We’re Not Saved By Being Right

Focus Press: A Dangerous Trend in the Churches of Christ When we’re constantly covering baptism, the instrument, and the other doctrines that set us apart from the denominational world, growth comes to a halt. As Hebrews 5:11-14 discusses, there comes a time when we need to move beyond the fundamentals and onto the meat of the word. When […]

A Christian Nation? Since When?

A Christian Nation? Since When? …For all our talk about separation of church and state, religious language has been written into our political culture in countless ways. It is inscribed in our pledge of patriotism, marked on our money, carved into the walls of our courts and our Capitol. Perhaps because it is everywhere, we […]

Truthiness

TruthinessDef

The pilot episode of Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report gave me one of the biggest a-ha moments I can remember having while watching a television program.  In the pilot, Colbert introduced the idea of truthiness in a segment called The Wørd (a parody of a certain someone else’s Talking Points segment) and described it as something that feels right – regardless of whether or not actual facts support it. We see truthiness around us every day.

  • It may not be true that the McDonald’s coffee lawsuit was a million-dollar jackpot for an old lady who carelessly spilled her coffee while speeding down the highway. But doesn’t that narrative feel right? It’s truthy.
  • It may not be true that President Obama has missed more Arlington Memorial Day ceremonies than any president in recent history (and therefore is anti-American), but it sure feels right. Again, it’s truthy.
  • Al Gore never claimed to have invented the Internet, but doesn’t it feel good to mock him for it? We’ve accepted truthiness.
  • Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin may have never said, “I can see Russia from my house,” but doesn’t it feel like something she would have said? Truthiness strikes again.

Truthiness is something we in Christ’s body have to guard against like crazy. Faith is a deeply personal thing. It’s fundamentally emotional. It appeals to the heart.  Yet Jesus speaks of his words being objectively true. Paul appeals to our rational minds several times in his writings. Think about Galatians 1:6-12, where Paul appeals to his readers to be careful of the doctrine they accept. Think about Jesus speaking about worship in terms of spirit and truth in John 4:19-24. Think of John writing about testing every word from every spirit in I John 4:1-6. As Christians, we have to be concerned with our practices and our beliefs. Do they adhere to the truth of Christ’s word, or have I morphed them into something that feels good to me.

I once saw a quote asserting that worship is a feeling. I’d agree to an extent, but I think this misses the mark in a way that encourages truthiness. Worship is more than a feeling. It’s a way of life. It’s a complete giving of myself over to God and what He wants me to be. This includes worshiping Him within the truth of His word – not relying on what feels right to me but rather doing what God has shown me is right in His word. The same goes for social issues, for issues of morality, of kindness, of charity, and a number of other topics. It may feel right to me to take a “get what you deserve” approach in this life, but that is not the pattern God wants me to follow. He wants me to be forgiving and charitable, even when it doesn’t feel right to my sense of justice.

When we succumb to truthiness in the way we divide scripture, we are putting self before God; just like we put self before facts when we succumb to truthiness in science, in politics, or in any other topic we can grow emotional about. As children of Christ, our concern is with truth, and truth doesn’t always feel good. Sometimes truth is hard, but we have to accept it. We cannot shape truth. We have to let it shape us.

The Winds of Doctrine

In the first couple of verses of I Timothy 4, Paul warns the young preacher that hypocrisy and falsehood will begin to lead people away from the gospel. Keeping this in mind, Ephesians 4:11-14 speaks of the need for teachers and leaders who will help the church stand against the dangers of false teachings. He refers to the winds of doctrine tossing congregations about as boats in a storm. Spiritually, we can easily be blown off course if we are not anchored in God’s truth.

In I Timothy 4, Paul cites these false doctrine as coming from men who are crafty, cunning, who have false motives. Certainly, some teach falsely with sincerity and conviction as well, and we should work to avoid falling into falsehoods regardless of sincerity. We should be prepared to identify and be wary of potential sources for error.

Sources of Wind

People we hold in high esteem can lead us astray. We hold to our commentaries, favorite preachers, favorite teachers, and their ideas and opinions carry weight. However, none of these individuals are inspired. I might have known a preacher my whole life, but long association does not equate infallibility. I Corinthians 1:12 addresses this mindset of placing too much authority and faith in the words of an individual, and 2:5 of the same book reminds us to place our faith in God over men.

Closely related to those we hold in esteem, we can allow friends and peers to influence us overmuch. I Kings 12 records Rehoboam taking counsel with the elders who had advised Solomon as well as with his peers regarding how to win the respect and service of the people. Rehoboam prefers the unwise advice of his peers, advice that leads to the citizens rebelling against him. Also, Pilate, in Mark 15:15, takes action to pacify the crowds who appeal to his political connections. He acts against his conscience to make others happy. We might know what is right, but our friends and peers might cause us to waver.

Finally, we can cause ourselves to be tossed about. We might hold to stubbornness. We might hold to tradition. We can stand in our own way to progress. Naaman, in II Kings 5, gets in his own way when the prophet’s instructions are not what he expects. He visits Elisha to be healed, expecting a great miracle (verse 11), but is sent away to go wash himself in the Jordan River. Initially, he is resistant to follow Elisha’s instructions solely because it is not what he wants. “I think” can too often get in our way.

Anchoring Ourselves

We should expect scriptural basis for what we practice and teach. I Peter 4:11 calls us to appeal to God’s authority in our teachings and ministering. Jesus, while tempted in the wilderness, always returned to scripture when answering Satan.

