Contending for the faith | Making Disciples | Equipping the Saints for Ministry

     We are now embarking on another year. Many people try to make resolutions that will result in bettering themselves or changing an undesirable habit. In most cases such resolutions fly high the first week and crash within a couple of weeks only to recede into the abyss of good intentions and wishful thinking.

      For me, I try to avoid New Year resolutions. The reason for this is because I know even though the spirit is willing, the flesh is weak. The truth is, when it comes to resolutions my habit is not to erect one at the beginning of the year, but at the first day of the week, Monday. I know that it will probably flounder a few days later, but I also know if I don’t try it will never become a beneficial practice or habit.

      It is for this reason I do not really make resolutions at the first of a New Year; rather, I look back to take the opportunity to examine the year that is about to be added to the annals of history. This time of examination is to consider what I have learned, accomplished, or possibly missed. I want to see if I have advanced or whether I have strayed from the center of what is most important to my spiritual growth.

      One of the many powerful lessons I have learned in the past has to do with straying from the middle. This lesson is highlighted in the small book of Haggai. I often go back to this example to honestly consider if I am missing what is important to God. After all, God’s ways and thoughts are much higher than my ways and thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9). I am also aware of how far the heights of my unabated conceit can reach when I actually take stock of what I end up valuing, as well as what I think is correct and believe is right. When I brutally evaluate my motive, I often discover a wrong agenda which inevitably proves to be a point of great vanity.

      In Haggai 1, due to the decree of the leaders of the Medo-Persian Empire, some of the children of Israel prophetically returned to Jerusalem after a 70-year absence. When they arrived back to the land, the temple and Jerusalem lay in complete ruin. No doubt it was a despairing environment. However, they began building their houses and planting their crops to establish their presence in the land. The problem is they failed to establish the presence and witness of God in their midst by rebuilding the temple.

      God withdrew His blessings from the land, and the children of Israel were not only faced with drought, but with the harsh reality that everything they did was proving to be vain and temporary. It is at this time the prophet Haggai declares the Word of the Lord in 1:7-8, “Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Consider your ways. Go up to the mountain, and bring wood and build the house; and I will take pleasure in it, and I will be glorified, saith the LORD.”

      There are three very important lessons in this example. According to the Strong’s Concordance, the word “consider” in this text means “center,” and it is used twice within the first seven verses as a means to point out its importance. In other words, the Lord was telling people to come back to center. And, what must be the center of all spiritual, thriving lives? The Lord must be the center of all things. He is the One who keeps us going in the right direction and down the right path, but once we stray from the center of who He is, what He says, and what He has instructed, we will get away from experiencing His blessings and become closer to tasting the consequences for such actions. We must keep in mind at such times that whatever the consequences may be, God intends to get our attention so that we will come back to center to once again experience His blessings.

      The second lesson has to do with ensuring that we begin with Him in all matters. We must make it a habit to first invest in our relationship with Him, to make sure our life is lining up with His ways and will for our lives. In order to do this we must quit assuming God is in everything we do because we have substituted religion, good works, and misdirected passion in the place of our relationship with Him. However, the best, when it comes to the matters of God, sometimes causes us to miss that which is excellent. We need to make sure that we are not making our plans and simply asking God to bless them. We must first seek Him to see what His plan is so we can be in the center of His will.

      The third lesson is simple, if a matter does not ultimately end up glorifying God, we are not only missing the mark, but we are failing to fulfill our greater purpose as believers. God’s plan for each of us is to save us, but our main goal should be to glorify the Lord in all we do. It is so simple, yet in the midst of the demands of the world it can be put on the back burner as the demands of this world begin to choke out the Word of God. In fact, we can be buried by the demands of the world. These demands may not be bad, but they can become tyrannical and idolatrous if they are not kept in the right perspective.

      Another detour from the center I have taken is to get caught up with non-essential beliefs and causes. Hebrews 6:1-2 clearly tells us we must go on from the principle doctrines of Christ unto perfection or spiritual maturity. Today there are so many non-essential doctrinal debates going on in the American Church between the different denominations that are causing damaging, unnecessary splits in the Body of Christ.

      I understand how passionate we humans can feel about what we scripturally perceive as being correct theology and doctrine. In the past I have certainly stood on my soapbox and defended what I perceived to be correct thinking, doctrine, and theology. Sadly, the resulting fruits of such times showed me that I was in a wrong spirit and missed the whole point of what God clearly defined as being my commission and high calling. Each time I got on my soapbox, people walked away with their same opinion, while no sinner was saved, no saint edified, and above all the Lord was not glorified. I realized my theology controlled my understanding of God, while transforming revelations of God were passing me by. Talk about being miserable and discontent in my small, limited world, and all the time I thought I was one of the enlightened ones who had a corner on a truth while perceiving that others had to see it my way. After all, it was practical knowledge and would be obvious to any intelligent person.

