Why High Self-Esteem Threatens Your Eternity

Faint CrossIn one respect, I don’t want to write yet another essay on why Christians should avoid psychology. Any regular reader of my blog knows quite well that I believe mixing psychology with a form of Christianity necessarily compromises the Gospel. Can I really add to everything I’ve been saying these past two years?

Listening to John MacArthur’s Grace To You radio broadcasts this week made me think that I actually do have more to say on this topic. MacArthur spent an entire broadcast comparing psychology’s emphasis on improving self-esteem with Christ’s demand that His followers deny themselves.

23 And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. 25 For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? ~~Luke 9:23-25 (ESV)

Psychological therapy, for the most part, seeks to make us feel better about ourselves and more in control of our lives. Even when we do actually identify a pattern of thought or behavior as sin, Christian psychology encourages us to diffuse our guilt by trying to figure out the root causes of our struggles. Often, counselors guide us to blame our parents for our sinful habits (I saw this practice a lot during my time in ex-gay ministry). The realization that someone else is responsible for our sin makes us feel better about ourselves, thereby boosting our self-esteem.

Nifty little system, huh?

Except for the fact that high self-esteem  blocks us from accepting our abject sinfulness and our consequent need for a Savior. Oh, it’s fine to give lip-service to the idea that He somehow saves us from hell, but as our self-esteem grows, we find it hard to believe that we really deserve eternal damnation. We even convince ourselves that Jesus saved us because He saw something in us worth saving.

But the Lord explicitly says that going after Him requires self-denial. One aspect of self-denial is admitting our worthless conditions apart from Him. Ephesians 2:1-10 shows us that our salvation points exclusively to God’s grace toward us despite our wretchedness.

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. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. ~~Ephesians 2:1-10 (ESV)

The Gospel emphasizes our wretchedness and the Lord’s incredible grace toward us. Psychology blunts His grace by dulling our understanding that we are actually sinners, completely unable to escape the judgment of hell. High self-esteem lowers or appreciation of His wonderful mercy in giving us the faith to receive salvation.

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Wanna Hear About John’s Deep, Dark Sins?

My husband John embodies many godly qualities, and his commitment to obeying God’s Word has made a dramatic impact on my attitudes and behaviors. I hope I grow up to be like him. He has no idea of how the Lord uses him to mold me into a Christian who lives increasingly in purity.

But I live with John. Along with his many virtues, I see his faults. Like everyone else, my husband sometimes falls in to various sins, reminding both of us that even he desperately needs a Savior.

If you’re honest, you’ll have to admit that my last paragraph aroused your curiosity, and you secretly hope I’ll write a nice, juicy expose parading his deep dark sins. Actually, as our culture more and more celebrates “transparency,” we come to expect wives to complain about their husbands, adult children to talk about the  mistakes of their parents and workers to gripe about their bosses. And Christians may sincerely believe that, in revealing the “unvarnished truth” about others, they protect themselves from idolizing that person. Or, more accurately, from the appearance of idolizing that person.

By extension, we can also practice “discernment” by gossiping about Christian celebrities. Yes, some false teachers definitely must be called out by name. Those who twist Scripture into man-centered teachings that lead people to a Jesus of their own making absolutely must be exposed for the charlatans they are!

But Bible-believing Christians who, on the whole, love the Lord and hold to sound theology need to be carefully considered before we raise concerns. And when we do raise concerns, we must avoid character assassination or jumping on “discernment” bandwagons before writing them off as apostates

It seems to me that something deep in sinful human nature finds pleasure in discovering the sins of other people. Maybe that’s why over 400 people to date have clicked on my article about Lysa TerKeurst, but only seven have bothered with the one on the Reformation and Galatians. Evangelicals flock to the smell of fresh blood.

Our ability to “objectively critique” Christian celebrities, our pastors or even our own husbands assures us that we aren’t idolizing mere men. How our friends admire our evident discernment! How they praise our objectivity! Yet, in truth, all we’ve really done is spread gossip and damaged the reputation of a genuine brother in Christ in order to bolster our own reputations. Ladies, this sort of thing is the furthest thing from Biblical discernment.

I’d rather run the risk of people judging me for idolizing my husband than sin against him and the Lord by disrespecting him. If anything, I need to show greater respect for John, both publicly and privately. Thankfully, John’s love for Christ and his pattern of obedience to Scripture provide me with enough raw material to keep me from dwelling on his flaws. The same goes for my pastor and for Christian celebrities that (as best they can) teach sound doctrine. After all, I’m too busy owning up to all the ways the Lord needs to deal with me!

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Not Completely A Retraction, But Sorta, Kinda Because I’m Still Processing My Thoughts

PrayerfulMonday I wrote a blog post referencing a two-part dialogue that a popular Christian apologist had with a representative of a false religion back in January. Recently, another popular Christian personality has launched brutal attacks on the apologist, accusing him of compromise, secretly following the other religion and apostasy.

I’ve deliberately decided not to identify any of the parties. Readers who know about the controversy already know who the people involved are, and readers who don’t know needn’t be drawn into gossip. I’m more concerned with what we can learn from this situation than with naming names or writing sensational articles.

Up until yesterday, I felt fairly comfortable with the actions of the Christian apologist. Back in January, I experienced some misgivings about the dialogue, but my husband encouraged be to focus on the apologist’s motives for engaging in the dialogue. Both my husband and I greatly appreciate this man’s overall ministry, and we prefer to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Additionally, I’d been on the second Christian personality’s email list for three or four years, and had felt increasingly disturbed by some of his positions. So his delayed reaction to the apologist seemed consistent with other incidents in which I believe he lacked true discernment. Clearly, he ignored the second evening of the dialogue, conveying the idea that the apologist fawned over the false religionist without ever giving the Gospel. That characterization was absolutely untrue!

In Monday’s essay, I championed the apologist’s premise that, by understanding what people in false religions actually believe, we can more effectively evangelize them. I still agree with him on that point, and I hope I can get better at learning what people really believe before I blast them with the Gospel. My Tuesday series on the Reformation, for example, has taught me the importance of understanding how Roman Catholic theology interprets issues like justification, thereby allowing me to more firmly grasp the differences between Catholics and Bible-believing Christians. Dialogue with a Catholic commenter on this very blog has proven invaluable in helping me better understand why Reformed Theology is more Biblical than Catholic theology.

That said, an article in yesterday’s The Cripplegate entitled A platform for porn and a dialogue with the devil forced me to consider the idea that holding a dialogue with someone who espouses a false religion, particularly in a church setting, is not wise or appropriate. Although the apologist went to the false teacher’s place of worship the following evening and clearly articulated the Gospel (a fact consistently ignored by his critics), the article in Cripplegate gave me a perspective that made me regret having written what I did Monday.

I keep going back to Proverbs 18:17.

The one who states his case first seems right,
    until the other comes and examines him. (ESV)

I now believe I wrote about the controversy before considering all sides of the matter. While I still maintain that the personality who  started the current nastiness misrepresented much of what actually happened, I’m a great deal less confident that the apologist should have held the dialogue in the first place. Perhaps, despite his motives of wanting to open doors in order to advance the Gospel, he inadvertently communicated that the differences between the two religions don’t really matter.

If the apologist made a mistake in how he dealt with the differences between Christianity and the false religion, okay. Let me process everything more before I   write about it any further. I wrote too soon, without adequately thinking over all the ramifications of the situation. Whether my position Monday was right or wrong, my haste in offering an opinion was definitely wrong. For that reason, I want to put forth a partial retraction of Monday’s blog post.

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The Reformation And Galatians

Whittenberg DoorThe Lord used the apostle Paul to bring the Gospel to the gentiles in Galatia. Sadly, after he left that region, representatives of a group known as the Judaizers descended on that fledgling church, teaching that they needed to augment their faith in Christ by following Jewish law. They especially insisted that gentile converts undergo the rite of circumcision.