Ephesians 4:13 speaks of having unity in faith, knowledge of Jesus, spiritual maturity, and a love for truth. A lack of these qualities opens us up to being tossed about by false doctrine, but each of these is correctable. In faith and in doctrine, we should be respecting God’s word, and holding it as our own standard – recognizing that our opinions can be wrong. We should be spending more time in God’s word, studying and continually growing in knowledge. Sometimes, we also have to accept that it’s time to grow up, growing in our conduct, in our involvement, in our commitment. John 17:17 records Jesus asking God to sanctify His followers in God’s truth, and Psalm 119 focuses in the importance of God’s law, and verse 105 refers to that law as a light to guide our steps.

Troubling influences can come from without and within. As we seek to grow spiritually and recognize from where storms can come, we can grow up into Christians anchored in truth, able to withstand the influences of false doctrine.

lesson by Tim Smelser

God in the Flesh

When on Earth, was Jesus strictly a mortal man with a soul no different than you or me – completely separated from God? On the other hand, was Jesus God in the flesh?

The Word Becomes Flesh

In John 1:14, the gospel author records that the Word became flesh, and Galatians 4:4 records that Jesus came to be born of woman. Philippians 2:7 says he was in the likeness of man. These scriptures do record that He came as a mortal, but they do not claim He put away His spiritual nature. Matthew 1:23 records that Jesus’ name means “God with us,” and, even at the age of twelve, He demonstrates an awareness of His spiritual mission.

Furthermore, Jesus does not deny people from worshipping Him. In contrast, apostles and even angels discourage people from worshipping them in scripture. In Mark 2:1-12, Jesus demonstrates His power to forgive sin – a power reserved for deity.  In John 8:58, He refers to Himself as “I AM,” again a designation that points directly toward godhood.

Warring with the Flesh

However, we must be careful not to discount the human nature of Jesus. He experienced our weaknesses and challenges. He was subject to temptation. Why would Satan have attempted otherwise? James 1:13 claims God cannot be tempted by evil, and Galatians 5:16-17 says that our flesh wars with our spirit in terms of desires. Jesus’ spirit would resist temptation, but His flesh was tested the way we are. In Luke 22:28, Jesus calls His disciples those who have been with Him throughout His temptations.

James 1:12 commends any person who is tempted and resists, and Hebrews 4:14-15 claims that Jesus gave us an example of one who could be tempted without caving in. Hebrews 2:17-18 claims He was made like man in every way, suffering and being tempted as we are. What kind of example would that be if His resistance did not require the effort our resistance requires? Satan is subtle and tailors his temptations specifically for each of us as he would have done for Jesus. He overcame, and we can as well. It is disrespectful to our Lord to discount the effort He put into the life He led while on this world.

Conclusion

Jesus made a great sacrifice in His life on this world. Along with the death He experienced on the cross, He gave up Heaven for that time. He put on a body that was both fragile and fallible. However, in all this He retained His godhood and His purity – making Himself the ultimate sacrifice for our sins. He knows what we go through. He understands our problems, and He is in a position where He can intercede for us and offer us the forgiveness we need.

lesson by Herbert Smelser, Jr.

Testing Every Spirit

God’s people have always wrested with understanding whether or not a doctrine or a practice is from God. However, God has not left His people without solution. In the Old Testament, in Deuteronomy 18:20-22, God basically says that the prophets were to be tested in their words. If their prediction comes to pass, they are from God. However, their would be some times when prophecies would extend past normal lifetimes. In Jeremiah 28 and Amos 7 offers a litmus test: fulfillment, relevance, and agreement with the rest of God’s word.

“Testing Spirits”

Modern individuals continue to try to reinvent Jesus and His word, and we. Historically, there has been controversy over the identity of Christ and His teachings. I John 4:1 instructs us not believe everything we hear, but test them out instead to determine the validity of the message. Like the individuals of the Old Testament, we can look at a few key points to help determine the scriptural authenticity of a teaching.

  • Specialized terminology and unique definitions.
  • Beware of human reasoning.
  • Consistency with the rest of God’s word.

These points can abuse scriptures to make them say something that is not there, and it can be easy to follow these paths (especially the second). However, it is very important to respect the scriptures and retain the meanings the authors originally intended if we believe what the Bible has to say about itself.

In II Timothy 3:16, Paul affirms the inspiration of the scriptures. These words did not happen by chance or coincidence. They were not formed in the wisdom of man. They are whole and complete, furnishing us with all we need for godly living. I Peter 1:16-21 reaffirms that the words of scriptures came from God rather than man, and Hebrews 1:1-2 turns to Jesus for authority.

Mark 12:36 records Jesus claiming David spoke by the Holy Spirit. John 14:26 promises the influence of the Spirit on the apostles, and Jesus prays about the apostles’ reception of His words in John 17:8. I Peter 1:12 and Galatians 1:12 again claim divine intervention in the authorship of the scriptures. I Corinthians 2:10-11, Hebrews 4:12, and Matthew 4:4, all claim God’s influence while  II Peter 1:3 portrays these scriptures as all-sufficient.

Conclusion

If we claim to follow the Bible, then we must accept the origin it claims. Adhering to these words, we then have a foundation upon which to determine the scriptural accuracy of the talking points, doctrines, and debates we may encounter.

lesson by Tim Smelser