Just how and when we arrived here is a mystery to most. Indeed changes have come, progress has been made- yet very few people question the origins of what has now become so commonplace amongst us. Never before have the efforts and imaginations of men triumphed as they are in these days, their influence and inventions sweeping the globe like a hurricane in its formative stages. Say what we might, the time of testing is soon to prove who is and is not standing upon a foundation soon to be shaken. The year is 2018.
I am speaking of the state of what people these days are calling Christian- an age which I personally find almost unrecognizable when looking back a mere thirty years. Can I ask you, “What happened to the ongoing call for Christians to live holy and separate lives from this world?” “Where are the courageous individuals who refuse to compromise the truths of God?” What ever happened to the ongoing call for individual and corporate repentance?” “Are we so blind to think we can jettison such foundational commands of God and still have a positive influence upon this evil age?” Sadly, most who profess to know God openly deny Him, not necessarily through their words but by their actions which expose them for who they really are.
“And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do” [Hebrews 4:13]
“I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give each man according to his ways, according to the results of his deeds” [Jeremiah 17:10]
The verses above make two things very clear. First, regardless of whether one claims to be clothed in the righteousness of Christ or otherwise, God still sees all and judges men according to the manner in which they act in this life. This is reiterated over and over in the Bible as it is below in Romans 8:12, 13:
“So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh- for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; BUT IF by the Spirit YOU ARE putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live”
The Heart of the Matter/What really matters to God?
If I were to ask the average professing Christian the above question what might their responses be? What constitutes Christian obedience in this day and age? Does it resemble the obedience of 1st century saints or should it resemble them? Or are we merely just playing follow the leader and doing as we are told by those we call our pastor, priest or leader?
I suppose all of us as professing Christians want to look up to someone- that person or leader who seems to exemplify the very life of Jesus Himself. We desperately want to believe what we read in the Bible, that we really can have power and peace, that someone somewhere really can live as Jesus promises and triumph over the sin that so easily entangles us. We desperately want our lives to have influence and significance and far too often we take risks to insure that this comes to fruition. Those risks can either propel us further down the narrow road or steer us completely away from the path and purpose Jesus has for our lives. Can we know which direction is the proper one? Yes we can.
The desire to live as Christ is right and noble, but only as we approach that desire in the manner in which God has set forth. If I approach God in a manner He has not sanctioned, He is no longer obligated to fulfill a promise that lies within the context of what He Himself has set in motion. Enter the imitation game.
The Imitation Game
You and I have been told by countless spiritual leaders that there is significance in what they themselves teach and are doing in the name of Jesus. We have been told that if we follow their lead or vision, we will find what God has for us individually- find our calling within the context of what God is doing through them. Is this really true?
“It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man” [Psalms 118:8]
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight” [Proverbs 3:5, 6]
I’d like to prove my point above with a simple illustration.
Have you ever personally challenged anything your present leaders or corporate fellowship considers to be Christian? If you have, than you know full well how that will go over. If you are not part of the leadership team you are rarely if ever allowed to question or challenge what you are told by them is the truth. If you persist you will be labeled everything from a rebel, to a radical or worse. The leaders alone reserve the right to determine what is true and you are obligated to obey and follow them. They will uses verses like Hebrews 13:17 to justify your submission to them even when the word obey in the verse actually means “to be persuaded by.” The only people Christians should ever obey is God Himself. If you fail to recognize this and submit your will unreservedly unto your leaders you have now submitted to “their game plan.” You are now forced to find your significance and influence within the context of what they are building in Jesus’ name. You have now entered one of the many doors through which the imitation game begins. The entirety of your christian experience will now be viewed from within this context unless you ruthlessly and fearlessly tear yourself from the grasp of those keeping you in bondage to them and their wills. A reminder may be in order just here:
“For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ? [Galatians 1:10]
Now that you have voluntarily enrolled yourself in this game, here are some of the rules you must play by depending upon which door you entered in by.
1. The door of institutional religion
• You must choose a preferred denomination in which to commit your loyalties
• You must never speak against the leaders within your preferred denomination
• You must never speak against or question the “official” doctrines of your denomination.
• You must “obey” those in leadership if you have any chance to take upon any added responsibility or opportunity to exercise your spiritual gifts within the context of said denomination.
• This door is run by religious professionals and self-professing leaders who sit atop a hierarchal structure condemned by Jesus Himself. Nonetheless, you must still submit to it/the leaders.
2. The door of professional learning
• Every religious school is owned and directed by someone behind the scenes. They exist for the purpose of furthering their own agendas which include training leaders to fulfill religious positions within their schools and churches. If you desire any such position you must follow their written or unwritten rules to qualify.
• Enrolling in a religious school guarantees you will disobey God and encourage others to do the same. Religious schools are in business to make a profit or in the least pay their employees and staff. This flies in the face of Jesus’ command to freely give to others as He has freely given to us.
