Deviant Christians

No true Christian would deny the crucial importance of putting God’s Word into practice. Practical application demonstrates trust in His authority, and a willingness to act on that trust. The entire epistle of James focuses on the necessity of proving our faith by acting on the commands of the Lord.

22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. ~~James 1:22-25 (ESV)


In emphasizing practical application, however, Christians dare not ignore the foundational place of sound doctrine. If someone misunderstands the Bible’s teachings, or adulterates those teachings with other philosophies and spiritual disciplines, his deviation from Biblical doctrine will ultimately result in a life that draws him away from obedience to the Lord.

A popular teaching may very well seem consistent with Scripture, particularly if it’s supported by Bible verses that are wrenched from their context and manipulated into mere proof texts. But, as the following graph illustrates, an idea that begins as only a  small deviation from God’s Word will, if followed, take a person extremely far away from truth.

Christians, because we are still encumbered with fallen sin natures, can allow false teachers to lure us into all sorts of deceptions. Most of these deceptions start as innocent misapplications of Scripture (barely perceptible), only to lead us miles away from Biblical Christianity.  To protect us from such departures from truth, the Holy Spirit prompted Paul to counsel Timothy:

Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. ~~1 Timothy 4:16 (ESV)

Many translations render this verse, “Watch your conduct and your doctrine.” Indeed, Christian conduct flows out of Biblical doctrine. Until we learn to properly interpret God’s Word, mastering its great doctrines, how can we hope to apply it correctly. By all means, the Lord wants His people to put our faith into action, proving that our faith is authentic. But let’s make sure to apply those principles that Scripture actually teaches.

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Why Did He Do That?

Spotlight on God

Every now and again, evangelicals get so caught in the details of Christian living that we lose sight of the actual Gospel itself. Quite possibly, this shift of emphasis happens because, from start to finish, the central Gospel message directly assaults self-esteem. We want to believe that God sees something in us worth saving and that we contribute to the salvation process. The Gospel frustrates us by refuting both propositions.

Today, I want to address the Gospel’s position on human worth. Certainly, I adamantly embrace  the pro-life position that, from conception to final breath, every human life has value. We must, as we talk about human worth, maintain a clear distinction between conversation on abortion (and euthanasia) and conversation on our inability to merit salvation. Please remember that these are entirely separate issues!

Some months back, in my blog post, Why Pick On Psychology, I noted that popular evangelical writer Max Lucado once wrote:

“If God had a refrigerator, your picture would be on it. If He had a wallet, your photo would be in it. He sends you flowers every spring and a sunrise every morning… Face it, friend. He is crazy about you!”

As wonderful as Lucado’s words sound, however, they leave non-Christians (especially false converts) with the impression that God practically worships us. He joins other post-modern evangelicals who promote the false notion that Christ redeemed us because we were somehow worthy of His love. We’re special, they say, and His sacrificial death merely proves our intrinsic value.

What a perverted view of His gracious love! Scripture teaches that He loves  us because of His grace, not because we possess any attractive qualities. In fact, Romans 5:8 bluntly says that He died for us when we were still entrenched in our sin. We can’t bring a single thing to the table!

Instead of viewing ourselves as the centers of God’s universe and thinking that He waits breathlessly for us to “make Him Lord and Savior,” let’s consider Scripture’s assessment of the situation.

 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. ~~Ephesians 2:1-7 (ESV)

Not the  most flattering portrait of us, is it? I don’t enjoy knowing that, apart from God’s grace, I would be dead in my sin, and a child of wrath. I’d much prefer to believe that He saw some little spark of goodness in me that made me worthy of His love and His death on the cross. But God’s Word simply doesn’t permit such fantasy.

Ironically, Jesus shed His precious blood on my behalf precisely because I couldn’t do anything to merit His favor. Therefore, my salvation necessarily throws the spotlight back on Him. Despite the stench of my sinful inclinations, the Lord chose to save me from the eternity in hell that I so richly deserve. Understanding the depths of my depravity enables me to rejoice in Christ’s unexplainable and wonderful love for me.

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Indulgences, Prayer Cloths, Purgatory And Evangelicals

Light In DarknessSadly, I don’t have enough time to write the planned article on the Catholic practice of selling Indulgences today. Life, I was reminded, has a sneaky way of overturning even the best laid plans.

So today allow me to offer just a few cursory thoughts on the matter, just to keep you thinking about Martin Luther’s 95 Theses and the importance of the Protestant Reformation. His challenges to Roman Catholicism (contrary to accusations that his chronic constipation turned him into a malcontent) arose from a genuine concern that the system of Indulgences capitalized on the fears of illiterate laity for the purpose of filling Rome’s coffers.

It’s not unlike Pentecostal/Charismatic preachers on TBN sending “anointed prayer cloths” to little old ladies in exchange for “sacrificial offerings.” Alas, because most people highly respect the Roman Catholic Church, few recognize the similarities between the two systems.

But the sale of Indulgences depends on the doctrine of Purgatory, a superstition that Scripture never teaches (we’ll address the supposed proof-texts for Purgatory at a later time). The desire to reduce time in Purgatory motivated fearful parishioners to purchase Indulgences as a type of clemency for either themselves or departed loved ones, financing Rome’s various expenditures.

Both Purgatory and Indulgences deny the sufficiency of Christ’s atoning work on the cross. While giving lip-service to the doctrine of atonement, these dogmas insist that we bear responsibility in cooperating with the Lord in achieving our salvation. This synergistic approach to  salvation, of course, completely contradicts everything the apostle Paul taught in Galatians. As we look more closely at Purgatory and Indulgences, we’ll see how they shift the focus from the Lord Jesus Christ to us.

I’m delving back into Church History, wanting to understand how the doctrine of Purgatory and its attendant practice of selling Indulgences originated. Sure, we can understand the Reformation without that background. But having more historical context will help us see how those Reformers separated Biblical teaching from man-made tradition.

21st Century evangelicals once again embrace man-made traditions in place of Scripture. Furthermore, we look to human effort to augment Christ’s work on the cross. We may utilize other doctrines and practices, but essentially we repeat the same  basic error. Studying the Reformation can help us guard against that sort of mistake.

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Hey Jude — What Makes False Teachers Tick?

old-bibleHaving written last Monday about Enoch’s prophecy of judgment against apostate teachers, let’s proceed to Jude’s concrete explanation of what lies behind their false teaching. To do so, we’ll look at verses 8-16 of Jude’s epistle and then examine verse 16  in particular.

Yet in like manner these people also, relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones. But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you.” 10 But these people blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively. 11 Woe to them! For they walked in the way of Cain and abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam’s error and perished in Korah’s rebellion. 12 These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; 13 wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever.

14 It was also about these that Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied, saying, “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of his holy ones, 15 to execute judgment on all and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him.” 16 These are grumblers, malcontents, following their own sinful desires; they are loud-mouthed boasters, showing favoritism to gain advantage. (ESV)

As we see in verses 8-13, Jude has already made quite a case for God’s condemnation of these false teachers. And, in verses 14-15, he underscores his assessment by appealing to an ancient prophecy by Enoch. Now he reinforces his message with a final, and more direct, description of their character, using blunt,staccato phrases to emphasize his point.

Jude begins verse 16 by calling false teachers grumblers. This appellation indicates an attitude of finding fault with either God directly or with His ordinances.  Several commentators I read believe Jude uses this word to refer back to verse 5, which in turn may allude to Israel’s grumbling in passages such as Numbers 14:27-35. The Numbers passage illustrates the judgment Israel incurred by grumbling against God.

Additionally, the commentators believe Jude is referencing verses 9-10 and the false teachers’ tendency to speak ill of authority figures and/or to directly rebuke Satan and his demons. As we saw in verse 15 last week, speaking ill of humans in authority essentially amounted to speaking ill of the Lord Who placed them in authority (see Romans 13:1-7).

