Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Counterfeit Sermon Series Week 7 - “The Undivergent Path”

  As I’ve mentioned before, growing up I played a lot of sports. Of course baseball was the one I primarily played, but I dabbled in football, soccer, basketball, and boxing to name most of them. One thing that I found in every sport was consistency. It didn’t matter what sport you played, or how much an individualistic or cooperative a sport was, being consistent in that sport was necessary to a player becoming proficient in it. 

In one of my college courses, my roommate had to present a demonstration speech to the class. Being a basketball player himself, he demonstrated the proper technique in shooting a basketball. Since then, when I’ve watched a basketball game, I have looked to see if the players follow that technique. And for the most part a lot do.

In my own coaching experience, when I would teach the techniques needed to play baseball, I relayed the necessity of consistency to my players in all areas of the game, and I want to demonstrate just one drill that I was taught that helped this. Batting takes the entire body. Too often young batters, think that if they can use their biceps, they’ll hit homeruns all day long. But really that leads to a lot of strike outs or fly outs. No, batting, like a lot of other aspects of baseball, requires the whole body. And so when teaching proper batting technique, we always started with the feet. In this drill all you need is a baseball and the player. The player must first get into a batter’s stance, then the coach, or the player themselves, places a ball at the heal of the back foot of the player, which is the foot that is closest to the catcher. The batter is to twist their foot and hips in a consistent motion, so that the hips stay on a singular plane and the heel hits the ball away from the player’s foot. This drill teaches a player to keep their body consistent, turning the same way every time. If the player were to lift the heel, the entire body moves up, which in turn, will move the bat high and miss the ball. After many reps at this simple drill, a batter quickly becomes consistent in their technique, and eventually consistent in their ability to hit the ball.

And it’s this idea of consistency that brings us into our seventh week of our Counterfeit series, where we’re continuing to look at those counterfeit teachings that are seeping into the Church at an alarming rate today. This series has been divided into two parts. The first part was setting the foundation on which we could begin to see the counterfeits. First we talked about how the best way for us to see a counterfeit is by knowing the truth. We do this my knowing God’s Word so well, that when we encounter a counterfeit teaching, we’ll be able to recognize it. After that we talked about the biblical clues that we should know, which will help us recognize a pastor or teacher who proclaims counterfeit teachings. These were: making false predictions, calling us away from the God of the Bible, perhaps having predictions sometimes come true but still calling people away from God, or outright denying the physical work of Jesus in the flesh. Finally for our foundation, we talked about how the diminishing of the Bible is always a prerequisite for the twisting that must come with a counterfeit teaching. A false teacher or pastor must always diminish God’s Word to uplift their own.

After we discussed these foundational aspects of how to spot counterfeit teachings, we began to talk about specifics. So far we’ve talked about three. First we looked at the diminishing of who God is to a pantheistic entity, while elevating humanity to a place of divinity. In this case, creation becomes god, and therefore humanity is now a part of god or divine itself. Then we talked about the rejection of the biblical understanding of sin. Sin ceases to be our personal responsibility of rebellion against God, and becomes a simple tweaking of our attitude and habits. Finally, last week, we talked about the counterfeit teaching that Jesus was not fully God, but rather a human fully in touch with himself, who reached into divinity. This false teaching makes Jesus is no longer the God who reaches out to humanity that the Scriptures say he is, but rather Jesus becomes humanity grasping for the divine. 

With all this now fresh in our minds, let’s dive back into who Jesus is, by asking the question, if Jesus is just a human who reached the divine, as the false teaching says he is, is he the only way to accomplish such a task? Since we are using the Progressive Church as our basis, we’ll first look at what they teach, and then we will look at what the Scriptures teach.

Delwin Brown in his work, “What Does Progressive Christianity Believe?” writes, “…the incarnation of God means that all of the world’s religions are frail but fecund (feck-end, meaning able to produce) sites of the divine. . . . We may say with John’s gospel that no one comes to God except through Christ, but ‘Christ’ is the Christian name for the logos of God in all of creation, including all religions. We do not have a privileged religious perspective, and we do not need one in order to embrace and proclaim our faith.”

What Delwin Brown is saying, is that all religions can produce the type of pathway that leads to what the Bible would call salvation. He is saying that Jesus being the Christ is just one among many christs that can be found throughout all of history, throughout all the world’s religions. 

In his comparison on Fundamental Christian and Progressive Christian beliefs, Randal Wehler refers to the Progressive view in two ways, “No ‘one’ Godly path”, and “Multiple God-pathways” (https://progressivechristianity.org/resources/comparing-fundamental-and-progressive-christianity-one-persons-view/).

And so, what Brown and Wehlar are saying is that Siddhartha of Buddhism, was a christ and a way to God. They are saying that Muhammed (Isalm), or Zoroaster (Zoroastrianism), Jospeh Smith (Mormonism) , L. Ron Hubbard (Scientology), Yung Sun Moon (Unification Church), and many other founders of different religions are christs, who have a pathway to god that is equal to Jesus. 

In other words, when we come to the verse John 14:6, where Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”, what the Progressive Church is saying, is that Jesus is the only way in which those who follow him can reach God, but he is only one way among many other ways. And so, to the Progressive Church, Jesus’ exclusive path to God, is not exclusive.

This is one of those counterfeit teachings that’s hard to answer. Not because the Bible isn’t clear, but because if someone outright dismisses the very words of Jesus that he is the exclusive path to God, how can you go about showing them that he is not just one way, but the way? Well I think there’s two parts in answering this question, is Jesus the exclusive way to God, or is he just one of may ways? 

