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How to change, part thirteen

25 Apr

In Paul’s day, some people thought the body was bad.

And physical things were bad.

Which meant if you were going to free your soul to really worship God you had to punish your body and stay away from certain stuff, which is why they came up with this whole intricate system of do’s and don’ts to help them do that.

Which maybe seems a little strange to us.

I know.

But.

It’s kind of how a lot of people work, actually.

People are legalists. So they want to be their own Saviors. They know something is wrong, and they want to fix it, but they can’t deal with the actual sin that is going on in their hearts, because that’s way too deep and to extensive so they focus on what they can do.

To make themselves feel better, and look holy.

To other people.

Which is always going to be.

Outside stuff.

Focusing on the externals.
Which is essentially Paul’s concern for the Colossians in Colossians 2. He was concerned they would be fooled into thinking about holiness as something that happens mostly on the outside of them.

And missing.

What’s really important. Which is what’s going on in the heart.

In fact we can see the contrast, I think, if we look for a minute at the way Paul talks about how Christians should pursue spiritual growth in chapter 3.

He writes,

“Set your minds on things above.”

And.

“If then you have been raised with Christ seek the things that are above.”

Which is how Paul approaches the pursuit of holiness.

If this is true. Then.

If you have died with Christ and if you have been risen with Christ, then focus on Christ, and die to the earthly passions that are in you.

Where, wrong approaches basically start with.

You are a mess. You are so far from God. And you have to find a way to get yourself to God through your own efforts.

In other words, you need to somehow be your own Savior through all these obvious acts of self-denial, where Paul’s approach instead is more about loving the Savior God’s already provided and recognizing what God’s already done and then living your life out in light of that.

Which, I guess, all of this is sobering to me. As you look at this. I mean. It’s a serious thing, when you start to look at what’s going on here in Colossians, because you realize, it’s not enough for us just to say we want to grow or that we want to be spiritually mature.

That’s good. But there’s a danger. There’s a danger even with religious activity.

Obviously, if I am talking to someone who is like I just want to do everything I want to do, I don’t care about being holy, I have to be like man, come on, if you say you are a Christian, let’s go back.  But, you know, even if I am talking to someone who is saying, I want to grow, I want to be holy, I still have to be like, that’s great.

But. Let’s first. Check on this. Because it’s not just being busy, spiritually, that we are hoping for, there’s something bigger that we are seeking.

And if we are not careful it’s very possible for us to be missing Jesus in our pursuit of holiness.

Which ultimately is what Paul’s talking about in Colossians 2, verse 8.

“See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.”

It seems impossible, to think of trying to live the Christian life, without Jesus, but as we look at what’s happening here in Colossae, we see it’s totally possible to have the shell of Christianity, but not the heart. To get so focused on what we do, that we are not enjoying and being motivated by what Jesus has done. To get so focused on our own experiences, that we are not diving into and delighting in what He’s said in His Word. And to become so focused on the externals, how we look, trying to be our own Savior through our performance that we stop seeing the beauty of Jesus and growing deeper and deeper in our relationship with Him.  

Which is why if you are going to grow and mature spiritually one place you absolutely have to start is by identifying and rejecting wrong approaches to growing spiritually.

First.

Legalism.

Any approach that substitutes our works for Christ’s.   

Second.

Mysticism. 

Any approach that substitutes our experience for God’s Word.

And finally.

Asceticism. 

Any approach that focuses us so much on the externals, that we miss, what’s going on in the heart.

 

How to change, part twelve

18 Apr

If we are going to grow spiritually we have to reject wrong ideas about growing spiritually.

Which, sounds tough, I know, but it’s real. There are very wrong ideas about spirituality that will do us serious damage, and we’ve begun looking at Colossians 2:16ff where Paul takes the time to identify three specific characteristics of the kind of teaching we need to be on guard against.

First, we’ve seen it is legalistic.

Second, it tends to be mystical.

We start by looking at the motivation.  Is it about me trying to earn approval with God, or is it about me trying to live in light of what God’s done for me through Jesus?

And then we look at the foundation. Where is their authority coming from?

A great deal of false teaching is basing its fundamental ideas about God and what He’s like and how you should live on what some particular person thinks and what he’s experienced and how he feels and maybe even what he’s dreamed or seen in some vision he claims to have had instead of basing it on a clear and accurate explanation of what God Himself has revealed in His Word.

Which is basically.

Mysticism.

Legalism makes a bigger deal out of what I do than what Jesus did. Mysticism makes a bigger deal out of special spiritual experiences I’ve had than on what God has said. It substitutes a person’s experiences for God’s Word, which is, actually pretty much what these false teachers in Colossae were doing.

