Another week and another concept to write about burning hot in my spirit. Maybe I’ve quoted this before, but I’m presently mindful of C.S. Lewis’s famous words:
“You must translate every bit of your Theology into the vernacular. This is very troublesome… but it is essential.”
How to translate what’s burning in the heart into a language others will understand can seem impossible, but as Lewis wrote, it is essential.
So here goes…
CONSIDERING THE MODERN CHURCH
Today I’m going to press in on a possibly hot-button topic. That is, church (or the Church).
Yesterday, on “Instagram Stories” I shared a quote by Christine Caine. She is quoted as saying, “Christianity is not about behavior modification, it’s about heart transformation.” I mean, YES! YES! YES!
On the subject of church, this is a paramount confusion we, in the Church often embrace today. Christine’s words might seem simple and basic, but this confusion, this swap in message and purpose, is deeply profound and has had a vast and significant effect on Christ’s bride (the Church) through the ages. Someone recently commented to me that the message of Christianity has never changed down through the ages. YES! This is TRUE. However, what has changed is our interpretation of the message of Christianity! And here’s what many are beginning to see, experience, sense, think, and know: the modern message (aka: interpretation) of what Christianity is has quite profoundly changed from the meaning of it Jesus Himself came and proclaimed in His day (and still proclaims today in the Scriptures and by His Spirit).
For all of you out there who love Jesus, but are disillusioned with what you’ve been told about the Church, Jesus, theology, the cross, Heaven, Hell, God, the meaning of the Bible…. I just want to say to you: you’re not alone and you’re not unjustified in these feelings. For the deep thinkers, the passionate seekers out there, the message you’ve often been taught doesn’t fully add up, it doesn’t make sense, and/or there or loopholes in it. You see them, but you don’t necessarily know the answers. You know Jesus is real, He’s Savior, that the Scriptures, in their original form are inerrant, God-breathed-out, perfect, and beautiful. You know that God loves us and is love. You know that the cross was revolutionary and world-altering. You know that we’re saved by grace through faith. You know that the Holy Spirit indwells God’s people. But there’s a lot of other stuff—an awful lot—that you’ve been taught through the traditions of our churches, traditions of men, traditions of theology, and traditions of denominations, that seem to remain standing only by blind faith, and not reasonable, concrete explanation—though you believe that Jesus’ Christianity was/is reasonable, concrete, and explainable.
See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. (Col. 2:8)
‘But in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’ Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men. (Mark 7:8)
You perceive this is what’s happening. Yet you don’t know what to do about it. You don’t know what the answers are. You don’t know where to go, who to listen to, what to read, or how to understand the Scriptures themselves. You might even not fault the atheists or skeptics for not buying into the brand of Christianity currently communicated. While at the same time, you don’t think most of those teaching today are malevolent or purposefully teaching traditions instead of Christ (Col. 2:8) either. You just know that things seem to be a mess, and you long to break free of the mess and move closer to Jesus… you just don’t know how…
AN ADDENDUM: THE FUTURE LOOKS BRILLIANT!
Can I just throw this one addendum in here, before moving on with our subject? With all the naysayers in the church, all those complaining about the Church going to pot, all those complaining about the moving of the generations away from God, all those fearful and worried and negative and scoffing and hopeless about the future of the Church… I want to raise a voice above those voices today to say I think the future of the Church looks brilliantly bright! I think all the “turning away” in the Church is less about turning away from God, His Son, and the Holy Spirit, and more about turning away from the pop-cultural Church of yesteryear and her inadequate theology. I believe if we open our eyes to what’s going on in the global Church (of which we have access to see like never before), we’ll all begin to see this is true! I believe more than ever that people are hungry for more of Jesus! More truth, more understanding, more study, more Life, more freedom, more deep and close walks with the Savior, more testimony and witness of Christ in the world! There’s all these voices complaining about people turning to churches that don’t preach the Scriptures, or that don’t teach sound doctrine, or to churches that are “light” and “fluffy”. Believe you me, I believe with all my heart in deep, long looks into the Scripture, and teaching at this deep level from the pulpit! But what if our more-knowledgeable, “sound-doctrine” pulpits are filled with teachers and experts of Tradition Christianity and not with teachers of Christ’s Christianity!? There is a difference, and many of us, in the very least, sense it. (Besides, was this not the way it was in Christ’s day? The more-knowledgeable and “sound” teachers didn’t actually teach what Christ came and taught—if they did, they wouldn’t have crucified the Lord of glory!) And this, dear friends, is largely why the future of the Church looks brilliantly bright! A shift from what Christianity is not, even if we don’t know what it is then, is a shift for good. A shift, I believe, wrought by the Spirit of God, no less! Ahh… but we must find out what it is!! WE MUST!! If we don’t, if we settle for not understanding it’s (Christ’s) true message, we’re no better off than if we had stayed put with Tradition Christianity.