      Don’t get me wrong, scriptural theology and doctrine are necessary, for they create necessary boundaries against heresy and lift up a standard of right living, but they are not meant to create or determine our reality about God. God is bigger than man’s one-dimensional theology and fundamental doctrine, yet man insists on God fitting into his particular theology. How many times have the matters of life slammed against our theology and understanding, causing our spiritual lives to shake, and make it seem as if our foundation would crack and our structure collapse in complete ruin?

      It took a few years for the Lord to reveal to me the waste of time that was involved in debating over non-essential beliefs that have nothing to do with a person’s salvation. I had to remember that salvation is not based on theology but on the actual work of God through Jesus Christ. This brought me to some soul-searching questions. Is my understanding of God based on preferred doctrinal perceptions, or are they based on the complete revelation of Him found in the Word of God. Is my doctrine dead-letter because it has not gone any further than my intellectual evaluations and conclusions about spiritual truths, or do I possess the reality of Christ in me, the real hope of the glory that will yet be fully realized in my life in the next world to come?

      He also showed me that when I interpreted matters according to my non-essential doctrines, I became self-righteous. In my self-righteous state I unmercifully judged others who did not see it my way, became judgmental towards His truths that did not fit my theology, and was rendered incapable of edifying other saints in a constructive way. It was then that I learned an important practice. I needed to come back to center and ask the Lord, what was important to Him. This is the only way I could get my proper bearings.

      When it comes to God, His heart and desire towards us is simple. He wants to see each of us come to the fullness of His redemption, by being saved and becoming a disciple of our Lord and Savior.

      What we believe, value, and how we interpret something according to our theology will determine our emphasis. Today there is so much emphasis on non-essential doctrines, causing many to aim their big guns at the wrong targets when it comes to the truths of God. I am sure you might be thinking of some of these non-essential doctrines that have been erected as elaborate soapboxes such as once saved, always saved and the different rapture presentations. These doctrines may not be wrong, but if they become our pet doctrine, they will become a personal cause that is void of eternal substance.

     This has been brought out in a book that I am now reading. The book is entitled, “The 40 Most Influential Christians Who Shaped What We Believe Today” by Daryl Aaron. It is a history of theology. I have different books on this subject but this is the most concise one, which keeps the reader from becoming bogged down. The other aspect I admire about the book is the author does not take sides, but simply states the history and facts behind that which presently affects the Church.

      This book shows the intense battle over what we now call fundamental beliefs of the Christian Faith. As a Christian, I have taken some of these beliefs for granted, but the book shows that these beliefs had to be scripturally established and reaffirmed with each heretical attack. The first fundamental belief that came under immediate attack was Jesus’ deity. Due to Greek philosophies, Docetism (Jesus only appeared to be human), and Gnosticism (saved through spiritual enlightenment), the incarnation of Christ had to be clearly defined according to Scriptures. Hence enter different creeds such as the Creed of Nicaea and the Nicene Creed to establish, define, and establish fundamental beliefs of the Christian faith.

      There have been various other attacks against the Trinitarian theology that still resonates throughout Christianity. One such belief is Modalism where each Person of the Godhead is simply operating in different roles or modes. When it comes to Jesus being fully God and fully man, there are also different heretical claims and teachings. For example, there is Arianism which claims that Christ was not fully God; rather, He is a created being; Apollinarianism which believed Jesus had a human body but He was not fully human because other than His body the rest was deity, and there was Nestorianism which claimed that Christ was two persons: Jesus was the human person and Christ was the divine person.”

      The truth is fundamental, established, confirmed beliefs of the Christian faith have been from its inception, and will be, under attack until Jesus returns. As believers, these beliefs are what we stand on, use to discern heresy, and fall back on when our faith is being attacked. As the author Daryl Aaron pointed out in his book, “the history of theology reminds us that, for centuries, God’s people have not only believed in universal truth, but also that the most vital truth has been recorded and preserved in the Bible. And it is just as relevant today as when it was written.”

      This brings me to non-essential doctrines. These doctrines do not take away from the vital truth or message of the Bible; rather, they are often used to interpret certain doctrines and beliefs according to particular perception or understanding. As I have studied these various beliefs, I learned that they were created to correct or bring clarity to grey areas in Scriptural stands. In a way, they were established to close what was considered holes in theology, but the problem is that even a truth taken to the extreme can become a heretical teaching because the Spirit is missing from it. Many of these non-essential doctrines put people in a theological box and unless something Scriptural fits nicely into their perception, it can easily be ignored or justified away.

      However, as I studied some of these different beliefs from the past, I realized that those who were on opposite sides, as far as non-essential beliefs, often ended up at the same scriptural place, even though starting from a different emphasis to establish a particular point or attitude. For example, there is the debate between Calvinism and those who hold to the view of Arminius. Calvinists believe in justification through Christ’s redemption, but the emphasis is on election due to God’s sovereignty. In extreme cases some Calvinists believe that it does not matter how contrary a person lives to the Bible’s instruction in righteousness, if he or she is elected, he or she will naturally be saved. Such an attitude makes God’s grace out to be cheap to others, especially when Paul clearly admonished the Corinthians that grace may be the avenue in which the gift of eternal life flows, but it does not give man the liberty to sin; rather, this incredible virtue of God affords the person liberty and means to do right, for grace reigns through righteousness (Romans 5:20-6:5).

