"And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all He has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice - the kind He will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him." Romans 12:1 (NLT)
After I finished writing the Guardians and Gates portion of the Paradise Returned study, I couldn't seem to shake the reality that so few seem to understand what is required to enter into God's most holy place. Christianity has become a social club of sorts that anyone can apparently walk into and be a part of. While I want to be clear that all are invited to come to Jesus Christ, the Savior, there are criteria that must be met in order to live a lifestyle that is deemed acceptable and approved in God's sight.
Does our commending of ourselves or of others really affect whether or not one is truly approved?
2 Corinthians 10:18 states, "For it is not he who commends himself that is approved, but he whom the Lord commends."
How does one who is in Christ even become approved before the LORD? Does approval just happen when one is born from above?
In 2 Timothy 2:15 Paul encourages us to, "Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth."
Diligence always requires ongoing activity, so we can easily discern that there is a process that we must be in. One's attention might be a little more alerted if we turn this Scripture around and say it this way: "If you're not diligent to present yourself approved to God and are spiritually lazy, you will be ashamed for you have inaccurately handled the word of truth."
Well what are we to be diligent in? What does a workman even do? Do we really have to live differently than the world to obtain God's approval? Could even the Christian majority actually be completely missing what God defines as Christianity? I'd like to pose some personal thoughts on these questions and more, all via what I have found in the Word.
Today, religious organizations try so hard to just be "inviting" and look like everyone else, there is simply little to no distinction between the world and the religious anymore. For years, I was as guilty as anyone. As a youth pastor, I thought surely the only way kids would ever come out would be if the room looked cool and the environment was inviting. We needed the best sound system the church's lousy youth budget could provide. I'd use my own money to buy paint and other items, just to make everything as hip as I could. We'd have the latest "in" worship songs and I'd even, on occasion, use popular movie clips for my message illustrations. Surely THIS will get them interested, right? Why did I do all of these things? Because, just like every other church staff member I ever knew, I believed that "if we could just get them in the door they'll come to Jesus". Looking back, I sure see that I was greatly ignorant and naïve. What made us stand out? What made us more than just a social club for youth? Sure we'd have prayer gatherings each week, that no one else would come to. Sure, we'd ask for prayer requests… and get updates on Aunt Martha's broken toe. Sure we'd read the Word and I'd challenge them week in and week out… but it NEVER produced lasting change. Why? It was all vain efforts! In our work, in our planning, in our weekly events, we constantly overlooked one simple fact – Jesus, The Christ would be the absolute only One who could produce any eternal results. We tried it all – car washes, free food tables on busy streets, door to door evangelism, Christmas carol singings, public Nativity scenes, youth rallies, concerts, on and on and on…. for what? It was just fleshly efforts producing fleshly results. Good intentions or not, I greatly missed the mark.
Now I know what some of you who "attend church" are thinking… well, not in MY "church". We do "this" and we do "that" and we do it ALL for the glory of God. (sigh) I have been there. I was neck deep in it all. If you had asked me why I did what I did for years, I would have told you the best explanation you'd ever heard. I would have fully convinced you that I was in the dead center of God's will for my role in the "church". But the fact is, I was blind. I was ignorant. I was oblivious to what the Body of Christ was and did not even know the elementary teachings for myself. I was displeasing to God because we were all doing it how WE saw best, instead of how He deemed so. Looking back, I hesitate to even confidently state that I was born again – and I was a leader, a teacher, an example. Was trying enough? Was "just doing our best" enough?
While I know that there are organized groups out there that truly don't desire to get all wrapped up in religion, 99.9% still end up there. It is just what Christians do. It is absolutely understood that if you are a Believer, you "go to church", you help the poor (maybe), you tithe and you attend enough services and programs to be approved, either in the eyes of men or in the eyes of God. Both approaches are gravely in error when done out of such a confused origin.
Who doesn't care what men say and only seeks what God desires? Who hears and heeds what He asks for? Who fashions and forms their "ministry" out of His plans and not out of their own ideas? Few. I don't care how many "church" programs and agendas you can rattle off, you can debunk nearly all of them when you use the Word alone to scrutinize them. Is this harsh? Possibly, but who else is challenging what "normal" Christianity is pushing? I cannot personally remember any ministry that we did within the organized system that was not, at its origin, set in place in order to "get people to church". Outreaches, revivals, concerts, even salvations were all to lead to one thing – church membership. I have seen first-hand that with this mentality, the entire system is flawed.
"Well what do we do then Joel?", you may ask. "We'd might as well just dig a hole and crawl in it!" No my friend, there is something we can do. We can turn back to the Word! We don't need more revivals. We don't need another reformation. We don't need new ideas and new programs. We simply need to return to what God gave us in the first place in His Word. Does the Body not see that It is alive? Do those within the Body see that there is more revelation and truth within Its pages to radically change ones entire life?