First, we can compare Jesus’ way to that of these other religions. Let’s look at two religions and put them against Jesus and see if they are compatible. These two will be as far as we can get from Jesus, and as close as we can get.

We’ll start by looking at one of the most ancient religions, Hinduism. What are the basic beliefs of Hinduism? In the magazine Hinduism Today they give nine, but let’s just cover three today. The magazine states that god is an, “All-Pervasive Divinity.” Going on to say that, “Hindus believe in a one, all-pervasive Supreme Being who is both immanent and transcendent, both Creator and Unmanifest Reality.” In other words, the Hindu god is a pantheistic god, which makes all things in creation a part of its divinity. This looks very much like the god of the Progressive Church, but as we have already showed a few weeks back, it is not the God of the Bible. The God of the Bible, is a separate being from his creation.

The magazine goes on to say that, Hindus believe in a “Three Worlds and Cycles of Creation”. Meaning that, “Hindus believe there are three worlds of existence--physical, astral and causal--and that the universe undergoes endless cycles of creation, preservation and dissolution.” In other words, the universe is created, lives for a period of time, then is destroyed and recreated in an endless cycle. Yet the Bible puts forth in Genesis 1, that this universe was created by God out of nothing, so there was no previous universe, and that though there will be a new creation as stated in Revelation 22, that new creation will last for eternity. No cycle, just one time through. This is very different that the continual cycle of recreation that is found in Hinduism.

Finally, the magazine states that Hinduism believes in, "Reincarnation and Liberation”. This means that, “Hindus believe that the soul reincarnates, evolving through many births until all karmas have been resolved, and moksha--spiritual knowledge and liberation from the cycle of rebirth--is attained. Not a single soul will be eternally deprived of this destiny.”  (https://www.hinduismtoday.com/modules/smartsection/item.php?itemid=3106). This idea is a continual cycle of rebirth into this life, until a person balances the scales of their own karma, or we could say spiritual bondage of bad things that keeps us coming back over and over again. But The Bible is very straight forward in Hebrews 9:27, where it reads, “Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment…” The biblical stance is that a human only passes through this creation one time before he meets God. This is different than the belief that we are on a continuous cycle of coming back into the creation again and again.

So for our first religion, we can see that the two not only disagree, but are in fact contradictory. 

But let’s move away from one of the furthest religions that we can go to, and let’s get as close to Christianity as we can by looking at Islam. Islam doesn’t just claim to be a path to God, but a path on which Jesus is one of the great prophets of God. So here we should find the best example of a path to God that shows that Jesus isn’t exclusive. Let’s look at some of Islam’s claims. First, last week we showed how the Bible claims that Jesus is fully God, but Sadullah Khan writing for the website IslamiCity states that Islam believes, “In promoting a great human such as Jesus (pbuh) to divinity, does not elevate Jesus as much as it minimizes the concept of the divine; is not making the finite infinite as much as making the perfect imperfect; not an elevation of Jesus, but rather a devaluation of the Divine.” Kahn is stating that Islam rejects that Jesus is divine as shown in the Bible. 

What about Jesus’ crucifixion? Kahn writes that Islam believes, "Christ, according to Muslim belief, did NOT die on a cross [Qur'an 4:157] but was rather elevated by Allah and saved from being killed [Qur'an 4:158].” Yet, we know from all four Gospels and places throughout the New Testament, that the Bible states that Jesus died on a cross. In fact, through historical records, such as from the Roman historian Pliny the younger, we know for a fact that Jesus was historically crucified. 

Finally, what about the resurrection of Jesus? Kahn states that Islam’s stance is, “Not having died, Jesus could NOT have been resurrected [Qur'an 4:156].” (https://www.islamicity.org/5797/jesus-in-islam/?gclid=CjwKCAiA17P9BRB2EiwAMvwNyBicVV9YmrCOS3Fa0Sd2R3X-_LVWppP4dE1aBbPDdp2-S906HlNuwBoCEUEQAvD_BwE) But the Bible is clear, especially in 1st Corinthians 15, that not only was Jesus resurrected, but hundreds of people were witness to it.

So in our closest religion to Christianity, we not only again see disagreement, but outright contradiction.

When someone, like the Progressive Church, says that all religions are the same, they just have a few tweaks here and there that make them different, I remember the words of the late apologist Ravi Zacharias. He has stated, “My premise is that the popular aphorism that 'all religions are fundamentally the same and only superficially different' simply is not true. It is more correct to say that all religions are, at best, superficially similar but fundamentally different.”

Let’s think about it for a second, why would a god of any persuasion deem it necessary  to contradict themselves in such monumental ways? Wouldn’t it be more reasonable that if there really was a God, that he would be consistent in his directions on how to get to him?

Well let’s look at what the God that the Bible puts forth, remembering that this Bible is a collection of 66 books written by about 40 authors, over the course of roughly 1,500 years. If he really is God, then he would be consistent, through all those authors, their writings, and thought the years. So let’s see if he is.

In the 10th verse in the 43rd chapter of Isaiah, the prophet records this unequivocal statement of God, “You are my witnesses, declares the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me.’”

The God of the Bible is clear, there is no other gods in this universe. But the prophet Jeremiah in his book cried out in anguish of what his people had done and in the 16th chapter, in the 19 verse Jeremiah writes, “Our ancestors possessed nothing but false gods, worthless idols that did them no good. 20 Do people make their own gods? Yes, but they are not gods!”

And so, to the idols God tells his people to see if they will help. One of these times is found in the book of Judges chapter 10 verses 13-14, where God says, “13 But you have forsaken me and served other gods, so I will no longer save you. 14 Go and cry out to the gods you have chosen. Let them save you when you are in trouble!”

