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This post isn’t about marriage directly. It’s something that a few things (sermon, conversations) have led me to over the course of a Sabbath. To me, it was … something big. Maybe it will be for you. Maybe not. Either way, I’m writing it here mostly so I won’t forget. Because I think this is important.
I’m sorry if this isn’t very polished. It’s 3am and I just had to get this out. So, here we go.
1. For most of us, we don’t really think about our theology
Most of us grow up in a church, and generally stay with the same beliefs we grew up with. Yes, I know, some of my readers will have come to the church from other faiths, or no faith at all, but even then, more often than not, what you first were introduced to becomes what you believe for the rest of your life.
It’s not that way for everyone, but I think it is for a large portion of people.
For myself, I left the church I grew up in, as did my wife. We grew up in the same church and left together. And I’m still trying to dig out some bad theologies. It’s hard not to have them ingrained in you when you’ve been taught them from birth (either physical or spiritual).
But those beliefs must be challenged. We should not assume that the people who came before us were right in their interpretations. After all, they can’t all be right. Ultimately there is one truth that is God’s and no church owns that truth. We must all faithfully seek it, wherever it leads.
However, most Christians will never challenge the beliefs they grew up with. They will blindly accept them, outsourcing their theology to the church, to their pastors and elders, or parents, siblings or friends. Whoever brought them into the church, or brought them up in the church.
When I now look back and examine some of the theology I grew up with, I’m astounded by some of the beliefs they still hold to. They make no sense to me anymore, though I remember rationalizing and arguing for them as a teenager. Though there were many I argued against as well.
2. Sanctification is important, far more important than we generally show in our lives
I had a conversation with a reader last night about justification. Now, for those who don’t know these terms, I will try to explain them as I understand them.
Justification is the concept of that, while we deserve death, destruction and hellfire, our debt has been paid. We are justified. This is the promise of salvation and it comes to a simple choice: The decision to love God. This is a simple yes, or no, state. Do we want to be with God forever? Will we accept Him as our Lord? Would we be happy in a heaven that lasts forever with the constant reminder that we owe our very existence, and everything in it, to God? Sadly, there are a great many people for whom the answer to that is “no”. Sadder still is how many of them sit in our church pews every week.
Sanctification, then, is what comes after that decision. It is the life-long process of becoming more Christ-like. Or rather, of surrendering our will to Christ’s perfect will. Of recognizing that every thought and impulse we have is sinful and evil and that the only way we can be good is to do what God wants, not what we want. It is the building of a character of serving God rather than our own selfish desires and pride. It is a slow transformation that will never be fully realized until Christ’s second coming.
And while justification is all we need to get into heaven, that is the true “pass” as it were, we generally ignore the significance of sanctification. Because throughout our lives, we will be constantly bombarded with temptations that are beyond our ability to resist. It is ultimately only with God’s will that we are able to deny those temptations. However, if we have not built up the habit of living by God’s will instead of our own, if we have not built that character in us, then we eventually will turn away from God in favour of our own pride and selfishness.
And so while justification is what gets us into heaven … is it sanctification which keeps that promise of salvation accepted. Because that is really the only thing we can do in our process of salvation: choose God. We can claim no other accomplishment towards our justification other than that we accepted the gift God freely gives us all. Sadly most will not accept it, and many Christians will reject it before that promise comes to fulfillment.
3. What if we practically thought about some of these theological points on a daily basis?
There are many concepts in Christian theology that remain only that: theological concepts. For most of us Christians, myself included, we do not think about them practically. Here’s the two that struck me this Sabbath:
Spiritual warfare is not only real, it is the world we live in – As Christians, we believe that we are in enemy territory. That from the moment we rise in the morning to the moment we fall asleep, we are under constant battle. But do we think about this on a daily basis? Not really. Because it’s spiritual warfare and we are not really spiritually minded. We say we are, as Christians, as believers, as “spiritual people”, but really we’re not. Some few are plugged into the true vine (Jesus).
I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. – John 15:1-11
While most of us are connected to false vines. We don’t bear fruit, or if we do, we bear bitter, small fruit. Because we’re not connected to Christ directly. We just leech off the edges of a small contingent of those who are really connected. Most of us are doing more harm than good. We are hypocrites and liars showing the world just how fake Christians can be. Most of us really aren’t fighting for God. We’re fighting against Him from inside the church.
It’s sort of like the Matrix:
Morpheus: The Matrix is a system, Neo. That system is our enemy. But when you’re inside, you look around, what do you see? Business men, teachers, lawyers, carpenters. The very minds of the people we are trying to save. But until we do, these people are still a part of that system, and that makes them our enemy. You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it. … anyone we haven’t unplugged is potentially an Agent.