It is time we start reproducing Christ, not Christians! It is time we stop passing along religious traditions, doctrines and denominational ideals and reproduce biblically born from above Believers in Jesus, The Christ!
If the Body laid down all of their self-help books, Sunday School planners, VBS curriculums, sermon catalogs, financial courses, discipleship lectures, soul-winning manuals, marriage counseling classes, daily devotionals and pep rally for Jesus conferences and ONLY looked to the Word of God, I truly believe that true Christianity would flood over the entire globe! Let me be completely transparent. You may write this off as prideful if you wish, but please read all of what I'm about to say before you do. For the last three years now, I've consistently had people write me and ask how I understand the Word like I do and how I find what I do within It. You know how? It could not be more simple - I study the Word! The Spirit is my Teacher. Christ is my Head. The Word is my primary Source and Ability – I rarely ever look into any other book, commentary or opinion. I'm not highly educated, nor did I attend college or seminary. In fact, I didn't even excel in high school! It is absolutely all due to the LORD alone! He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him, right? What is the reward? Riches, fame, mega-ministries? No! The reward is knowing Him! The reward is uncovering His mysteries within His Word! The reward is receiving first-hand revelation that no man explained to you. He is our great reward! Some say that I'm close-minded or foolish for not formally "sitting under" others. I say, the more "opinions" I eliminate, mine included, the more likely I am to hear what the Spirit has to say about the matter. This is not contrary to Scriptures that state that there is wisdom in the counsel of others for I don't isolate myself from other godly Believers. While I will never eliminate interaction with others and learning from where they have been or what the LORD is speaking to them, He alone is my primary Source. He is my primary Teacher.
The average Believer simply does not seem to believe that the Word of God can be revelatory to them personally. They have little, if any expectation of Its transformation power. They do not understand that you cannot know Jesus, The Christ intimately unless you are intimately acquainted with the Word. How do I know this? He is the Word! Jesus was what? The Word made flesh! They are completely inseparable. When I sit down to study, It illuminates me! It conforms me into His image! It awakens my innermost being! I move further into who I am in Him each and every time I willingly choose to enter in. Every time, my friend, every time. I cannot get enough. Don't people see? Everything that we need is There! I don't need to run to the latest movement, the latest "in" thing or hear another sermon to know what the LORD is saying! He tells me! Do you hear me? The LORD Himself tells me what He is saying! Why would I ever trade that in for second hand knowledge? Never!
If it sounds like I'm adamant about this, you're quite right. This attitude, this belief, this fervor is what has led me to my next study. It is error to believe that any and all can just approach the holy of holies where God dwells (see Part 2 of Paradise Returned for more). There is criteria to be met. There are stipulations and rules. God is holy and men, in themselves, are fallen, unholy and vile. This is not to say, in any way, that all cannot come to Jesus, the Christ. In fact, coming to Him is the only way to get into the holy place. As the Paradise Returned study examined, He is the only Gate. He is the only Door. It is time we allow Him to tell us what He requires of us. I am addressing those who are in Christ and desiring to worship and know the LORD intimately. Are you willing to look at what He desires and what He deems as acceptable? Man's ways and ideas will not be enough to grant anyone access in. Nor will good intentions, for some of the most self-less, giving, wonderful people that I know know not Jesus, the Christ as LORD.
I am thoroughly convinced, based only on what I see and hear, that the majority of the Body lives Christian lives directly opposed to Hebrews 12:1, which states, "For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near."
The law was only the shadow, the precursor of what was to come in Jesus, The Christ, the anointed Messiah. We are now to live as Christ, subject to what He set in place via His death and resurrection. Those who choose to live according to the shadow (the Law) can never be made perfect. It is says this plain and simple! So why then does nearly every Believer live this way? If you base your success upon how you keep the 10 commandments or efforts of ritualistic worship and service, you don't stand a chance! No one does! We must reside under the covenant of Jesus, the Christ. That is the entire purpose of God's plan of redemption!
Paul seemed to understand this as we see in Romans 8:3: "For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh."
"For, on the one hand, there is a setting aside of a former commandment because of its weakness and uselessness (for the Law made nothing perfect), and on the other hand there is a bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God." Hebrews 7:18 and 19
My question is, how has the Body become convinced that the LORD is actually pleased with all of our fleshly efforts as they live as if they are under the old law? Is there even a way to know what God really wants from His children? Here's a crazy suggestion. Let's allow the Word of God to define three general issues within the Body! First, we'll look at tithing so the offended can just get it over with and move on. Secondly, I'd like to address worship. Lastly, we'll see what the Word says of our traditional Body gatherings.