But the prophet Isaiah sees that these idols are nothing but man made objects, when we writes this in his 44th chapter, “9 All who make idols are nothing, and the things they treasure are worthless. Those who would speak up for them are blind; they are ignorant, to their own shame. 10 Who shapes a god and casts an idol, which can profit nothing? 11 People who do that will be put to shame; such craftsmen are only human beings. Let them all come together and take their stand; they will be brought down to terror and shame. 12 The blacksmith takes a tool and works with it in the coals; he shapes an idol with hammers, he forges it with the might of his arm. He gets hungry and loses his strength; he drinks no water and grows faint. 13 The carpenter measures with a line and makes an outline with a marker; he roughs it out with chisels and marks it with compasses. He shapes it in human form, human form in all its glory, that it may dwell in a shrine. 14 He cut down cedars, or perhaps took a cypress or oak. He let it grow among the trees of the forest, or planted a pine, and the rain made it grow. 15 It is used as fuel for burning; some of it he takes and warms himself, he kindles a fire and bakes bread. But he also fashions a god and worships it; he makes an idol and bows down to it.16 Half of the wood he burns in the fire; over it he prepares his meal, he roasts his meat and eats his fill. He also warms himself and says, “Ah! I am warm; I see the fire.” 17 From the rest he makes a god, his idol; he bows down to it and worships. He prays to it and says, “Save me! You are my god!” 18 They know nothing, they understand nothing; their eyes are plastered over so they cannot see, and their minds closed so they cannot understand. 19 No one stops to think, no one has the knowledge or understanding to say, “Half of it I used for fuel; I even baked bread over its coals, I roasted meat and I ate. Shall I make a detestable thing from what is left? Shall I bow down to a block of wood?” 20 Such a person feeds on ashes; a deluded heart misleads him; he cannot save himself, or say, “Is not this thing in my right hand a lie? (v.9-20)”

So the God of the Bible says that all these things that we worship, that are not of him, are man made idols that are really nothing. And so he speaks things like this in the book of Isaiah, “I, even I, am the Lord, and apart from me there is no savior (43:11)…”, and he says, “Declare what is to be, present it—let them take counsel together. Who foretold this long ago, who declared it from the distant past? Was it not I, the Lord? And there is no God apart from me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none but me. 22 ‘Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other (45:21-22)…’” So we see that God is very clear that he alone, is not only God, by the Savior or the one path to which there is no other.

And so when Jesus declares in John 14:6, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me…”, and Peter later proclaims in Acts 4:11-12,  “11 Jesus is ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.’ 12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved…”, they’re doing one of two things. Either Jesus and the disciples are rejecting the claim of God that he is the only way, or they are are saying that Jesus is the God who proclaims that he is the only way. And as last week we showed, the Bible puts forth that Jesus is the God who both spoke to Isaiah, and the one who spoke to Peter. The first he spoke to while one his throne, the other he spoke to while walking in human flesh.

And it’s this exclusive proclamation by the God of the Bible that eternity hinges on. If Jesus isn’t the only path, then he is a liar. And if he is a liar, then he cannot be trusted because he claims that exclusive position for himself. And if he cannot be trusted, then we have to throw out that he is even one way to the god that the Progressive Church teaches. Because he is in direct opposition to the god they believe says all paths lead to. 

But if Jesus is the exclusive God that has spoken throughout the centuries, then his path is the only way we can follow. Because every other way leads to death and destruction. Jesus’ exclusive claims about himself are either the path away from God, or the only path to God. But what it cannot be is one of many paths, Jesus, the God of the Bible, does not afford us that option. 

It’s this exclusive message of Jesus that we must wrestle with. If Jesus isn’t exclusive, then it’s really what the Progressive Church believes, all paths lead to god, except for Jesus’. But if Jesus is exclusive, then his way is the only way, and we must follow his way alone. And his way says that we are sinners. Each and everyone one of us has sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. Meaning that even one disobedient thought or action against God has separated us from him in such a way that there is no action we can take to span the gulf that is now between us and him. 

Yet God says that he is the Savior; he is the one that will span the gulf that we caused between us and him. This is done through Jesus. God the Son comes down, takes on our humanity in every way, but in that life he never sinned. He never disobeys or rebels against the standard of God by which all humanity has failed. But humanity didn’t want to follow Jesus, and the people of his day thought if they could just get rid of him, then they could pursue their own paths. But this was also a part of God’s plan. The only way humanity’s sin could be dealt with was by the spilling of blood, because that is the result of sin. Sin leads to death, so death has to be paid. Jesus dies in our place. Jesus receives the punishment, and fulfills the debt that we created for ourselves. 

And we know this to be true because of the resurrection of Jesus. Hundreds of eyewitnesses saw it when it historically happened. The lives of those early disciples and those that followed after them all the way up to today, testify to that moment of Jesus’ resurrection. 

Yet we must receive Jesus, we must accept our sin and our destiny towards death. We must believe, trusting in Jesus as our only Savior, the one who paid the price for our sin, clearing the whole thing away. And we need to follow him, because we were’t just saved from the something of sin, but we were saved to the something of a close personal relationship with God that transforms us into the person God created us to be. This starts now and last into eternity with him.

And so my challenge this week is this, have you struggled with the exclusiveness of Jesus? That Jesus is the only way to God, because God is the only Savior and the only God there is? If you are not a believer in Jesus, I want to challenge you this week to wrestle with what Jesus being the exclusive way to God means. That it’s either him or nothing, that he either holds the keys to everything or he holds the keys to nothing. And what each of those mean if you were to follow one with the other being true. A Christian philosopher began to work on a wager, that has come to be known as Pascal’s wager. The idea has at its basis this, if you follow God and he is not real, then you have really not lost much of anything; yet if you do not follow him and he is real, then you have lost everything.

