“You are the Light of the World” – ummm, really?!?

Coming to terms with the “theology of the cross,” and the fact that Jesus calls every disciple to “deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Luke 9:23, NASB), means coming to terms with authentic Christian living in everyday life. Discipleship is not so much about studying the word as it is living the word as we learn it. Discipleship is not so much about spending time in daily prayer as it is making our lives a perpetual and continual prayer unto God. Discipleship has little to do with how many times we “gather with the saints at the river,” but with our willingness to love and serve a lost and dying world. In fact, it grieves me, sometimes, that “church” has so commandeered our time, energy, and allegiance that people are too busy doing “churchy” stuff to connect with the world around them in authentic and meaningful ways.

Have you heard that old, kinda “worn out” adage that says: “I’d rather see a sermon than hear one, any day!” Well, I guess, some old saying should be well remembered because Jesus says pretty much the same thing when He talks about our being “light” in this world of darkness. He said:

“Now no one after lighting a lamp covers it over with a container, or puts it under a bed; but he puts it on a lampstand, so that those who come in may see the light. For nothing is hidden that will not become evident, nor anything secret that will not be known and come to light. So take care how you listen; for whoever has, to him more shall be given; and whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has shall be taken away from him.” (Luke 8:16-18, NASB)

In this passage, Jesus is reminding us that authentic faith ultimately gets down to what people “see” in us. It’s all about “living” our faith in the eyes of the world; not just singing about it during the Sunday gathering. And, if you look closely at Jesus statement above, you’ll notice that people have an uncanny knack for seeing through the surface of things into who and what we really are. Yes, we all wear masks at times. We all try to create a façade and manipulate people’s thinking concerning who we are and what we’re all about. But that never really works, does it? I mean, we all know that, eventually, the masks fall away and the façades disseminate in the light of daily living, don’t they? We may fool a few people for a little while but, ultimately, the people who matter most in life, and the people who need us the most in life, are going to come to know us as we really are.

Jesus’ comments, above, remind me of the parable of the talents wherein we learn that those who hoard their gifts unto themselves, rather than investing them in life, love, relationships, and the mission our Lord has set before us, will ultimately loose them altogether. How are we “living” our faith?

In what we’ve come to call, “The Sermon on the Mount,” Jesus initiated His earthly ministry with this very same concept, saying:

You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:13-16)

When we put a little salt on our taters, we expect it to make a difference. We would consider it “worthless” if it didn’t. What good is salt that doesn’t enhance the taste of our food, preserve our pork, or help freeze our homemade ice-cream? What good is a so-called “Christian” who hasn’t denied himself and taken up his cross; or who is not in hot pursuit of Jesus? When it comes down to daily living, authentic faith can’t help be become evident in our lives. People will see our faith, if what we have is a living faith, because it will be seen in our works — how we love, how we serve, how we seek to make a difference in this world and in the hearts and lives of others! As James said, “But someone may well say, ‘You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works'” (James 2:18, NASB).

I hasten to add that a living faith should never be equated with dogmatic self-righteousness. People who interprete faith as “holiness” in the eyes of men, or as achieving some high level of “perfection” in our performance, have allowed our old Adversary to sidetrack, if not completely derail, them. Faith is not acting like that self-righteous Pharisee who, when he came to pray, said, “God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get” (Luke 18:11-12, NASB). Rather, faith is becoming like that tax collector, standing some distance away, who was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner!” (verse 13). Faith is acknowledging that we’re all in the same boat, that “there is none righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10, NASB) because “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (verse 23). Authentic faith is agreeing with heaven’s judgment, that, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us” (I John 1:8-10, NASB).

