The Brutal Truth

Horrible Beautiful CrossWhen John had cancer five years ago, I tearfully begged  his surgeon to find a way to treat it other than surgery. His tone of voice showed more impatience than compassion as he gruffly answered, “I’m trying to save your husband’s life!” His apparent arrogance offended me. And more significantly, I whole-heartedly believed that, due to his breathing limitations from having Polio, surgery would certainly kill John faster than the cancer would.

In my opinion, surgery represented a ruthless, almost savage, approach to John’s cancer, and I desperately wanted a gentler way of dealing with it. Again, I tried to reason with him. By that time, John had been severely weakened from a heart attack, so the doctor informed me (again with an apparent  lack of compassion in his tone), “Without the surgery, he only has weeks to live.”

Surgeons have to steel their emotions, or else they probably couldn’t face the  life-and-death nature of their profession. If both his tone and his decision smacked of brutality, he wanted me to understand the even greater brutality of colon cancer. He would take great risks, even those that deeply upset me, in order to save my husband.

I’ve been accused, many times in my life, of being  harsh in my presentation of doctrine. Instead of approaching false doctrine with negativity and anger, why don’t I try a gentler, more positive approach? Why not have the compassion that Jesus had?  The gentleness that Paul instructed Timothy to have?

Gentleness indeed has its place, especially with people who recognize their sin and know how  desperately they need a Savior. Once the Holy Spirit used Scripture to expose the the utter depravity of my heart, convincing  me that I deserved nothing but eternal separation from God in hell, the mercy and kindness of Jesus dying on the cross in my place filled me with joy! But that joy  could never  have come until I  came face-to-face with my spiritual  cancer.

I’d been active in my church, quite convinced that my religious activity guaranteed my acceptability to  God. My gentle pastor never confronted sin in my life. In fact, he assured me of my salvation, not because Jesus died for me, but because he saw me as a “good girl.” His gentleness ignored the cancer of sin that would have damned me to hell if Jesus hadn’t  led me to some harsh, uncomfortable passages in the Sermon on the Mount.

Like the brutal truth that saved John’s physical life five years ago, brutal truth brought me into eternal life. So if my posts seem brutal and unfeeling, think back to John’s surgeon….and realize that he showed great compassion after all.

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Perspectives In Titus: Purity Polluted

Titus 1 15&16Fasten your seatbelts, ladies. Today we’ll finish Chapter 1 of Titus, so we’ll go a bit longer than we usually do. Verses 15 and 16 are really rich, though, so I want to take time to go over them carefully. Let’s begin by reading them in their immediate context.

10 For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. 11 They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. 12 One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” 13 This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, 14 not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth. 15 To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. 16 They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work. ~~Titus 1:10-16 (ESV)

In verses 15 and 16, Paul continues his description of the false teachers in Crete by elaborating on their corrupt personalities. He begins by affirming that all created things are intrinsically pure. Remember that many of the false teachers in Crete tried to impose Old Testament Jewish law on the Gentile converts, and therefore most likely would have taught that certain food were unclean.

Paul argues that God created all things pure. As a result, those who have been purified through the blood of Christ Jesus regard everything as pure. Such people feel perfect liberty to enjoy whatever the Lord places before them. 1 Timothy 4:1-5 expands on this point by saying that “doctrines of demons” lead false teachers to demand abstinence from certain foods and from marriage.

Barnes wisely cautions against using this verse as a license for sin, arguing that it primarily refers to food. He reminds us of Paul’s injunction in Colossians 2:16  not to let anyone judge  us in regard to rituals.

Paul goes on to explain that nothing is pure to them because their very minds and consciences are defiled.  To those defiled by the sin of false doctrine, everything is corrupted by their pride and self-indulgence. Their supposed devotion to God’s Law actually covers up their internal wickedness. Therefore, nothing is pure for them; they pollute everything by their evil natures.

