way of life

Christianity Is Not About Moral Goodness

Photo credit: lightstock.com
Photo credit: lightstock.com

We Christians—genuine followers of Christ—need to stop moralizing the Christian faith because this misrepresents genuine Christianity.

We need to quit portraying the face of Christianity as moral goodness. Because representing the Christian faith as moral goodness is just that—a face, a veneer, an appearance of goodness.

If you ask most people to describe Christianity—believer and nonbeliever alike—you'll get a reply related to some form of moral goodness...

"I try to be a good person, who does good things and is kind to others."

But is this what Christianity is all about? No!

A caricature of Christianity

When we try to establish our own moral goodness, we are doomed to failure. We may look good on the outside to others, but inside we'll remain corrupted by our selfish nature. This is what self-righteousness looks like.

It's what condemned the Pharisees. Jesus saw through their religious veneer of goodness and saw into their heart. But they couldn't see past themselves and their form of religion.

Their own religious attempt at goodness was only a caricature of moral goodness.

Outwardly you look like righteous people, but inwardly your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness. (Matt 23:28 NLT)

Our attempt at parading our own sense of moral goodness as the Christian life makes Christianity nothing more than a caricature of the real.

The problem of pursuing moral goodness

No matter how hard we try to be good—whatever the description—we can't change our selfish nature from the outside in. It just doesn't work.

This is what the Apostle Paul spoke of in his epistle to the Galatian believers—

For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. Gal 3:21b

So, what is Christianity?

Over the centuries, Christianity as a religion has morphed into the pursuit of living according to a biblical moral code of goodness. Someone might ask, "So, what's wrong with that?" The short answer is—a lot!

Should we discard any desire for moral goodness? Not at all!

We just have it backward when we see Christianity as living by a moral code of goodness, rather than a trust relationship with God based on faith. When we trust in God and His goodness, He transfers a measure of His goodness into us.

When we try to live by moral goodness alone, we are trapped in a squirrel cage of behavior modification—"Don't do this... do this," and so on.

So... how are we to live?

We are to live by faith (Gal 3:11). Is that too simplistic? Yes and no.

Let's face it, we like a good set of parameters to tell us when we're doing ok, and when we're not-so-ok. It's easier that way... sort of.

When we have a certain code to live by things are defined, right and wrong are delineated and there's no guess-work, if you will.

But a life of faith, like the patriarch Abraham for example, is not so defined. Faith, real faith—an implicit trust in God—is messy. Yet, with God, faith is necessary (Heb 11:6).

The Christian faith as a way of life

At its core, true Christianity is not about a life that follows a prescribed moral code. It's about following Jesus the Christ (Messiah). Of course, it's also not to be a life void of a moral compass.

The issue isn't about moral goodness, but relationship. This becomes easier to see when we look at those God esteems, and as we focus on what God says (the Bible).

Some examples

Abraham was considered "a friend of God" (James 2:23) and declared righteous because he believed—he trusted in God. But he presented his wife Sarah as his sister, not just once but twice, to save his own skin (Gen 12:11-13). So, he wasn't a model of moral goodness.

The Lord called King David "a man after his own heart" (1 Sam 13:14) and chose him to be king of Israel. Yet, he also was not an example of moral goodness, especially with his infamous affair with Bathsheba that cost Uriah, her husband, his life (2 Sam 11).

Even the Apostle Paul, who wrote most of the epistles in the New Testament, denounced his own goodness (Phil 3:4-7 NLT)—

For I am the least of all the apostles. In fact, I’m not even worthy to be called an apostle after the way I persecuted God’s church. (1 Cor 15:9 NLT)

How can we gain an understanding of true Christianity?

What are your thoughts about this? 

What do you think Christianity is all about if it's not about moral goodness?

I'd like to hear from you!

 


The Nature of Encouragement

When you think of encouragement, who comes to mind? Who is an encourager in your life?

What does encouragement look like for you? Words? Actions?

Encouragement can be as simple as a smile and nod of agreement as you share something from your heart. It may be a kind word, sincere gesture of affection, or a timely prayer. 

I've had several people in my life who have been encouragers. I'm thankful to be married to one of them.

Barnabas

There is one person in the Bible, other than Jesus, who was a living example of encouragement. His name is Barnabas. His real name was Joseph, but he was called Barnabas, which means Son of Encouragement. He lived up to his name.

He is introduced to us as the early followers of Jesus formed into a church community. He is an example of the nature of this early community of believers. The apostles (church leaders) gave Joseph the name Barnabas, he didn't name himself. [Acts 4:34-37]

Barnabas was a follower of Jesus, and showed this by example

The early church was torn apart by a zealous Jewish leader named Saul, who would later be known as the apostle Paul.

