Nothing But the Truth

I spoke today with a new friend. Our conversation centered around the true nature of the gospel, grace, and our freedom in Christ from our sins. It’s a conversation I’ve had a lot lately, and I’ve come to believe there is HUGE misunderstanding among believers about what the gospel really is. I won’t even be scratching the surface, here. Instead, my hope is that God, by his Spirit, will use the following to bring understanding. I pray he’ll do the teaching instead of me…

The Old Covenant Law Was to Point Us to Something Better

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.
– 1 Corinthians 15:56

Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God.
– Romans 3:19

So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith.
– Galatians 3:24

The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming– not the realities themselves.
– Hebrews 10:1a

These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.
– Colossians 2:17

For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.
– Romans 8:3-4

By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear.
– Hebrews 8:13

The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God.
– Hebrews 7:18-19

For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship.
– Hebrews 10:1a

Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.
– Romans 3:20

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
– 2 Corinthians 5:21

He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant– not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, fading though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious?
– 2 Corinthians 3:6-9

Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed.
– Galatians 3:23

But now that you know God –or rather are known by God– how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by [the law] all over again?
– Galatians 4:9

For when we were controlled by the sinful nature, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death.
– Romans 7:5

It is Finished! The Work of the Cross

But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Christ would suffer.
– Acts 3:18

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.
– Colossians 2:13-14

Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.
– Romans 10:4

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.
– Ephesians 2:14-16

For when we were controlled by the sinful nature, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death. But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.
– Romans 7:5-6

But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.
– Galatians 4:4-5

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.
– Romans 8:1-2

For when there is a change of the priesthood, there must also be a change of the law.
– Hebrews 7:12

Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. Such a high priest meets our need– one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens.
– Hebrews 7:22-26

Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. “Everything is permissible for me” – but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible for me” – but I will not be mastered by anything.
– 1 Corinthians 6:9-12

Grace is Not a License to Sin

“Everything is permissible” – but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible” – but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.
– 1 Corinthians 10:23-24

The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
– Romans 5:20-21

Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?
– Romans 2:4

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
– Romans 6:1-4

If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin– because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.
– Romans 6:5-7

Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.
– Romans 6:8-10

In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.
– Romans 6:11-12

We are No Longer Under the Law

But now that you know God –or rather are known by God– how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles?
– Galatians 4:9a

These things may be taken figuratively, for the women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar… But what does the Scripture say? “Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son.” Therefore, brothers, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman.
– Galatians 4:24, 30-31

We also know that law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers…
– 1 Timothy 1:9

For if those who live by law are heirs, faith has no value and the promise is worthless, because law brings wrath.
– Romans 4:14

All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.”
– Galatians 3:10

So, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God.
– Romans 7:4

Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.
– Colossians 2:20-23

But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.
– Romans 7:6

For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God.
– Galatians 2:19

The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, “The man who does these things will live by them.”
– Galatians 3:12

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
– Galatians 5:1b

You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.
– Galatians 5:4

Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.
– Galatians 3:25

But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.
– Galatians 5:18

For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.
– Romans 3:28

For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.
– Romans 6:14

How Should We Live Without the Law?

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
– Galatians 5:22-23

Then Jesus said to his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.
– Matthew 16:24-25

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope– the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ…
– Titus 2:11-13

For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”
– Romans 1:17

This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.
– Romans 3:22

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.
– Romans 5:1-2

The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God.
– Hebrews 7:18-19

Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
– Romans 13:10

So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.
– Galatians 5:16-18

"My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
– John 17:20-23

Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, “The righteous will live by faith.”
– Galatians 3:11

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.
– Hebrews 11:6

The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.
– Galatians 5:6b

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”
– John 15:5

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The Sin of Forsaking Fellowship

Lonely_Bird_by_MsJimmy

As of roughly a year ago, I have quit going to church. Permanently. My reasons aren’t relevant to this post, but it wasn’t a decision that I came by easily or quickly. There were many questions that plagued me throughout the time leading up to my eventual departure, but I wish to inspect one of them in particular: What was I going to do for fellowship?

“Fellowship” is something held in very high regard to Christians. It probably should have been included as the 11th commandment. It goes like this:

“let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some” – Hebrews 10:24-25

Oh, man! I certainly didn’t want to be one of those “SOME people”.