Moving to verse 16, we see exactly why Paul declares false teachers to be impure, False teachers, though claiming to know the Lord, have a false testimony. In fact, as false teachers they often claim to have special revelation from God. But Paul insists that they actually deny Him by their works of self-indulgence (see verses 10-12) and their works of teaching legalistic salvation. Their conduct exposes them as false converts.

Paul makes a play on words by calling them detestable, since they teach Old Testament regulations of foods that were detestable under ceremonial law. Essentially, the Lord regards false teachers, rather than mere foods, detestable.

Furthermore, these false teachers were disobedient to God in both their sinful lifestyles and their spreading of perverse doctrine. Their disobedience made them unfit for any good work. In other words, worthless.

Barnes reminds us that the disobedient lifestyles of the Cretans,  coupled with the false teachers trying to add Mosaic law to the Gospel, motivated Paul’s concern that Titus appoint men of godly character to serve as elders. As we proceed to Chapter 2 next week, we’ll see Paul’s strategy of dealing with the problems in Crete.

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Saturday Sampler: March 12 — March 18

Flower mask samplerMichelle Lesley often receives questions from the ladies who read her blog. Responding to a frequently asked question, she writes The Mailbag: Should Christians drink alcohol? She keeps her response, as always, thoroughly grounded in the Word of God.

Speaking of Michelle, be sure to listen in as she discusses The New Apostolic Reformation with Andy Olsen on Echo Zoe Radio. She explains what the movement is and how its teachings are worming their way into even sound churches.

In his post, How Jesus Called Out False Teachers and Deadly Doctrine, Tim Challies reminds us that our Lord never sacrifices truth in the name of love.

Those of you who read the Monday Bible Studies on this blog know I sometimes include word studies. Hey, I’m a writer — I like words! But most of you also know I firmly believe in interpreting the Bible in context. For that reason, George H. Guthrie’s piece, How Word Studies Go Bad: A (Slightly Funny) Example both amuses and teaches us to be careful when we do word studies.

Guthrie’s article inspired Peter Krol of Knowable Word to write Bible Word Studies Gone Bad to help us determine when it’s advantageous to study an individual word in a Scripture passage.

Take time to read The “Vaguely Christian But Still Cool” Starter Pack that Rebekah Womble has on her Wise In His Eyes  blog. Her words are clever as well as sobering.

Tom, who blogs at ExCatholic4Christ, gives us Creeds, Confessions, and lists of beliefs to make us think a bit. I disagree with him about the Nicene Creed as to its level of sophistication, but over all I believe he makes some valuable points.

In Losing my salvation, Elizabeth Prata of The End Time reveals something that she and John MacArthur have in common. Actually, you and I share this trait with them, whether we admit it or not.

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Saturday Sampler: March 5 — March 11

Lollipop SamplerElizabeth Prata, blogging in The End Time, echoes my sentiments in her article, A note of encouragement: Don’t be discouraged about the Internet. With so much animosity on social media these days, her perspective refreshes me.

If you haven’t been reading Leslie A.’s fascinating series on developing discernment in Growing 4 Life,  please start. This week she writes Learn to Discern: What Is Your Paradigm? What a helpful and insightful blog post!

Oh yes, in my 46 years as a Christian I’ve watched plenty of my friends turn away from Christ. Some of these defections hurt worse than others. So I appreciate Jordan Standridge’s 4 Thoughts About People who Walk Away from the Lord in The Cripplegate this week.

In Not Your Mom’s Prosperity Gospel, Rebekah Womble of Wise In His Eyes discusses ways that evangelicals try exploitative tactics in attempts to manipulate the Lord Jesus Christ. Don’t try these at home.

Tim Challies’ piece, Stop Calling Everything Hate, uses good common sense. Although that type of sense grows less common by the day, evidently.

An assignment in her Moral Theology class prompted Kim Shay to write Ethical Adventures for Out of the Ordinary. Writing about the evils of abortion isn’t as simple as she thought it would be.