Paul writes,

“Let no one disqualify you”

How?

By.

“Insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head.”

Now watch this.

Because the false teachers were telling the Colossians something that was just like obviously wrong. They were insisting on asceticism and the worship of angels. And this seems to have been a big deal to them.

The worship of angels.

Which is why Paul has to go to such great lengths to demonstrate how much better Jesus is than angels, throughout the book of Colossians.

And.

I guess.

They could have been saying lots of things. I don’t know. It could be that they were even pretending to be humble and saying they were not good enough to go directly to God Himself and worship Him through Jesus Christ.

So.

Instead they had to first begin with the angels instead.

But however, they were going about it, the point, this is something, that’s like, obviously wrong.

Worshiping angels.

This is one heresy that is not complicated.  If you look at it. The Bible’s very straight about the fact we are not supposed to worship angels. Or anyone other than God. In fact, you know, in light of how clear the Bible is, you might wonder how the Colossian would ever fall this, and if you look at the middle of verse 18, I think, you’ll see the strategy they were using.

They were insisting “on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions…” or things he has seen.

In other words.

They were taking their stand on visions that they claimed to have had.  

That was the basis of their authority. Not God’s Word. It’s what I’ve seen that’s the main thing.

To the point.

Where.

Even though the Bible says this, you ought to do this, which I know is the direct opposite of what God’s said in His Word, but you ought to do it anyway, because of a subjective experience I’ve had. 

Which is.

If you think about it.

What’s happening all around us.

It might feel a little harder to spot legalism. But, this is everywhere. And, it might look a little different. I mean. I don’t know if you have ever met someone who has pleaded with you specifically to worship angels on the basis of visions he’s had, but I am sure most of you have met people who have spoken to you about God and the Christian life and what you are supposed to do based on their own experiences and thoughts and feelings and dreams and visions over what God’s said.

Clearly.

In His Word.

Which is the same thing, essentially.

And so if you listen to them and the way they talk it’s not God’s Word that is driving them. It’s some spiritual experience someone had, which, unfortunately, appeals to a lot of us.

We like hearing about dreams and visions and prophecies and all of that.

In fact, there are some people who seem to almost have a bias against the disciplined study of God’s Word. It’s like they would actually prefer coming to church and listening to someone saying they have had a dream or a vision to someone helping them know and understand what God says in His Word. For some, if I come to church and stand up here and said I had a dream about this or that, in their minds, that would be more authoritative, more compelling, and more exciting, than if I asked them to open up their Bible and started talking to them about what it meant.

You say.

Who should I marry? And I say I had a dream.

There are a lots of people who would take that way more seriously, than if I said, let’s open up the Bible and look at biblical principles regarding marriage, which is why we better pay attention to the warning Paul gives in verse 18.

Because he says, “Let no one disqualify you by insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions…” And the term “disqualify” means to rob someone of their prize.  It’s like here these believers have something huge and yet if they started following what the false teachers were teaching, they’d end up completely empty instead.

They’d be disqualified.

Which is intense.

Obviously.

But as someone else has put it, when someone is asking you to replace “the external authority of God’s Word” with visions they claim to have had instead they are asking you to discard Christianity.

In the end.

Because, and listen to me now, once you reject the external authority of God’s Word, once you say, you know what, God’s Word isn’t my final authority, you basically reject God.

If.

My visions and my dreams and my experiences are the ultimate and final authority, for this church, then it’s only a matter of time, hear this, until we are not going be Christian.

We are going to be some weird cult, instead. That maybe calls ourselves Christians, but is essentially, something completely different.

So.

I know.

It doesn’t always look that fancy.

But God has revealed what we need to know to have a relationship with Him and to be saved and to grow in this book, this is where we know we have God’s Word.

Which means.

It’s has authority over us.

Even over visions and prophecies people are saying they’ve had.

And so, if someone comes and says I saw this and this is what is true and this is what God wants and you have to obey me because this is the vision I had.

We can’t just be like.

Oh.

A vision.

That’s amazing.

I guess.

I have to obey.

We have to go back to God’s Word and ask. Is what they are saying what God says there?Because that’s our authority.

It’s pretty simple.

If we want to know what God wants, we need to read the Bible and make sure we properly understand it.

I had someone recently tell me, God told me, I am supposed to use you, and basically he meant, I was supposed to support him somehow financially to go into the ministry, and he was really strong about, it, he was like you better take this seriously, because God told me, and you know, what, I had to go back to God’s Word, and say, let me think this through, in light of I know what God says about the responsibilities I have, which is how we have to be judging any ideas people are giving us about how we ought to grow.