TRANSFORMATION > BEHAVIOR
Now back to the subject of what I can reasonably tackle in this one post that’s already probably going to be too long!! “Christianity is not about behavioral modification, it’s about heart transformation.” On my instagram stories I added the following comment to her quote, “Love this so much!! ‘Behavior is wrought in the flesh, according to weak, taken-captive human ability. And ‘transformation’ is wrought in the Spirit of God, according to strong, free, Divine ability. Christianity is not lived by behavior and rituals (flesh), but by inner transformation (Holy Spirit)!” The truth is that all those who have trusted Christ has freed them—via His cross—from slavery to the devil through our flesh, have become “new creations” (2 Cor. 5:17). This means that the inward man of every Christian is different than it used to be. It’s been re-created, born from above. Something of real, literal Heaven above has been generated within the Christian. Something that supersedes the flesh the Christian dwells in is present in us and is expected to annul the curse of Genesis 3 in our practical, daily living.
While I think many or most Christians today are aware of this truth, I suspect many of us probably don’t understand the profound significance of this fact for our practical everyday lives, let alone the significance this has for theology as a whole.
WHAT CHRISTIANITY IS NOT
To get straight to it: Christianity is not about right priorities, though it leads to right priorities. Christianity is not about good behavior, though it leads to impossibly good and pure behavior. Christianity is not about what a person should do, though it leads to a life doing only the will of God above. Christianity is not about making good choices, though it leads to a life lived according to all God’s high and excellent choices. We have to get out of our thinking—like way out of it—the notion that Christianity is about making right choices and doing the right thing… That Christians, or at least “good Christians”, do certain things, and don’t do other certain things… That Christians have the ability to stop sinning if they simply choose… That Christians have a concrete and fixed set of standards to live by… not the Old Testament law, of course, but the newer, more relaxed New Testament “principles”…
What if behavior is last on the proverbial “totem pole” of what Christianity is? What if it’s, rather, the result, of what Christianity is. What if we—at least in the Western world—are focused on the external symptoms that display Christianity rather than on the formula (Person) that creates a Christianity that can be visibly witnessed? What if focusing on behavior is really just like faking that we have the LIFE of God actively and dynamically living within and from and through us?
“… He… says this: ‘I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.” (Rev. 3:1)
WHAT CHRISTIANITY IS
Are you following here? Here’s the point: The Christian life is lived only by Christ Jesus Himself. On the inside of us (via the Holy Spirit). That’s it. That’s the bottom line. He is living, He is active, He is dynamic, He is powerful, He is communicative, He is full of glory and full of love. He has overcome the devil. He has overcome the curses of Genesis 3 on both man and woman. He lives outside the constraints of time, the physical world, and the powers of this present darkness. This means, that the Christian life is an impossible life to live, from a human standpoint. You and I focusing on behavior is vain. It’s empty. It accomplishes nothing of Christ, because it’s impossible for us to live what only He, who is unconstrained, can live! When we focus on behavior and rules and regulations and traditions of church and men and theology and the Scriptures… this focus: it accomplishes arrogance, judgementalism, shaming, superiority, division, hurt, and know-it-all thinking. All these things are of the weak, enslaved flesh of man, and not of the living Christ within! Neither of these—“good” behavior, nor its consequent thinking patterns—give actual witness of Christ in this world. This line of thinking is what has driven so many genuinely seeking unbelievers as well as genuinely seeking believers in Jesus to abandon the evangelicalism of today.