Challenging the stereotypes of Calvinism,  Steve Altroggie of The Blazing Center writes 5 Reasons I’m A Calvinist. Notice how he roots each reason firmly in Scripture.

Praise God for Michelle Lesley writing Basic Training: The Bible Is Sufficient to remind us that we no longer need personal revelations from God. I wish such essays were unnecessary, but I appreciate people like Michelle who boldly stand for the sufficiency of Scripture.

 

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Silly Putty Or Hard Truth?

Distorted BibleReading my blog, I suppose, might lead readers to think I dislike Catholics, Charismatics, Gay Christians, those who believe in Christian psychology and people in seeker-sensitive churches. Okay, I understand how readers might reach such conclusions. I’ll even admit to feeling a certain level of anger toward leaders who promote such distortions of Christianity. Truth shouldn’t be treated as a plaything, manipulated to suit our expectations, and it upsets me to see it stretched and pulled like Silly Putty.

But most of the people who fall victim to these theological aberrations honestly believe they follow the Lord. Some are genuine Christians, as I was. Yes, they need correction. So did I. But those who really want to know the truth will listen to correction and go to Scripture in an attitude of prayer. Consider the apostle John’s remarks, referring to the apostolic teaching preserved in the New Testament.

They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error. ~~1 John 4:5-6 (ESV) 

I see a terrible trend among evangelicals to make compromises with various worldly philosophies, and those compromises distress me. Sometimes my frustration boils over, and I fail to temper my zeal for truth with compassion and understanding. I forget where I’ve come from in my own walk with the Lord, or else I get so annoyed with the deceptions I once believed that I lose sight of the fact that they ensnare precious children of God who desperately need proper teaching.

So, to be clear: I hate teachings that distort God’s Word. I hate teachings that make salvation dependent on human effort, and I hate teachings that deny God’s authority to determine what behaviors constitute sin. I hate teachings that mix Biblical principles with worldly philosophies. I hate these things because I love the Lord Jesus Christ and His Word enough to want people to conform to His Truth.

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Believers Who Miss The Gospel

Old Fashioned Girl

A couple years ago, “false convert” seemed to be the latest buzz word in the types of blogs I read, and I struggled with the suspicion that we might over-apply the term. Looking back on my own life, for example, I can’t determine the genuineness of my own conversion during the time I participated in the Charismatic movement.

I embraced a lot of bad doctrine during those years, and yet I knew deep down that much of the theology didn’t really square with Scripture. I just didn’t know Scripture well enough to argue against Charismatic doctrine. But I did know that I had no claim to heaven apart from the shed blood of Jesus Christ.

Trusting in Christ rather than self-effort marks a true Christian. Although we must pay attention to other points of doctrine (particularly the sufficiency of Scripture), the basic Gospel must underscore everything else. The true Christian knows his depravity, and therefore has no option other than to rely exclusively on Jesus to atone for his sin.

In contrast, many false converts have great difficulty understanding the severity of their sin. Oh, they may give lip-service to the concept, but they secretly believe that they either took part in becoming Christians or have some responsibilities in maintaining their salvation. They sing about God’s grace, but they can’t really believe that He has done all the work. They feel driven to contribute something.

The apostle Paul addressed this prideful attitude in the letter to the Galatians. Of course I can’t copy the entire epistle here, but  consider this passage as an example:

O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? ~~Galatians 3:1-3 (ESV)

Charismatics, Catholics, proponents of contemplative prayer and adherents of psychology all can fall into this category of false converts, through genuine Christians occasionally fall into these deceptions.  All these groups (and probably others) subtly add human effort either to salvation itself or to sanctification while minimizing the doctrine of depravity. In fact, some of them actively seek to bolster self-esteem, teaching that Jesus died for us because of our worth. The focus, in one way or another, reverts to  man’s ability to earn God’s favor–directly contradicting the  message of the Gospel.

