Monday, May 8, 2017

DO YOU SEE CHRISTIANITY AS SIMPLE?

"But I am afraid, lest by any means, as the serpent in his craftiness deceived Eve, your minds might be corrupted from the simplicity and the purity in Christ." -2 Corinthians 11:3


Christianity Is Christ


The New Testament declares in various places and ways that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is the revelation of the Father. This means that we approach God properly by seeing Him in Jesus Christ. To bypass Jesus in approaching God is to approach God in an unauthorized way--in a way that is not good. It is the worship of a false God. Do you agree?

Christianity then is simply the label for proper worship of God, whatever that means. This label is rooted in the name and title of our Lord. Jehovah is the name God declared for Himself for the first time to Moses at the burning bush. Jehovah is good and is the creator and sustainer of life. Jesus means Jehovah brings resolution. Christ is not Jesus' last name as I was self-deceived to believe for much of my Christian life. Christ is Jesus' title and means anointed one. But what was he anointed for? In the gospel of Isaiah we see that the theological meaning of Christ is: Jehovah is my righteousness. Thus Jesus Christ as the revelation of God is full of meaning with His name and title reflecting who God is.

It should be natural then to see that the person, Jesus Christ, is Christianity. When we declare with the apostles various statements that they made, or quote Jesus as having made, we are declaring realities of the universe; we are not merely using words. Words can and do have various and shifting meanings. Words do not determine meaning. Words are simply identifiers used to identify or tag objects. The words: present, gift, bribe, and reward each signify or tag something different. Each of those different things is real. And I suggest that we have been much tricked to drain the meaning out of words. The statement that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life is reality and not merely a doctrinal statement. Paul's statement that Jesus is a person's holiness, righteousness, redemption, and wisdom from God is a statement of reality not merely wishful thinking or sentimentality. Peter's declaration that God commands complete holiness now with Jesus as the standard of evaluation, is not flowery overly optimistic language, or a goad to get Christians to work harder, but is reality. The question that I (you) need to continually ponder is: what is the reality behind the words that I am using, reading or hearing? Since I (and all of us) am easily tricked into shallow or confused thinking, it is not good for me (all of us) to just assume that I or others know what words mean. I see this as the center of the spiritual battle--heavenly wisdom versus worldly wisdom (James 3)--truth versus lies--spirit versus flesh--real versus counterfeit authority--perfect love versus manageability--worship of the true God versus idolatry--honoring others versus dishonoring them. 

In the past few years the above scripture has moved to the center of my thinking and theology as I have begun to scratch the surface in understanding the reality behind the words we Christians use.

"But I am afraid, lest by any means, as the serpent in his craftiness deceived Eve, your minds might be corrupted from the simplicity and the purity in Christ." -2 Corinthians 11:3


What is the simplicity and purity in Christ?


Do you agree with Paul's statement that what is in Christ is simple and pure? Do you share Paul's great concern that Christians can be corrupted away from this simplicity and purity? Is it possible that you may have been corrupted away from this simplicity? This is true for me and is my constant spiritual battle. Do you see this corruption to be about the mind or do you see it as about something else such as behavior, commitment, or dedication? If it is simple and pure, then it is possible to explain it as simple and pure. If I can't do it, then the implication from this passage (assuming or trusting that the passage is true) is that either God is confused or I am. I suspect that I, in my thinking, am always the problem. How would you explain that simplicity and purity? Ponder it a moment. Here is my explanation:

Perfect love.

This simple phrase is full of meaning which shines brightly in the person and work of Jesus Christ. The words perfect and love are both full of meaning. Jesus always saw the world through eyes of perfect love, which has two aspects. 1) Jesus always saw, thought, and spoke that which honored the reality that only perfection is good. 2) Jesus always saw, thought, and spoke that which honored His death on the cross as the only place where sin (violation of goodness) is taken care of.