This is similar to Jesus’ exclusiveness. If he is not exclusive and you follow him, you have not lost much, but if Jesus is the exclusive path to salvation and you do not follow him, then you have lost everything. These are the ideas I am asking you who do not believe in Jesus to wrestle with. To really seek the truth in an earnest way.

But to you who are a believer, I want to challenge you as well. Do you hold to the belief that Jesus is the only way to God? If you do not, why? The Bible is clear, why hold to a belief that God says is false. We must hold to the exclusivity of Jesus, not because it is an us verse them thing, but rather because it’s what God says is true, and we as Jesus’ disciples must walk in his truth. If you do hold to Jesus being the exclusive way to God, then do you know what that means? There are many people out there that are not on the path to God, because they do not believe in Jesus as their Savior. That means you and I must share the Gospel with others. As Paul writes in Romans 10:14-15, “14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

Beloved of God, let us point people to Jesus, the only way to salvation, the only way out of death and the only place were sin is forgiven. We who have called on Jesus stand in his life for eternity, let us not hold onto as if it is ours to deny others to come, but instead share the opportunity for others to believe in Jesus alone for their salvation. This is the calling of God to everyone one of his disciples, everyone of his children. Amen.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Counterfeit Sermon Series Week 6 - “The Reaching God”

  I’ve shared how I wasn’t a very good student growing up. My cumulative GPA from kindergarten to when I was a freshman in high school, probably hovered around the “D” range. I had always been at the lower end of my classes in grades and work done. I always struggled to accomplish anything and never showed that I could do more than barely scrape by. In fact, toward the end of my freshman year, the school told my parents that the reason why I was such a bad student was because I had a learning disability and that I should be tested so that they could address it. And soon after that I was tested. 

I don’t remember too much about the day, but it felt like it took a really long time. They used all sorts of different metrics to test my ability to learn. And if you’ve ever taken a test that is designed to test your learning ability, you never know if you’re giving the correct answer or not, it’s like the eye exam where you’re asked if you saw the little squiggly lines, did I see it or not? Well after it was all said and done, they were surprised by the results. Not only did I not have a learning disability, but my I.Q. score was slightly above average. It was the first thing I had ever done well on in school. Come to find out that it wasn’t my inability to learn that was the problem, it was the structure of my education that didn’t fit to my learning style.

In my junior and senior years, my parents got me into a school that fit my learning style. My senior home room teacher even made the comment that if I had been at that school all four years of high school, I probably would have been the Valedictorian. I don’t share this to puff myself up, but rather to point out that the schools I was a part of always pointed at me and said I was the one who had the problem, never once thinking it was the way in which they taught me that was the real problem. They diminished my ability to learn, and I almost ended be less effective in my life because of it.

And it’s this idea, of diminishing something to a point where it becomes ineffective, that brings us to into our sixth week of our Counterfeit series, where we’ll be diving into one of the longest discussions that the Church has had throughout the centuries. But before we get into that, let’s bring ourselves up to speed on where we’re at in our series. 

In the first three weeks we laid a foundation on how to recognize false teachings when we come across them. First we talked about knowing God’s Word so well, that when we see a false teaching, we can easily recognize it. Then we talked about how to recognize false teachers, by the biblical clues of them making false predictions, or calling us away from the God of the Bible, or having predictions sometimes come true but they still call people away from God, or outright denying the physical work of Jesus in the flesh. Then as a foundation to recognizing false teachings, we talked about how we need to be on the look out for those who would diminish the use of the Bible. For someone who says they don’t believe in God it’s understandable that they do not have a high view of the Scriptures, but those who say they do believe in God, for them to present a false teaching they must diminish God’s Word.

Now after we laid our foundation to recognize false teachers and their teachings, we began to look at those false teachings. We’re doing this by using Progressive Christianity as our case study, but really, these false teachings can be seen in cults that claim to be Christian, yet reject the basic teachings of the Bible. So far we have covered the diminished view of who God is, while at the same time elevating humanity to godhood, and we’ve covered the rejection of the biblical concept of humanity’s sin state.

Let’s now continue our study of the false teachings that are seeping into the Church today. Last week we covered the biblical reality that humanity is in a state of sin. In fact, the Bible declares that there is no way for us to fix this problem, and the end result is not only physical death, but eternal death or separation from God.

But the Bible also declares that God has a plan. We have been using John 3:16 a lot, because it is one of those verses that is known, even by non-Christians. And in John 3:16, we get the plan of God in a snap shot, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Jesus is the central figure of the NewTestament, and I would argue, and the New Testament actually argues as well, that Jesus is the central figure of the Old Testament too. And so, for our purposes in this series, we must ask the question what does Progressive Christianity teach about who Jesus is?

In his comparison between Fundamental and Progressive Christianity, Randal Wehler juxtaposes the two like this, Fundamental believes, “Jesus as God’s ‘son’", Progressive believes “Jesus humanly reveals God”. The Fundamental believes, “Jesus’ ‘God-head’ equality”, Progressive believes, “Jesus: divine-like human” (https://progressivechristianity.org/resources/comparing-fundamental-and-progressive-christianity-one-persons-view/).

What’s that mean? Well another Progressive Christian, Carl Kried, writes this, “He (Jesus) was able to impact others because he was a true human being. It was the fulness of his humanity that enabled others to see in him what they also could become and were meant to be. Not only so, but they were also enabled to experience God in and through him. He was the perfect window through which the divine cosmic thou could challenge their world. He was for them the continual possibility to be encountered by the One who stood behind all of creation. Jesus was the perfect human who was also the perfect window to God. It’s not as though there was a divine nature in him, but rather that his fully human nature was transparent to the God who inheres all reality (https://progressivechristianity.org/resources/who-was-jesus-part-two/)."

Are you seeing how the Progressive Church views Jesus? If not, I think this statement from Ed Taylor will clarify it, “Most Christians think of Jesus as God. The fourth-century Nicene Creed declares Jesus is ‘God from God,… true God from true God,… of one Being with the Father’ and affirms that Jesus was active in the creation of the world – ‘through him all things were made.’ Christians address prayers and sing hymns to Jesus, but, in my opinion, Jesus and God are two separate beings…Yes, Jesus was the Christ – God’s anointed one – but not God (https://progressivechristianity.org/resources/admissions-and-confessions-of-a-progressive-christian-layman-jesus-part-3/)."

Progressive Christianity’s view of Jesus is not the second person of the Trinity who came to earth and took on human flesh. No, the Progressive Church believes that Jesus is merely a human that touched divinity. A couple of weeks ago we saw how the Progressive Church’s view on who God is, reduced God to being a pantheistic entity. This made God one with his creation, in the sense of making the creation a piece of the divine. By this belief, you and I can attain, not salvation in the biblical sense, but divineness or godhood. 

The Progressive Church believes this is what Jesus did. They believe that Jesus, fully embraced his humanity, which gave him access to the divine in himself, which, in turn, can be accessed by anyone else.

Yet this diminishing of who Jesus’ is, isn’t new. In fact, in the earlier quote from Ed Taylor, he brings up one of the most famous Church councils, the Council of Nicene, which dealt with this very issue. The situation was this, the Bishop Arius believed that Jesus the Son was not as eternal as God the Father. In fact, Arius at most would say that Jesus was a created lesser god, not the eternal God. Others, such as Athanasius, believed that Jesus was equal to the Father, and so was the eternal God. So over this dispute and for an official canonizing of the Scriptures, the Roman Emperor Constantine called the Bishops of the Church together to deal with this issue.

Through the arguments presented, the council created a creed or a doctrinal statement of the Church. It was presented and signed almost unanimously by the attending Bishops.

Listen to what they wrote, “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible; And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten of the Father, of the substance of the Father; God of God and Light of Light; true God of true God; begotten, not made, of the same substance as the Father, by whom all things were made, in heaven and on earth: who for the sake of us men and our salvation, descended, became incarnate, and was made man, suffered, arose again on the third day, and ascended into the heavens, from where he will come again to judge the living and the dead; And in the Holy Spirit.

“But the Holy Catholic and Apostolic church anathematizes those [i.e. the Arians] who say ‘There was a time when he was not,’ and ‘Before he was begotten, he did not exist’ and ‘He was made from that which did not exist.’ The same goes for those who assert that he is of a different substance or essence from the Father, or that he was created, or can be changed (https://christianhistoryinstitute.org/study/module/nicea/)."

The Nicene Council rejected Arius and the view that Jesus was anything less that fully God, and so the Nicene Council would also reject the Progressive Church’s view that Jesus was simply a man who touched the divine. But the question becomes, we’re they right? What does God’s Word say on the matter? Is Jesus really God come down, or is he a human who gained access to the divine?

For time sake, we’re going to look at three instances in the Bible where this question is answered.

Let’s look at two examples, for surface level clues that point us in the right direction, and then we’ll dive into a third one to really understand the Bible’s position on who Jesus is.

First, the most common one that is referenced, starts in John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

It’s pretty straight forward, whatever, or whoever the Word is, is not only with God in the beginning of creation, but it is one with God. Therefore the straight forward understanding is that the Word is God, and yet there is some distinction between the two. But we need to know the identity of the Word. And to do this, all we need to do is drop down to verse 14 to get our answer. 

“14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 (John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’”) 16 Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.”

So the answer to who is the Word, is Jesus. The Apostle John is declaring at the beginning of his Gospel, that Jesus was before the creation, because he is the Word that was with God, and he is the Word that is God. And not only that, but through Jesus the Word, all creation was made. Just like we talked about the otherness of God a couple of weeks ago, that same otherness applies to Jesus as well. Jesus is not a part of the creation, but rather through him all things were created.

But let’s go from there further into the Gospel of John and look at an encounter Jesus had with some religious leaders. In John, chapter 10, starting in verse 24, we get this encounter, “24 The Jews who were there gathered around him, saying, ‘How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.’ 25 Jesus answered, ‘I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. 27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.’”

The Jews asked Jesus for a straight forward answer to whether or not he was the long awaited Messiah spoken about through the Old Testament prophets. Jesus doesn’t just answer their question, but reveals something even greater, he’s God. How do we know that Jesus was calling himself God? Because of the reaction of the people. Let’s pick it up in verse 31, “Again his Jewish opponents picked up stones to stone him, 32 but Jesus said to them, ‘I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?’ 33 ‘We are not stoning you for any good work,’ they replied, ‘but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.’”

In Jesus’ own words and to the full understanding of his Jewish audience, he claims godhood for himself. Claiming for himself to be the God of the Israelite people from the Old Testament. This is not a human touching the divine, but the divine revealed in human form.

But let’s cap this with taking a deep dive into one of Paul’s wirings. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul writes this in his 2nd chapter, starting in the 5th verse, “5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!”

Let’s break down some of the key parts of this passage. In verse 6, Paul writes, “in very nature God”; another way this is translated is, “was in the form of God”. The Greek word morphé (mor-fay’) is being used here, which means the form in which abides the essence of a thing. The form of the man Jesus holds the essence of God. This would make perfect sense, when we start to go into the Old Testament where we get strange connections between God and the Angel of the Lord in Genesis 16 and Exodus 3. And it makes even more sense when comparing Paul’s words in Colossians 1:19 when speaking of Jesus, “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him…”

Paul is saying the same essential properties of who God is, are found in Jesus. Not only are they found in Jesus, but, as Jesus himself said, it is shared by both the Father and the Son, Jesus.

Also in verse 6, we get this phrase, “equality with God”. Now this might sound like Paul is saying that Jesus could rise to the same level of God, but the Greek work isos (ee’-sos), means the equivalent or the identical. Paul is not speaking of a rising to be equal, but rather that Jesus is already equal, or the equivalent to, or identical to God.

  Finally in verse 6, Paul writes this, “used to his own advantage”, or another way to translate it would be, “a thing to be grasped”. The Greek word harpagmos (har-pag-mos’), means to seize something by forcing it to your will, or once who have seized it, you don’t let go. In other words, though Jesus was divine, he did not hold onto it. But why would he do such a thing as release his grip on his divinity? Well, Paul answers our natural question in verse 7.

Paul writes in verse 7 that Jesus, "made himself nothing”, or as it can be translated, “emptied himself”, This is the Greek word ekenosen (e-ken-o’-sen) which means to deprive of content. In other words to no longer being in the position of God. Jesus no longer is at his rightful place as God, supreme over all, but instead Paul tells us, “taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!”

So Jesus being God, leaves it, and divests himself of his godhood, to take on humanity’s flesh so that he may die like us, for us. Does that mean he wasn’t still divine, not at all, Jesus is inherently divine. But he didn’t use his divinity to help him in any way. This is the exact opposite of what the Progressive Church teaches. They believe Jesus, a human, reached the divine, but in reality, it was the divine, that reached humanity.

Jesus was not a human that worked hard, or looked within to achieve godhood or access to the divine. No, Jesus is the full God who stepped down into creation, set aside his godhood, clothed himself in humanity 100%, taking on the same life that we lived, and did it perfectly. But because of who he was, the man who claimed himself to be God, he was offered up to be killed. This was an unjustified act on behalf of humanity trying to kill their Creator. It was the garden all over again. But though they were out to commit a horrible thing, God used it as a way destroy the bondage of sin, and the state of separation that humanity was in. 

Separation from him, separation from life, separation that could go on into eternity, but now we have a way back. Back to our Creator, and back to the garden relationship we once had with him. This is done not by humanity reaching God, but by God reaching humanity. By God becoming one of us, and as Adam brought sin into the world, through Jesus, sin’s power has been broken. 

And that path back to God, which goes through Jesus, is free to whoever would call on Jesus as their Savior. Like we talked about last week, by calling on Jesus we recognize what sin is. That it’s those things we do that God says not to do. Lying, cheating, stealing, hating, lusting, and so much more. These things are sin that are leading us off to death, but when we agree with God that we are lost in our sin, never able to climb out of it on our own, we can then see clearly that Jesus reaches out to us. See when Jesus went to that cross, all of our sin was placed on him. It was forgiven there, through God’s holy and loving act of being crucified and dying for us. 

If you accept that, if you accept Jesus as your Savior, the path is open to be in right relationship with God. And then, the Holy Spirit lives inside of you, calling you to live in an ever closer holy relationship with him. And then you are led into eternity to be in a close holy relationship with God and his people.

My challenge for you this week, is to ask yourself the question that Jesus purposed to his first disciples, “Who do you say I am? (Mark 8:29)” I believe this question is the most important question that we could answer. Because if we say he was a man who reached the divine, you need to ask yourself, are you good enough to reach perfection like he did? Because the divine is perfect.

But if you answer, Jesus is God come down to us, then it’s not about you reaching up to God, but God reaching down to you.

If Jesus really is who he says he is, then only through him can we have our sin forgiven, and our eternity secured. But if he isn’t and he’s what the Progressive Church says he is, then you better start working harder, because perfection doesn’t suffer the imperfect.

My challenge is to wrestle this week with that question of who do you say Jesus is. Because we either praise him as the God who came down, or we get working on being perfect in every way like he was. Those are the two options we have.

But I believe what Jesus says of himself, and what his earlier disciples declared, he is the Lord of heaven and earth, he has done everything that needs to be done to bring me out of death and into life, which I’m experiencing now, and I will get to experience for all eternity. Because that’s what God wants, for his creation to be with him, as he created it to be and not in the state that it is now. Amen.

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Counterfeit Sermon Series Week 5 - “Stuck In It”

  When I was in first or second grade, which is about seven or eight years old, I had a really good friend named Daniel. I had always wanted to go to his house to spend the night, but though he lived in the town where my school was, I lived about 20 minutes away. For my parents who worked long hours, and didn’t know Daniel’s parents, I always got a no, when I would ask them about sleeping over his house. Well one Friday, I decided to take the issue into my own hands. Instead of going home on the bus as I usually did, I walked home with Daniel. That was a great afternoon. It was a spring day, and Daniel lived by the creek in town which was running at the time. We couldn’t swim in it, because it was running too fast, but on the shore, honeysuckle flowers were in bloom. After a few hours of hanging out with Daniel, his mom began to wonder when I was going home. 

That’s when I asked to spend the night, she said it would be fine with her, but she had to talk with my parents. Well let’s just say that call did not go over well. Apparently my family had been frantically searching for me for the last several hours. You know, since I didn’t arrive at home when I was supposed, and no one knew where I was. Let’s just say I wasn’t allowed to go over Daniel’s house for a long time, or anywhere else for that matter. 

Now, while I was playing that afternoon, I knew what I was doing was wrong. And Daniel’s mom had asked me if my parents knew I was there, and of course I dodged the question, because I wanted to stay with my friend. I avoided being truthful because I wanted to play. I swept aside the truth that I wasn’t supposed to be at their house, because I wanted things my way. And when my mom showed up, I was quickly snapped back to the reality that I was not in control. 

But it’s this idea of sweeping aside truth, because it doesn’t suit our desires, that brings us back to our fifth week in our Counterfeit Series, where we’ll continue to look about false teachings that are being embraced throughout the Christian Church. As a case in point, we are using the Progressive Church and it’s beliefs to help us better understand some of these false teachings in light of the Scripture. 

In our first week, we began with understanding that we must be willing to have God root out any false teachings we ourselves have incorporated into our lives, and the best way to do that, is to know the true teachings of Scripture so that when we come upon false ones, we will know them right away.

Then in our second week, we talked about the biblical clues that we need to know that will help us identify a false teacher. These clues were: false teachers make false predictions, they call us away from the God of the Bible, their predictions sometimes might come true but they still call people away from the God of the Bible, or they will deny the physical work of Jesus in the flesh. So if even one of these clues happens in the ministry of a prophet, a pastor, or a teacher, we must reject their whole ministry. Because, even though they might have some biblical teaching, they’re sprinkling in false beliefs that are made to turn us away from the God of the Bible.

Following that, in our third week we talked about how false teachers will also diminish the use of the Scriptures. They relegate the Scriptures to a source to find God, rather than the source on which we are to build our understanding of who he is. And when the Scriptures are diminished, the twisting of Scripture to our own already held beliefs becomes easier to do.

Finally last week, we began talking about answering the question, who is God. We saw how Progressive Christianity changes God from a unique, close, and holy God, to a pantheistic being that we are basically a piece of. Progressive Christianity teachers diminish God, and elevate humanity to godhood. Yet, through the Scriptures, we saw how God is separate from his creation, desires relationship with it, and is working to bring us back to himself because he is a holy God.

From this understanding of the holiness of God, we move into the state of humanity. See one of the greatest questions we must answer as a human race is this: why is the world the way it is? Why is there pain and suffering? Why is there war and famine? Why is there hatred and malice? Is it because we’re evolving and are progressing towards a better society, or is it because we started perfect and fell into the mess we’re in? Now the historically accepted view in Christianity is that the world is in the mess it’s in, because of human sin. It’s because of humanity’s rebellion against God’s desired order, that the world experiences all the horrific things it does.

So what does Progressive Christianity teach? Dawn Hutchings writes this, “Intellectually, I may have understood that it’s long past time for Christians in the 21st century to abandon the idea that Christ died on a cross because God needed someone to balance the scale. I may have moved beyond understanding Jesus death on the cross as a sacrifice for sin. But I am only beginning to move beyond understanding the nature of humanity as something other than sinful.”(https://progressivechristianity.org/resources/moving-beyond-doctrines-of-original-sin-the-fall-and-maybe-even-the-doctrine-of-grace-so-that-we-can-embrace-our-role-in-the-evolution-of-humanity-a-sermon-on-genesis-38-15-for-pentecost/)

In his writing, “What Does Progressive Christianity Believe?”, Delwin Brown writes of God’s role being to nudge creation, as he puts it, “from less to more adequate forms and processes. . . .The call to repent and move away from self-centeredness, beyond racism, sexism, and homophobia toward economic and ecological justice is an experience of God.”

And in an interview for her book Original Blessing: Putting Sin in Its Rightful Place, Danielle Shroyer states, “Scripture certainly talks about the universal reach of sin. But no passage or verse in scripture speaks definitively to the concept of an inborn sin nature. We can take sin seriously without going there. After all, Jesus didn’t believe in original sin, and the disciples and the early church didn’t either. What we see in scripture is a story of people sometimes behaving terribly and people sometimes behaving righteously. It’s often the same people. Some call that a sin nature. I think we simply call it human nature.” (https://religionnews.com/2017/01/13/author-jesus-didnt-believe-in-original-sin-and-neither-should-we/).

In other words, Progressive Christianity’s view on the issue of sin, is that sin isn’t a state of being that we are to be saved from, but rather something we need to grow away from. A similar belief to this idea of progressive sinlessness is found in eastern religions such as Buddhism, where the goal is to release the restraints that cause suffering in this life. In a sense, Progressive Christianity is looking for those things that would release us from what causes bad things to happen.

So let’s look at what the Bible says about the state of humanity. First, Danielle Shroyer states that the idea of original sin is nowhere in the Bible. And she’s right in so far as the terminology of “original sin” is not in the Bible. But Shroyer misunderstands the concept of original sin. See the theological concept of original sin is sometimes misunderstood as to say that when you are born you have sinned. But that’s not actually the concept. Instead, listen to how the Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms states what the concept of original sin is, “Strictly speaking original sin is the sate of alienation from God into which all humans are born…Historically, original sin was connected to the discussion about the manner in which Adam’s sin affects all humans such as through the transmission of Adam’s fallen nature or through God’s imputation (crediting) of Adam’s sin.

In other words, the theological concept of original sin isn’t that a baby sins, but rather that every human is born into a state of separation from God because of Adam’s, or the original, sin. But is this what the Bible teaches? 

The most direct verse on the subject comes in David’s 51st Psalm, in the 5th verse, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.”