Other false converts minimize the doctrine of sin, either by claiming that they’re free to sin because of Christ’s death on the cross (which paid for their sin) or by manipulating Scripture to excuse their particular sin. They violate the Gospel by refusing to let it conform them to His Holiness. They expect God to make them feel good, but reject any thought of surrendering their lives to Him.

The following passage from 2 Peter describes the attitude of false teachers, but I believe it also applies to others who use a faulty understanding of grace to justify sinful behavior.

19 They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved. 20 For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. 21 For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. 22 What the true proverb says has happened to them: “The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.” ~~2 Peter 2:19-22 (ESV)

Gay Christians (particularly those who once served as leaders in the ex-gay arena before going back to homosexuality), female pastors and elders and emergent church types provide the most prominent examples of those who minimize the gravity of sin. But by trivializing sin, they also trivialize the precious blood of Christ. Additionally, they pull the emphasis away from the Lord’s glory and on to how He can satisfy them.

I’ve merely given an overview of false conversion today, but I hope it’s enough to get you to examine your own spiritual condition . I still test myself periodically. As we all examine ourselves to make sure He has genuinely saved us, may we keep our gaze on Christ, giving Him all the glory and adoring Him for saving wretches like us.

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A Warping Of Salvation

psychological-damageWhen I first became a Christian in 1971, I heard countless Bible Studies and sermons proclaiming, very unmistakably, that salvation comes exclusively through the Lord Jesus Christ. I clung tenaciously to Christ’s declaration in John 14:6.

I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. ~~John 14:6 (ESV)

Needless to say, many people had difficulty appreciating my hard-line stance on this matter. Close relatives censured me as an intolerant fanatic. But I stood firm, in those early days, resolute in my conviction that Jesus wouldn’t mislead His disciples on the most important issue facing humanity. If people could come to God apart from Him, He wasted His time dying on the cross as the substitute for our sin. My confidence in this truth kept me immovable for several years.

As I got involved in counseling ministry, however, my spiritual emphasis shifted. Mind you, the shift was subtle. Almost imperceptible, in fact. And intellectually, I continued to affirm John 14:6. But, enamored by the integration of Biblical principles and psychological models,  I slowly drifted into a more therapeutic idea of Christianity.

I can remember hanging up the phone after chatting with a friend in 1996. After over twenty years of witnessing to her, I wondered if perhaps she was saved. She’d said nothing about the Lord, nor had she quoted the Bible, but she’d mentioned some of the same psychological principles that I’d offered in counseling letters earlier that week. Although I can’t recall precisely what she said, I’m pretty sure that it had to do with self-esteem.

Over the subsequent two years, I noticed other people (none of whom professed Biblical faith) applying psychological principles that I’d used as ministry tools. I began to consider the possibility that, even through none of them believed that Jesus was the only Savior, or that the Bible was the Word of God, just maybe they knew the Lord in spite of themselves. Perhaps I’d been too narrow in my understanding of salvation.

As regular readers of this blog know, the Lord has graciously restored me to Biblical faith. Of course I understand that John 14:6 means precisely what it says. Furthermore, He has brought me back into Scripture, where I can see that psychology directly contradicts the Gospel. I’ve written numerous blog posts, which you can access here, demonstrating various problems with mingling psychology with Scripture, and I’m quite sure I’ll write more. I believe psychology threatens Biblical Christianity enormously.

It definitely threatened my view of the Gospel for a while!

Beloved sisters in Christ, please think carefully before you adopt concepts of “Christian” psychology. In reality, these belief systems are mutually exclusive, despite all the attempts to bind them together. In the end, psychology will always claim authority over the Bible, insisting that it has insights into the soul that go far deeper than Scripture ever could.

Don’t fall under the spell of psychology, as I once did. It distracts from the Gospel, even to the degree that we think it brings salvation. But as Bible-believing Christians, we must, without equivocation, hold tight to the truth that Jesus alone provides access to the Father.

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