Willie Deutsch.com

Religion and Politics from a Young Christian in Northern Virginia

Is Being Right What is Most Important?

November 21st, 2012

A recent discussion online about evangelicalism made me think yet again on the question of whether there should be something more important for Christians than believing and doing the right things.  Ben Tribbett, one of the leading Democrat bloggers in the state, shared an interesting story.

Willie Deutsch, I’ll share with you a story that is non-political on why evangelicals have trouble reaching people. My mom is Jewish- my dad is southern baptist, and whenever I went to Roanoke as a kid I attended a southern baptist church with my grandmother. One summer when I was about 5 and visiting for a month and my parents were gone the youth minister came over to the farm. I went outside with him and he proceeded to tell me that my mother was going to hell, and he wanted to save me from doing so. He demonstrated this by setting up some sticks on the ground to represent heaven and hell and stomped on the “jewish” sticks. My grandmother was PISSED when she heard what happened- because even though she was a devout baptist, she didn’t like people speaking “ugly” about other religions or people. I was perfectly happy attending church with her until that happened and never liked it afterwords.

This story brought to mind I Corinthians 13:1-3 and the need for Christians to show love.  Here Paul rattles off a number of valuable actions.  Things like speaking in tongues, prophesying, having great wisdom, great faith, charity, even martyrdom.  All these are good.  But Paul declares that possessing them without love is worthless.

One of the qualities Paul mentions is understanding “all mysteries and all knowledge.”  Understanding right doctrine and right practice certainly fits within the description of “understanding all knowledge.”  Imagine someone who perfectly understands all theology, and how people should live.  Wouldn’t that be pretty impressive?  Paul says if the person doesn’t have love, he is nothing.  Paul believes that all of that knowledge doesn’t matter if the person does not possess love.

Think back to the story of the pastor I shared earlier.  One can argue with whether the pastor was “right” in what he said, but what is undeniable is that he was unloving.  This also answers the question of why love is most important.  What the pastor did turned Ben away from Christianity, and who can blame him for having that reaction?  If your presentation or discussion of truth is not couched in love, how can you expect the listener to be willing to listen?  (As an aside, humility when talking about truth is also a good thing.)  An unloving discussion of truth will burn the relational bridges necessary to be able to influence a person.  How can you expect someone to seriously consider an idea presented in an unloving way?  Even worse, what will they think of Christ, whom you claim to represent?

Before writing off what I am talking about, consider this: when you know someone thinks differently than you do, are you quicker to judge or to try to love and understand?  What about homosexuals?  Do we as Christians love them or judge them?  Abortion doctors?  Those who have had an affair?  Those who have committed other grievous sin?

Thinking closer to home… What about the Christians who don’t act exactly as we do? The church with a different style of worship?  Those who don’t have the same standards of modesty?  Someone who is an Arminian or a Calvinist or Premill or Postmill, or you name it?  Are you quick to judge and distance yourself, or do you love them as your brother or sister in Christ?

“But Willie,” you may say, “These things are important.”  I know they are, but to Paul believing the right thing is worthless if you have not love.

You may also say, “Willie, I’m just showing ‘tough love.'”  Really?  Does the way you are showing love line up with the way Paul describes love in the rest of I Corinthians 13?

Another issue is that of intentions.  You may feel love towards someone, and believe that your actions are motivated by love.  But are the actions themselves loving?  The description of love, describes actions.  It is great to have the best of intentions, but are the actions themselves loving?  Think back to the pastor.  He was probably very well intentioned in wanting Ben to come to salvation, avoid hell, etc…  The unloving way in which he displayed his presumably good intentions had the opposite affect.

Think about the “being right” v. “showing love” dichotomy another way.  It is the difference between being more concerned with what someone does than in developing a relationship or understanding why they do certain actions when responding to them.  When you are more concerned about outcomes than building a relationship, you lose the ability to influence.  When someone thinks you are more concerned with making sure you act or think the way you do, then you have lost the ability to reach them at all.  This is the dangers that Christians face when they value being right over showing love.

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For a related sermon, I would strongly recommend this one by Colby Garman entitled Love the Mark of Christian Maturity.

Is Christianity All About Obeying Commands? Part II

October 7th, 2012

This is the second part of an article I published a month ago entitled “Is Christianity All About Obeying Commands? Part I.

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”  (Matthew 11:28-30)  This is the tender gentle invitation of Christ to the lost.  In many ways for the lost and weary it is “an offer he can’t refuse.”  It is with this in mind that I would like to continue the discussion on the Bible’s commands from the previous post.

Like any good sermon, I will be making three points in this article.  First I will argue that God’s commands are not burdensome.  Secondly, I will examine the core commands of scripture so that we don’t “neglect the weightier matters of the law.”  Finally, following the Spirit is crucial to obeying God.