• Walking through this door and garnering a religious position in a religious organization guarantees you will become someone God never intended you to be. Is God calling Christians to be professionals? Is He calling people to tower over or lord it over their brothers and sisters? Yet this is exactly what happens when the saints become divided into the classes of clergy and laity within religious organizations.
• Once you graduate you have supposedly been qualified for whatever position or duty you have studied for. This makes the school itself the arbitrator of who is and isn’t qualified for Christian service and removing that responsibility from God Himself.
• Learning itself isn’t a bad thing any more than wisdom or knowledge might be. That said, God makes plain that knowledge puffs up people’s pride and isn’t as valuable as knowing Jesus Christ personally and intimately.
• This door is run by people who obviously tout the merits of religious institutions despite their being absolutely ZERO scriptural merit or need for such institutions. By your assent and participation with the rules above, you prove by your actions that you agree with them.
3. The door of non-profit ministry organizations
• This door is for those who have either been rejected by traditional religion or who feel they can’t properly exercise their gifts within the traditional system.
• Allows individual professing Christians to name their own business empire and use Jesus’ name to promote it.
• This door affords these people the opportunity to do as they please without any direct supervision or a limited submission by those of their choosing.
• Allows any individual to exalt themselves as a leader by merely submitting the proper paperwork to the state agency or particular government thereby ignoring/skirting God’s qualification for elders/leaders etc.
• Detracts individual Christians away from what God is building in local assemblies and shifts the focus upon an institution men are building. The result amounts to these individuals competing with Jesus for the souls of men (their participation), the support of men (their financial resources) and notoriety in society (stealing the glory due God alone for themselves and what they have built).
• Has become the new replacement for old time religion and churches. Allows the participants to downplay doctrine and exalt subjective experiences in the place of objective scriptural truth.
4. The door of religious ecumenism and syncretism
• You must accept all Christian denominations as valid expressions of truth
• You must stop trying to convert people to your particular denominational bent
• Teach that subjective experience is the seedbed of truth for all
• Mysticism in all religions is what unites us all
• Recognize the divinity and goodness in all of humanity
• Tout universal salvation for all
5. 1-4 = The door of christianity without the cross life
• We must become worldly to win the world to our jesus
• We must never offend lest we scare people away from US
• We must be tolerant and accepting of everyone
• We emphasize having faith in our faith to get what we want
• We emphasize our relationship with the spirit at the expense of the Father and the Son
• We orchestrate worship services with repetitive songs/phrases that please us and aid us in feeding our flesh
• We put emphasis on the miraculous even though our miracles can’t be proven and our prophecies are rarely accurate
• We blindly follow our chosen leaders who cast their visions for us and mediate their gods new revelations to us
• No one has to be personally accountable provided they financially support the “ministry” and promote the worldly dreams of the leaders
• No matter what, we never emphasize the need for regular obedience to actual commands of God, daily repentance, denying of self in any manner and having to die to our selfish ways.
From generation to generation
In 2 Timothy 2:2 we find this command:
“The things which you have heard from me, in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also”
Herein we must pay very close attention. This is not about your particular leader quoting this verse in regard to what he may be doing or teaching- nor should it be. This is Paul the apostle himself instructing Timothy to pass along the very things Paul taught him to others- to men who could be trusted with those things. Does this not immediately beckon the question, “What things did Timothy hear from Paul that he was supposed to teach others?” This is what matters, for these are the very same things we are supposed to teach others.
It is safe to say that what Paul encouraged Timothy to teach others was exactly what he had been taught by the Lord Jesus Himself. This would not be limited to what he specifically taught in these books to Timothy but to the entirety of what Paul expounded upon in all of his New Testament letters to various assemblies he helped establish. It ought to be further ascertained that these teachings ought not exceed those truths as these warnings make obvious:
“Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively applied to myself and Apollos for your sakes, so that in us you may learn not to exceed what is written, so that no one of you will become arrogant in behalf of one against the other” [1 Corinthians 4:6]
“Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching he has both the Father and the Son” [2 John 1:9]
People, we can only give to others what we ourselves possess. We can only offer the type of help we ourselves have been given- only steer others in the direction we ourselves have embraced. Have you ever thought about this? In every sphere of life, whatever the subject matter, we can only offer to others what we ourselves have either learned or are presently exhibiting as the truth. There are no exceptions.
Let’s return to a question I asked earlier. What really matters to God? Is it acceptable to serve Him in any way we choose provided we do that in Jesus’ name? In other words, if others have taught us that God sanctions religious institutions does that make our participation within them acceptable?
God will hold each of us accountable for how we live out our faith. It won’t matter if we were taught wrongly by some leader we chose to sit under or allowed to rule over us. We alone will give an account of how we personally chose to obey God or whether we even did at all. The only thing that will matter in the end is whether we rightly discerned God’s will and whether we earnestly attempted to live that out and pass that along to others to carry on after we’re gone.
