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Mere Christianity?

Dr. James White often refers to what he calls the “mere Christianity” movement where people try to make Christianity as small as you can make it.  In the 2000 years of the Church, orthodoxy has been the standard for what is deemed as Christian.  I grant you that at times this has not always been clear and sometimes people made non-essentials as essentials of the gospel.  In our day, mere Christianity has come to simply believe that if you affirm Jesus, you are a Christian.

I have been following a blogger for some time who I have seen him drifting this way.  His view is that Jesus is what matters yet it seems to me that he does not care what people believe about Jesus so long as they say they love Jesus and desire to follow Him.  While this blogger seems to affirm that the Bible is the Word of God (though I’m not sure if he holds to inerrancy or infallibility), he often muddles the water by using the liberal “red letter Christian” mantras.  It is as if this blogger makes Jesus someone that we should merely copy (and by that I mean be a hippie and be focused on “peace and love man”).  This blogger even has been writing about how he has seen Jesus in a Muslim friend of his and how this Muslim has taught him more about Jesus than many Christians.

This is the mere Christianity movement.  There is no focus on the doctrine of Christ nor about His atonement.  There is little emphasis placed on His perfection for our salvation.  There is nothing said about His death, His resurrection, His ascension to the right hand of the Father where He lives to make intercession for the saints.  There is nothing said about His coming again in glory to judge the living and the dead.  In fact, mere Christianity makes Jesus just someone that we should copy and imitate to have a better life.  Jesus becomes nothing more than a “great teacher” along with other “great teachers.”  Jesus’ own declarations are ignored.

I don’t assume that someone is a Christian simply because they name the name of Jesus.  Jesus Himself said that many would come in His name (Matthew 24:4-5).  John the Beloved wrote that many antichrists had come (1 John 2:18).  Antichrists are false christs.  Paul the Apostle issued curses on those who preach a false gospel (Galatians 1:6-9).  Thus we can see that there are false christs and false gospels.

Not everyone who says Jesus is truly His (Matthew 7:21-23).  Jesus said that those who are His are those who hear His words and put them into practice, who build their lives on His teachings (Matthew 7:24-27).  A disciple of Jesus is one who abides in His teachings (John 8:31-32).  This means that the disciple not only reads the Word of God (and not merely the “red letters”) but they study it as well.  I study God’s Word to know God, to love Him more and to obey Him better all by His Spirit and His grace.

So many claim Christ but they don’t even know the first thing about Him.  They don’t know His Word.  They don’t read His Word.  They don’t study His Word.  They don’t care to study His Word nor do they truly care to know Him because Jesus doesn’t fit our views when we read and study Him.  The perfect Son of God is not like us in that He is absolutely perfect, holy, blameless, and His ways are beyond our ways.  We seek to imitate Him (1 Peter 2:21-24; 1 John 2:6) but we recognize that He alone is perfect.  He is perfect for our salvation (2 Corinthians 5:21).  Because He remains forever perfect, He now stands before the Father in our defense (Hebrews 7:22-25).  As we abide in Jesus through faith (Romans 5:1; 1 John 2:24-25), we find that He is faithful to wash our sins away (1 John 1:7, 9).

The mere Christianity movement wants to place Jesus among others.  Jesus is far above all others (Colossians 1:15-20).  Every knee will bow to His glory alone (Philippians 2:5-11).  This includes all false teachers, all false prophets, all false religions.  Jesus is not equal among others.  Jesus is God (John 1:1, 18; Romans 9:5) and He is to be worshiped as God.

The mere Christianity movement has to dethrone Jesus to make Him equal among others.  For example, the Muslim view of Jesus is not at all equal with the biblical view.  The Quran teaches that Jesus is not God, that He is not even the Son of God.  Yes Islam says that Jesus is the Messiah but they deny His divinity and the Quran condemns to hell those who would say that God is a man or has a son.  The Quran falsely believes that the doctrine of the Trinity includes Mary.  The Quran denies that Jesus died for our sins.  Most Muslims believe that Jesus didn’t even die on the cross but rather Allah made someone else to appear as Jesus on the cross such as Judas.  While Islam teaches that Jesus will return, they believe that He will return and set up an Islamic kingdom on the earth.  The Islamic confession of faith is focused on Mohammad and not on Jesus.

