Grumpy Legalists

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What can turn happy, friendly Christians into a snarling mob? What transmutes a Good Friday Gang into a Black Friday Mob?

Legalism.

What transmutes a Good Friday Gang into a Black Friday Mob? Legalism!

What transmutes a Good Friday Gang into a Black Friday Mob? Legalism!

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The Subnormal Christian Life

So: two kinds of Christian.

The normal – “normal” according to God’s definition, that is – walks in the Spirit, and through His transforming power enjoys a life of miraculous love, joy, peace, and all the rest.

The subnormal – the person who lives by his or her own strength (or as Paul would say it, “in the flesh”). These people might quote Scripture, urge us to holiness, look faithful. They might know some theology terms and Greek words and be highly-educated. They might even be in Christian service. But they cannot attain the normal Christian walk: some live in “traditional” carnality; others in frustration and defeat; or perhaps legalism; or following “principles of success” offered by the world; or devouring self-help manuals; that is, they stumble along in any life pattern that is natural, not supernatural.

So: the Christian life without the miraculous transformation by the Spirit is…what?

Is it driving a car that’s low on gas? No.

A car running on fumes? Nope, keep reading!

A car out of gas, then? Uh-uh, keep going!

It’s a car, better a thing, without gas. Also without motor, drivetrain, radiator, brakes, headlights, mirrors, dashboard, wheels; really devoid of anything that might get you where you need to go.

This sort of person, who doesn’t know the all-consuming permeation and transfiguration of the promised Holy Spirit, is just sitting in a cardboard box of his own choosing and going, “Vroom, Vroom!”

He doesn’t draw an inch closer to God; in fact, he drifts or even accelerates in the opposite direction.

"Lookit me! Vroom, vroom!"

“Lookit me go! Vroom, vroom!”

Gal 5:17 says – “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law” – or really, any version of religious do-it-yourself-ism.

Let’s do the Christian life, in Christ’s way.

[The reader might also enjoy a short book of mine in pdf form – How to Live the Christian Life – in the right-hand column look under “Several of my books, free and without obligation”.]

“The Subnormal Christian Life,” by Gary S. Shogren, PhD, Professor of New Testament, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

Life in the New Covenant, according to Romans

[The following thoughts are taken from my new commentary on Romans in the Comentario Bíblico Contemporáneo, to be published in 2015 by Ediciones Kairós. It is also available in pdf forms as a small book, How to Live the Christian Life – in the right-hand column look under “Four of my books”.]

A “paradigm shift” is not simply coming up with new answers to the same old problems; rather, it involves reworking one’s assumptions and attempting to reframe the questions. For example, the apostle Paul grew up under one paradigm, that the people of God was constituted by the covenant God made with Abraham and the Law given to Moses. That meant that the Israelite was automatically one of God’s own, unless he or she came to reject God’s Law; and that non-Israelites c (more…)

Fake fruits sold here, cheap as they come!

So basically, we can offer you two plans.

Plan A.

The spiritual produce wagon arrives every day, full to overflowing for those who wish to ask the Father. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, and that’s not the complete list; it’s only a summary. They are miracle gifts, planted, watered, grown, harvested, replanted by the Almighty. Just nod your head Yes, the Gardener is standing by.

Or do you imagine we’re speaking about doing some housecleaning, where we clench our teeth to sort through and toss out old behaviors? No – Spirit-gifts arrive come with the power to displace antagonism, condescension, digital addictions, self-abandonment, playing half-on-half-off with Heaven, materialism, both consumerist soft- or Wall Street hardcore. You name the weed, the Spirit knows best how to pull it.

Plan B.

Of course, it’s easy enough to fake that you’re on good terms with the Spirit, if that’s what you want. Just repeat after us as we recite the formulas! Pat a back or two; work one sacrificial act into your weekly lifestyle; count all the way to eleven before you open up to irritation. Repression can be made up to look like peacefulness, hubbub can masquerade as joy. Is that generosity I see, or are you paying off a hungry man so he will let you go? Only an expert can tell the difference! Is it patience, or protocol you follow? Are you self-controlled or only too fatigued to do anything really nasty? Is it unity you promote, or have you withdrawn because you have just stopped caring enough to fight?

