We’ve all tripped over the giant elephant in the room. From redefining fundamental terms such as faith, holiness, and salvation to crafting “new” ideologies that have proved to be everything but useful, we can all see the prevalent deficiency in the Church. People do not know God’s Word.
With the emergence of Bible paraphrases, exhaustive commentaries, and liberal interpretations given by motivational speakers posing as pastors, the fundamentals of faith found in the Scriptures have been twisted or completely discounted.
However, the shortage of biblical knowledge falls not only on the Church’s doorstep but on the shoulders of individual believers. It seems today’s disciples have been hypnotized with messages of success and personal fulfillment. They have suppressed their hunger for Jesus and the Biblical truths. As a result, an entire generation now knows only a few catchphrases and bandaid theology regarding the person of Jesus. As a result, an entire generation now knows only a few catchphrases and bandaid theology regarding the person of Jesus.
How did we get here?
For decades, pulpits have been concerned with entertaining rather than teaching the Scriptures. Worship has been about emotional connection rather than encountering the God who confronts sin and offers transformation. Church activities have become a conduit for business connections rather than disciple-making. Today, Churches boast of how quickly they can get you out of their morning services rather than how they contend for the abiding presence of Jesus. Few witness the miraculous power and life-changing conviction of God’s Spirit each week. Finally, Churches have leaned heavily on medicating thier congregates with activities, powerless psychology, and secular business growth strategies. We’ve redefined sin and created self-help studies that no longer require repentance but rather offer a pathway of enlightenment through multi-week courses of “finding yourself.”
Though these assessments are generalized strokes, I think they speak to the greater reality that we have successfully built a Church life that now parallels the vain and shallow American dream.
With this caution, I wanted to highlight a few broken phrases I often hear and offer a scriptural response to each. I know some readers may say my view versus their own may be an issue of semantics, which I can understand. However, I feel one’s interpretation of scriptures should be supported by a correct understanding of each passage rather than one’s preference for understanding or traditional knowledge.
- You can’t love others until you love yourself.
Self-love psychology can trace its roots back to the ancient Greek counsel of Socrates, who said, “..know thyself, for once we know ourselves, we may learn how to care for ourselves.” Though Socrates is heralded as a wise philosopher, he holds no footing regarding the principles of following Jesus. Self-awareness and self-love are often touted as scriptural. Many teach that Jesus encouraged this belief when He said, “love your neighbor as yourself.” However, looking closer at this passage (Matthew 22:35-40), you may find that the principle of loving yourself to enable a love for others has no scriptural validation. When Jesus makes this statement, He replies to a lawyer asking what is “the greatest commandment.” He says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”
Note that Jesus reveals only two commandments. Love God with all your heart, soul, and mind. Love your neighbor. The qualification of “as you love yourself” references Leviticus 19:13-18. In this text, God lays out how His people are to treat the poor, their neighbors, and the “children of your people.” There is no indication of making self-love a priority before loving others. One may ask, “how can I love someone if I don’t love myself? My simple response would be to try it. Take the focus off of feelings about yourself and place them on caring and aiding others. When you need to be reciprocated with affirmation or praise, lay down that desire and push forward in serving others. Love those who have nothing to give in return, and you will find that your self-focus is merely a subtle form of pride that needs to be humbled. (Luke 6:32) One last thought on this self-love doctrine. Paul warns us that in the last days, people will be “lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving slanderers, without self-control, brutal despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!” (2 Timothy 3:2-5) Self-love, as Paul indicates, can lead to a list of carnal behaviors, but it will not lead to loving Jesus or others more. Does this mean we shouldn’t like who we are? No. It means we must hold our perspective of ourselves to God’s viewpoint. We are His children, and we can be confident that our fulfillment and purpose will come from our love for Him as we show it in our love for others. (Romans 12:3)
- Jesus came to make you the best version of yourself.
In following Jesus, yes, you will find greater joy in life. But this joy that He offers is not found in being a self-constructed spiritual superhero. It’s not found in reaching a destiny that your forge out of your aspirations and zeal. This joy is found in dying to yourself, laying down your life, and making your service to Him a priority. This act of serving and denying self is the kingdom principle that will elevate you in the eyes of the Father regardless of how you are recognized among your peers. Joy does not come in becoming more like the person you want to be. No, it is found in the union and relationship with Jesus. (John 15:11) Only in identifying with Jesus do we lay aside our broken nature and put on the Divine nature. (2 Peter 1:1-8)
- Your decision isn’t God’s will if you don’t have peace about it.
Can peace be a good indicator of God’s will? Yes. Is it always the affirmation you should wait for? No. There are times obedience has attached to it feelings of uncertainty, alarm, and even unwillingness. However, we are to look to the counsel of God’s word in making a decision and not be navigated by how we feel. If feelings become a compass, we will find ourselves bowing at the altar of our emotional ups and downs. Hardship, uncertainty, and suffering are not something we will escape in our pursuit of the Kingdom life. It is to be expected. Jesus defined the decision-making process of following Him as one of a cross to carry rather than a peaceful walk in the park. Consider this. When Jesus went to Gethsemane to begin the process of laying His life down, what emotions did He experience? Peace? Assurance? No. Matthew’s gospel records a difficult struggle between Jesus’ task ahead and His desire to not endure the suffering. (Matthew 26:36-46) In Luke’s gospel, Jesus is recorded to be in “agony” and “praying fervently” until his sweat became like drops of blood. Yet in this turmoil of emotion, Jesus pressed forward, beyond his feelings, and obeyed to the point of the cross. Is it great to feel the peace of God when we must obey His commands? Yes. Will you always have that affirming peace? No.
- God is in control.
We’ve all heard this statement a thousand times. It’s commonly echoed as a hopeful sentiment in turmoil. We default to affirm each other with the assurance that “God is in control” when tragedy strikes our lives. But is God truly in control? Can we attribute the sinful behaviors of broken people to be a reflection of God’s control? Surely not. Some may imply that God’s wisdom can work out evil situations for our benefit, but this sentiment is poorly communicated in an expression that proposes God’s control. According to Merrian- Webster, control means “to exercise restraining or to direct influence over.” Can we say that God is exercising His power in every tragedy? Surely, we serve a God whose character cannot be plagued by such an accusation.
From a scriptural stance, we can say that God oversees the affairs of humanity and allows them to make choices that will benefit or destroy their lives. We often see God’s wisdom given to men and women to choose the better pathway of righteousness and truth, but God does not seek to control our response to Him. At the conclusion of Moses’ life, God spoke this wisdom to the nation of Israel. “I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore, choose life, that both you and your descendants may live.” David, in his psalm, declares the reality that “the heavens are the Lord’s, but the earth He has given to the children of men.” (Psalm 115:16). Numerous scriptures speak to this freedom that God has given to mankind. He gives us full control to destroy our lives or to make them whole. He even gives us His guidance to produce a life that will honor Him and give us hope, but He is not in control of our choices.
Unfortunately, the consequences of our choices are not limited to our own suffering, but they extend into the lives of many, at times for generations. This control, He’s placed in our hands. However, God freely extends His aid to those who call out to him for help. So who is in control? You are.