And yet mere Christianity says that since a Muslim claims to love Jesus (the Jesus of the Quran and not the Jesus of the Bible), then they are “saved.”  If a Muslim denies the Quran’s teaching on Jesus and embraces the biblical view of Jesus then I would submit that they are not a Muslim but a Christian.  Of course, true salvation requires faith and repentance in the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 2:38-39; 3:19-20; 17:30-31).

One final point.  The mere Christianity movement especially detests evangelism.  After all, the evangelist is preaching that Jesus alone saves (John 14:6; Acts 4:12) and He alone is our mediator before a holy God (1 Timothy 2:5-6).  The evangelist preaches that faith and repentance are necessary for eternal life (Luke 13:5; John 5:24-25; 6:29; Romans 2:4; 2 Corinthians 7:10; 2 Peter 3:9; 1 John 5:13).  This goes against the mere Christian view that all religions are essentially good so long as they love Jesus.  It also goes against the postmodern mindset that there is no absolute truth since Jesus Himself claims to be the truth of God (John 14:6).  When religious people are confronted with their sins and with the truth of Jesus, they always strike back with a vengeance.  I have witnessed this myself. People don’t mind if you preach a peace and love Jesus but the moment you preach that a person must repent, they quickly turn on you.  People love Jesus but the Jesus they create in their own images but not the biblical Jesus.

I am often confronted by the biblical Jesus as I read.  I am confronted with my sins.  I am confronted with my lack of being like Jesus in all I do.  I am confronted with how wonderful Jesus truly is and the more that I study Him and the more that I seek Him, the more I find that I am not like Him, that He is God and worthy to be praised, and I will never truly grasp Him in this life.  Jesus is simply too wonderful, too mighty, too holy for me to perfectly understand but what I do know is this: He died for my sins (1 Corinthians 15:3; Galatians 1:4; 1 Peter 3:18) and He is coming again in glory (2 Timothy 4:1).  I long to see Him and worship Him forever.  I will continue to preach the biblical Jesus and preach against the false christs of this world.

Jesus Bore My Sins, The Wrath of a Holy God

The gospel causes me to do two things.  First, the gospel makes me realize my utter sinfulness before a holy God.  I have no righteousness apart from that which He imputes to me (Isaiah 64:6).  I cannot earn the favor of this holy God.  My sins have buried me in despair and I see how wicked I appear before this holy and just God.  How can I approach this holy One?  How can I find peace with Him who is perfect and I a sinner?

But the gospel also shows me the grace of God, that He would send His one and only Son to die for me, this wicked sinner.  The gospel is the goodness of God expressed in His Son.  The gospel is the love of God expressed in His Son.  The gospel does shout that I am sinful, condemned to die for my sins against this God but the gospel also shouts, “Grace to it” (Zechariah 4:7).  I see my wickedness but I see His beauty when I look at the gospel of our God (Romans 1:1).

The gospel reveals to me that Jesus has bore my sins.  He took the wrath of God in my place.  Isaiah prophesied about this Christ and His work in Isaiah 53.  I will place the entire passage here for us to mediate upon and see the wonder of the grace of God at work in His Son:

Who has believed what he has heard from us?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?

2 For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.

3 He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

4 Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.

5 But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.

6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.

8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people?

9 And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.

10 Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.

11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.

12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and makes intercession for the transgressors.

Notice verse 10.  It was the will of the LORD to crush Him!  The will of God was that His perfect Son would bear my sins.  2 Corinthians 5:21 reads,

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

1 Peter 2:22-24 says,

22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.

Hebrews 2:9 reads,

But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

The perfect, holy, blameless, righteous Son of God bore my sins on the cross.  He died in my place.  He suffered for me.  His blood was shed to wash away my sins (Matthew 26:28; Ephesians 1:7) and by His stripes I am now healed.  He bore the wrath of a holy God for me!

Romans 5:8-9 reads,

8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.

1 Thessalonians 1:10 assures us that Jesus has saved us from the wrath to come.

On the cross, the Lord Jesus died so that I might live.  He offered Himself to God for my sins.  In that moment, on the cross, the holy Son bore the wrath of a holy God against me.  That is the glorious gospel!  The gospel is not a picture so that I can feel moved to obedience.  I cannot obey a holy God enough to please Him nor can I perfectly obey Him all my life (Romans 8:8).  I need forgiveness.  I need grace.  I get both in the Son.  The cross is not a mere example of a holy God honoring His Law but it is the perfect Son bearing the wrath that the condemned sinner should bear and will bear if they don’t repent.  The sole reason that I can now be saved from God is the work of the Lord Jesus Christ.