Which, of course, I am saying, doesn’t always sound as exciting to people.

And, I know, sometimes people are even like but what about the Spirit?

You are always talking about the Bible. I have the Spirit. And we are like, yes the Spirit. We love the Spirit. That’s why we are talking about the Bible.

Because.

The Spirit of God speaks to us through the Word of God.  

God didn’t give us His Spirit to tell all this weird stuff that would lead us away from what He’s already said in His Word.

Instead.

He gave us the Spirit to help us understand what the Bible teaches and to affirm and press home into our minds the truths we find there and to help us understand how to apply it to our everyday lives.

I kind of like the way Martin Luther once put it.  Because actually what we are talking about is nothing new, really. There were men in Luther’s day who claimed to have certain experiences and who were making those experiences more authoritative and important than God’s Word.

And he was very firm with them.

In fact, one time when they were arguing with Luther, apparently, they said. But the “Spirit, the Spirit!” Which was kind of their argument. Don’t take us back to God’s Word, because we have the Spirit, the Spirit.

To which Martin Luther, thundered, “I slap your Spirit on the snout.”

And he spoke like that, he spoke, so strongly like that, because he knew when a person substitutes his own personal experience for what the Word of God says, when he makes his own experience more important than the Word of God, he’s not being spiritual, he’s not being religious, he’s being proud.

Because, he’s really saying. “My word is more important than God’s Word.” 

Which is what Paul says is at the root of the heresy their in Colossae. If we go back to verse 18. The reason these false teachers were going on in detail about visions they had was because they were “puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind…”

It’s pride.

Puffed up is proud and sensuous is fleshly. It’s a word we associate with lust, actually. And Paul’s saying it’s totally possible for a person to look very religious and very spiritual and always be talking about God while at the same time be puffed up and motivated by a sensuous, fleshly mind. 

We are a little naïve sometimes.

As to why some people are so passionate about religion. Sometimes the reason people are passionate about religion is because it actually feeds their flesh, which is kind of obvious with a lot of the false teachers, we know.

They are getting something from this.

Respect. Money. Whatever.

But it’s not about Jesus and honoring Him.

It’s about them.

Which is why they are not all that concerned about taking you back to what Jesus says. And they feel fine with just going on and on and on and on and on about their own experiences instead.

Which is spiritual suicide.

This is a big deal, obviously.

If I am basing my relationship with God on my works, instead of Jesus’ or if I am basing my relationship with God on my ideas and dreams, instead of what God’s says.

I’ve lost touch with real Christianity.

Or as Paul says in verse 19, they “…are not holding fast to the Head…” which is a problem because it is from Christ that “the whole body, nourished and king together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.” 

Which means, in other words, while they might be going through all these motions of spirituality, they are actually making it impossible to grow spiritually, and as a result all their discipline and all their religious activities and all the stuff they are doing is just for show.

It accomplishes nothing.

Dying Ministers Dealing with Dying People

10 Apr

“Ministers are dying men, and live not for ever in this world. They are to look upon themselves as such, and to preach accordingly, as those that must be silenced shortly, and know not which sermon may be the last. People are to look upon them as such, and to hear accordingly, as those that yet a little while have the light with them, that they may walk and work while they have the light. Oh that this weighty consideration had its due weight given it, that we are dying ministers dealing with dying people about the concerns of immortal souls and an awful eternity, which both they and we are standing upon the brink of!”

Matthew Henry

How to change, part eleven

9 Apr

Before you can grow spiritually you need to identify and reject wrong ideas of spiritual growth and maturity.

In Colossians 2:16-23, the apostle Paul helps us do that by highlighting three characteristics of the kind of teaching about spiritual growth and change we have to avoid if we are going to move forward in Christ.

The first is that it tends to be legalistic.

If you are going to grow in your Christian life you’ve got to recognize and reject legalism.

You see.

How Paul says in verse 16 and 17.

“…let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon, or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.”

And when Paul talks about passing judgment, he’s talking about condemning someone as guilty or judging someone as unacceptable in God’s sight.

In other words, these particular false teachers were saying the Colossian believers were guilty before God. Meaning they were not right with God and the reason they said that weren’t right with God was because they weren’t doing certain things the false teachers thought they should.

Like.

Not eating certain foods.

Or celebrating certain festivals. 

Or even keeping the Sabbath.  

This wasn’t a case of looking at the Bible and the believer’s life and saying, “I wonder, you are clearly breaking this command, and there doesn’t seem to be any repentance, so you know, let’s go back and think about what that unrepentant attitude says about your relationship with God.” Instead, this is some people cherry picking some ideas they found in the Old Testament ceremonial laws and saying even though you already are a Christian and united to Christ, to really be right with God and to experience the fullness of the Christian life you need to live in strict observance to all those kinds of rules as well.