Do you see the simplicity of perfect love? Perfect love implies that:
1. Imperfect righteousness is unrighteousness.
2. Imperfect holiness is unholiness.
3. Imperfect obedience is disobedience.
4. Love is a way of seeing (thinking, perceiving, reckoning) that honors perfection.

God is and commands perfect love ALWAYS--no compromising of goodness. Do you agree that God ALWAYS calls you: to ALWAYS love perfectly, to ALWAYS be COMPLETELY holy, to perfect obedience, and to perfect righteousness? If you don't, then by what authority do you compromise the reality that goodness is perfection? 


The Opposite of Simplicity and Purity


The opposite or alternative to perfect love is not perfect hate, but rather manageability. Manageability is the compromise of perfection. It declares that God doesn't really mean perfection now--that goodness is about striving not about success at being morally flawless. Manageability is the big lie of Satan. It is THE counterfeit. It is the polluting and defiling thing that Jesus and the apostles continually warned against and criticized. Manageability is the leaven that defiles. It is the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. It is the log in the eye that hinders one from seeing clearly the speck in one's brother's eye. It is the flesh--human strength and wisdom at its best--which bears such ugly fruit. It is spiritual blindness. It is what causes stumbling. It is walking in the darkness. It is hard-heartedness. It is what the prophet's called the people to circumcise their hearts of. It is what defiles the flesh and spirit. It is spiritual slavery. It is the wide gate and the broad road to destruction. It is the rocky soil. It is the eight demons that made the Israel of Jesus' day to be far worse than the Israel that Nebuchadnezzar destroyed. It is worldliness, irreverence, and unrighteousness. It is quenching the Spirit. It is the source of all counterfeit spirituality. It is the demonic or worldly wisdom that James warns about. It is the object of all temptation. It is the draw to honor human performance rather than God's goodness. It is looking away from Christ. It is lawlessness--the dishonor of the law. It is the heart of idolatry. It is a way of thinking that mocks God's goodness, but God will not be mocked. Manageability cries out that since it is good to do good, all people need to try to do good. And it is the only thing that Jesus hated, and he hated it so passionately that He died to create a way of life free from it.

Perfect love versus manageability is the titanic spiritual battle which we all are part of every waking moment. The Holy Spirit always cries out for perfect love and always points to the finished work of Christ. Manageability always cries out "do what is right but don't worry about perfection."


The Application of this Simplicity


At conversion every person receives the perfect love of Jesus. It was poured out in the heart by the Holy Spirit. Have you ever wondered why that love flows out of you and me so inconsistently? If perfect love is the simplicity and purity in Christ, then the reason for this inconsistency is simple. Here is a simple example.

Think of the last time that you were impatient, irritated, or angry with a Christian. While you were irritated, impatient, angry, etc., what were you thinking about? Were you thinking that that person was dearly loved by God, covered by the blood of Jesus, fully forgiven, and clothed in the righteousness of Christ? No you weren't. Guaranteed. You were thinking about the behavior or words that you reacted to. Why were you thinking that way? Now let's say that later today you are praying for that same Christian and thanking God that the person is fully forgiven, delighted in by God, covered by the blood, and righteous in God's sight. Now let's say that while you are thinking and praying this, that person sneaks up on you and does that action that got you upset previously. While you are thinking and praying this way, will you have a bad reaction toward that person? I have asked this of many dozen Christians over the years and all have said the same thing with different intensities and varying humorous comments.

I asked it recently of some BIOLA students who were on campus witnessing. One woman laughed and said she often gets impatient with her friends. She spoke in a way that indicated that her recent impatience was still vivid in her mind. She said that in that moment she was not thinking of her friend's identity in Christ but of her bothersome behavior. To the big question she responded as if her mind was slowly opening to a new reality. At first she hesitatingly stated that while she was praying this way she didn't think she would have a bad reaction. This was obviously a new train of thought for her. She slowly gained confidence, eventually smiling and declaring that seeing a person in their identity in Christ would make bad reactions impossible for her--while she was thinking that way. 