I pray that we all would honor the Son for His glorious work on the cross!  Salvation is available only because of His work (Romans 3:21-26).  Jesus died for our sins (Galatians 1:4) and He was raised for our justification (Romans 4:24-25).  We can now be forgiven and justified before a holy God because of the work of Christ and the work of Christ alone (Romans 5:1; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5-7).  Throughout all eternity we will worship the Lamb who bore our sins (Revelation 5:13-14).

What If Tim Tebow Were Anything But A Christian?

No matter where you fall on the Denver Broncos, you have to admire Tim Tebow for the way that he is leading his team.  I would agree that his numbers are not the numbers of say Cam Newton at Carolina but he is doing what Cam doesn’t and that is he wins.  Granted Denver is in a poor division but to lead any NFL team to victory is good in of itself.  Yet the fascination with Tebow is not just what he does on the football field but with his faith.  Here is a guy who was home schooled, his parents are missionaries, and he always spoke openly about his faith even at the University of Florida.  Here is a guy who is clean, is a virgin, and is a hard worker on top of that.

And yet many problem dislike Tim Tebow.  Part of it has to be his faith.  Recently I saw where former Denver quarterback Jake Plummer said that he likes Tebow but is tired of hearing Tebow mention Jesus every time he gets the chance.  Plummer stated, “We know he loves Jesus and that is good but do we keep have to hearing about it?”  Some evangelicals are noted for agreeing with Plummer’s view of Tebow.  “He carries Jesus out there too much” is the complaint.  I find that ironic coming from people who claim to know Jesus and seek to obey Him.  How can we ignore glorifying Jesus whenever we get the chance?  Is not our duty to make Jesus’ name known (Matthew 28:19)?

What is even more troublesome is what it would be like for Tim Tebow if he were anything but a committed evangelical Christian? Suppose Tebow was a Muslim.  Remember when Mohammad Ali changed his name from Cassius Clay to Ali?  The media had no problems (and still don’t) with Ali being a Muslim nor him praising Allah.  Steve Young, the former quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, is the great-grandson of Mormon “prophet” Brigham Young.  No one says anything about Young’s Mormonism.  Dale Murphy was a devout Mormon who played with Atlanta Braves and Phillies in the 1980’s and no one had a problem with Murphy’s Mormonism.  How about Kareem Abdul-Jabbar who has criticized the United States for being afraid of Muslims?  Husain Abdullah is a safety for the Minnesota Vikings and he is known for his devotion to Islam to the point that he will not take water when he is fasting despite playing football.  Abdullah also is a regular speaker to inner-city teenagers about Islam.  The media ignores Abdullah.  The list could go on and on.

What if Tebow were a devout atheist (I know devout about what?)?  Or a Hindu?  Anything but an evangelical.  What if Tebow were always saying, “Praise be to Allah the merciful” instead of “Praise Jesus Christ”?

Now frankly, I am always a bit worried about Christians elevating people to superstar status.  Too often they have come crashing down.  In 1 Timothy 3:6 Paul warned against appointing new converts to places of leadership lest they become like the devil and be full of pride and fall.  Jesus said that the greatest among us shall be the servant among us (Matthew 20:20-28).  Sadly, the Western Church often takes people who are new converts or young in the faith and places them as the spokesmen for the faith only latter to watch as the person gives in to sin, falls under pride, or simply brings shame to the name of Jesus through their words or actions.  We must be careful.

Years ago Bob Dylan made a “conversion” from Judaism to Christianity.  I remember reading this for the first time in Keith Green’s biography, No Compromise.  Keith Green even reached out to Dylan and included him on one of his songs playing harmonica, I Pledge My Head.  Yet sadly Dylan turned away.  Dylan returned to Judaism after studying under a Jewish sect teacher in 1982.  What is sad about this story is that the Vineyard had been quick to rush Dylan out front.  He even recorded a gospel album which featured the hit single, “You Gotta Serve Somebody” which Dylan now says was about large companies and not about God.  The Vineyard reasoned that Dylan would be an example to the world of God’s trophies of grace so they pushed to have Dylan out front speaking for Christ.  In 1983 Dylan released an album entitled, “Infidels” and the Vineyard was done with Dylan.