Whether you believe in God or not, believe in Satan or not, if you are not connected to the true vine (Jesus) by having a real, living relationship with Him, then you are ultimately fighting on Satan’s side. We live in conquered territory. This is Satan’s domain. He rules this world, by and large, and we are behind enemy lines.
Furthermore, our own body and mind fight against us.
I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. – Romans 7:15
So that from the moment we are conscious, we are in a spiritual battle. For our every thought is circumspect. And we don’t even realize we’re in a battle most of the time. It’s so subtle we don’t realize we’re in a battle all day, every day. It has become normal and mundane. And so we practice a form of Christianity with is full of high-minded theology with little to know utilization of the real power of God. By refusing to acknowledge the battle, we don’t see the need for God on an hourly basis. And so we passively reject His help throughout the day.
We become Christians who block God from moving in our lives, and ultimately, in the world.
But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy,heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. – 2 Timothy 3:1-5
This verse is not talking about unbelievers, but rather those in the church. Those of us who have an appearance of godliness, who fill the pews, who lead the ministries, who praise and worship … and never let God’s power really work in our lives.
And so we will approach the end of days without God’s power. Without the habit of letting Christ reign in our lives. Without the practice of constant battle. Without the character of submitting to Christ in every decision. And this is what will happen to us:
As the storm approaches [the end times], a large class who have professed faith in the third angel’s message [see Revelation 14], but have not been sanctified through obedience to the truth, abandon their position and join the ranks of the opposition. By uniting with the world and partaking of its spirit, they have come to view matters in nearly the same light; and when the test is brought, they are prepared to choose the easy, popular side. Men of talent and pleasing address, who once rejoiced in the truth, employ their powers to deceive and mislead souls. They become the most bitter enemies of their former brethren. – The Great Controversy, E.G. White, Page 608
This is not the Bible, but I believe this to be a true statement. The majority of Christianity will turn against those who actually exhibit this power in their life. Let’s face it, we see this in the world already.
When we hear of miracles, we are suspicious and really not open to believing. We “know” there must be a scientific explanation. We deny God’s power in the world. Don’t get me wrong, we should be circumspect. Not every power in the world is God’s. There are fallen angels as well as God’s roaming the Earth. But we don’t even give God’s angels a chance to work. We deny His power working in them.
Eventually, Christians who are not tapped into that true vine will resent those that are. They will begin to openly war against them. Not just individually, but as a church. We will see the persecution of real believers by denominations, in the name of God. In the name of love. We see it already starting. The war on Truth is being masked as a war on intolerance. Sadly many churches are fighting God’s truth under the guise of love.
4. What if we took it seriously?
What if we woke up every morning knowing we were going into battle. Not just knowing in a theological sense, but really knowing and believing that we were going to head into a world that is trying to destroy us. I don’t mean just at work, or the stuff on the TV and from the internet. I mean our very bodies being at war with us. That even the members of our church are, unknowingly, largely working towards our destruction.
In that day shall the LORD of hosts be for a crown of glory, and for a diadem of beauty, unto the residue of his people – Isaiah 28:5
Our pastor read the above verse in church this Saturday. Do you realize that almost every time the Bible talks about God’s real believers and followers, it’s a very small portion of the whole? I love how the KJV version puts this: A residue of the people. This often gets translated as the remnant, but I think even a remnant is too big. If a remnant is the piece of the cloth at the end of the bolt, the residue is the fibres left in the bin after the remnant has been removed. My point is: even when you get up to go to church, recognize that this is not a reprieve from the battle. There are no safe havens. Even our mind will try to poison us.
So, what if we woke every morning knowing we were going out into this battle. If we realized that subtlety, subterfuge and infiltration were the biggest weapons of the enemy. If we knew that the worst thing we could do is not even realize what is going on.
The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist. – The Usual Suspects
Would we wake up every morning strapping the armour of God on?
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints – Ephesians 6:10-18
Maybe if we started believing the threat was real, we’d start believing we actually needed this protection. Maybe if we saw the peril we walk into every hour of every day, we’d at least start our days with earnest prayers. Maybe we’d read out Bibles, not because it’s habit or because “that’s what we should do”, but because our usefulness in the spiritual battle depended on it. Because we knew that to not do so would be to walk into a war unarmed. Because without it, we’d have no way to protect ourselves, our spouses, our children.
I wonder if we’d finally start to live out our faith in a real, and practical way.
Tomorrow I’m going to start my day with prayer with my wife, for ourselves, for our children, who will spend the day in a spiritual war they barely understand. What about you?