“So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God” [Romans 14:12]
“And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment” [Hebrews 9:27]
Man’s Imitation: The substitute for participation with Christ
Just about everywhere we look these days among those professing to be Christian is this call to imitate what Jesus did. In times past it was through the acronym WWJD (What would Jesus do) as a motivator to do right and these days it is far worse. First off, no one can actually do as Jesus did without His divine cooperation. Sure, we can attempt to play the part, like when we pretend to forgive those who have wronged us or fake actually loving our enemies. Neither of these are even remotely possible without the influence and power of the Holy Spirit within. Today it is wrongly assumed that Christians can do anything Jesus did and even more- completely ignoring the fact that the Holy Spirit gives to each Christian as He wills and not as a result of what we think, believe or demand from Him. God does not gift everyone of His children the same and for this reason alone every believer will not be able to carry out the same spiritual gifts or roles within the body of Christ. See 1 Corinthians chapter 12.
When we read about imitating God in Ephesians 5:1 it is primary referring to the attitude we are to have toward one another in love- echoing Christs love for us. There is no mention of spiritual gifts here or some universal command that suggests all Christians will be able to act in a universal manner. That simply is not true. It is true that the Holy Spirit can and does enable us to perform the will of God- but that ability is also based upon conditional promises as we shall see.
Those who tout the merits of merely imitating Jesus (by faith of course), rarely if ever discuss the two primary necessities that must precede any genuine work of the Holy Spirit and which culminates in God’s will being accomplished (not my will or our corporate will either). Those two things are listed below.
1. “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing” [John 15:5]
2. “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me” [Luke 9:23]
Where these foundational truths are not taught and embraced we can know for certain that the origin of the so-called results from whatever form of faith is being exercised is not from God the Holy Spirit. Even when the conditions are met, all spiritual results are still within the context of “Thy will be done” regardless of how or what men may claim or desire. For example, God does not always desire that everyone who seeks healing for an illness is always made whole. If this were actually true we could simply keep praying and avoid death entirely. Death is the ultimate result of the disease of sin is it not?
Participation with Christ’s death
Jesus did not die simply so we could imitate (copy) His lifestyle. If we had the power to do so it would never had been necessary to be born again and receive an entirely new nature via the Holy Spirit. It is true that Jesus has a done a work in those He has called unto himself. But that work must be both accepted and embraced by faith by us as individuals.
“Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord (by faith), so walk in Him (by faith), having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude” [Colossians 2:6, 7]
Notice several things here. First, notice the progression. Faith in conversion, faith to be built up and faith to become established. Then notice this important phrase: as you were instructed. Once again, this instruction is not in relation to your particular leader(s) desires, vision or will for you- it is specifically referring to Paul the apostles instructions- the same as those given to Timothy and all assemblies. The following verse actually shows Paul sending Timothy to Corinth to do this very thing- to teach them what Paul taught to him:
“For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, and he will remind you of my ways which are in Christ, just as I teach everywhere and in every assembly” [1 Corinthians 4:17]
Now is this what we see in today’s religious institutions and through today’s pastors and priests? Are they really teaching you Pauls ways or are they promoting their own vision and methodologies that stem from their own imaginations and will? Once again, if they have succumbed to pleasing men (whether saved or unsaved) rest assured they are no longer being obedient to what God says he requires of a true shepherd.
Today’s false prophets and teachers cannot afford to tell you the whole truth. The truth is not popular (with this world or carnal believers) and will always cost the true believer their lives. Do you get that? Yes, that is God’s ultimate goal, that is why Jesus came and died for you- not to merely get you or I to heaven, but that we might be a useful sacrificial lamb in the time we have remaining upon this earth.
“ThereforeI urge you brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual (or reasonable) service of worship” [Romans 12:1] Worship is not limited to a period of time spent singing worship songs- it’s more rightly a life laid down for Jesus’ sake. This is true worship.
The truth be told, regardless of what men may speak, claim or even supposedly attempt to prove, their is no real Christianity without actively participating in what Christ has done on behalf of His people. Teaching the truth (doctrine) is necessary- not to fill our heads alone, but to be embraced and subsequently exhibit a real life resurrection as a result. No one who refuses to die with Christ (practically and daily) can ever possess resurrection power personally or be used in any significant fashion in their attempt to influence others. Exempt of a personal cross, whatever people say, claim or present before you is simply a sham and a counterfeit of the highest order.
One last question. If none of the points in the doors 1-5 above in bold can be proven to be valid expressions of Biblical Christianity, then where do you suppose they derive from and why are they so popular?
May this be the Christian’s earnest plea before their Father regardless of what it may cost them:
“For the love of Christ controls me, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, so that I who live might no longer live for myself, but for Him who died and rose again on my behalf” [2 Corinthians 5:14, 15]