Now, when things start to fall apart, don’t come to this desk to complain. We’ll just tell you to relax those facial muscles and for goodness sake, when you clench your fists do it behind your back! Subtler insults, laser-guided gossip, humble brags, use minimal force to split one group into three, erase your browser history after every use. Things can be spiffed up, there are ways and there are ways.

Yum!

Yum! I guess…

But a warning: this plan B is basically a secular way of life, grafted onto a spiritual one. It’s what Paul warned about, that there are people with the mere form of piety, but who deny its power. Eventually this will backfire on you, and the conversion of fake fruit to an evil harvest is not a long or complicated process. (It turns out that the Spirit won’t long invest his time on the self-made Christian, and when he pulls out on your life, things tend to get real messy, real fast.)

Plan B, plastic fruit in a plastic bowl. Plan A, the reality. The choice is yours.

Related Posts:

The Holy Spirit is not limited by our brain chemistry

The Forgotten Sign of the End Times: Icy Relations among God´s People

“Fake fruits sold here, cheap as they come!” by Gary S. Shogren, PhD, Professor of New Testament, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

Should Christians focus on Christ and the Spirit…or only on Christ?

Spiritual believers are Christ-centered, but that doesn’t prevent them from speaking about the Spirit!

Why has it become necessary to say this?

It’s because John MacArthur in his  Strange Fire opines that all Charismatic and Pentecostal Christians remove Christ from the center of the gospel and replace him with Holy Spirit mania; rather, he finds references to the Spirit’s work to be, well, suspicious. [1] For example:

Charismatics want to put the spotlight on the Holy Spirit – or at least their impersonation of Him. But the Holy Spirit desires to put the spotlight on the true person and work of Jesus Christ. As the Lord told His disciples in the Upper Room, the Spirit would be sent in His name, to remind them of His teachings, and to bear testimony to His work (John 14:26; 15:26).

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Frenemies of Christ

Have you met the guy who says:

Yes, I’m a follower of Jesus, but I’m not a “churcher.” I have fellowship with my Christian friends, we pray together, we talk over coffee, we discuss the Bible, we have a commitment to hold each other accountable. These guys are my “church.” And they are more serious than regular church members about their faith. Doesn’t that fulfill God’s expectation that I meet with other believers? [1]

Church: "EVERY-body's invited!"

Church: “EVERY-body’s invited!”

By all means, get together with other believers. Church is not what you do for an hour on Sunday morning. On the other hand, being the church must include a regular, open meeting with all types of believers who draw together at a predetermined place and time. Meeting with a friend requires a special invitation; everyone is invited to the church meeting.

Sociologists and students of brain chemistry have proven that, no matter how broad-minded we think we are, “like” gravitates to “like”. It’s not in our nature to feel comfortable around people of different personalities or education or politics or level of spiritual zeal, and our brain is hardwired to resist diversity. This is why it’s a constant battle if any group survives without breaking into cliques or splitting up. It’s a miracle, literally, how any church can stick together. (more…)

False teaching – a corrosive, toxic, contaminant

This is how false teaching arrives:

A man with a white lab coat and rubber mallet in his pocket protector arrives in order to “heal you.” And just think, you didn’t even know you were sick! Still, after hmms and haws, he pull a bottle of medicine from a pocket, holds your nose and chucks a spoonful down your throat.

At this point, you gag and retch and run to the sink, where you empty your stomach.

“Ah,” says he, “the case is worse than I had thought! A double dose is what you need!”

You swallow, and retch twice as violently as before and drop to your knees.

“It’s obvious that you stand in need of my remedy worse than most. A triple dose is called for!” You choke it down, falling prone on the floor, your face drained of color, wheezing and tear-streaked.

A peddler of strange elixirs, potions which cannot be bought in just any store; he’s a trickster, and he usually charges plenty for his wares – probably money, definitely a chunk of your soul.