Paul was infuriated that the church he had founded had so quickly abandoned the Gospel of faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross in favor of a counterfeit gospel that required human effort to assure salvation. He wrote a scathing letter, scolding them for adulterating the Gospel with doctrines of men. We see the reasons for his frustration most clearly articulated in Chapter 5 of his epistle to the Galatians.

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.

You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion is not from him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. 10 I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is. 11 But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. 12 I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves! ~~Galatians 5:1-12 (ESV)

I imagine Martin Luther found this passage helpful as he broke free from the demands of the Roman Catholic Church. Luther rightly saw that  Rome’s elaborate system of sacraments, Purgatory, Indulgences and Papal authority produced a gospel quite different from the Good News that Jesus Christ fully paid for the sin of whoever believes in Him by His death on the cross. Like Paul, Luther sought to turn Christians back to focusing on Christ’s work instead of imagining that they could supplement it through their cooperation.

Notice specifically Paul’s firm assertion that a Christian who supplements his faith in the Lord by depending on legalistic rituals actually nullifies the effects of faith in salvation through Christ’s work on the cross. At that point, a person essentially declares that salvation ultimately lies in our power, not in what Christ accomplished on our behalf.

The sacramental system of the Roman Catholic Church, despite their denials, easily parallels the false teaching of the Judaizers. As a matter of fact, the Judaizers claimed to follow Christ, just as the Roman Catholic Church does. In many respects, the Judaizers presented themselves as genuine Christians, thereby convincing the Galatians to accept their doctrinal error. Not surprisingly, then, the Catholic Church managed to convince Christians of similar errors.

But Paul’s firm refutation against the system of righteousness by works enabled Luther and the other Reformers to stand against Rome’s numerous conditions for salvation. Just as Paul proclaimed that circumcision had no bearing on anyone’s standing before God, so the Reformers proclaimed that sacraments couldn’t add to what Christ had already done. The Reformers returned to the Biblical teaching that Christ Jesus fully satisfied the Law by dying as our substitute.

Roman Catholicism gets some doctrines right, such as the Trinity, but it adds conditions for salvation in much the same way that the Judaizers did. These conditions made humans responsible for sustaining their salvation.

Human centered salvation, however, takes the glory away from the Lord Jesus Christ. It demands that He share His glory with us. Paul recognized that danger among the Christians in Galatia, and he refused to tolerate such a corruption of the Gospel! He therefore set a pattern for the Reformers to follow once they could read God’s Word and understand that Rome had corrupted the Gospel. His passion for Jesus Christ to receive all the glory inspired the Reformers to also develop that passion.

 
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Unequal Yokes Or Respectful Dialogues?

UnliberatedScripture tells us not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers.

14 Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? 15 What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? 16 What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said,

“I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them,
    and I will be their God,
    and they shall be my people.
17 Therefore go out from their midst,
    and be separate from them, says the Lord,
and touch no unclean thing;
    then I will welcome you,
18 and I will be a father to you,
    and you shall be sons and daughters to me,
says the Lord Almighty.” ~~2 Corinthians 6:14-18 (ESV)

Most Christians understand that this passage applies to much more than marriage. Those of you who follow my Tuesday series on the Reformation undoubtedly know that I by no means embrace ecumenical alliances. Furthermore, when I examine suspected false teachers, I often include looking at their associations in determining the legitimately of their ministry (though wrong associations, in and of themselves, don’t necessarily mean that a teacher is an apostate). God unequivocally calls us to separate from those who reject the Lord Jesus Christ.

That separation, however, never requires animosity, nor does it mean that we can’t learn from those who believe differently than we do. A public discussion of our differences (and even points of similarity) needn’t indicate that we have comprised the Gospel. Such compromise can happen, admittedly, but it doesn’t always occur.

