I personally don’t like to spend much time being critical. (If I criticize, it’s usually in the context of contrasting one thing in order to try and communicate something better.) I’d much rather focus on what I perceive to be true, good, and right instead. My thought is if we focus on these things, the focus and emphasis on wrong things will naturally diminish. However, I have decided it would be good to highlight some things which are bad and yet are easily missed if not pointed out. I am calling this series “shrewd as snakes” (inspired by Matthew 10:16).
The first thing I want to point out is a very prevalent misunderstanding of Christianity. It seems that we’re naturally born with a sense that there is something higher than ourselves. (The teacher of Ecclesiastes say that “God has set eternity in the hearts of men.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11).) We seem to naturally understand that we don’t measure up, and therefore we try to cover ourselves up. We’re certain that whatever is higher must not be happy with the fact that we aren’t what we’re intended to be. So we work to try and do our best in hope that we might avoid the disgust of this higher entity. Of course most people don’t think of this all consciously. But if you take a look at humanity throughout time, there is an abundance of evidence. This is the basic thrust behind most religion, and virtually every culture has some form of it.
Christianity, in practice, didn’t escape this for long. Now there certainly is a lot of truth in the above, but there are some critical pieces missing according to the bible. God is much higher than us. He is holy. We do not measure up. We are broken. We are not all that we were intended to be. However, rather than being utterly disgusted, God’s heart is broken. He doesn’t despise us and only have fellowship with us when he doesn’t see us but only sees Jesus. He sees us and loves us even while we are still His enemies (Romans 5:8). He send rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous (Matthew 5:45) in patient hope that everyone will turn to Him (Ezekiel 33:11, 2 Peter 3:9).
There are a number of lists of things we’re not supposed to do in the new testament. Unfortunately, our approach to the bible has been almost exclusively to take little bits out of context and assume they can stand on their own. When we do this, it’s easy to miss the clear message that we can’t do these things in our own strength (see Romans 7:7-25 for one good example). We are instructed to live by Christ’s life, whereby we will naturally produce the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).
But even many Christian preachers have become blind to this. Living by the Spirit isn’t something that can be understood by human wisdom. Human wisdom says, “God wants us to be better, so let’s try harder to be good.” We have replaced the life God wanted to share with us and returned to law. The Pharisees yearned to please God. Yet many of them slipped by focusing on the letter of the law. If you look at the questions the religious leaders asked Jesus, many of them were regarding legal technicalities. Most of them had missed the Spirit of the law, and therefore missed Christ when he came.
Many sincere Christians having fallen back into the old covenant due to lack of understanding. They want to please God, but they believe it’s all about doing the right things as well as getting everyone else in the world to do good and not bad. But while this isn’t what we’re supposed to do, it doesn’t mean that we do nothing. Christianity is more than simply believing in God. But what we do is to draw near to God (Hebrews 10:19-25) rather than attempt to be righteous in our own power.
At least one person has suggested that good isn’t something we do, but rather a state of being. And according to Jesus, God is the only one who is good (Mark 10:17-18, Luke 18:18-19). The idea is that we can only be good in so much as we are living by God’s life. “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
Frank Viola suggests that the tree of the knowledge of good and evil gave our ancestors (and therefore us) the knowledge of good and the knowledge of evil. We are naturally born (now) with a general perception of right and wrong, good and evil. We have a desire for good and a desire to avoid bad. Yet we don’t have the power or ability to consistently do good and not evil. We can’t will our way to being good. We can only be good when we eat from the tree of life, which is Christ (John 6:35, 48, 51, 14:6).
So being discerning when listening to or reading messages. Is it a message about knowing good and/or evil, exhorting us to live by that knowledge, or is it a message about the abundant life we have in Christ, exhorting us to live by the Spirit (life of God)?