And, perhaps, this is the greatest testimony of the children of light; and the very thing that people need most to see in us. They don’t need to hear our doctrine, so much, as they need to see our humility. They don’t need us to slam dunk them with our righteousness — as though we were somehow better than them — so much as they need us to lay aside our masks, quit with our façades, and confess our weaknesses, our faults, our failures, and our need for Jesus. While we seek to love them, while we seek to serve them, while we seek to go out of our way to make this world a better place by leading people to faith in Christ, people need to see these actions coming from broken and contrite hearts painfully aware of our own shortcomings, but all the more in love with Jesus for His sacrifice of grace and mercy. This is the “theology of the cross.” This is authentic Christian living. This is real faith. This is being the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world!” This is letting our light shine before men “in such a way” that they see our good works and give glory to our Father who is in heaven.

That they may see HIM in us,

~ Salty ~

Luke 17:10

Matters of the Heart

How to deal with human traditions and matters of opinion, and keep them in proper perspective when it comes to matters of the Christian faith, has always been a challenge for the children of God. In writing to the “ekklesia” in Corinth, the Apostle Paul said, All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything” (I Corinthians 6:12, NASB). Again he told them, All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify” (I Corinthians 10:23, NASB).

In stating that “all things are lawful,” Paul is not endorsing or permitting those things that are specifically and explicitly condemned in scripture – such as: “…immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Ephesians 5:19-21, NASB)

Nor is the Apostle Paul giving people license to set aside and not practice those things specifically and explicitly taught in scripture – such as: “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you” (John 15:12, NASB), or “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38, NASB), or be “diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3, NASB).

Far from permitting what is explicitly condemned, or setting aside what has been specifically commanded, when the Apostle Paul says, “All things are lawful,” he is referring to that vast area of human endeavor that falls within the scope of human judgment and opinion. He is speaking with regard to the “ekklesia” determining what is relevant and expedient as we seek to live our lives to God’s glory day-by-day and carry out the work, the mission, and the ministry to which Christ has called us.

Because we do not want to become a catalyst for further division [denominationalism] within the body of Christ, and because we do not want to “bind” where God has not “bound” by pushing our personal opinions on others and holding them accountable to our own expectations as though they were the will of God, we need to give serious consideration to some concepts presented in scripture concerning the area of human opinion, cultural relevancy, and our use of Christian liberty. The Apostle Paul said:

Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions. One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. (Romans 14:1-4, NASB)

The Apostle Paul also shared this concept with the “ekklesia” living in Corinth as he described for them how he conducted his own daily life and ministry in various cultural settings, saying:

For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more. To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. (I Corinthians 9:19-22, NASB)

Paul did not sit up on his “high horse” judging and condemning people because they did not look, act, or think like him. He did not insist that everybody come around to his personal way of thinking before he could have fellowship with them. Instead, because he knew that “all things are lawful,” Paul exercised his freedom in Christ to get out of himself and his own world and into the hearts and lives of others. To the greatest extent possible, without violating his allegiance to Christ, he became like those people he sought to reach and teach. He utilized “all means” available to him in his effort to “save some.”

These Biblical concepts encompass the very epitome of the freedom of the New Covenant. While some people take the position that “whatever is not specifically commanded in the New Testament is strictly forbidden”—often erring in the area of “binding” where God, through His inspired word, has not bound—others take the position that “whatever is not specifically forbidden in the New Testament is permitted”—often erring in the area of “loosing” where God, through His inspired word, has not loosed. Both of these positions originate in the mind of man, are fraught with inconsistency, and fall short of what the scriptures actually teach.

The main reason these types of philosophies fail us is because both positions are entirely legalistic—they move the discussion out of the realm of faith and into the arena of law. In other words, both positions stem from the mindset of looking at the New Testament as though it were a book of law—much the way the Old Testament children of Israel might look at the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy. Many people don’t seem to comprehend the fact that, unlike the Ten Commandments—which were engraved on tablets of stone—and all the rest of the Law of Moses—contained in the written scrolls of antiquity—the terms of the New Covenant are written on our hearts and in our minds. Remember, God said, concerning the New Covenant in Christ, “I will put My laws upon their heart, and on their mind I will write them” (Hebrews 10:16, NASB).

