The world seems overflowing with rationale these days. With the arrival and escalating popularity of therapy, with enough counsel and research, any deficiency society used to deem a “weakness” or a “sin” is given a clinical name and declared a “sickness”. The difference? Accountability.
People who are sick get “treatment” because their ‘illness’ is not something they can help by consciously adjusting their behavior. I am certainly not supposing that there is no such thing as sickness - though I do believe we cause a good deal of it on our own through undisciplined behavioral methods. If you do not think this to be true, read Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28 with regard to the rewards for obedience, as well as the rewards for disobedience. The problem, at least in part, with the ‘sickness’ philosophy, is that oftentimes this idea that something can not be helped without assistance gives people the impression that they’re under no obligation to “fight” the illness because they can simply argue, “Well, it’s how I was made, so God must be ok with it. He understands.”
I do believe He understands. But there is a difference between patience and acquittal. And on our end, there is a difference between failure, and apathy. Though I believe that God rewards disciplined achievers according to their contribution (reference The Parable of the Talents), what God, I believe, is most concerned with is effort. Declaring that all unsavory behaviors are an illness, and therefore no fault of our own, means we all have excuses to do all the evil we want with complete immunity. After all, it’s not our fault.
In order to structure this properly, our first step must be defining what a Christian is. If we don’t start with that, there’s no real foundation to build on at all. A Christian, in the simplest of terms, is “an individual that follows Christ”. Or to translate the word specifically, it means a “Christ-man”, or “man of Christ” (the gender is interchangeable). So what is a man of Christ? What is a Christian? Or for that matter, what is a Muslim? A Buddhist? A Taoist?
These labels that we live by describe and define (or at least were initially intended to) a method by which we live. A method of belief, for all intents and purposes, should translate to a method of behavior. If it does not translate, the fact is, whether we like it or not, we are not what we claim to be.
Now, if one chooses to live by that label (at least in the Christian sense, as that is the only one I am intimately familiar with), that label is all encompassing. In other words, if one claims to be a Christian, but goes into the Bible and begins to pick and choose:
“Well, I’m cool with not lying - that one I get. And I’m definitely not going to steal anything, so I’m with you on that one Lord. But I gotta tell ya, I’m not really feelin’ it on this adultery thing. Now I know you’re telling me that’s a no-no, but my wife and I kind of have an arrangement, and I gotta say, I’m kind of a lustful cuss, and I’ve always been that way, so I’m thinkin’ you tossed that in there, so I’m gonna slide on that one. But I’m with ya like 90% of the way...”
Stop. Wait. If you look at what was just said, you may have uncovered your thorn. Christ dealt with this, I believe, in a very specific instance.
Matthew 18:18 Now a certain ruler asked Him, saying, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 19 So Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. 20 You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not bear false witness,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother.’” 21 And he said, “All these things I have kept from my youth.” 22 So when Jesus heard these things, He said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” 23 But when he heard this, he became very sorrowful, for he was very rich.
It is perhaps wise here not to note so much the commandments Christ listed, but rather the commandments He did not. I do not necessarily know why He did it this way. Perhaps He was attempting to allow the man to determine on his own where he had gone wrong. Based on the man’s response, Christ listed all the things that the man already did correctly.
So what was left out? Curiously enough, all the commandments left unsaid seem to have a very common thread. Christ did not mention commandments 1) Do not have any other gods before me. 2) You shall not make for yourself an idol. 3) You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God. 4) Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. AND 10) You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
Why would Christ declare such a seemingly random list? Why would He deliberately list commandments 5 through 9? Knowing Christ does nothing without purpose, there had to be a reason He listed the specific commandments.
If the commandments Christ deliberately did not list are the ones this man was guilty of, then the man appears to have been money and possession obsessed. At the very least, he worshipped some kind of idol he was unwilling to give up. It is probable that he worked on the Sabbath Day. It is also probable that he used God’s name in improper context. Though he didn’t “steal”, he certainly desired that which was not his, which means he probably had a competitive spirit. The specifics of these things are of course my speculation, but nevertheless, Christ deliberately left them out, so I don’t think it a tremendous leap to assume that all these things in one way or another led back to one irrefutable fact: this man loved his wealth more than he loved God. And this, perhaps above all else, is a breach of the first commandment. His wealth was his idol - his thorn if you will. The man gleaned his self-worth from his worldly accomplishments.
