5 Lies, Christians, and Fries

I am wrong. On what? Many things, I imagine. And so are you. Your neighbors, as well. We all get things wrong, being finite and sin-impaired people. Fortunately, the Triune God revealed in Jesus Christ has provided a path to true knowledge, which sometimes must correct our mistakes. Most of what He has to say to us is found in the Bible, written by the apostles and the prophets.

The irony of this revelation is that even the divine revelation itself can be affected by our broken minds, and so there are many misconceptions, bad ideas, and even what might be called “lies” that arise about what it teaches. Here, then, are five popular falsehoods about Christianity I’ve heard repeated and grow very weary of.

  1. All sins are equal. This is an especially irritating lie. Jesus himself is the one I can think of most immediately speaking of people having greater or lesser sin (John 19:11), and greater or lesser condemnation (Matt 11:21-22). In fact, on this matter I can speak with certainty that the Bible says just the opposite. Everything in Scripture shows that some sins are worth greater punishment than other sins are (Luke 12:46-48). The greatest of these is quite obviously the unforgivable sin (Mark 3:28-29). If Scripture were not clear enough, we intuitively recognize the absurdity of all sins being equal if we take it to its natural conclusion. If all sins are equal then the five-year-old who take a candy bar out of the cabinet when he is not supposed to is just as guilty for that action as a man who molests him later that night. God is too just in scripture for such nonsense.
  2. Christianity is a relationship, not a religion. Eh, this is just a silly gimmick. The Bible only mentions “religion” only a few times, and the two New Testament instances off the top of my head say that what we believe is a mysterious religion (1 Tim. 3:16) and that caring for the needy is true religion (James 1:27). The dictionary definition of a religion is simply a system of beliefs usually including recognition and worship of some kind of supernatural power, such as a personal God. Surely we as Christians believe in and worship God! Usually, the point made here is more of an issue of law and grace, or faith and works, but nowhere does Scripture categorize religion with law and works, and relationship with grace and faith. In fact, such Christians rituals as baptism and Communion are altogether characteristic of religion.
  3. My faith is just between me and God. A great number of people imagine that their salvation and sanctification is just a matter to keep to themselves. It’s none of anyone else’s business, right? Not according to Scripture. As John Piper quipped about salvation, “Eternal security is a community project.” The author of Hebrews forbids us to neglect meeting together. Scripture speaks to, of, and for the church, the called out people God, and rarely to individuals. Most of the times the Bible says “you,” it’s plural, not singular. We are constantly commanded to love, edify, help, and encourage each other (Phil. 2:1-4). We are also given the more difficult responsibility of rebuking, correcting, and even judging each other (2 Tim. 4:2, Matt. 18:15-20, 1 Cor. 5:1-13). We are community of faith. Jesus did not die for you apart from dying for us.
  4. Christians should never judge anyone, especially about their salvationUnlike many of these other lies, this one has a Scriptural basis. Matthew 7:1 says not to judge unless you want to be judged. “Case closed!” some people would insist. But as reading to verse 7 makes clear, the prohibition is truly against hypocritical judgment, and once we confront our own faults we are ready to help (in gentleness and love) rebuke our brother. Other texts clearly demand we judge within the church against false teachers (1 John 4:1), between believers and unbelievers in the church (1 Cor. 5:12), and among the believers (1 Cor. 6:1-8). And judgment which is made rightly, not by appearances, is commended (John 7:24). What is key is that all judgment is done with love, wisdom, patience, and faithfulness to Scripture. Judgement that is hypocritical, hateful, prideful, unbiblical, or based on appearances is repeatedly and harshly condemned.
  5. Our great hope is to one day leave the earth and go be with Jesus. For some reason, this is a popular falsehood. So many of us imagine that what we are promised for hope in the Gospel is that we can die and go to heaven, escaping the wiles of this earth, and so live forever with Jesus in the sky. Except this is a radically non-Christian conception of heaven. Our hope as Christians is inherited from the Jews, and their hope was physical resurrection at the end of the age (Daniel 12:2). We will not float around as spirits in an immaterial glory (indeed, being without the body is considered by Paul nakedness in 2 Cor. 5:4), but instead God is working to renew all creation (Isa. 65:17-25, Rev. 21, 2 Cor. 5:17, 2 Pet. 3:13), and one day will complete the act by raising our physical bodies (1 Cor. 6:14, John 6:54, 1 Thess. 4:14). Jesus will reign there physically as King (Isa. 2:4, Ezek. 34:23-24, Matt. 19:28). What God has planned for us is to live on Earth 2.0 with glorified, imperishable bodies, not to escape this world for an ethereal vacation.