After Saul (Paul) became a follower of Jesus the Messiah, other believers were afraid of him, including the leaders. They didn't trust Saul and wouldn't accept him as one of them, at first.

Barnabas the mentor

In steps Barnabas. He came alongside this new convert who had proved himself in Damascus where he became a believer.

Barnabas stood up for Saul (Paul). He vouched for him. Because people trusted Barnabas, they accepted Paul. [Acts 9:26-30]

True encouragers are trustworthy

Encouragers see the best in people

Barnabas knew Paul was special, with special gifts as a teacher and leader, and a special calling and purpose in life. When Barnabas was sent to Antioch in response to a great spiritual awakening, he remembered Paul, who was sent to his homeland of Tarsus.

Barnabas knew Paul's gifts of leadership were valuable and needed in Antioch, so he sought him out in Tarsus. (Acts 11:19-26)

Encouragers are humble enough to see past themselves

This resulted in a strong church established as an extension of the primary one in Jerusalem. It is out of this church, which was developed under Paul and Barnabas' leadership, that the first cross-cultural missionaries were sent out.

Barnabas and Paul, as primary leaders, were sent out to preach the gospel, make disciples, and plant churches. (Acts 13:1-3)

Encouragement is an important element in leadership

This partnership produced a great harvest of new believers and new churches. This growth resulted in a need to define what we call the Christian Faith today. (Acts 15) 

Although this partnership continued to have a great impact upon this powerful church body in Antioch, it didn't last.

A dispute broke out between Paul and Barnabas, and this partnership was broken, or so it appears. Why? Because Barnabas wanted to give a young man named John Mark a second chance. (Acts 15:36-41)

Encouragers are messengers of God's grace

Encouragers see beyond themselves

Barnabas is never mentioned in the book of Acts after this incident. Much has been made of this, with some people concluding that Barnabas was wrong in standing up to Paul. But was he?

Encouragers see beyond themselves for the sake of others

In later years, Paul realizes the great value John Mark was to the church. While imprisoned in Rome and writing to the church in Colosse, he says as much, "...Mark the cousin of Barnabas (concerning whom you have received instructions—if he comes to you, welcome him)" (Col 4:10)

Later, as Paul sees his life coming to an end during his second imprisonment, he makes a request. He asks for John Mark to be brought to him in Rome. Why? "Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry." (2 Tim 4:11)

Barnabas, who had stood up for Paul and brought him to Antioch, did the same for John Mark. Had he not done so, would John Mark be useful in ministry? Would the Gospel of Mark been written?

Encouragement is valuable and useful

Encouragement isn't just pleasant words and helpful actions. It can include risking our own reputation for the benefit of someone else.

Encouraging others requires genuine humility

Encouragers reflect the nature of Jesus

Barnabas exemplifies the nature of encouragement. Although Jesus is our ultimate example, Barnabas gives us an example that is reachable.

What was Barnabas' secret? It's no secret at all. He was a true follower of Jesus, filled with the Holy Spirit—the Comforter and Advocate given to believers by Jesus.

Encouragement is intended to be a part of the nature of all followers of Jesus. [see Acts 11:24; also John 14:26; 15:26; 16:7-14]

If you want encouragement, give it away to others

If you want a real-life example consider Joseph, the man called Barnabas, the Son of Encouragement.

Look for someone who needs encouragement today and encourage them!

Thanks for passing the word along ;-)

Expert Opinions and the Truth

Unsplash.com_JApplegate

Unsplash.com_JApplegate

What is it about experts that make us want to hear what they say? Is it their intelligence? Their experience? Their authority or recognition as an expert?

Many years ago I realized a couple things about experts. They are often self-appointed, and too often their expertise is knowledge-based rather than experiential. And, oh yeah, they can be wrong. Sometimes more wrong than they're right.

For example, take the experts in the (Mosaic) Law when Jesus' came. They were wrong, way wrong, but would never admit it. (Mark 2:16-17 GW) They couldn't see past their self-righteousness to see the real need of people, but Jesus did.

I believe we've been held captive by the opinion of experts far too long. (Click to Tweet) For starters, the earth is not flat. Draining someone's blood doesn't get rid of a disease. Humans can travel faster than the speed of sound and run a mile under four minutes.

Experts and Jesus

The experts of Jesus' time, people who should know better than anyone, missed what they were looking for—the Messiah. Why? For one thing, they didn't like who He had as His followers. They also didn't like much of what He did and said.

My definition of arrogance is the resulting combination of pride and ignorance. (Click to Tweet) Sadly, my experience with (so-called) experts has born this out way too often. BTW, I'm no expert.

I can only guess why you would want an expert opinion. The expectation is that an expert will deliver an authoritative and true opinion. But alas, opinions are opinions, regardless of who gives them.