The critical question is this. Why did she declare that it would be impossible for her to have her typical impatient reaction if she were seeing her friend through her identity in Christ? One dear Christian friend suffering from long term depression said that it would be impossible for anyone to have a bad reaction while seeing the violator through identity in Christ. How does he know this about you and every other Christian?  

The testimony of these Christians is what I see in the scriptures. 1) When you see a person through eyes of perfect love--that perfection is required now and that perfection is provided as a gift now and always in the death of Christ--while and only while you are seeing that way--it is impossible for the works of the flesh (bad reactions, evil, sin) to come out of your heart toward a person who is mistreating you, even while you are being mistreated. Actually not only do bad things not come out, but good things overflow naturally from your heart, and in abundance. 2) All your sinful reactions are a result of you seeing life through eyes of manageability. Point one is walking in the Spirit and point two is walking in the flesh. It is that simple.

The surprise in the Christian life is twofold: 1) that what is in Christ is simple and pure, and 2) that we all are too weak to do anything except resist the work of God in our hearts. His work is always perfect love and it is His work not ours. We are called and commanded to maintain and grow in a razor sharp vision of perfect love. The one and only way that you can resist perfect love overflowing all the time from your heart is to get distracted from a vision of perfect love. That distraction is by definition manageability. It has a multitude of forms.

If you doubt my words that it is actually this simple, I suggest an application for you. The next time you are irritated, impatient, or angry with a person you think to be a Christian, ask yourself what you are thinking about. Is it God's viewpoint of perfect love or some form of manageable behavior? Try this experiment many times to confirm it to yourself.

If you are convinced that my words are true and you are discouraged at how easily your get distracted from this vision of identity in perfect love, I would suggest an application for you. Today begin thanking God for details of your identity in Christ. Feel free to thank Him often for this. Then as other Christians come to mind, thank God for some aspect of their identity in Christ. Pray for the Christians by name. Especially do this with the Christians who rub you the wrong way. The more you do this the faster your mind will be renewed. As you do this often, you may be surprised at how quickly your mind runs to identity when you see a Christian fail. This is not about ignoring moral failure, it is about seeing moral failure God's way, through the eyes of Christ--that only His death resolves sin. You may find yourself surprised that you actually like the other Christians and are happy with them even while they are mistreating you. It is not that you are dismissing their sin, but you are no longer playing judge. In that moment, you are their advocate and are delighting in them because of Christ's work and not their own good behavior.

Summary


God calls all people to always to do what is good. Let's agree that that is perfect love. That perfect love was poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit at conversion (Romans 5:5). We are called to continuously set our hope totally on the grace (perfect love commanded and provided) revealed in Jesus Christ, (1Peter 1:13) and to be continually renewed to that new simple vision of life. (1Peter 1:14) We are called to goodness, to in every waking moment have the mindset of perfect love. Having that mindset in the moment makes behavior in the moment to be fitting and beautiful. This simplicity is what holiness is. Thus the call to perfect holiness NOW in all behavior is THE good, simple, easy, natural, beautiful-fruit-bearing call to see life in the current moment through perfect love. (1Peter 1:15) We all live in the current moment.   

Let's be honest about our place in the universe. Let's be honest that we are weak and our problem is that we are easily tricked into pretending that we are strong. Let's be honest that only perfect love counts with God. Let's be honest that Satan is a counterfeit Jesus. Let's be honest that it is easy to get tricked away from seeing ourselves and all others through eyes of perfect love. Do you want to see the simplicity and purity of Christ? Wonderful. This is a good desire. Take the baby step in the current moment of seeing through the eyes of perfect love yourself, those you interact with, and those who come to mind. In the next moment do the same. When you find you have been distracted, simply look back to perfect love. That is the full resolution for your failure. It is so simple and good that we ought to be always celebrating that simplicity and goodness. 

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