But we, see this concept in other places of Scripture as well. In Genesis 8:21, after Noah makes an alter in worship of God at the end of the flood, listen to what happens next, “And when the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma, the Lord said in his heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man's heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done.’”

Then in Ecclesiastes 9:3, Solomon makes a point of speaking about the evil of children when he writes, “This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that the same event happens to all. Also, the hearts of the children of man are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead. (ESV)”

If that’s not enough, when we move over to the New Testament Paul famously writes these words in Romans 7:15-20, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.”

So the concept of original sin, and the idea of a sin nature itself is biblically solid. We each are born into a state of sin, that has been passed to every human since the first sin of Adam. (Which, as a side note, we know that it’s not because of children that parents sin, because Adam didn’t have children when he sinned.) And so we are produced in an environment that calls us to sin, and we are inclined to do just that. 

And so, when Paul writes this in Romans 3:10-12, “There is no one righteous, not even one; 11 there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. 12 All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.”, he is stating that all of humanity falls into sin, and therefore none are sinless in front of God.  

But our thought might jump to, if we are born into a state where we can sin, doesn’t this mean that God has caused us to sin? To which James, the half-brother of Jesus, writes in the first chapter of his letter these words, “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14 but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”

So, though we are born in a situation where sin is rampant, with the temptation to sin being all around us, and leads to more situations where we are more inclined to sin than to not, it is our own giving into temptation that brings ourselves into sin, not the fact that we are born into the situation of a sinful humanity. 

So the Scriptures are clear, yes there is original sin and every human from the Adam down has participated in that sin. Therefore Paul’s words in Romans 3:23, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” are rightfully all inclusive. And if we’re truthful with ourselves we would agree that we have sinned, we have done things in our lives that God has called evil. Things like lying, stealing, lusting, and much more. But we usually brush it off, as Shroyer did, as simply being human. But it’s more than that.

Now, if we all do have sin, we must ask the question what is the end result of sin. In Progressive Christianity, as I shared from Delwin Brown earlier, it is to, “…move away from self-centeredness, beyond racism, sexism, and homophobia toward economic and ecological justice…” So for Progressive Christianity, and beliefs like it, sin is something that we as humans move away or evolve beyond, by rejecting certain attitudes, actions, and beliefs. This is a works based religion. In beliefs like Progressive Christianity, we are the ones who are to fix the problem of sin, by simply being better.

But the Scriptures say differently. One of the most quoted verses in the Bible is John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” But if we continue reading, we realize the state of humanity as it is right now, “17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believe in the name of God’s one and only Son.”

And so, when Paul writes later in Ephesians 2, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind (v.1-3).”

We get a realization that humanity is not progressing to a state of sinlessness, but rather we’re stuck in a state of sin. And so, the answer can’t be, just be a better human, because sin is only getting us to one place, and that’s death of the body, and eternal separation from God, starting with hell and moving into the lake of fire. 

But there’s good news says the Word of God. We already read some of it in Jesus words in John 3:18, “Whoever believes in him (Jesus) is not condemned…”

And in Ephesians 2, if we kept reading there, Paul writes, “4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (4-10).”

And so, God is the one who breaks the power of sin, and it’s through Jesus. Anyone who places their trust in Jesus as Savior, which means, those who recognize their sin and separation from God; who come face-to-face with the reality that they can’t progress enough to the standard of God’s perfection because he is a holy and perfect God; if they accept Jesus’ work on the Cross, they stand before God sinless, not because of themselves, but because of Jesus. 

See we have a tendency to sweep sin under the rug, because we don’t want to accept the reality that we’re lost to it. We want to be able to pull ourselves up by our own boot straps and be good enough, but the reality is, we can’t. We’ve allowed sin to take a hold on us, and now, we can’t break free. But praise God, he has given us a way to defeat sin, and become the person he created us to be. That’s through Jesus’ work on the cross, and codified by Jesus’ resurrection. And when we die and shed this dying sin filled shell, he will clothe us in a new body, that sin has not touched nor ever will.

But we have to accept it. We have to accept Jesus’ work on our behalf. And next week, we will be diving into that work, because it’s only through Jesus that sin can be dealt with in our lives and in the world. 

But this week I want to challenge you with this: have you come face-to-face with your sin? Have you accepted that you are a sinner. Personally, when I share stories with you, I want you to understand that I know I am a sinner, and so, as often as I can, I share with you how I have sinned. To recognize and accept ourselves as sinners is a hard thing to do, because then we have to accept what we know to be true, we’re not perfect, we can’t fix it, and we need God to step in.

If you haven’t come to that realization that you’re a sinner, I want to challenge you to really struggle with it this week. You might not believe in God, but I would challenge you to ask him to reveal it to you. 

For those of you who have come face-to-face with your sin, you might have accepted Jesus years ago, and you know you’re going to be with him eternity, that’s great! But I want to challenge you this week with, are you playing with sin? Watching that show your should’t, using that language you shouldn’t, drinking or taking that thing you shouldn’t? We who have had our sin forgiven, we don’t do the things God calls us to do because it gets us into heaven, we do the things God calls us to do because we appreciate what he has done, and want to live ever closer to his holiness. We take God’s words of, “be holy as I am holy,” very seriously. So this week, ask of God what is one area in your life that you have allowed sin to have a home, and seek the Holy Spirit to clean it out.

Let us come to the understanding of who God says we are. We might be sinners headed to a state of death and separation from our Creator, but God is reaching out to us right now for each of us to come to him. We might be saved from our sin and are now a child of God, so let us live in the power of the Holy Spirit. Let us be who God created and called us to be today. Amen.