It is also interesting to me that the man obeyed exactly half of the Ten Commandments. Or in other words, he was comfortably half-committed to serving God.
Many times in my own life, I find (when I’ve committed sin) myself justifying my bad behavior by listing all the things I do that are good. “Well, I’m not a rapist. I don’t kill people. Sometimes I lie, but that’s a small one comparatively. I spend most of the day doing what’s good for me, but I still do my daily hour long Bible study. That’s more than most people do. I’d say I’m a pretty good servant.”
But these things that I do well; these things that I am obedient in, are usually things that come naturally to me. And simply doing what comes naturally, or easily to us is no different than any other beast of the field. It is no great feat of obedience, or servitude. It is truly half-committed at best. If you have a natural affinity for telling the truth, what accomplishment is it of yours to not lie? On the other hand, if your tendency is to lie with every breath you take, and you spend your life working and working and working at it because Christ has told you it is not something that is acceptable in His kingdom, and by the end of your life you lie, say, half as much as you did at the start - well, then that is progress.
What Christ tells this man is to rid himself of the one thing he could not let go of. He laid out for him the single thing that divided him from his Lord. He would ask the same of any one of us, I suspect - as it is this single thing, whatever it may be, that ultimately divides us from God.
So what does God think of the half-committed? How does He feel about those that never really go to any great lengths to please their Lord at their own expense? How well can one use a servant that only does what he or she is comfortable doing?
In Revelation chapters 2 & 3 Christ addresses the positive and negative qualities of seven churches. It is my belief that every church, and every individual, regardless of the named denomination over the door, falls into one of these seven categories.
When addressing the church of Laodicea in chapter 3, Christ had this to say:
Rev. 2:14 And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write: ‘These says the Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the beginning of the creation of God; 15 I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot; I would rather you were cold or hot. 16 So then because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue you out of My mouth.
It is quite clear from this text how God regards the half-committed. He declares them to be “lukewarm”; ineffective; tepid. He views them as vomit - as something He wants to purge Himself of; of something His body quite literally rejects. But there’s more here. He not only tells us how He regards this kind of person/church, but informs us also on how these people view themselves.
Rev. 3:17 Because you say, “I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and know not that you are wretched, and miserable, and poor and blind and naked.
God speaks of a tremendous self-deception here. He tells us the difference between how these people view themselves, versus how He sees them. There’s just one problem - our view is a “perception of our reality”, while His view is our true reality.
This, I believe, is the problem with the new “positive thinking” mindset of the modern church. It is all well and good to observe what we do well. In fact, we should do more of what we do well for Him. But it is perhaps of equal or greater importance to understand where we fall short when it comes to pleasing God.
And as a secondary consideration to these verses, please note that monetary or fleshly wealth does not necessarily mean that God is pleased with you. Or, on the opposite side of the coin, poverty does not mean He’s angry at you.
We can see a perfect example of this in the Church of Smyrna addressed by Christ in the 2nd chapter of Revelation.
Revelation 2:8 And unto the angel of the church in Smyrna write; These things saith the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive; 9 I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan. 10 Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life. 11 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.
It is important to note that Smyrna was one of only two of the seven churches addressed that Christ found absolutely NO FAULT with. Yet He states that they were materialistically poor. I think it clear by these examples that material wealth has little or nothing to do with reflecting the blessings of God.
So don’t make the mistake of saying, “Well, I have two cars and a house, and this poor economy thing has affected a lot of other people, but my business seems to be going good.” , and thinking that means you’re in good standing with God. This is not the Litmus Test you should be living by to discern how pleased God is with you.
The country of China is extremely wealthy at present, and they wholly and definitively run God out of their country every chance they get. If a godless nation is extremely wealthy, then a “state of wealth” can not automatically equal or declare God’s pleasure or displeasure with a particular nation or individual.
So the new powerhouse churches preaching the “prosperity doctrine” all the time as a means of discerning God’s blessings upon an individual, still have some explaining to do - just ask Job about that one. I’m sure he’d be happy to tell you how off kilter that particular concept can be. The Secret, and other literature of a similar nature are about manifesting SELF, while Christians are to be about manifesting GOD.
