Posts Tagged With: sinful

Revelation 2: Balancing “In” And “Not Of” The World

Live in the world, but do not become like the world.  That is the calling of a Christian, and a formulation we have probably all heard all of our lives.  (Did you know that phrase is not actually in the Bible?  The concept certainly is.)  We are called to be involved in the lives of non-Christians, not a detached group that vilifies, hates, and avoids those not like us.  We are called to shape the culture in which we live for the sake of Christ.  At the same time we are called to remain unspotted from the filth of this world.  We are not to become so like our non-Christian neighbors that we are shaped by their culture.

That is a challenging balance to maintain!

In Revelation 2-3, John addresses the seven churches of Asia, each in turn, in what are most like little “letters” to each.  A common theme running throughout these interesting sections is the way in which each church has interacted with the pagan, sinful culture in which they live.  Life in the first-century Roman Empire required one to worship the pagan gods and the Emperor.  Most of the publicly available meat came from sacrifices offered to pagan gods.  Business required a person to be a part of a trade guild (like a union) that had a patron god.  Public life was immensely immoral, especially sexually immoral.  Like any large economy, it was important to turn a buck, one way or another.  How do you live as a follower of Christ in such an environment?

Remember, the recipients of Revelation were persecuted Christians, targeted because they were identifiably different from their neighbors.  An easy way to avoid that persecution, though, is to lessen the degree to which you stand out as different.  A little cultural accommodation never killed anyone, right?  Maybe it might even keep you alive to share the gospel another day.  Jesus, who is in their midst (1:12), has seen their lives and has a message for each, usually focused on the way that church has chosen to live in their non-Christian society.

For ease of discussion I am including a chart that places each of the seven churches (and two other groups) on a continuum according to how they chose to interact with their culture (click on the graphic to enlarge and print from this PDF).  As you read through the “letters” to the seven churches, see if you can tell why I have placed them where I have.

There was a group in the churches of Asia Minor who were extreme accommodationists.  The Nicolaitans seemed to believe (like the Gnostics) that a Christian showed his superior spiritual strength by engaging in all the sinful practices of pagan life but without that affecting his soul.  The followers of “Balaam” (2:14) and “Jezebel” (2:20) — surely, two code names — were likely Nicolaitans.  It appears that this sort of thinking had been influential to various degrees in the churches of Thyatira and Pergamum.  The Laodiceans had developed the same sort of arrogance those in their city had who have become rich and self-sufficient (3:17).  Given that the Christians in Sardis were not suffering any persecution at all, it would appear they had chosen not to stand out from society in any great way.  Jesus scolds these churches for their compromise of doctrine, purity, and zeal.

At the other extreme would have been Christians who were on guard against this sort of cultural accommodation to such a degree that they isolated themselves from society, becoming judgmental and unwelcoming to outsiders.  While immensely pure, they also lacked the love for others that God so desired His people to have.  The Pharisees (literally the “set-apart ones”) would have the best known example of this mentality, though they were not Christians.  Of the seven churches of Asia Minor, the church in Ephesus was most known for this lack of love, and thus Jesus highlighted this compromise of attitude (2:4).

Only the churches at Smyrna and Philadelphia escape any criticism at all from Jesus.  These centrist churches seemed to recognize their role as shapers of culture and were doing so admirably, even if that did mean that both of them would have to sacrifice their own comfort to do so.

Of course, this same continuum can be used to describe churches at any time in history and any place on the globe.  God’s kingdom in always an alternative community, different from the cultural norm.  He calls us to be the “kingdom of priests” (1:6) who stand in the gap as mediators with one hand on God and one hand in the world.

What do you think?

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2 Peter 2: Like a Dog to Vomit

Peter gives one of the most detailed descriptions of a group of false teachers that I am aware of in the New Testament:

  • Their false teaching is destructive (2:1)
  • Their teaching can even cause someone to renounce Jesus (2:1)
  • They will be destroyed (2:1)
  • They will be popular (2:2)
  • Their practices are disgusting (2:2)
  • They cause people to blaspheme the way of truth (2:2)
  • They exploit people to satisfy their greed (2:3)
  • They prophesy, but falsely (2:3)
  • They follow their carnal lists (2:10)
  • They despise authority and arrogantly assert their own will (2:10)
  • They act more like irrational animals than the knowledgeable people they claim to be (2:12)
  • They hurl curses at things they do not fully understand (2:12)
  • Their lifestyle comes back to destroy them (2:12)
  • They are unjust (2:13)
  • They audaciously enjoy flaunting their decadence (2:13)
  • They turn Christian fellowship into crass parties (2:13)
  • They are especially inclined toward adultery (2:14)
  • Their appetite for sin is insatiable (2:14)
  • They especially target vulnerable people (2:14)
  • They are driven by greed (2:14)
  • They used to be orthodox but have since wandered after gain like Balaam (2:15)
  • They promise what they cannot deliver (2:17)
  • They teach their foolishness with charisma (2:18)
  • They promise people freedom, but they themselves are slaves to their immorality (2:19)
  • They are worse off than pagans because they have known Christ and have knowingly turned away (2:20)