      To compensate for any extremes in Calvinism, those of the Arminius persuasion who also believe in justification by faith in Christ, emphasize free will. Man has the free will to believe, thereby, ultimately the liberty to choose his master and what he receives as truth. This group also strongly maintains that true salvation is accompanied by outwardly pious works (conduct). However, the extreme in Arminius is that pious living can become the main message, causing an outward reformation to take place that lacks any heart of faith or balanced knowledge of grace (Ephesians 2:8-10). Who is right and who is wrong? Or, are both correct to a point, but if not careful either side can find itself operating in a wrong prideful spirit and the emphasis will change the intent behind the truth, morphing one’s understanding into an idolatrous state as the doctrine becomes the final word and authority in all Spiritual matters.

      What is amazing to me is that when fundamental beliefs are undermined or attacked by what is referred to as Protestant Liberalism, the opposing sides of those who hold tightly to non-essential doctrines stand together as one. The reason is because such Liberalism denies the infallibility of God’s Word, the incarnation of deity, the existence of sin, the virgin birth, Jesus’ work of redemption, resurrection, ascension, and the Blessed Hope (2 Timothy 3:16-17; John 1:1,14; Colossians 2:9; Romans 6:23; 1 John 1:8,10; Isaiah 7:14; Luke 1:68-69; 9:52-56; Romans 10:9,10; 1 Corinthians 15:12-14; Acts 1:1-11; 1 Timothy 4:8; Titus 2:10-15). Liberalism’s inspiration is that of enlightenment, where supposedly man and science are capable of solving the problems of the world (1 Corinthians 1:23-28). It stands under the umbrella of God’s love, while advocating a social gospel of works, ultimately promoting Universalism, where everyone will be saved in the end.

      The other amazing fact about those on the opposing sides of non-essential doctrines is that I have read books and sermons from individuals who were influenced by these diverse doctrines. I can see the different influences crop up in their thinking and presentation, but ultimately they all land on the same runway, the Word of God. Once established on the runway, it is amazing how much they sound alike and come to the same conclusions about established spiritual truths (2 Corinthians 13:8).

      Regardless of our emphasis over certain doctrines, the true Church of Jesus Christ is one body. In spite of these side debates, a born again believer has received the gift of salvation by faith through justification by Jesus’ blood and is adopted into a heavenly family, sealed by the presence of the Spirit of God, placed in the Body, commissioned to preach one message, and entrusted with a high calling. Each member has been predestinated to be conformed to the image of Christ as a means to reflect His glory, and can stand in confidence of an election that is made sure when one avoids becoming barren or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 3:24-25; 8:9-17, 29; Ephesians 1:11-14; 2:8-9; 1 Corinthians 12:12-27; Mark 16:15; Philippians 2:14; 2 Corinthians 3:17-18; 2 Peter 1:3-10).

      I have met various people who had a different take on non-essential doctrines, but it did not matter. We found agreement because we were in love with the same Jesus, enthralled with His Word, and loved to partake of His goodness in sweet fellowship. Such people have beautiful souls that shine forth the glory of God.

      This year I want to challenge people who have strayed away from center, who are pursuing causes rather than knowing God, and trying to piece-meal the Word of God according to theology, to come back to the person and work of God to get your spiritual bearings. Avoid getting caught up with small insignificant debates, and begin to seek the Lord’s face with all your heart in order to ensure you clearly establish in your life and understanding what is important to Him. Allow the Holy Spirit to be the originator and inspiration behind what must be considered vital truths according to the days we live in (John 16:13; 1 John 2:27).

      The truth is we need each other as darkness envelops the world in order to stand against the various attacks against truth. The Bible is clear we need to know God, not know about Him through theology or of Him through pet doctrines, but we need to know Him if we are going to be strong and do exploits (Daniel 11:32).

      We need to remember as individuals that there will be different preferences among the many-membered Body of Christ, but we are all of the same Body and will inevitably move according to the Head (Jesus), and not according to our personal understanding. We have the same foundation and cornerstone; therefore, the one source that will always bring true unity to the Body is the Spirit of God. The one place we as believers can come into agreement is on the Person and work of Jesus Christ. The one thing that can silence debates is landing on fundamental truths of Scriptures, and the one source that puts all matters in the right perspective is a sincere love for God, His Word, and others.

      Next month I will address the sovereignty of God, but for this month I want to remind each believer that God is the center of all matters. He is the way to truth, and the truth about life. He is the real portion we will inherit in the end. He is our all in all and we need to let Him be God, trust Him to be God, and know without a doubt that He is GOD!