God’s holy and inspired written word—the Bible and in particular, the New Testament—is certainly essential to that process. In fact, we are told, “like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation” (I Peter 2:2, NASB). However, the gospels, the histories, the letters, and the prophecies that comprise our New Testament in no way read like a book of law; and to treat them that way leads only to what Jesus warned His disciples about when He said, “Watch out and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matthew 16:6, NASB). Like the people of Jesus’ day who were spiritually enslaved to the Pharisees, treating the New Testament as though it were a book of law places us in the precarious position of being controlled by the would be “scholars” and alleged “theologians” of our day; many of whom far too gleefully and voraciously adhere to that role.

Taking a rather “legalistic” view of God’s written word and Christianity in general, the modern-day Pharisees—religious leaders—of our day love to argue and debate over what they believe is “authorized” in scripture. This kind of legalism reduces the teachings of the New Testament to “the letter of the law,” rather than elevating them to “matters of the heart.” It takes love for God and for others completely out of the picture when it comes to making decisions about how we will chose to live our lives.

Does the new covenant child of God really need a “thus sayeth the Lord”—with book, chapter, and verse—to “authorize” absolutely everything we say and do; and, if there is no specific command or example, are we, then, prohibited from doing it? If so, then a lot of “churches” are in trouble because they have incorporated themselves, established business accounts, purchased property, built buildings, incorporated mechanical instruments of music in worship, appointed worship directors, song leaders, church secretaries, and a host of other “ministerial staff,” and have established orphanages, hospitals, and schools, all while engaging in a plethora of “ministry” activities that were unheard of in Bible days.

By the same token, does the new covenant child of God really need a specific prohibition spelled out in the “letter of the law” to know that something is not pleasing to God and that they shouldn’t engage in some possibly destructive activity? Because there is no specific command prohibiting some activity, does that mean one should feel free to participate in it even if, by doing so, we take advantage of others or hurt them in some way? We can all probably think of many examples wherein these kinds of legalistic “rules” appear absurd.

Is not my heart, when surrendered to the will of God, sufficient to convict me with regard to these and all other spiritual matters? God thinks that it is, for the Bible says:

For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus. (Romans 2:14-16, NASB)

We must be very careful with this concept, however, because it is, after all, our hearts that God is after. The scripture makes it clear that, even if something does, indeed, fall under the category of “all things are lawful”—belonging to the realm of human opinion—if I believe in my heart that it is sinful then, for me, it is sinful. The Apostle Paul says:

I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean … It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles. The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin. (Romans 14:14 & 21-23, NASB)

The concept that “whatever is not from faith is sin” is an incredible truth. On the one hand, if I consider something to be a sin, or even if I simply “doubt” that it has God’s approval, and yet I choose to engage in the activity anyway, what does that say about the condition of my heart; am I not, internally if not outwardly, walking in rebellion against God? On the other hand, James says, “to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin” (James 4:17, NASB). So again, if I refuse to do what I believe the Lord wants me to do, am I not, internally, walking in rebellion? It matters not whether the issue is specifically addressed in the written word of God because it is my heart that convicts me; and it is my heart with which my Lord is most concerned.

From my heart to yours,

~ Salty ~

Luke 17:10

Christianity – Not a Belief System, but a Walk of Life!

The challenge every covenant child of God now faces is to, as Jesus stated, “deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Luke 9:23, NASB). Or, as the Apostle Paul put it, “I die daily” (I Corinthians 15:31, NASB). At the heart of this “lifestyle of death” lies the recognition of our own unworthiness, the acknowledgment of our dependency on God’s grace, and our desire to continually surrender our will to His will. It is impossible to carry one’s cross while walking in rebellion to the expressed will of God. The Apostle John reminds us of that fact when he says:

If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us. (I John 1:6-10, NASB)

Now, obviously, to “walk in the light” does not mean to walk perfectly, or without any sin whatsoever. If it did, the text would not say that “the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses [present, continual action] us from all sin” because we would have no need for such cleansing. Also, if to “walk in the light” meant to live without ever sinning, we would have no need to “confess our sins.” So then, just what does it mean to “walk in the light?” A clue is given in the preceding verse wherein we are told that, if we “walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.” Remember, Jesus told His disciples:

For a little while longer the Light is among you. Walk while you have the Light, so that darkness will not overtake you; he who walks in the darkness does not know where he goes. While you have the Light, believe in the Light, so that you may become sons of Light. (John 12:35-36, NASB)

You may remember that, early in his gospel, the Apostle John described Jesus as “the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man” (John 1:9, NASB) and saying, “we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14, NASB). Truth and enlightenment are descriptors the “the light,” and both are essential to comprehending the grace of God poured out for us through the sacrifice of His Son. John said, “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it” and “He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him” (John 1:5 & 11, NASB). Though their Messiah was standing right in front of them, the Jewish scholars and theologians simply could not wrap their heads around just who Jesus was. “For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness” (I Corinthians 1:22-23, NASB). However, as John also points out, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name” (John 1:12, NASB).

So, to “walk in the light” is to walk with enlightenment, comprehending the truth of the gospel, acknowledging Jesus as God’s own Son, our Savior. It is to bring our hearts into subjection to the will of God and our lives into conformity with the truth of Jesus’ teachings. The Old Testament prophet said, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105, NASB). Jesus said it this way: “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:31-32, NASB).

The Bible makes it clear that we cannot “walk in the darkness”—ignorance and rebellion—and still consider ourselves disciples of Christ. If we do that, the Apostle John says, “we lie and do not practice the truth” (I John 1:6, NASB). Contrary to what many believe, authentic Christianity is not simply a belief system, it is a walk of life.

Thus, the Hebrew writer admonishes us, saying: “Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification [holiness] without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14, NASB). Wow — now that’s a pretty direct and challenging thought; and one to which we would do well to sit up and take notice! The word “sanctification” in this passage is the Greek word ἁγιασμόν – “agiasmon”— a form of the word “hagiázō” meaning: “to make holy, consecrate, sanctify; to dedicate, separate” (Hagiazo, 2013). To “pursue” this sanctification is to make every effort to distinguish ourselves as children of God, not only by what we believe, but by the way we choose to live. It is to bring our lives into conformity with the will of God; to seek to please Him rather than ourselves. As the Apostle Paul said to the “ekklesia” in Corinth, “Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him” (2 Corinthians 5:9, NASB).

~ Salty ~

Luke 17:10

Speaking the TRUTH in LOVE

Why is this, seemingly, so hard to do? The Apostle Paul says, “but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ” (Ephesians 4:15, NASB).

I was really disappointed when a video clip was posted recently on one of my social networking sites in which certain churches were likened unto Hitler and his evil den of miscreants. I guess it was supposed to be funny; you know, making fun of the ultra-conservatives, or those who some think of as the “legalists” among us. But I was more than a little taken back, in fact, I found myself rather aghast at the idea that ANYBODY calling themselves Christians would compare ANYONE calling themselves Christians to Hitler—of all people!

What scares me so much about it is simply that there must be a great deal of hurt, bitterness, and, dare I say, even a certain amount of hatred in people’s hearts in order for them to find pleasure in creating, sharing, or laughing at such a negative piece of work. I mean, yeah, the people at whom they are poking fun—those who seek to bind their legalistic tendencies on others—surely need to be challenged and rebuked, and in some cases, perhaps, we just need to keep our distance. The Bible does say, “Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting” (Romans 16:17-18, NASB). That’s a pretty stern warning and it uses some pretty tough language. But, I believe, there are ways we can do that, we must do that, that don’t play right into our enemies hands and make us, for all practical purposes, just like them. There must be ways we can do that and still, “be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you” (Ephesians 5:1-2, NASB).

Legalism is no laughing matter because souls are at stake. The Apostle Paul warns us saying, “You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace” (Galatians 5:4, NASB). And when the ancient legalists—we sometimes refer to them as Judaizers because they compelled all first century Christians to live like Jews (See: Galatians 2:14)—came to up to Asia Minor, advocating for their brand of Christianity, Paul referred to them as “false brethren” and said, “we did not yield in subjection to them for even an hour” (Galatians 2:4-5, NASB). But, while Paul did not hesitate to reveal them for what they were, still, He did not mock them, make fun of them, or take any pleasure in denouncing their activities. I think of the passage in the little epistle of Jude wherein it says, “But Michael the archangel, when he disputed with the devil and argued about the body of Moses, did not dare pronounce against him a railing judgment, but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you” (Jude 1:9, NASB).

There is also a certain amount of danger inherent in stepping outside the boundaries of love and attacking people—regardless of their doctrinal positions or their other hang-ups—in a vehement manner; such as comparing them to Nazis. And that danger can be seen in the way that other people, innocent people, can be caught in the crossfire. Satan tempts us to call down fire upon those whom we perceive as the “guilty,” knowing all too well that the innocent standing not too far away are likely to be consumed in the conflagration as well. I wonder how many beautiful, vibrant, and Spirit filled churches of Christ are being harmed not so much by the legalists themselves, as by those self-proclaimed advocates of freedom who insist on taking matters into their own hands, rather than taking it to the Lord in prayer, and end up fueling Satan’s fire by taking the “fight” to perpetually higher levels. How many good and faithful people and churches will have their image tarnished and their testimony hindered, if not altogether negated, by these kinds of actions? Guilt by association!?! How many seekers of truth will be turned away from the Gospel of Jesus Christ because they happen to view the spew of somebody’s vehement heart online, or elsewhere? My prayer is “none.” My fear is “some,” or even just “one.”

There is something insidious about our global communications network and all the social media sites in the modern era; something that seems to draw out the worst in us from time-to-time. And, it’s not that there is anything inherently wrong with modern technology or the fact that we can instantly communicate with people all around the world. Twitter is not the problem! Facebook is not the problem! The problem is an ancient one. It’s a problem of the heart, not the internet. But the technology does offer an easy platform for that which the Bible describes, and condemns, as “the boastful pride of life” (I John 2:16, NASB). And I’m as guilty as anyone else! At times, when there is some political issue, or some social issue, or what I perceive to be a moral issue on the table, I get all “head up!” I jump up on my “high horse!” I tout my opinions, throw love out the window, and run ruff-shod over everyone with whom I disagree—even some of my “friends!”

You know what I need to remember? I need to remember that time in Jesus ministry when James and John—the sons of thunder—wanted to call down fire from heaven and consume the little inhospitable village of Samaria that refused to offer lodging to Jesus and His disciples simply because they were traveling toward Jerusalem? But, the Bible says, “He turned and rebuked them, and said, ‘You do not know what kind of spirit you are of'” (Luke 9:55, NASB). Oh my! I don’t want to be of that spirit, do you?

There are times when we must confront evil with truth. It does not please the Lord when we cower in fear or when we allow people to harm other people with their deceptions or their belligerent attitudes. God says, “But My righteous one shall live by faith; and if he shrinks back, My soul has no pleasure in him” (Hebrews 10:38, NASB). But, at the same time, we must “speak the truth in love” always seeking, to the greatest degree possible, the spiritual benefit and higher welfare of all parties involved. And, yes, that is sometimes hard to do! But “the fruit of the Spirit is love” (Galatians 5:22) and, if we will let Him, the Spirit will give us the power to “put to death the deeds of the flesh” (Romans 8:13) and “walk in love, just as Christ also loved you” (Ephesians 5:2, NASB).

May “the love of Christ control us” (2 Corinthians 5:14, NASB),

~ Salty ~

Luke 17:10