Jesus had real authority and He spoke truth, not opinion, and His view of discipleship was simple and practical. (Click to Tweet)

Jesus had real authority and He spoke truth, not opinion

An expert example

A considerable amount of books, pamphlets, and messages on discipleship have been generated over the years. All try to capture the essence, purpose, and value of discipleship.

One book I can recommend is The Master Plan of Evangelism, by Robert Coleman. It is a classic and well worth the read.

One of the simplest views of Jesus' model of discipleship can be found in Paul's epistle, 2 Timothy in Chapter 2. Here is where I find the essence of discipleship. Not so much a how-to plan, but a process. Discipleship is an ongoing process. It's a way of life.

Discipleship has a beginning but ends when we see Jesus face to face (1 Cor 13:12).

Where do we start?

The foundation for all true discipleship is God's grace—His kindness poured out for all humanity through Jesus.

My child, find your source of strength in the kindness [grace] of Christ Jesus. (2 Tim 2:1 GW)

The foundation for all true discipleship is God's grace

How does the process of discipleship begin?

First, we need to become a disciple and follower of Jesus.

We need to be faithful and consistent in our personal relationship with Jesus, and our relationships with others.

Then we are to pass onto other followers of Jesus what the Lord has worked into our lives. How has Jesus worked His life and truth into your life? This is what we are to share with others.

You’ve heard my message, and it’s been confirmed by many witnesses. Entrust this message to faithful individuals who will be competent to teach others. (2 Tim 2:2 GW)

We need to be faithful and consistent in our personal relationship with Jesus

What is the primary message?

The essential gospel should always be the basis for sharing our faith with others. The essential gospel, as I wrote about in my book, is simply— He (Jesus) came, He died, He rose. Here' one way Paul expressed it—

Always think about Jesus Christ. He was brought back to life and is a descendant of David. This is the Good News that I tell others. (2 Tim 2:8 GW)

The essential gospel is always the basis for sharing our faith with others

How can we be ready?

How can you and I be ready at all times and anywhere to share the gospel in our own words? And how can we share what the Lord has worked into our own lives?

We need to know the truth of God's Word ourselves. How can we share with others what we don't have a firm grasp of ourselves? (Click to Tweet)

Do your best to present yourself to God as a tried-and-true worker who isn’t ashamed to teach the word of truth correctly. (2 Tim 2:15 GW)

We need to know the truth of God's Word ourselves

Two essential elements

In a previous post, I asked— What are two essential elements of true discipleship? Discipleship the way Jesus did it needs to be both relational and intentional.

It begins with our own personal relationship with Jesus and continues through personal relationships with others.

Discipleship requires commitment on our part. We need to be intentional and faithful in discipling others, even when the results aren't encouraging (see Matt 15:15-16 NIV). (Click to Tweet)

Discipleship the way Jesus did it needs to be both relational and intentional

How? That brings us back to the beginning—being strong in God's grace (2 Tim 2:1).

Discipleship is an ongoing process, not a task to accomplish. It's an intentional, continuing relationship with Jesus and others. (Click to Tweet) Discipleship is a way of life.

Who's in Command?

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lightstock.com

The movie "Captain Phillips" presents a comparison of leaders in command (an American and a Somali) plunged into a tense struggle for survival. A great contrast is seen between the American captain and the Somali warlord, of whom we only see a glimpse, in how they handle their crew.

The captain understood his role, yet cared for the welfare of his men and ship. The warlord intimidated his crew and used people for his own gain.

Solomon reminds us that a person's character is revealed by how they treat people, and even animals (Prov. 12:10).

Servant leaders

Another genuine man-in-command was finally awarded the Medal of Honor for his valor and care for his soldiers. It took four years to be recognized.

Why so long? He spoke the truth and it cost him.

This last example personifies the type of leaders God desires for His kingdom. People who are willing to lay down their lives for others and who uphold the truth.

Of course, this is what we see in Jesus. Many Bible quotes could be given, but I'd prefer you'd discover these on your own by reading the gospels.

Jesus is the epitome of the true servant leader. He knew His role and He showed His great love for His followers, including all humanity.

As far as command, Jesus would be a general, not a captain.

Jesus is the epitome of the true servant leader

But what about those of us who are not generals?

A leader of leaders

Our classic example, after Jesus, is the apostle Paul. Stripped of his role and authority as a defender of the Jewish faith, he was humbled and set aside for a time (Acts 9:1-9; 26-30). Then God raised him up as a leader of leaders.

This is seen in his admonition to Timothy, his son in the faith—

Timothy, my dear son, be strong through the grace that God gives you in Christ Jesus. You have heard me teach things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses.

Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others. (2 Tim 2:1-2 NLT)

The text above is what's in my heart for the ministry of Word-Strong because discipleship is more of a way of life than anything else. This is what we see with Jesus and His followers.

