meant ‘paid in full!’” (Pg. 68-71)
That’s the solution to our spiritual problem – the Grace of God shown to us through the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ on our behalf. He did everything. The question is, are we willing to accept the gift of salvation given by grace?
We Can’t Save Ourselves
For many, accepting grace is hard. We want to earn our salvation. We understand the religions that ask us to “do!” because we can then chart and how much we’ve done, and how much we need to do. Then we can boast (Eph 2:9) that we are the ones who saved ourselves, got ourselves to heaven, earned our rewards, and who didn’t need God. We so desperately want to put our confidence in ourselves and earn our way to heaven.
But, as I’ve been saying all along, it doesn’t work, does it? We cannot save ourselves. How do you know when you’ve done enough? If you ask any other religion of the world if they have assurance that they are saved and will achieve whatever the next level is – whether it’s heaven, or nirvana, or whatever – they just don’t know.
I once heard a great teaching on this (by Mark Driscoll). Religion will lead us one of two places – pride or despair. We will either feel proud that we have accomplished so much in our religion that we will feel above others, perhaps even above God since we become the judge of our own goodness and worthiness, or we will feel constant despair because we never know if we’ve done enough, gone far enough, served enough, given enough away, sacrificed enough, to earn God’s love. We just don’t know.
The Apostle Paul talks about this throughout his letters, but there is a section of Philippians 3 that really makes the point. He says in verses 2-3,
“Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh…”
Basically, he’s saying, “Watch out for these evil teachers who are trying to teach you that religion is the way of salvation and tell you to put confidence in your actions.” Then he does something remarkable in verse 4. He says,
“…though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more:”
Paul is about to remind his readers about his own personal testimony. There was never a person so religious, so devout, so deserving of heaven than him. He says he was,
“…circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.”
“If you think you have an impressive religious resume, you’ve got nothing on me”, says Paul. “I have followed every law since the moment I was born, am part of the chosen people, have a pure and uncompromised blood line. I was taught by some of the greatest teachers of all time and surpassed them, fought more passionately than anyone against Christians – helping to kill and imprison many because of my zeal. And there is not one person in all of Jerusalem, from the High Priest down that can bring any accusation against me.”
If there is one man who could have had confidence in his flesh, to earn salvation, it was Paul. But he says in the next verses (7-9), “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith…”
He tore up his resume and degrees, burned his trophies, and threw his self-confidence into the garbage. It was all worthless. All of his “righteousness” was just “rubbish”. He knew that when He would stand before Jesus on the day he would have to give account for his life, he wouldn’t measure up to the law. He had still broken it in his heart. He was still guilty before God. His righteousness didn’t come from his obedience, because every time he read the Bible, every time he read the 10 Commandments, every time he read the Torah, all he felt was guilt and fear. He still didn’t measure up. He knew it.
And so he traded all of his human accomplishments, for something better, “…faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.”
Have you Given Up?
Rick Warren asks the very important question, “Have you given up trying to save yourself?” Have you released control of your eternal destiny, and your everyday life, and given it over to Jesus?
I said last week that Jesus taught that the way up is down. He also teaches us that the way to win is to give up. The way to win is to give up. That’s where spiritual healing comes from. That’s the message of Christmas. That’s what we are celebrating. Not that Jesus came to add to our burden, to give us more rules, to lay another burden around our neck, but to save us.
“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11)
Good news, of great joy, for all people – a Saviour, a Christ (which means “Messiah”, “Anointed One”, “Chosen One”, “the divinely appointed one”). He wasn’t just another messenger like the prophets of old. He wasn’t just a priest that could bring you close, but not too close, to God. He wasn’t just a king that ruled a human kingdom. He is the Saviour, the Christ, the Lord.
You cannot possibly expect to have the power, ability, authority, resources, intelligence, or supremacy, that Jesus has! Why would you try to save yourself, when you know it isn’t working, and that Jesus Christ stands ready to give you the free gift of His grace?
Saved from So Much
In Luke 4:16-21 it says that after Jesus came back from his time of temptation in the desert, at the very beginning of his ministry, he went into his home church. It says,
“And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’ And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, ‘Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’”
All these fears we have, and all the things we do to try to quell them, are destroyed by faith in Jesus as our Saviour. We need good news – He is the ultimate good news. We are poor in spirit, needful of many things – He proclaims to us that He will save us. We are captive by sin, death, addiction, depression – He proclaims liberty and freedom to all who would believe. We are blind, wandering around in the dark, confused about how why we are here, what we must do, and how we are to live – and Jesus gives us light to see. We are oppressed by spiritual forces, by human enemies, by our own habits, weaknesses, dark thoughts and the weight of this world – and Jesus proclaims that we are the ones on whom His favour rests.
This is why, every Christmas, we read the Prophecy about Jesus in Isaiah 9, written hundreds of years before He was born. To help us remember and realize what we have been saved from, and who our Saviour is. The one who came, who died, who rose, who saves, who will come again. Let me read from the Living Translation:
“The people who walk in darkness shall see a great Light—a Light that will shine on all those who live in the land of the shadow of death. For Israel will again be great, filled with joy like that of reapers when the harvesttime has come, and like that of men dividing up the plunder they have won. For God will break the chains that bind his people and the whip that scourges them, just as he did when he destroyed the vast host of the Midianites by Gideon’s little band. In that glorious day of peace there will no longer be the issuing of battle gear; no more the bloodstained uniforms of war; all such will be burned.
For unto us a child is born; unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder. These will be his royal titles: ‘Wonderful,’ ‘Counselor,’ ‘The Mighty God,’ ‘The Everlasting Father,’ ‘The Prince of Peace.’ His ever-expanding, peaceful government will never end. He will rule with perfect fairness and justice from the throne of his father David. He will bring true justice and peace to all the nations of the world. This is going to happen because the Lord of heaven’s armies has dedicated himself to do it!”
So celebrate this Saviour during this Christmas time. Fill your minds and hearts and homes with the story of Jesus Christ coming at Christmas to save us from so much. We have already experienced so much grace, and we are going to see so much more.
Turn your heart from all the other things in your life that you have set up to save you. Turn your mind away from all the ways that you are trying to save yourself. And turn yourself to Jesus, the only one who can save.