I cannot even imagine this combination of characteristics.  It is unfathomable that all of these could be true of one group of false teachers and they were still persuasive to Christians.  The very fact that these false teachers seem to be as sexually immoral as they are described to be and still were considered credible is mind-boggling to me.  But that is probably because I am a post-Puritan Christian living in a time and place shaped by the Moral Majority where sexual sin is especially taboo.  Licentiousness was much more commonplace in the ancient Roman Empire.

The closest thing I can imagine to false teachers like these might be church leaders who wind up on the front page of the news because of their sex scandals and money-grabbing.  Inevitably their egos, appetites, and greed are their own undoing.  It is shameful, and as the honor of God is tarnished in the process there is no wonder justice so often comes.  However, even people like this try to hide their sin, whereas the false teachers of 2 Peter flaunted it.

Maybe the most important passage in today’s reading is Peter’s reassurance that God will not allow this sort of false teaching to overwhelm his Church.

The Lord knows how to rescue the godly from testing, and how to keep the unrighteous ready for the day of judgment and punishment. (2:9)

Peter’s audience surely needed this affirmation.

What caught your eye today?

Categories: 2 Peter | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Titus 1: Strong Leaders with a Strong Aversion

How should a church operate in a very sinful culture?  What most needs to be said to a group of Christians living in a place where the natives even say of themselves, “Cretans are always liars, evil animals, idle guzzlers” (1:12)?  As we read through the three short chapters of Titus this week, let’s concentrate on this question.  You can go back to this post to read a little bit about Titus, Paul’s letter to him, and the island of Crete where Titus was stationed.

Paul’s first point in this chapter is that a church in such a decadent place must have strong leadership.  This was Titus’ main charge:

This is why I left you in Crete: you are to set straight all the remaining matters, and appoint elders for every town, as I charged you to do. (1:5)

If a church is ever going to be true to Jesus in a world that woes away the Beloved with desire and wantonness, they must have strong leaders leading the way.  These leaders must be trying to seeking after godliness not selfish gain or they will never stand against the easy slide towards cultural accommodation.  They must be able to oversee a group and their ability for this is best seen in how they have led their own children.  Above all they must be people of character.

Secondly, a church surrounded by sin will only stand if they have a strong aversion to that sin.  By nature, sin is alluring.  Weak Christians will quickly cave into the temptation of sin and the work of the gospel will be frustrated if a distaste for sin is not fostered.  There is sin that tempts from within a church and without.  Paul wants these churches to be guard against both cultural decadence in a drunken, sexual immoral, unchaste society; but they must also be alert to the threat of doctrinal unorthodoxy.  For the Cretan churches Titus was ministering to, this meant be they had to be wary of the legalism of the “circumcision party” (1:10), likely a Judaizing version of Christianity.  For us today it could mean any number of teachings that pull us away from a core belief in grace (we don’t please God by our own merit) and good works (we can’t get lazy and believe there is nothing to do in a fallen world).

Only strong churches stand in the face of sin.  Strong leadership and a strong distaste for sin.

What did you notice about how a church can stay strong though surrounded by sin?

Categories: Titus | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Romans 5: Grace All The More!

Down at the core of the gospel that this book of Romans is so much about (1:16-17) are two truths:

  • We are all a bunch of rascals.
  • But God can save us anyway.

The first point we don’t like to accept, especially in a culture where we grew up on self-esteem slogans and a foundational belief that all people are good.  The second point we absolutely love.  We deem it an inalienable right.  Though, I wonder if we can really appreciate the second point if we don’t fully accept the first.  Maybe that is why some of my favorite verses in the Bible are right here in this chapter:

While we were still weak, at that very moment he died on behalf of the ungodly. (5:6)

This is how God demonstrates his own love for us: the Messiah died for us while we were still sinners. (5:8)

When we were enemies, you see, we were reconciled to God through the death of his son. (5:10)

Where sin increased, grace increased all the more. (5:20)

It’s all about grace, and when we forget that we get out of alignment.  Then we sell our uniqueness and settle for something that is just like everything else.

Thank God for His abundant grace!

Categories: Romans | Tags: , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

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