I.  God’s Commands are Not Burdensome.

I feel like the preacher the night Charles Spurgeon was converted who had little to say, but stuck tenaciously to his text. The first thing to note from the text is that there is a yoke which we must take upon us if we are following Christ.  There are also things which must be learned from Christ.  Christianity is not about setting someone free from the laborious and heavy yoke of Satan to do whatever they would like.  God does command.  The invitation to the weary and heavy laden is to take on the yoke of Christ.

However, in willingly taking on the yoke of Christ, we find rest for our souls.  Christ promises to be a gentle master who is lowly in heart.  This is much different from the slavedriver, Satan, who we served before coming to Christ, and it is contrary to any view of Christ which paints Him as a slavedriver or taskmaster.  While we are called to take on a yoke, in some way it is easy and light.  In Matthew 23:4 Jesus condemns the Pharisees because they “tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders.”  It would be inconceivable for God to condemn the Pharisees for laying heavy burdens on people, and promise an easy burden to those same people to turn around and require His children to spend their time finding every command out of every principle they can find in scripture.

The passage makes it clear that God’s yoke is easy.  God incarnate uses this as an invitation for people to follow Him.  God does not play bait and switch.  He fulfills His promises.  We however, should be careful that we do not make God’s burden heavier than He intended.  To the extent we require more things of Christians than God does, we are loading people looking for rest with a heavy burden.  When God’s commands seem to be burdensome, we must ask whether the commands are truly from God or if they are extra biblical commands from religious leaders.

II.  What Does God Command?

While there are many individual commands in scripture, it is helpful to look at passages where the Bible identifies the most important commands.

In Micah 6:6-8 the prophet asks “With what shall I come before the Lord?”  “Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?  Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil?”  These are superlatives of things God commanded and seemingly required elsewhere.  The prophet goes on to suggest a much more valuable offering, seemingly pondering maybe God wants what the people around us suggest God wants.  “Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”  The answer is a resounding no to those suggestions, and an oft repeated verse.  “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”  Really?  Is that it?  God only requires three things?  Yes fulfilling them takes a lot, but can’t you hear the thankful cry of the person who realizes this truth?  What ease is found in only striving to obey a few commands!

Maybe this is a fluke.  Surely the commands of God can’t be few.  That is just a minor Old Testament prophet.  Maybe… Let’s look at the book of Acts and how the apostles dealt with this issue.  Acts 15 relates the story of the Jerusalem Council.  Following the conversion of many of the Gentiles, men from Judea came around telling the new converts that in order to really be a Christian they must be circumcised.  This caused quite the controversy, and Paul and Barnabas returned to Jerusalem to talk to the apostles and elders about this issue.  Some belonging to the party of the Pharisees argued that Gentile believers must be circumcised and keep the law of Moses.  (v.5)  Peter however stands up and retells how God used him to begin bringing the gospel to the Gentiles.  He then reasons against laying the command on the Gentiles by saying, “Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”  (v.10 and 11)  The council listens to him and as a result decides to send a letter to the Gentile churches with four commands: “To abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood.”  Make what you want of the four particular laws, the decision was that the Gentile believers should not be burdened with numerous unkeepable laws and they intentionally decided to keep the yoke of the believers light.

Nothing is more burdensome than numerous laws.  Both in Micah and Acts the commands of God are few.  When multitudinous laws are written and imposed, the individual is forced to constantly double check whether his actions violate some law.  Keeping commands few makes the yoke light.  Interestingly as well, Jesus alludes to the importance of the simple commands found in Micah when He refutes the Pharisees.  Justice, mercy, and faithfulness are the “weightier matters of the law” Jesus says the Pharisees neglect when crafting their multitudinous unfollowable laws.  (Matthew 23:23)  God’s commands are intentionally few and simple so that they won’t be burdensome.

III.  The Role of the Holy Spirit

“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.”  This is the great promise found in John 16:13 following Christ’s promise he would send a Helper, a Helper it was more advantageous for the disciples to have than Christ Himself.  The Bible clearly that the Holy Spirit has a central role in sanctification.  (2 Cor. 3:18, 2 Thess. 2:13, 1 Peter 1:2, Romans 8:4+13, etc…)  If we believe the Holy Spirit will guide us, and sanctify us, we must leave the Him the ability to convict different individuals in different ways.  Martin Luther famously stated at the Diet of Worms “I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise, God help me. Amen.”  As the Spirit guides and convicts He shows us our sin and leads us into truth.  This is the distinction of the New Covenant prophesied by Jeremiah and repeated in Hebrews.  Arguing that the Holy Spirit tells you to do something contrary to the Bible is absurd.  However, if He does not illuminate and convict He has no purpose.  This is a work performed individually in the heart of the believer, not a special guidance to a “spiritual leader” who then has the authority to tell others to live as the Spirit may have guided them to live.

My Pastor Colby Garman delivered a very helpful sermon on the relationship of the law and the Spirit in his sermon on Romans 7.  In it he argued that while “The Law is good, it cannot achieve growth and personal transformation in righteousness.”  This is the crucial role of the Holy Spirit.

Willie Deutsch.com

Religion and Politics from a Young Christian in Northern Virginia