Poisoning the Well of Christianity
There are a lot of people ministering God's word these days, and for the most part, that's a good thing. We should definitely be encouraging one another, and lifting each other up, as the Bible directs us to do. (Hebrews 10:24-25, Colossians 3:16)
However, we should be aware, there are people who minister an incomplete, or even tainted, message. And when I say incomplete, what I mean is, the message they deliver is one of a rather narrow point of view without taking the whole of God's word into proper consideration.
The reasons for this can be many. Perhaps a certain point of view appeals to them personally. Perhaps they haven't taken the time to truly seek the nature of God and see the whole of scripture through His eyes. Perhaps what they teach is simply what they have been taught by someone else.
Regardless of the reason, this can, at times, be problematic. When they have drifted a good distance away from Christlikeness and the original intent of scripture, this can take them to places God never intended for them to go. And it is especially problematic when they spread their message to a large audience, potentially leading others into bondage that could change the course of their life.
These types of issues concern me deeply, and there are many we could cite. But today, there is one specific issue I want to highlight. This issue, for lack of a less inflammatory description, are modern day Pharisees.
Modern day Pharisees are those who have placed performance, or adherence to a set of rules or regulations above the blood of Christ -- though most would disagree with this description due to their narrow viewpoint -- and often use their assessment of our performance as a litmus test to determine who is a "real Christian" and who is not.
I'll be honest, those who inflict this way of thinking upon others tend to upset me. I have ministered to a number of people who have been so wrapped up in shame and guilt, nearly devoid of self worth, and it was all because someone drilled into them how unworthy they were for not meeting certain expectations. For some it had gotten so bad that, even though they believed in Christ, they were convinced they were destined for hell because they couldn't live up to the standards that someone had set before them.
This is beyond sad. In fact, this is spiritually criminal. And even in writing this, I can feel my righteous indignation on the rise.
Allow me to say this plainly: do not believe those who tell you that you have to meet some nebulous "righteousness quota" in order to be counted among God's children. There is only one qualification we must meet in order to be counted as Christian, and that qualification is receiving Christ -- nothing more, and nothing less.
This is an issue that is very well addressed in the Bible, and very directly addressed not only by Jesus, but by others. I've even written an entire book on this subject. But just as an example, let me give you a few instances that illustrate my point.
Jesus very clearly called out the Pharisees who heaped rules and regulations upon the people, making it more and more difficult for them to obtain salvation. (Matthew 23) If this one example doesn't make this point clear, then honestly, I don't know what will. Still, let's continue.
Paul noted that there will be those, particularly in the last days, who will have a form of godliness, claiming to know God's word, and claiming to live according to His word, yet do not. (2 Timothy 3:1-8) In reality, they will actually use the Bible as a textbook, or a set of rules, taking from it what they will, yet deny the power of God's word. How do they deny this power? One way is by claiming we must maintain our salvation by conforming to these rules, which denies the continually cleansing blood of Jesus.
Jesus also said there are also those who will claim they did all the right things, yet He Himself will tell them that He never knew them. (Matthew 7:21-23) And the real irony of this passage... those who believe we must maintain our salvation through righteousness will see this passage as support of their claims. They will not see that it says the exact opposite. The will of the Father is for us to receive Christ, not to perform righteous acts in Christ's name to obtain salvation, as Jesus so plainly illustrated.
Not only that, but there are a myriad of scriptures about God's grace and mercy that must be ignored to believe that salvation is maintained by our own hand. (Romans 3:20-24, Romans 5:20-21, Luke 18:9-14, Ephesians 2:8-9, to reference a few.)
So I'm telling you, beware of the modern day Pharisees. Don't receive what they try to heap upon you. You can recognize them by identifying a few key points in their message.
#1 - There is an element of truth in what they teach. They will often quote a scripture, or point out something that we are encouraged to do. However, ultimately their message is incomplete, or tainted, as they will use these truths to enforce their interpretation of God's word.
#2 - They are low in, if not devoid of, grace for others. Hardcore modern day Pharisees generally do not give room for God's grace to be upon people. Instead, they are very rule oriented, and very results oriented, believing if you don't get with the program, then you're out -- as if they can make this determination.
#3 - They condemn and slander their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ for not living up to their expectations, and often justify their actions by claiming their targets are not real Christians. Because, you know, the Lord taught us to be loving, kind, and gracious only towards those who agree with us, but no one else -- only He didn't.
#4 - They are always finding new ways to make it more difficult to qualify as a Christian, and their list of things we must do to be acceptable to God keeps getting longer. If you read Matthew 23, then you know, this is exactly what the Pharisees did to the people of the day.
Now, I've been around long enough to know, there are those who will read this who have probably already labeled me a heretic, and believe that all I really want to do is run amok, and commit whatever sin I want. This is not the case. In fact, it is this kind of muddled and assumptive thinking that has caused this issue to begin with, and has brought us, and society in general, to the place we are in today -- but that's another message.
So, for the sake of these, allow me to say, righteousness is important. Righteousness pleases God, and gives us greater access to Him. Unrighteousness displeases God and interferes with our relationship with Him. Righteousness guides us down better paths, to better places, and opens our lives to the blessings of God. (Joshua 1:8) Unrighteousness turns us in directions that will do us harm, whether we can perceive it or not. (Proverbs 14:14)
There are no two ways about it, if we live an unrighteous life, we will reap the consequences of living unrighteously. But if we live a righteous life, then we will reap the rewards accordingly. However, this is very different than those who try to heap upon us rule after rule of what we must do to be counted as Christians. The vast majority of these rules are meaningless traditions of men, and have little or no bearing even on our own righteousness, let alone Christ's.
Righteousness -- our righteousness -- is not our salvation, only Christ's is. No amount of rule keeping will ever be our salvation, nor can we maintain our salvation by our own hand. And in no way can we somehow add to Christ's righteousness by adding our own. Salvation is found in Christ alone, period.
So, yes, righteousness! But also, grace! Both are vital, and we must learn to handle each properly. So if anyone ever tells you what you must do to be a "real Christian," and it is anything beyond receiving Christ, don't receive it. Salvation lies in Christ alone, therefore our membership into the body of Christ is assured in Him alone, not by our performance.
Sure, it may be good to consider the basis of what someone has to say; perhaps it has merit as something that Christ would have us do. But don't ever add these things to a list we need to accomplish in order to be acceptable to God. You are already acceptable, and Christ alone has made the way for your salvation.
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