Any more obvious, popular bad ideas you can think of in Christianity? Comment about them!

Our Joy, God’s Joy, and Victoria Osteen

In case you missed it, here’s something Victoria Osteen said recently that got everyone into a tizzy:

I just want to encourage every one of us to realize when we obey God we’re not doing it for God — I mean that’s one way to look at it. We’re doing it for yourself, because God takes pleasure when were happy. That’s the thing that gives him the greatest joy this morning…just do good for your own self. Do good because God wants you to be happy. When you come to church when you worship him, you’re not doing it for God, really. You’re doing it for yourself, because that’s what makes God happy.

Naturally, this set off sparks. The reactions can be divided into three easy categories:

  • Osteen is right. Some people defend Victoria Osteen’s statements here by saying she is simply right. God’s intention for us is that we be happy. God has nothing to gain from our lives of worship but to see us become better and more joyful. He is a Father who simply wants His children to live good lives.
  • Osteen is (really, really) wrong. Many of the more conservative Christians in on this issue have responded loudly and aggressively against this supposed heresy. “She is preaching a false, man-centered Gospel!” they will often say. Worship and all of our lives are for God and for His glory. Any benefit we get ourselves is just because God is indeed gracious enough to make us happy along the way.
  • Osteen has (probably without realizing it) touched on a very orthodox truth. Some intellectuals counter both sides by saying that Victoria Osteen has perhaps stumbled upon the important theological point of what we call God’s aseity. This theological word means that God exists in, of, and for Himself completely. He needs nothing and no one can truly provide Him any benefit because He is altogether complete in Himself. So, in some way, all of God’s interactions with man are for man, not God, because God would be perfectly fine without man. His dealings with us, and the worship He prescribes for us, is so that we can enjoy Him, as He has no need for us in order to be satisfied Himself.

Some people fall somewhat outside of these neat categories, but for the most part all of the discussion has taken one of these three points (and really, the vast majority has simply been in the first two). But I think this is all very misguided. Why? Because the question on which this debate hinges, namely, “Do we live righteously and worship God for us or for Him?” is entirely the wrong question. It is utterly inappropriate to address the real issue here. What do I mean by this? Take a couple Scriptures first.

Wives, submit to your own husbands as to the Lord, for the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of the body. Now as the church submits to Christ, so wives are to submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her to make her holy, cleansing her with the washing of water by the word. He did this to present the church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or anything like that, but holy and blameless. In the same way, husbands are to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hates his own flesh but provides and cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, since we are members of His body.

For this reason a man will leave
his father and mother
and be joined to his wife,
and the two will become one flesh.

This mystery is profound, but I am talking about Christ and the church.

Ephesians 5:22-32

Then the Lord said to me, “Go again; show love to a woman who is loved by another man and is an adulteress, just as the Lord loves the Israelites though they turn to other gods and love raisin cakes.”

So I bought her for 15 shekels of silver and five bushels of barley. I said to her, “You must live with me many days. Don’t be promiscuous or belong to any man, and I will act the same way toward you.”

Hosea 3:1-3

This one will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant they broke even though I had married them”—the Lord’s declaration.

Jeremiah 31:32

The recurring theme I’m bringing up here is marriage. Marriage is one very special institution, one which in some very deep way represents God and His people. So I think marriage makes a great way to address the debate currently going on (well, mostly gone by the time I actually post this). What happens when marriage asks, “Is this for him or for her?”

Hopefully, when you saw that question, the absurdity should have struck you. It is ridiculous for someone to assert, “Marriage is for the husband,” or for someone to counter, “Marriage is for the wife.” The love and commitment that define marriage simply don’t roll that way. Marriage is a unique union of mutuality and special relationship that cannot be squished into a one-sided “for him” or “for her.”

Because of this, I think the debate Victoria Osteen sparked is altogether based on the wrong issue. We do not simply do Christian life “for God”, nor is it simply “for us.” We live out a marriage-like relationship with Jesus Christ, which detests such questions altogether and yet turns out to fill us with joy and orient our every act and thought towards God’s joy. So who needs all those “fors” anyway?

As a quick addendum, here’s what I think about what Victoria Osteen was saying. I honestly think she wasn’t completely bad or heretical here. In truth, John Piper says things that are very similar sometimes, but he does it with more theological density and orthodox language. While I don’t like the Osteen ministry or consider either of them good teachers or preachers, this wasn’t the worst offense.