I was troubled: If I were to leave, how would I be able to keep this command? How would I be held accountable in my walk with God? Who was going to be there to correct me when I was out of line? Certainly God, by the Holy Spirit, wouldn’t do this himself! I was terrified that if I couldn’t find a satisfactory answer to this question that I may slip and fall away from the faith. I had heard rumors of Christians that didn’t go to church, though I didn’t really know any of them personally, but I was pretty sure the few I’d met were probably not very serious Christians.

Person after person would plead with me to reconsider. If I had to leave the church I was at, or even take a little break for awhile, then that was partially understandable… so long as I didn’t just give up on church completely. These people were genuinely concerned for me (and still are), and I was genuinely terrified for both myself and my family. The last thing I wanted to do was lead them off a spiritual cliff.

The Edge of the World

Once upon a time, the world was flat. It was full of sea monsters that devoured entire ships that ventured too far, and ships that ventured even further were in an even greater danger; they would fall off the edge of the world.

And so it was with my understanding of Christianity. Attempting to follow Jesus without a Pastor or at least a group of other Christians to keep me in line was almost certain spiritual suicide. I was never to leave the safety of the church’s harbor. Still, I wondered if perhaps there was something else that had become of those ships that fell off the horizon. I had recently been doing a bit of sleuthing of my own, and come across the stories of other ex-church explorers that had not only survived, but kept their faith intact.

And then, one day, I had an epiphany…

I live in a country that permits me the freedom to serve any God I choose in pretty much any way I choose. I can go to a Christian bookstore and buy another Bible for my collection any time I like. I have the freedom to pray in public. I can turn on my radio and listen to Christian-themed music (not usually a fan, actually, but I COULD). I can go online and read the thoughts of an endless sea of Christian authors for free, or watch a favorite preacher on television (again, not usually a fan, but I COULD).

But I compared this to what I know of Christian history in the first century, and continuing even today. People are threatened with violence, but they follow Christ. Their own families turn on them, even seeking to kill them, and still they choose Christ. They are starving, and impoverished, yet still they serve Christ. It seems that in the days of the early church a Christian would be killed, but then two more appear in their place. The Christians, the “little-Christs”, were like an unstoppable force.

And here I was, worried that I couldn’t follow Jesus in an environment where I was completely free to do so. No persecutors, a relatively comfortable lifestyle, a happy and healthy family, and I was scared the sea monsters were going to steal away my faith.

Seriously, what kind of a Christian would that make me?

He’s Either In You, or He’s Not

Imagine somebody told you that he really loved his wife more than anything; that she was the center of his life, his reason for living, and that his marriage was the stuff of fantasy. You ask him, “what’s your secret?”

He tells you all about this club for married men that he goes to every week. In this club all the men talk about how much they love their wives and encourage one another to stay faithful to their wives. He also tells you that whenever someone leaves the club, they end up in divorce. He ashamedly admits that every time he himself lapses in attending to this club, he cheats on his wife.

I don’t know about you, but I’d say this guy doesn’t really love his wife.

But is this how we see our relationship with Jesus? As being wholly dependent on membership to a club responsible for keeping us close to him? I began to see that if I were to stop attending a church service then there were only two possible outcomes. The preferable outcome, of course, would be that I would continue serving him as I always had.

On the other hand, maybe I would in fact cease to follow after him. The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized that if this were the case, then I really wouldn’t have been “falling away” at all. The harsh truth would be that I had never really loved him in the first place. If I were standing there before God, with NOTHING between us, and I walked the other direction to harlot myself away, then I would be exposed as a liar. What would I say in my defense? That other people weren’t there to push me back toward him against my will?

If this was true, then covering it up with a regular meeting would be the WORST thing I could do! I’d be a liar! Worse, I’d be deceived. Ignorance may be bliss, but it certainly won’t draw me closer to the one I claim to love. I realized my weekly meetings may be actually blinding me to my true nature, slowly dulling my senses until I was totally numb to how distant I actually was. If so, I’d be far better off staying at home. At least then I’d have a chance at waking up from the delusion.

Here’s the real question: Who am I when nobody is around? Who am I when nobody is there to “hold me accountable”? This is an important question to explore, because THAT’S the person God sees when he looks at me. He doesn’t care one bit about the carefully curated Sunday image. I may very well be able to fool myself, but he never falls for it.

That One Verse

But still, what about that verse! Remember:

“let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some” – Hebrews 10:24-25

First let me point out that there is way too much made of this verse. I have heard this verse repeated like the chorus of “I Could Sing of Your Love Forever” (maybe that dates me?) You know why it’s repeated so much? Because there really aren’t any other verses to go with it.