Why must we defend true doctrine and reject the false? I hope it’s not just that we can satisfy our own fussiness. I’ve seen those who love to make things “even”, but for their own mental and psychological satisfaction, as Carl Sandburg wrote in a favorite poem of mine:

The abracadabra boys – have they been in the stacks and cloisters? Have they been to a sea of jargons and brought back jargons? They foregather and make pitty pat with each other in Latin and in their private pig Latin, very ofay. Do they have fun? Sure – their fun is being what they are… (http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/238494)

Anal Retentive 5_3True doctrine is not ensuring that our system has all its “t”s crossed and “i”s dotted, nor ducks arranged in order of color and height. Truth speakers need not be pickers of nits or splitters of hairs. Rather, it is making sure that we follow God’s truth and avoid the “teachings of demons” (1 Tim 4:1): the Evil One oversees a factory with round-the-clock shifts, a production line of ideas to draw people away from God. The collection he’s brought out this year is nothing new; they’re old lies, spray painted with this season’s colors. (more…)

My four decades in the Bible – Part I

Congratulate me! I just passed an anniversary – in September 1972 I picked up a Bible, opened it and began to read it for myself.

To be sure, I had grown up in a Bible-believing Baptist church. I went to Sunday School, memorized Bible verses, could recite the books of the Bible. I knew what Revelation was about and the basic plot of many books. I knew what Paul did, I knew who Jeremiah was. In fact, I was known as the “religious one” in my family.

I started my real journey at the same time I had an experience that turned my life upside-down. Although I had professed faith in Christ and been baptized, it was then that I knew that I was a child of God and that he was calling me to be his disciple.

Chapter One – I react against false teaching

Like Pilgrim in the story, I was barely on my way when I met with danger and confusion. (more…)

A Pastor’s Love for the Flock [Studies in the New Covenant]

The first great commandment for the Christian is to love God, the second great commandment to love one’s neighbor as oneself (Matt 22:34-40).

The first great commandment for the Christian pastor is to love God, the second to love one’s neighbor, and especially one’s flock. A pastor must represent Christ to other people, principally in love.

N. T. Wright gives a wonderful 2-minute video on what he wants the next generation of pastors to learn (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lluSgq8sK3E). He gives three points:

1. Know the Bible backward and forward in the original languages.

2. Spend serious time in prayer.

3. Love people. Of the last he says: “…I want you to learn how to love people. Some people [who are pastors] are naturally loving and they may need to learn other dimensions. Some people are a bit shy and don’t quite know how to do it or they don’t terribly like people that much.”

I believe that Prof. Wright would agree with what I’m going to add: that Christian love is not something one picks up naturally, or by learning other dimensions, or (and I say this as a natural introvert) by getting over one’s shyness. Christian love is a supernatural manifestation of God’s presence. This means that it may be experienced only if God is at work, and where God is not already at work, love is a counterfeit:

1 Thess 4:9 – “Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other.” This speaks of God’s inner teaching.

Col 1:3-5, 8 – “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people— the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel…[Epaphras] told us of your love in the Spirit.”

And of course, Gal 5:22 – “the fruit of the Spirit is love.”

Q. Is this person loving? A. There's no way to tell from the picture.

Q. Is this pastor loving? A. There’s no way to tell from the picture.

Despite what our culture insists, love has nothing to do with being an extrovert; it has everything to do with the Spirit’s work in us, no matter our “personality type”.

If it is authentic, Christian love is a miracle. It is on a par with Jesus giving sight to the blind man or the apostles healing the lame man. The path to be a loving person is to admit one’s own weakness and total inability to manufacture agape, and to throw oneself upon God’s mercy.

Those who take the other route will find no power for carrying out God’s plan. Mere courtesy, self-confidence, friendliness, warmth, personality, and – heaven help us all – platform charisma, all of these without the presence of God’s love are an illusion, a sham and a deception. They will serve only to harm your people and cheapen the gospel.

“A Pastor’s Love for the Flock,” Gary Shogren, PhD in New Testament Exegesis, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica