I didn’t like it. I’d spent the night before wondering what type of complaint about my Bible study had instigated my requested appearance. The ensuing conversation didn’t exactly clear things up.
Me (trying to appear open rather than defensive, hoping that by some infusion of the Holy Spirit I’d actually be open and not defensive.): “So, you’ve received a complaint about my Bible study on Revelation?”
The pastor smiled reassuringly. “I’m sure we can clear it up right here.”
I exhaled a little. “What’s the nature of the complaint?”
“Well, a couple participants don’t like that you’re asking people to apply the scriptures to their lives. They said you’re not just covering the material; you’re asking people how it might change the way they live.”
I experienced a mild disorientation. “And the problem with that is . . ?”
“Don’t do what?”
“Expect people to change the way they live because of our Bible studies. We find that more people attend if we keep them light, informational, and focused on the Bible as ancient literature.”
“That’s right. Our congregation is sophisticated and highly educated. In fact, I’ve been concerned that you aren’t offering a broader perspective on Revelation.”
“A broader perspective?”
The pastor slid a large, shiny book toward me. “Oh, yes. I’m hoping you’ll incorporate the cutting edge theory of this biblical scholar.”
I scanned the back cover. “What is his unique perspective?”
The pastor beamed. “It’s fascinating. He believes that the apostle John wrote Revelation during a schizophrenic break.”
“Yes! Isn’t that intriguing? I knew you’d understand!”
I didn’t. Not then.
I’m getting the picture now, though.
This conversation occurred over a decade ago. I left that church (a mainstream denomination) not long after this enlightening conversation, but not before experiencing my first giant dose of aggressive spiritual license. Proponents of the notion that every person’s perspective on faith is to be accepted and respected, except the person whose experience includes absolutes or any sense that people following God are called to transformation (unless they want to be transformed and only in the manner they envision being transformed.)
These people talk about Jesus. Sing about Jesus. Read words about Jesus. Seem wholly enthusiastic about Jesus. They just don’t think Jesus has any relevance to their daily lives, and He certainly has no power to influence their character, decisions, or actions.
But, they believe He does tell a great story! They think it’s good for kids, of course, to hear about Jesus and learn to be nice, to share, and to sit quietly for the length of a service.
Good people encourage good works in others, and Jesus did kind things like heal people, forgive hookers, and feed people. In their translation of reality, Jesus made people feel good and they like that – that feeling good thing.
“What,” I asked, “do you imagine happens to people who refuse to accept Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for their sins?”
She considered it for a moment before brightening with the answer, “I think that God makes them feel really bad for the things they’ve done.”
“If that’s the case, why did Jesus endure the suffering of the cross?” I asked.
She shrugged. “He was just nice like that.”
We live in the days of the people mentioned in 2 Timothy 3:5. People “having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.”
I think it’s wisdom to appreciate that we live at risk of becoming “those people,” too. We’re surrounded by rhetoric that sounds godly, that invokes the name of Jesus, that has the appearance of compassion. But, too often, it’s based on the type of good feeling and intention humanity can muster with its own effort.
Humans can certainly manufacture a measure of love and compassion, but it’s more akin to “Christmas spirit” than to the deep, abiding love available in Jesus. It’s a seasonal version of Jesus’ love and tends to wither in the face of winter’s cold.
His presence in our lives, however, inspires an effective godliness. It’s a godliness that requires spiritual growth, character change, acknowledgement of and repentance from sin. That’s sin that God determines, not the sin of making someone else “feel bad.”
It’s an ever-present temptation, no matter how much we’ve grown or changed, to imagine there are character weaknesses, sin habits, or personal failings that can’t be changed by applying the biblical truth and growing in Christ. It’s especially tempting when we’re faced with a stubborn problem we’ve still failed to consistently conquer.
But, the truth doesn’t change. We can, though. We can grow to be more and more like Jesus every day of our lives until glory. Our goal isn’t to “look” more like Christ, but to be more like Christ. Our transformed lives testify to the power of the gospel we preach.
We should avoid those who hold to a form of godliness, but deny its power. We should also avoid being joining them, those transformation deniers.
Press on, loved ones. Believe the Holy Spirit. As you press into Christ, it will be harder and harder to avoid the transformative truth.
— Lori Roeleveld (@lorisroeleveld) April 28, 2017