These apostates grumble because they are malcontents. They find fault with God because they just plain don’t like their lot in life. Nothing satisfies them.

Their dissatisfaction leads them to follow their own sinful passions, as we remember  from verse 4 and verse 7. In their commentary on Jude  16, Jamieson, Fausset and Brown observe: “The secret of their murmuring and complaining is the restless insatiability of their desires.” It seems like a logical conclusion. So often in 21st Century evangelical circles, we see sexual permissiveness erode doctrinal fidelity, sadly proving this very point.

Motivated by their passions, false teachers become, in Jude’s words, “loud-mouthed boasters.” MacArthur’s Study Notes helped me understand that these teachers have highly developed rhetorical skills, but their actual messages lack the substance of strong Scriptural content. As I read MacArthur’s notes,  I thought of the apostle Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 2:1-2 that insisted on presenting the Gospel in simplicity.

Finally, Jude says, apostate teachers flatter people in order to advance themselves. They show favoritism towards those who will benefit them, rather than than loving all people and ministering indiscriminately.  Their favoritism exposes their selfish motives for “ministry.”

Verse 16 leaves no room to question God’s righteousness in condemning false teachers. And next week we’ll see that the Holy Spirit has prepared us for the inevitability that false teachers would infiltrate the  church. I hope to show you why this preparation should encourage us to contend for the faith.

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The Incarnation Never Gets Old

I love many of the traditional Christmas hymns, with their bold declarations of the Lord’s Incarnation. Indeed, His Incarnation is one of my favorite doctrines! Those Christmas songs usually contain verses that secular people, presumably embarrassed by the frank theology they convey, omit. Evidently, the moral implications of Christ’s deity bothers them.

But I digress. As much as I love traditional Christmas hymns, occasionally I find a  contemporary Christmas song that focuses on the Lord’s Incarnation. So today, just to do something a little different, I thought I’d feature a contemporary song that still expresses the wonder of God made flesh to dwell among us.

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Saturday Sampler: December 11–December 17

christmas-sampler

Certainly we should welcome millennials into our churches, appreciating their fresh perspectives and encouraging them to develop their gifts. But in A Response to 12 Reasons Millennials Are Over Church, Leslie A. of Growing 4 Life reminds us that we must never accommodate the next generation at the expense of church integrity. I’ve watched a church make that mistake. It’s terribly sad.

With humor and Biblical accuracy, Peggy Overstreet of GladnessInYourPresence gives us a discernment lesson with her post, FAKE NEWS, MR. ROGERS AND ITCHING EARS. Enjoy!

Gulp! Michelle Lesley is right in her article, Sharing Christ with the Muslim Immigrant Next Door, and my flesh really doesn’t like the truth she conveys. But, as I said, she’s telling the truth, and many of us (including me) need to hear her message.

Okay, after being thoroughly convicted by Michelle’s post, ONE MOVE LEFT! by Jian Ming Zhong of Christian Reformed Ink Archives should encourage us that God always has something more to do.

In  his blog post entitled Sorrow, Depression, & the Holidays, Eric Davis of The Cripplegate offers a compassionate and Scriptural examination of depression. At this time of year, many people feel their emotional struggles with heightened intensity, making Davis’ message particularly important and encouraging.

In a guest post for Satisfaction Through Christ, Rachel shows us that Normalizing Sin results as we surrender our minds to certain genres in popular media. She also suggests ways to keep ourselves sensitive to sin.

Writing for ParkingSpace23, Jason Vaughn challenges Christians who oppose any mention of Santa Claus with his Reprise: Will Santa Make you a Bad Parent? Taking a very different position from the  blog post by Kari Dent that I included in last Saturday’s Sampler, Vaughn joins her in remembering the importance of Christian liberty. I think he presents an interesting and valuable perspective.

Here’s a healthy New Year’s challenge: In Knowable Word, Peter Krol writes Dear Church: I Dare You to Trust Your Bible This Year.

In observation of Christmas Eve, I’ll skip next week’s edition of Saturday Sampler. John and I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year full of Christ’s richest blessings. Thank you for reading and supporting The Outspoken TULIP.

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Book Review: Another Jesus Calling

another-jesus-callingWarren B. Smith of Lighthouse Trails, himself a  convert to Christ after heavy involvement in New Age philosophy and practice, wrote Another Jesus Calling: How False Christs Are Entering the Church Through Contemplative Prayer. For the most part, the book successfully critiques Sarah Young’s popular but heretical book Jesus Calling. I wanted to better equip myself to address Young’s false teaching, so I approached Smith’s book with great eagerness.

In one respect, Another Jesus Calling disappointed me, largely because it lacked focus and repeated many points unnecessarily. Smith went off on tangents about other New Age teachers, leaving me a bit frustrated. I wanted to read about Sarah Young’s book,  not about teachers that don’t even claim to be Christians. At points, I almost literally felt my eyes glaze over as I waded through passages about Smith’s pre-Christian experiences with meditation and self-deification. Although his comparisons of Jesus Calling to New Age ideas were necessary to Smith’s thesis, he prolonged them so much that they ended up distracting me.

In short, Smith’s writing skills need work.

Having voiced my problems with Another Jesus Calling, allow me to say that the book did supply many helpful examples of how Sarah Young presents a false Christianity that actually leads readers into New Age beliefs. In Chapter 2, for instance, Smith lists several terms that Young repeatedly employs throughout her book.

So much of God Calling is permeated with metaphysical/New Age terminology and thinking. The following is just a sampling of the occult/New Age terms that continually jump out at the reader—Universal Spirit, Supreme Being, Divine Powers, Great Divine Heart, Divine Forces, Spirit Forces, God-Power,spiritual plane, channels, Spirit-consciousness, heart-consciousness, Spirit Sounds, Spirit-communication, Divine Mind, Secret of Prosperity, Law of Supply, Law of Discipleship, Sonship, spiritual level, path of initiation, order out of chaos, soul-balance, oneness, and many others.

As Smith points out, none of these terms is Biblical. Yet Young claims that she has written down words that Jesus spoke directly to her. I join Smith in finding it curious that Jesus would choose New Age vernacular over the terminology He used in His Word. These phrases should alert Christian readers that there’s something dreadfully wrong with Young’s writing.

Smith demonstrates (using the King James Version) that Sarah Young’s counterfeit Jesus contrasts with the true Jesus by elevating his presence over Scripture.

The true Jesus Christ tells us: Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away. (Matthew 24:35)

God is always present with us—a presence that will never be magnified above His Word. If we choose to put experiencing God’s presence above His Word, we are leaving ourselves open and vulnerable to the visits of a counterfeit presence.

For the “Jesus” of Jesus Calling, experiencing His presence is everything. This is his invitation:

Open yourself to My loving Presence, so that I may fill you with My fullness. I want you to experience how wide and long and high and deep is My Love for you, so that you can know My Love that surpasses knowledge. This vast ocean of Love cannot be measured or explained, but it can be experienced.

Taste and see that I am good. This command contains an invitation to experience My living Presence. It also contains a promise. The more you experience Me, the more convinced you become of My goodness.

Notice that Sarah Young’s Jesus never encourages people to look for Him in the Word of God? For Young, Scripture lacks sufficiency to give us everything we need for living godly lives (1 Timothy 3:15-16, 2 Peter 1:3-4). In addition, the emphasis on experiencing his presence allows people to imagine him any way they want. The true Jesus gives us His Word, expecting us to discern Who He is  from what is written.

If you want good writing, Another Jesus Calling will probably disappoint you. But if you need evidence that Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling contradicts Scripture, I highly recommend that  you read Smith’s book and carefully consider his points. Please make sure that you listen to the Jesus of the Bible rather than a New Age imposter.

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