Sometimes, properly understanding what Catholics, Muslims, atheists or Jehovah’s Witnesses (just to name a few examples) actually believe helps us witness more effectively, especially if we demonstrate a willingness to listen. Not all of us have the temperament to engage in such conversations, I realize. I can do it in writing, but not face-to-face (I consider my inability to do so as one of my many character flaws). But all of us ought to recognize the value in honest, respectful dialogue with people who embrace false beliefs.

Respecting someone enough to let them articulate their beliefs shouldn’t result in other Christians accusing us of violating 2 Corinthians 6:14-18. I may not have the grace to dialogue with someone of another religion in person, but I see tremendous value in extending that kind of respect to someone. Particularly if I want them to consider the claims of the Gospel!

Open, respectful dialogue, even when planned by both parties in a public setting, may not be the wisest course of action. But neither is it sufficient reason to accuse a brother or sister of compromising the Gospel. Before seizing on an isolated incident, examine the broader scope of that person’s teaching and overall ministry. It could just be that, precisely by having that dialogue, that person will make his or her separation from the world abundantly clear.

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Pardon There Was Multiplied To Me

One of the saddest aspects of evangelicalism is that people make professions of faith without genuinely understanding why they need salvation. Evangelicals often present Jesus as an agent of life enhancement rather than the One Who bears the wrath of a holy Judge on our behalf.

But how thankful I am that the Holy Spirit confronted me with my sin 46 years ago! Knowing that I deserve eternity in hell has made me so appreciative of the Lord’s sacrificial death on the cross for my sin! Only those who see how terrible their sin is realize what a wonderful thing the Lord did for us on Calvary.

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Saturday Sampler: June 18 — June 24

Rose SamplerMark McIntyre writes Did he really say that? on his Attempts at Honesty blog primarily as an exhortation to men in pulpit ministry. But his words apply to all Christians as we proclaim the Gospel in face-to-face conversations and/or on social media. The truth, no matter how lovingly we present it, will always offend unbelievers.

How seriously do you take sin? According to R.C. Sproul of Ligonier, Sin is Cosmic Treason. Sproul gives a thorough explanation of sin’s nature and why God can’t tolerate it.

I completely agree with The Gospel Coalition Blog‘s Michael A G Haykin that Every Christian ought to be a good historian. Having enjoyed two years of a church history class in Adult Sunday School, I join Haykin in believing that church history displays God’s power and faithfulness to His people.

It’s wonderful to see Jessica Pickowicz blogging on Beautiful Thing after a long hiatus! Her blog post, The Not So Simple Life, evaluates the current trend of simple living by holding it up against practicality and ultimately against God’s Word. If you’re a busy mom, Jessica’s essay may be just the encouragement you need.

Denny Burk’s article, Mainstreaming fornication (a.k.a. “ethical non-monogamy”) saddens me.

In light of recent internet fights among well-known Christian apologists, I found Leslie A’s blog post, Engaging The Enemy on her Growing 4 Life blog, wonderfully balanced and refreshing. Biblical discernment doesn’t require us to win arguments; it simply enables us to stand on God’s Word.

Evangelism often means encountering people who, quite frankly, have no interest in the Lord. In his essay for Parking Space 23, Greg Peterson writes Excuses… Excuses… to counter some of the better-known objections to the Gospel. In addition to citing pertinent Scriptures for each argument, Peterson also provides links to helpful articles.

Mike Riccardi’s post, Ecumenical vs. Evangelical in The Cripplegate traces the fascinating history of the Ecumenical Movement. It’s a good caution against blurring the lines of doctrine for the sake of unity.

Although Herman Melville’s Moby Dick was by far my least favorite assigned reading in   college, I respect Elizabeth Prata’s delight in reading it. And I absolutely love the way she uses a passage from the novel to remind wives to use prudence in Exposing or ignoring the ignominious blemish in our husbands for The End Time. Interestingly, I gave similar counsel just this morning to a young friend who will be getting married a few months from now.

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