Rev. 3:18 I counsel you to buy of Me gold tried in the fire, that you may be rich; and white raiment, that you may be clothed, and that the shame of your nakedness does not appear; and anoint your eyes with eye-salve that you might see.
God is not speaking here of physical things. He is not speaking strictly to those who are “blind” in the flesh. Why would that matter to Him? He just spoke of those that think they have need of nothing. Do you think you would feel you “had need of nothing” if you knew you were blind? Do you think you would believe you “had need of nothing” if you had no clothes to put on? Of course you wouldn’t. So I think we can safely assume here that God speaks strictly of spiritual things. The reason these people believe they have no need of anything is because they don’t know they’re spiritually blind; they have no idea that they stand naked in their spiritual condition.
Just as the man Christ spoke to in Matthew 18, they focused on the things they did well and allowed their own pride in those things to blind them from the fact that there was still work to be done. But when Christ came along and called his attention to what he was lacking, he sulked away, unprepared to change anything - and this exposed his true idol.
We should understand what we do well, just as the rich man did. We should absolutely go to Christ and say, “Lord, what do we need to get into Heaven? What do we need to work on for you?”
But where we should differ from this man is in this: When Christ answers our inquiry, we are not to sulk away with our heads held low, disappointed that there’s more work to be done. Instead, we are to rejoice. We are to rejoice in the fact that our Lord has taken the time to counsel us on how we might be better servants. We are to rejoice in the fact that He has called our attention to things we’ve missed that separate us from the love and blessings of God. We should be zealous in our reply and respond with, “Yes, Lord! I will get on that right away!”
And in this response, He is pleased. That’s the beauty. It doesn’t matter how many times we try and fail. Our Lord cares little for whether or not we ever reach perfection - He knows we will not. He cares deeply, however, that we continue to get up and try. And that we do it because we love Him and wish above all else to please Him.
Do not assess your position with God by your accomplishments. Do your best to assess it (if you need to) by your efforts; by your constant seeking to draw closer to Him. Because here is His promise, and you should take it to heart.
Rev. 3:19 As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.
Be ZEALOUS! Be encouraged if you suffer tribulation when you veer off of God’s path. If this is the case, He is actively involved in your life, and He is calling you back. HE LOVES YOU! On the other hand, I might be concerned if I was getting away with some pretty dastardly deeds without repercussion. It might beg the question, “How does God view me right now?”. You may have at this point ventured so far off the beaten path that He’s not really bothering with you at this point. He’s pretty much left you to your own devices until you get your act together and find your way back on your own.
From a child’s perspective, which would bother you more: a parent that punished you for your transgressions, or one who has simply given up hope and taken the position of “why bother? It doesn’t do any good anyway.”
I know this is a weighty subject. But as always, with God, there is hope. There are things to rejoice about. God understands our plight. He knows the struggles we have, and as long as we continue to war with these things that seek to divide us from Him, He is there with us and will never let us go.
Rev. 3:20 Behold I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear My voice and open the door, I will come in to him and will sup with him and he with Me. 21 To him that overcomes will I grant to sit with Me in My throne, even as I also overcame and am set down with my Father in His throne. 22 He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says unto the churches.
In conclusion, take time today to observe those things you feel are in yourself that might be out of God’s Way. Ask Him for clarity on what might be keeping you from getting closer to Him. He’s knocking. All you have to do is answer. Ask yourself what parts of Scripture you’ve been avoiding, or rationalizing, or altogether ignoring because they’re the uncomfortable parts - the parts that will take the most work and adjustment and change on your part; the part of yourself that needs to be sacrificed that will truly test your commitment and servitude. After all, didn’t He sacrifice enough for us?
Remember, if Christ says it, if it’s in The Word, it is to be obeyed. Stick with that rule and seek a greater knowledge of His Word that you might be more obedient and live a life closer to Him.
As I said before, if you do that, it makes no difference how many times you fail. All you need do is stand up, brush the dust off, repent, and get back to work. And with that, He counts you as perfect because your love is sincere and without exception. Then you are truly one of His.