I am not a fan of “celebrity preachers”. Whether it is Jimmy Swaggart, Joel Osteen, or Franklin Graham, I am hesitant to regard their messages as “gospel truth” the more popular they become. It is not that they speak complete untruth, but their popularity seems to be often be connected to an agenda. I have known colleagues that gradually conform to the institution they serve, changing their beliefs regardless of their reading of scripture. There is a definite reason why St Augustine, in his treatise “On Christian Doctrine”, devotes three parts to Hermeneutics (study of Scripture) and only one part to Homiletics (proclamation of Scripture). The reason he gives is that one might become so eloquent that a preacher could completely misrepresent the meaning and the listener would not know the difference. I have often found it telling when a preacher devotes an entire sermon to a single line of scripture. When this occurs, it is often because the preacher has a message they want to tell and need Scripture to “back them up”.
This can be true of any of us when we have an opinion and want God to “have our back” instead of us sharing God’s message for a person or the Church in general. How we represent the Bible, the Church, and Christ Himself depends entirely upon how well we know Christ and His message. By taking a worldly view of the Epistles and the Old Testament, it can lead us to inauthentic and inaccurate conclusions of who we are and how our lives are to reflect Christ. We only need to look to the internet and the local news to see how a poor reading of Scripture reflects in those whose lives do not mirror Christ. It is no surprise why the Church often is losing members as Christ becomes a historical figure in them instead of the model we base our thoughts, actions, and attitudes toward our world.
It is easy for us to ride on “spiritual coattails” in the Church. When I went through confirmation as a teenager, we were told that while our parents had provided guidance, as well as other church members, we needed to know why we believed what we believed and read the Bible ourselves so that we possessed our own understanding. Unfortunately, many a child will claim their parent’s faith as justification for why their belief is correct. The same is true for spouses, relatives, and “prestigious” church memberships where one person claims authority by proxy. I remember a time when I had come home to visit at a time when there was a crisis in the church we belonged. I gave my thoughts, my reasoning, and the Scriptures I based them upon. The next morning, as I was in a class, I heard my mother in the next room saying the exact things I had mentioned the night before as though they were her own thoughts.
John 3:1-21 and John 8:31-47 show how Jesus addresses this problem with Nicodemus and later with other Jewish followers. He questioned how a Jewish official could know so much yet not understand matters of God as well as he understood human matters. The issue of being born again, a process where one discards the old view, a non-God centered one, for a life that is totally committed to God and His Word. Later on, Jesus addresses those who were claiming salvation solely based on being descendants of Abraham. In both cases, Jesus draws the line where each person must accept the Son and his teachings for themselves. Jesus clearly indicates his teachings are from God, not His own. Each must accept those teachings in order to be saved.
Too many times, we are tempted to claim to be a follower when we have never taken the time to find, let alone follow, Jesus. We become what Kyle Idleman refers to as a “fan” of Jesus, not a follower. We are “pro-Jesus” as long as Jesus says what we like, agrees with our own bias, and does what we approve of. If we were to actually be follower, we would disregard our own life, look to Scripture to direct our paths and inform our attitudes, and become more like Christ than just a better version of ourselves.
One of the key focuses of Jesus’ lessons and advice is Love. This is perhaps the most central to a Christian worldview and also the most overlooked when we interact with others. 1 Corinthians 13 lays out how everything we do is to be done in love. This is not because it is “nice” or “sensible”, but because it is the most durable and important part of who we are in Christ. Our “utility” in the church fades, our faith wanes according to circumstances even for the most faithful follower, but love is the strongest of all to overcome any evil, comfort any affliction, and redeem the worst sinner. The reason for this strength is not because we are able to love more than any other thing we do, but because God is able to change anything because of His love. 1 John 4:7-21 just reinforces that we are to love others because God loved us. Unfortunately, love seems to be the first thing we forget when we get our feelings hurt, our pride is wounded or our anger is stoked, but it is to be our central focus and centering force to bring us back to “normal” when we fly off. It is great that God’s love in us is what does that rather than a feeling that can ebb and flow.
The hardest part of us as Christ’s followers is most often when we get a sense of entitlement. It is what pulls us to believe that we are due a certain amount of respect or that our faith gives us a supernatural ability to be right about everything. 1 Peter 2:11-25 lays out that we are ultimately “God’s slaves”. Our lives are subject to His pleasing, His word is the ultimate authority and nothing we do is to be of our own choosing but directed by God. We are not instructed to do all of this because God is a control freak, but because God is good, righteous, holy, and free of attitude to act in a way that is contrary to His own being or character. Taking our orders from a good and faithful master is our best decision because we are prone to wavering according to whims but God is steadfast in His actions and His love for us.
As we encounter others in this year, may we encounter Christ, seeking to be more like him rather than just a better version of ourselves. In seeking to be more like Christ in body, mind, and spirit, we run the risk of becoming the kind of person that others would be attracted to become like as well, one who resembles Christ and His Loving Father.
Do I resemble Christ or the world in my decisions, actions and attitudes?
Do I use Scripture to influence my views and actions, or to justify my own opinions, Godly or not?