We must be careful to exalt Jesus alone.  Not Tim Tebow.  Not Deion Sanders.  Not anyone but Jesus!  The Church rises and falls on the Lord Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:15-20) and not the works or testimonies of men and women.  Jesus must be exalted.  We would do well to read 2 Corinthians 4 and take to heart the words of the great Apostle, Paul of Tarsus.  If anyone could have been a religious superstar it would have been Paul (Philippians 3:4-8) yet his passion was not to glorify himself but to exalt Jesus.  That should be our goal as well as the Church.  We should desire to make Jesus great and ourselves nothing.  As John the Baptist said in John 3:30, “He must increase, I must decrease.”  

Let us pray that Tebow glorifies God but let us also pray that the Church makes Jesus alone the one that we look to as our perfect example (1 Peter 2:21-22).  Let us seek not to lift high an athlete or a pastor or anyone other than the one who alone is worthy to be praised, the Lord Jesus Christ (Revelation 5:12-13).

Written by The Seeking Disciple

12/09/2011 at 10:00 AM

The Wonder of the Christmas Story

I can still remember how my salvation brought Christmas back to my heart again.  After I found out there was no Santa Claus at the age of about 7 or 8, Christmas lost much of its wonder.  I still looked forward to getting presents but the wonder was gone.  The lights, the magic, the wonder of it all was not the same once I saw that my dad was Santa and had been for all those years.  It wasn’t until I was born again at the age of 17 that Christmas became a true joy to me again as I begin to study the importance of the incarnation of God.

Too often what gets lost in the Christmas season is the wonder of the incarnation.  I have been a disciple of Jesus now for nearly 20 years and yet every Christmas I go back to read Matthew 1 and Luke 1-2 and the many prophetic scriptures concerning the incarnation of our Lord and I never cease to step away from the pages of the Bible and simply say, “God You are amazing to me.  Your ways cause me to stand in awe of You and Your wisdom.”  How is it that the very God who created all things in Genesis 1-2 can now stoop down and become a tiny baby inside the womb of the virgin Mary?  How is it that the very God who told David, “Heaven is my throne and the earth is My footstool” could now become a baby who would be totally dependent upon His earthly mother?  How is it that the God who was so holy and pure that no eyes could even behold Him in His glory would now take on flesh and blood for all to see Him?  The God who raises up kings and puts down kings would now be in the care of a young girl and young man for His needs.

The incarnation is beyond me.  It’s not that I don’t get it theologically.  It’s that I still am amazed that the Word became flesh (John 1:14).  I am amazed that God came down to us (Isaiah 9:6-7).  I stand in awe of the grace of God to allow His perfect Son to come to die for my sins (2 Corinthians 5:21).  I am in awe of God’s great love for me (John 3:16).  I am amazed at the faith of Mary (Luke 1:38).  I am amazed at the faith and trust of Joseph (Matthew 1:20-25; 2:12).  I am amazed at the proclamation by the angel Gabriel where he seems to simply stand in awe of God by saying, after telling Mary how she will conceive the Christ-child, that “nothing will be impossible for God” (Luke 1:37) almost as if to say, “I don’t understand the ways of God but I know that He can do whatever He likes.”  I stand in awe of the miracle called Christmas.

And that has restored my joy.  That has renewed my passion for Christmas.  I don’t enjoy the presents like I did when I was younger.  I get frustrated with the commercialism that has become Christmas.  I grow weary with the Christmas songs on the radio all the time.  But I love the incarnation.  I love the story of Jesus’ wonderful birth.  I love that He came to save this sinner and to do so, He became just like I am but without sin (1 Peter 2:21-24).  Jesus, the perfect Son of God, the Lamb of God (John 1:29), came down and humble Himself to the cross (Philippians 2:5-11).  The incarnation keeps me realizing that God loves me and that He desires to save me and clothe me in His righteousness (Romans 3:21-25).

Praise God for Christmas!

Written by The Seeking Disciple

12/01/2011 at 10:00 AM

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