One verse.

Not that this makes the verse invalid, but let’s really take a look at it. Temporarily move everything you know about “church” out of your head and look at it with a blank canvas. Now, paint a picture of what it says about HOW we are to meet together. Does your picture include a steeple? A choir? A preacher? If it does, you need to try again. None of that stuff was there. It just says “meet together”, without saying anything about how to do so.

Actually, it doesn’t even say that. It says don’t NEGLECT to meet together. In other words, take advantage of meeting with the believers if you can, but what if you can’t? Were the Apostles in sin when they sat in their jail cells, apart from any fellowship?

This single verse is used as a real guilt trip for those that have, for one reason or another, decided to leave their churches. These people actually tend to guilt themselves, thinking that they are doing something wrong because they’re not obeying a clear command. Despite their best efforts to try and find others in their area with whom they can meet, they are stranded and haven’t made any such connections.

If such is the case, are they NEGLECTING to meet together? It seems to me they are trying, but there’s just nothing to neglect. If the opportunity arose to meet with other believers (apart from all the religious ceremony they’ve decided to leave behind), they would take it. In the meantime, can’t they spend time seeking Jesus on their own without being judged for it?

And besides, is this really even a “command” at all? It seems the author of Hebrews is making more of a suggestion when he uses the phrasing “let us consider”. Furthermore, when taken in context, v.25a is the only portion of the passage that mentions anything about gathering together. It’s really not even part of the bigger point he’s making.

SIDE NOTE: to those that believe a “church” service to be the fulfillment of this supposed command, I would ask that you seriously consider how much fellowship actually occurs during a 90 minute service? With everyone sitting in rows, staring at the back of a sea of heads, and a small handful of people doing all the “ministering” (performing) from a stage, do you really feel this is fellowship?

What is a NEED?

QUESTION: In order to be reconciled to God, I need to have faith in Jesus and (fill in the blank).

Yeah, it’s a trick question. You can’t put “fellowship with other believers” in that blank. In fact, you can’t put anything in that blank. What is it that we NEED in order to be followers of Jesus, other than to follow Jesus? Fellowship with a community of believers is an amazing gift that I should cherish and enjoy when it’s available, and I’d be foolish to NEGLECT it, but it’s not a NEED that will cause me to shrivel up when it’s unavailable.

If my faith relies on something that can be taken away, then I’m relying on things I shouldn’t be relying on. If I’m imprisoned, starving, without a Bible, and without any friends, would I then cease to follow Christ? Even worse, would I blame it on a lack of the things I needed in order to do so? Is it not true that his grace is sufficient for us?

Even among those I’ve met outside of traditional churches, there seems to be this idea that fellowship/community/family/etc is among the most basic necessities of our faith. One of the most common questions I get when people find out I don’t go to church is: “what do you do for fellowship?” It’s spoken of as though it’s water for our soul.

It troubles me that we’ve put this on so high a pedestal. ALL we need is Christ. He is everything. He is our bread, he is our light, he is our portion. If my faith would crumble without fellowship, or a pastor, or even a Bible, then there are idols in my life that I am leaning on instead of Jesus. I need to ask that he take those dependancies away.

But For Those Still Curious…

All that said, I AM personally fortunate enough to be able to gather regularly with some amazing friends. I count this as an enormous blessing; I have spoken to many out-of-church Christians that aren’t so lucky. They desperately long for such a group, but God just hasn’t lined that up for them. These people love the Lord, and have in no sense “fallen away” as a result of being disconnected from local believers.

I remember the time immediately following my own departure from institutionalized Christianity; It was so very bittersweet. I felt God’s hand in a way I never had before as he held me close. In the absence of anything else to lean on, he taught me to lean on him. At the same time, I was very lonely indeed. For a time I was depressed, really. Up to that point, my life had been entirely wrapped up in the church system, so leaving meant I had unfortunately been cut off from almost everyone I knew. It was a confusing season. It was honestly too much to bear at times, but God was there to carry all that I could not.

Eventually God was gracious enough to permit me the company of an incredible family of believing brothers and sisters. They mean so much to me! We get together every week and usually spend anywhere from 6-9 hours together, and sometimes more. These relationships are far richer than anything provided by the comparatively cold meetings of a religious ceremony.

And while I’m grateful that God has allowed me this family, I hold them completely open handedly. They are a treasure, but not a need. God may at any time decide it’s best for them to move along, and best for me to be alone again.

But if this happens, I know that he is still more than enough.