by Mike Genung
“I think that we were given the scriptures… not so that we could prove that we were right about everything. It was to humble us into realizing that God is right and the rest of us are just guessing.”
In the book of Job we watch Job, a man who was righteous in God’s eyes, get his belief system blown apart. Job thought that if we do good things, only good things will happen to us. The horrific pounding he got from Satan turned all that upside down.
At the same time, Job’s three friends believed that that if bad things happen to us, it’s because we sinned. Their world was turned upside down when God came on the scene and confronted them for their error.
Today we have what I’ll call the Christian-isms – evangelical-ism, Calvinism, Armenianism, Catholicism, charismatic-ism, and pentacostal-ism, to name a few. Each of these isms attempts to package God’s word a certain way. The problem is that God can’t be packaged.
For example, read this text:
Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times ?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. “When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. “But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. “So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.’ “And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt. “But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ “So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you.’ “But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed. “So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened. “Then summoning him, his lord said to him, ‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. ‘Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?’ “And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. “My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.”
Now, immediately, several of the –isms will jump in and say something like this: “since the first man didn’t forgive his fellow slave and then ended up in the hands of the torturers (hell) then he was never really saved.”
But if you look hard at the entire story that won’t hold water. Peter, the one who knew Jesus was the Son of God, starts by asking Jesus how often he should forgive his brother. The first slave was forgiven of his entire debt. If that’s not a Christian then I don’t know what is. And then Jesus finishes the story with a warning that whoever doesn’t forgive “his fellow slave” will experience the same consequences as the man who didn’t forgive.
When I unshackle God’s word from the isms and allow it to stand on its own, it strikes fear in me, the believer. I know I need to take this warning seriously and act on it. I’m reminded of people I might be bitter towards and the need to “release them” as the master did.
The Bible calls wisdom the fear of the Lord. When God convicts me head-on over my sin, I’m forced to look at my heart and confess the ugly bitterness within, and then I cry out to Him for mercy to help me to do that which I don’t want to do, such as forgive another. The Bible calls this humility, the kind that makes me a recipient over and over again of His lavish grace, and then He equips me to do that which I can’t.
But if we allow the isms to get in the way of what God wants to do in His word, some will think “hey, that passage is for unbelievers, those consequences could never happen to me,” and the power of God’s word is diluted by man.
Let’s look at another section of Scripture:
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.
1 Corinthians 6:9-11
When I was in bondage to sexual sin, these verses used to make me squirm. I just couldn’t make my lust and sin soaked life and my Christianity square with these verses. There were many times I wanted lust more than I wanted God. Over time my squirming turned into the realization that I could not, must not, compromise with sexual sin any longer. It was from that place where I finally got on a path of getting serious with my sin.
What I take from the 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 is that we can’t have sexual sin and the Lord; we have to choose which one we want and go for it with all we’ve got.
If the isms would package less and let the chips of God’s word fall where He wants them to, we’d have more of the fear of the Lord in the church today. Perhaps there would be a bigger and more desperate need for repentance. False comfort is a dangerous thing.
So is man-made condemnation.
At the beginning of this article, we saw how God blew Job’s theology away. God has been “blowing my “theology” away for years now, and most of the time it’s with His incredible grace and love. When I’ve expected condemnation and/or Him to be ultra-harsh, condemning and punishing, He’s showed up and flooded me with kindness that I neither expected nor deserved. Often times it was just after simply confessing the truth: that I’m bound up in my sin, royally screwed up, and desperately need His help and forgiveness.
“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, And do not return there without watering the earth And making it bear and sprout, And furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.”
The key to these verses in Isaiah is that God will use His word for what He desires and the matter that He sent it. This means we would do well to realize that God works through all of His word, including the hard verses that make us squirm, for His purposes, and that we should do our best to let Him having His way without diluting, getting in the way or, or trying to repackage the message into a nice and tidy theological box that our ism of choice will sign off on.
When we unshackle God’s word from the isms, His word becomes dangerous, unpredictable, alive, and powerful, like God Himself. That’s the God I know who flooded the world during Noah’s day, flattened Sodom and Gomorrah, and dropped Ananias and Sapphira for lying to the Holy Spirit. That’s the Jesus who talked about hell more than He did Heaven. That’s the dangerous God I as a believer have a healthy, Biblical fear of (“work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” Philippians 2:12) His warnings in the Bible are for me… and I need them.
That’s also the God I know who blew away countless men and women with kindness, forgiveness and grace: Rahab the prostitute, Ruth the Moabite, David after committing adultery and murder, Manasseh after leading the nation of Israel to some of the most wicked depravity in its history, the woman caught in adultery, Peter after denying Christ three times, and the apostle Paul; terrorist of Christians.
The good news is that His love and grace are just as powerful and overwhelming as His holy and dangerous side. Did you ever notice that one of the main ways Jesus made people angry was when He showed messed up people incredible kindness and grace? That is a clear picture of how much His love is so outside of the small box of our understanding.
I should mention that none of this means to stop going to church or receiving teaching from your pastor. God blessed up with pastors and teachers as shepherds, and He speaks and works through them. Just realize that man has his blind spots, and God will often use His word to spear with conviction or set free with love in ways that don’t always line up with the things that fallen man… the isms… might say. I love it when preachers say “you know what, I don’t know how all this works together” instead of trying to force God’s word into a hole it can’t fit into.
I’d be willing to bet there are some reading this who know that God’s been trying to get through to them in some area. You’ve sought the counsel of man or maybe listened to a pastor teach on a subject and their interpretation is that you don’t need to take Scripture so literally in a certain area, but God’s pursuing you and saying “I don’t care what others say, I want you to trust and obey me in this area.”
I’ve had Christian friends I’ve trusted and respected tell me I didn’t need to go as far in a matter that I felt God was wanting me to, and the more I prayed the more God kept weighing on my heart and putting circumstances together to show that His purpose for me was far above what my well-meaning friends were advising me to do.
In the end, unshackling God’s word from the isms is about separating what man says about God’s word, which may or may not be right, from what God is saying to you through His word, and then following through with it. If we want first hand nourishment and leading from God Himself, then our quiet times with Him should be the primary source.
As Rich Mullins alluded to, sometimes the best man can do is guess at what God is saying or doing. We should make it a habit of going to the One who never guesses.