Now.

Honestly.

If we are going to get specific, it’s actually a little hard to tell all the exact ins and outs of the specific false religion that was being promoted there in Colossae.

But really.

Whatever the exact specifics were.

It’s clear.

In general.

These false teachers were doing what legalists do.

They were making all these extra rules and regulations for how people were supposed to live and then acting as if those rules and regulations were the basis for one’s acceptance with God instead of Jesus. 

Which.

Is.

The key.

Acting as if these regulations were the basis for one’s acceptance with God.

Because sometimes we throw around the word legalism.

“Watch out for legalism.”

And it’s more just a way to get people off our backs if we are sinning, honestly.

I mean.

You can just say they are legalists.

What Paul’s talking about is not someone having rules and standards and even convictions that he’s serious about.

If that’s what was going on, if these people were just like I really want to honor God with what I eat, Paul wouldn’t be going on and on.

Because.

Legalism is not the same thing as having convictions.

And. 

It’s not the same thing as being serious about holiness.  

I know.

There are some people who any time you talk about the need to be holy, and, they are like, you can’t t talk to me about that.

Because.

“That’s legalism.”

That’s not legalism.

Otherwise Paul would have been a legalist, because there are all kinds of things, he tells us, we are supposed to do.

Legalism.

I like how one author puts it,

“Is not obedience to God and His law. Legalism is not learning to obey all that Christ has commanded us. Legalism is not pursuing holiness. Legalism is not striving to please God and glorify God in all that we do. Legalism is not being zealous in our good works and in bearing fruit in keeping with repentance.”

Instead.

Legalism.

Is thinking and acting as if your obedience and pursuit of holiness somehow adds to the already finished work of Christ. 

“By definition. That’s legalism.”

As someone else has explained, it is trying to get forgiveness from God and acceptance by God through obedience to God.

In other words. legalism wants to make me the hero.

A legalist is anyone who behaves as if they can earn God’s approval and forgiveness through personal performance.

Which is sometimes so obvious.

It’s like.

“Wow.

That’s legalism.”

Like the Pharisees, who thought they were righteous on the basis of how they kept God’s law.

But sometimes it is not so obvious, actually.

Because.

Our hearts, kind of by default, are legalistic, we like to think it’s about us and what we do, and so even after we become believers, legalism can find a way to sneak in and do its damage.

Which.

Is more what was going on here.

With the Colossians.

I don’t think these men were coming into the church and denying Jesus. I am not sure they even would have denied salvation by faith. It’s just that somehow by the way they were focusing on all these rules and regulations.

They were minimizing Jesus and what He did.

Which is why we have to watch out.

Sometimes legalists are easy to spot because they are like coming and saying you need to do this or that work as a requirement for salvation. But other times they are are a little less obvious, in that they affirm, we are saved by what Jesus has done, that’s their doctrinal position, only, in practice, you find, they end up making spirituality and holiness all about this long list of man-made rules, instead.

It’s a shift of emphasis, really.

Where, you’ll find them, maybe, requiring others to submit to these rules they made up as if they were God’s law itself.

And the focus is on them, not Jesus.

Or you’ll find them basically making religion about what God wants people to do or even what they want people to do instead of what God has done.

So the focus is on you and your performance, and not Jesus.

Or, maybe more personally, you’ll find they are motivated themselves, to try to be holy, because they think their works somehow earns them favor with God.

And maybe that’s even how they try to motivate others. 

Which for Paul.

Is.

Characteristic number one.

Of the kind of teaching about growing and changing and maturing spiritually that absolutely has to be rejected.

It’s.

The kind of talk about the Christian life that if you listen closely.

Is missing Jesus. 

Or.

To use the illustration Paul does in verse 17.

That focuses on the shadow, and as a result, misses the substance.

Which I think is so tempting.

Even today.

For us.

I mean.

Obviously.

These false teachers, were going about it a certain way. In that, they were using the Old Testament law to distract the Colossians from focusing on Jesus, which may not exactly be how people always go about it today.

We don’t always have people talking about festivals and new moons and Sabbaths.

But.

Whether they are actually using the Old Testament law or not, you’ll still find a lot of teaching about the Christian life that is focusing our attention primarily on issues that are not really at the center of what the gospel is about.

You see.

Satan loves distraction. He doesn’t want you to focus on Jesus. Because that’s how Christians grow, that’s how they change.

And.

One of the best ways he can get your eyes off Jesus, is to get your eyes on you instead. We love looking at ourselves.

Which, honestly if you boil most false teaching down to its core, is what’s going on. It’s giving people the impression that it’s mostly about us and what we do and Jesus, if he’s talked about, is the add on.

He’s the extra.

It’s Jesus and.

But.

Really.

To be forgiven, blessed, accepted, you name it, you need something more than Him.

Which, of course, I am saying is what’s at the heart of legalism.

Listen.

The problem with legalism is not that it talks about what we need to do. I mean, we have to talk about what we do.

And.

We’re going to get there in Colossians 3. But, you’ll find, with legalism. Instead of talking about what we do in such a way that we keep being brought us back to Jesus, and we are forced to focus on what He has already done.

Legalism.

Keeps Jesus on the outside.

Instead.

If you look Paul and the other writers of Scripture, they give lots of commands. They talk about marriage. They talk about parenting. They talk about the specifics. But if you took Jesus and His work on the cross out of what they have to say about how we are to live, it wouldn’t really make sense.

It would fall apart.

Legalism is different.

In that, while it might use His name a lot, if you listen very carefully, you actually could leave Jesus out of what’s being said, and you could leave His work on the cross out and it wouldn’t make much of a difference.

Because.

It’s mostly about you.

Which of course is the first characteristic of the kind of teaching, you need to reject, if you are going to grow, spiritually.

Any approach to the spiritual life that acts as if you are the hero will end only in defeat. 

 

It takes a village…

7 Apr

We recently had a sweet visit with a pastor from one of our supporting churches in the United States.

I am so grateful when supporters are able to make it to South Africa to get a first hand taste of the ministry here, because, no matter how well you try to explain what God’s doing, there’s just something about seeing it with your own eyes.

One of the things this pastor mentioned was how obvious it was that we weren’t ministering alone. Meaning, when we share about what God’s doing, it might be easy to think that it’s Josh and Marda who are just going around doing all this work, without realizing, how many other people are involved.

And that’s the truth. There’s a lot happening here. And one way God’s enabled it to happen is through local churches who were willing to support individuals who have come alongside and played a supporting role in our church planting efforts.

All of this to say, I really resonate with how this author has put it in an article entitled “In Defense of Second Class Missionaries.” You might want to read it!

Christ the example of ministers

24 Mar

“Ministers of the gospel follow the example of their great Master, in the manner in which they seek the salvation and happiness of the souls of men. They should follow his example of love to souls. Though it be impossible that they should love them to so great a degree, yet they should have the same spirit of love to them, and concern for their salvation, according to their capacity. Love to men’s souls in Christ was far above any regard he had to his temporal interest, his ease, his honor, his meat and drink. And so it should be with his ministers. They should have the same spirit of compassion to men under their spiritual calamities and miseries that he had, of whom we read, Mark 6:34, “That when he came out and saw much people, he was moved with compassion towards them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.” The word translated moved with compassion, signifies, that he was most sensibly affected, and his inmost bowels moved with pity. And again we read, Luke 19, that when Christ was riding to Jerusalem, that wicked city, but a few days before his crucifixion, and was come to the descent of the mount of Olives, where he had a fair view of the city, when he beheld it, he wept over it, on account of the misery and ruin they brought themselves into danger of by their sin. Although the sin by which especially they had made themselves thus miserable, was their vile treatment of him (for Jerusalem was a city that had been peculiarly injurious to him). And though Christ knew how cruelly he should be treated in that city before that week was past, how he there should be set at nought, and with great malignity bound, falsely accused and condemned, reviled, spit upon, scourged, and crucified; yet all does not prevent his most affectionate tears of compassion towards them. “When he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it, saying, If thou hadst know, even thou (thou, as wicked as thou art, and as vile as thou hast been in thy treatment of me; even thou), the things which belong unto thy peace! But now they are hid from thine eyes.” (Compare Mat. 23:37, and Luke 13:34). One would have thought he would have been more concerned for himself than Jerusalem, who had such a dreadful cup to drink, and was to suffer such extreme things by the cruelty of Jerusalem that week. But he, as it were, forgets his own sorrow and death, and weeps over the misery of his cruel enemies.” Jonathan Edwards

The mother of patience

21 Mar

“. . . let us also observe that kindheartedness is the mother of patience and continually produces that fruit, and that if we are too stern, it is a sign that there is cruelty in us and that we are like wild beasts. . . It is true that we ought to be grieved at the faults of our neighbors, and we must not feed them by our flattery, as the common fashion of the world is. But yet our zeal must be so moderated that we forgive a great deal, for we ourselves also have need to be forgiven; we must not be more exorbitant with other people than we would they should be with us . . .” John Calvin