OUR CHALLENGE TODAY
So the challenge to us today is this: seek out how to let Christ live His own life in us. Seek how to let Him overcome the curse on our flesh and the lies the demons whisper to our inward man. Seek how to let Him live His impossible-in-this-world life these constraints keep us from living! Seek out how to become a real testimony of what Jesus on the cross accomplished for cursed human beings and this cursed earth! The challenge is not, “seek to do, choose, prioritize, say, think everything we’re supposed to do, choose, prioritize, say, and think.” Human doing, choosing, prioritizing, saying, and thinking is done in human strength. But the challenge for the Church today (as it was for the church in every single generation before us—because the gospel is unchanging) is to seek out how to live, think, speak, and function from Jesus alone. Christ’s life on earth was a powerful testimony of what God was about to do through Him in humanity. His lifetime on earth superseded all earthly restrictions the darkness imposed on Him and the earth. It TOTALLY superseded them in every way! And this is what His cross has made possible for us too! If the Church (all the people who make her up) is not superseding earthly limitations, it is all talk and no power. That is, no Christ.
“… and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.” (1 Cor. 2:4-5)
“For the kingdom of God does not consist in words but in power.” (1 Cor. 4:20)
IT WAS ALL FOR LOVE
And why? Let’s consider one last question. Why did He come for this? Why did God send Him to set us free from this world and its slavery? Because of love. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son…” Freedom from this present darkness and power over and above it isn’t simply about freedom and power. Or for that matter, simply about witness in the world (thought it includes these things). It’s about life with God! Life lived in dynamic, active, unconstrained, blissful rapture with God forever! Life lived from this place isn’t about loss of ourselves. No, it’s simply about loss of our flesh. But our flesh is not who we are! Our flesh is simply what houses (or, holds captive) who we are! Broken free of it, intertwined in eternal covenant and love with God, we gain who we really are and He whom we were really created for. It’s wonderful! It’s good news!
Friends, let’s seek after this Christianity! Let’s turn from behavioral “Christianity” to the Life of Christ Himself in the inner man! Let’s drop our notions of what “good Christians” do, and let God reshape, through His Scriptures and His Spirit illuminating them, our notions of how Christians really live.
GO DEEPER AT HOME
Let’s take this one step deeper today. For your own study at home or with your small group:
1) Make a list of what you’ve been taught “good Christians” do or don’t do. This might include anything from “good Christians go to church every week” and “good Christians are republican” to “good Christians read from the ______ translation of the Bible”, “good Christians don’t habitually sin”, “good Christians have their priorities straight”, and more. Make a list of as many of these rules as you can think of (push yourself, make a long list), even if you believe they have Biblical precedent. Try to especially think about the “Christian” “shoulds” and “should nots” that govern your own behavior.
2) Now, according to the premise above which states that Christianity can only be lived by Christ Himself in us (when we abide in Christ through faith; John 15, Romans 5-8, and, basically the entire New Testament!), write a description of what you think Christ’s Church, in which He lives and moves, looks like instead. Don’t focus on what the people do in that church, focus on what Christ Himself does in His people. Again, push yourself. Really think through this. (Be sure to consider, from the Scriptures, what the earliest Church looked like.)
3) SHARE this post with others who have a longing and desire for Jesus, are discouraged and feel like failures or shameful Christians, who are disillusioned with the modern (largely Western) evangelical Church, or who long to be part of the truly Living organism the Church was meant to function as! Let’s rally and gather and have these talks. Let’s learn and seek and find Jesus and His Life like we’ve never known we could or have. Let’s not be afraid to challenge our thinking and our traditions, holding them up to the Scriptures and the illumination of the Spirit of God.
FINALLY, LET’S NOT SETTLE FOR LESS
And let’s seek Him until we find Him in all His glory, in all His fullness! Let’s press onward and upward into Christ! Let’s not settle for anything but HIM and HIS LIFE in us and living through us!!
My love to you!