The idea is not just teaching and training to raise up leaders, but mentoring people who also mentor others.

Great leaders teach, train, and mentor others who also mentor others

This is what Jesus refers to by calling Himself the Vine—

“I am the vine. You are the branches. Those who live in me while I live in them will produce a lot of fruit. But you can’t produce anything without me. 

You give glory to my Father when you produce a lot of fruit and therefore show that you are my disciples. I have appointed you to go, to produce fruit that will last...." (John 15:5, 8, 16 GW)

Results or relationship?

We, generally, focus more on results than the development of our relationship with the Lord. Next week, I want to look at what is vital and essential for discipleship the way Jesus made disciples.

Based on what Jesus says in the text above, what do you see are two vital elements of discipleship?

Keep in mind, the Lord is far more interested in the process of being a disciple than what results from it.

The Lord is far more interested in the process of being a disciple than results

Can our priority for discipleship match the Lord's? Of course... if we're willing to see what the Lord sees as essential to discipleship.

What do you think are two vital elements of discipleship?

3 Observations and Truths About Discipleship

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When I returned to my home culture after fifteen years overseas, I knew something was missing. At first, I couldn't put my finger on it, but I knew a significant shift took place.

It wasn't one specific thing, but an accumulative process that brought this shift. "What happened," I wondered?

It wasn't so much what happened as what didn't happen—personal, intentional discipleship within the church.

Something missing

My first indicator was a general biblical ignorance. This was puzzling. More biblical teaching was available, in more ways than when I moved overseas (1990).

Resources for biblical studies had multiplied, through books, audio, video, and online products. There was plenty to choose from and yet, the consumer-oriented American Christian wanted more of it.

But with all that was available, something was missing.

Was it a lack of community? Leadership? Commitment? Yes to all the above and more. But why?

A pattern

It finally dawned on me that what was common in the '70's and 80's was lacking in the new millennium.

Intentional, relational discipleship was a primary element of the Jesus People Movement of the late '60's into the '70's. It was a natural, organic element embedded into the movement by God.

It didn't just happen by itself, but it wasn't a well-outlined curriculum or program. That came later.

This seems to be a pattern with us humans.

The wrong thing was replicated

God does something sovereign and dynamic, then we try to systematize it. We try to codify and quantify it—axioms, rules, and numbers—in order to replicate it. In doing this, we end up stifling whatever God did or is doing.

Discipleship, as Jesus modeled, is a process of replication that reproduces disciple-makers. It should never be reduced to a program.

The human effect turns a movement of God into an institution.

We try to organize the spiritual dynamic or life of the movement, which quenches the river of life God sets in motion, by attempting to channel or contain it.

“My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water." (Jeremiah 2:13 NIV)

Not a spiritual growth program

Discipleship is not a spiritual growth program. 

It's not a follow-up or aftercare program for those who've said the sinner's prayer.

Discipleship is the natural progression of evangelism. They aren't synonymous, but they aren't separate either. Robert Coleman's classic book, Master Plan of Evangelism, makes this clear.

This isn't rocket science, as they say. A person doesn't need a degree nor professional training to be a disciple-maker. Nor does a disciple-maker need a title or official role.

Yes, a disciple-maker needs to be grounded in the truth of God's Word and led by God's Spirit, but they don't need a certificate to make them an authorized disciple-maker.

3 simple observations

  1. Discipleship is not a cognitive skill to be learned or taught—it's a way of life.
  2. Discipleship is a life with purpose—that purpose is revealed in the process of discipleship.
  3. Discipleship requires some type of challenge to pursue the goal—the goal is following Jesus and being transformed by the Holy Spirit.

3 simple truths

  1. The Lord Jesus saw discipleship as an intentional, relational process. It's not a phase, but an integrated whole. Discipleship involves following Jesus with a community of believers—Matt 16:24; John 8:31-32; Acts 2:42-47.
  2. Discipleship is the pastoral responsibility of the church. Not the institution or corporation, but the community of believers under the Lordship of Jesus, as led by the Holy Spirit. This is made clear in Ezekiel 34:1-24, and by Jesus in John 10:7-16.
  3. Discipleship is a community-based process of sanctification. This is shared pastoral care among a community of believers. It's not relegated to one leader or a select group of leaders, although leadership is important. It is a shared commitment of each believer to one another—John 8:34-36; Acts 4:32-35; 2 Corinthians 5:17-20.

This is not all that can be said about the subject, far from it!

Do you need more insight on any of the 3 observations or truth above? Let me know!

But, it's my hope these simple, brief observations and truths help confirm whatever God may be stirring in your own heart.

So... What is God stirring in your heart about discipleship and following Jesus?

Let me know, and thanks for reading and sharing this post!

This is an edited & updated version of an earlier post— 3 Simple Observations and Truths