Sunday, October 30, 2022

We Are Not "Born Sinners" Compelled To Disobey God #JesusFollowers

How many times have we heard, after someone makes a mistake, or acts sinfully, “Well, he was ONLY HUMAN, after all”? Perhaps many times. But do we ever wonder why this is used as an excuse for a sinful action? Is there something IN US that MAKES us sin against our will?

There are a lot of clever excuses we can use to avoid doing what's right – or even actively doing what is wrong. We can say others around us “forced” us to do these things – and peer pressure can indeed be a strong factor. 

We can say we couldn't avoid doing them – and if we put ourselves in situations in which sin is happening a lot, that can certainly influence us. And we can also say that we were born so flawed that we CANNOT do anything BUT sin and rebel against God – that we are “only human.” 

This last excuse is perhaps the greatest lie to ever infect Christendom - and the vast majority of Christians today believe it.

If it’s true, just BEING among those pressuring us means that we will indeed cave in to sinful behavior every single time. But that’s not true. We CAN resist, and Jesus and the Bible teaches us that we can, and must, do so.

It's important to know exactly what "sin" is. John said he wrote his letter so that people "will not sin" (1 John 2:1.) That's not to say that we are going to immediately stop all sinning once we are exposed to the teachings of Jesus, but early Christians clearly expected new converts to make all effort to put behind them the sins they previously committed unthinkingly. This was true of stealing, lusting, cheating others, lying, and more. 

If what's being called "sin" is inherited from our birth, it cannot properly be called "sin", because sin is an Act, not a Thing. If it is a compulsion from birth, causing us to be unable to resist sinful behavior, then we cannot morally be held guilty by God or even by any human judge, for acts we cannot avoid committing.

But if sin is a choice, and we can avoid it, we must. Turns out, just a few verses into the Bible, God told Adam's son that sin is a choice, and that he had the ability and responsibility to avoid it. (Gen. 4:7-8) That he chose falsely means he earned the punishment God warned him about. We learn from this that only an individual’s ACTS of sin are punishable, and we learn from another verse that we are not liable for the sins of anyone else, including Adam's (Ezek. 18:19-24.)

In the Genesis story, Adam's very own son had the ability to not sin. Sin, therefore, cannot be inherited and passed down through either a man's "seed" or a woman's womb to us. That false doctrine was created 400 years after Jesus's birth by a man named Augustine, who believed that physical sex between parents transmitted a "sin nature" to children.

We must trust God when He told Cain - and all humans that came after him - that we NEED NOT SIN, and instead, must work to not sin any longer,  asking for God's forgiveness, which is granted freely upon repenting of our past behavior. 

We are assured that God has given all people the ability to stop sinning (Deut. 30:11-14; 19) and that we have Jesus as our example that a human being need not sin, and that we in fact can obey God. Jesus’ example is a model upon which we can and must shape our actions.

We must trust Jesus when he said we must seek Godliness and that we could become Godly and complete – certainly not by ourselves without God or without God’s chosen example, but with God's ongoing help and with the example of Jesus always before us. 

We are called to commit our lives in obedience to God's chosen Son, Jesus, the Anointed Son of God, and submit to humbly walk with him, relying, as he taught, on God's grace and forgiveness and growing into the Righteous Perfection that God knows we are capable of achieving.

Sunday, October 23, 2022

The Real Reason So Many Turn Their Backs on God And The Church [#JesusFollowers]

A recent survey found that 81% of Americans believe in God. While that sounds high, it's actually the lowest percentage ever recorded by the survey, which has been taken periodically since 1944. For most of that time, over 90% of Americans believed in God.

The numbers match another disturbing trend. The fastest growing segment of religion in the US are the "Nones." This group isn't a denomination, or even an organized group at all, but they identify with "none" of the organized Christian denominations, traditional or otherwise.

Surveys routinely show that Americans without a religious affiliation (which include 'nothing in particular', agnostic, and atheist), sometimes referred to as "Nones" range around from 21% to 31.4% of the population, with 'nothing in particulars' making up the majority of this demographic. In some states in the US, like New Mexico and New Hampshire, this group consists of up to 49% of the population.

Many have clearly turned their backs on organized religion as a concept, while others are just disgusted with the seeming rejection of science and Reason by people of Faith, and others, sadly, have turned their backs on God as a Being entirely, seeing Christians as well as the God they worship as angry, hypocritical, and judgmental.

Since the early 1990s, independent polls have shown the rapid growth of those without a religious affiliation. A 2018 Barna Group study shows 35% of Generation Z to be Nones.

Many conclusions can be drawn from these statistics, most often is the conclusion that young people simply don't like joining organizations.

But like Mahatma Gandhi, many Nones seem just as likely to be saying, "“I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ." Many conservative Christians have not dared entertain the notion that it's their doctrines that youth and adults alike are rejecting in huge numbers.

The belief that we as humans are born sinful, unable to do any good for ourselves and certainly not able to please God with anything we do with our works, it's good solid Reformation teaching dating back to the 1550s, but doesn't stand up to scrutiny when reading the actual words of Jesus, who grew up steeped in Hebrew scripture learning and was never taught this doctrine, so consequently never taught it to his disciples.

Additionally, youth have always struggled with the Roman Catholic doctrine of the Trinity, which the Reformers accepted without daring to  question it. Yet, the belief formed no part of Jesus' teaching, and he explicitly never mentioned it as something important for us to believe and accept in order to be granted eternal life.

Instead the core of the Gospel books paint Jesus as a human man adopted and specially anointed at baptism by God to perform a mission, a mission which he performed perfectly and called all of us to follow exactly in his footsteps. This actual Gospel of his is not spoken of today by any of his alleged followers who wear robes and call themselves Fathers in ministers.

So, how can we reach the Nones? Why not actually preach the Gospel that Jesus preached to his disciples? Why not preach an active, engaging and life-affirming message that tells us, and them, that all of us are born capable of greatness and are called by Jesus to fulfill that which God created us to become. We have the moral ability to turn back to God and serve and love him fully and completely with all our heart and soul and mind and spirit, in love our neighbor as we love ourselves. This is what Jesus and his gospel calls us to, and it's a winning message in the 21st Century, just as it was in the First Century. 

Once unshackled by centuries of false, man-made doctrine, Jesus will become for us all an older brother whom we can actually follow, not a demigod we must simply worship every Sunday in order to gain entrance to heaven.

Sunday, October 16, 2022

Repenting/Turning to God IS the Gospel of Jesus #JesusFollowers

The doctrine of repentance and remission of sin were what Christ Jesus was chiefly concerned to present to the world; because as humanity was far from conforming their minds and lives to that rule of righteousness which ought to have been the measure of their actions.

Jesus not only called upon sinners to repent and turn to God, and do works fit for repentance, but he also plainly and expressly declared this was the very end and purpose of his ministry.

To preach this Gospel, and to preach the doctrines of repentance and remission of sins is for Jesus are the same thing; for what he calls preaching the Gospel at one time, he calls preaching the doctrines of repentance and remission of sins at another.

Jesus has pointed out to sinners no other way to the Divine mercy and forgiveness, than the good old way, namely, by repentance and reformation of their evil ways, which always was, and always will be the true and only way for sinners to obtain the divine mercy. This is the way which God by his prophets previously pointed out to the sinful nation of Israel.

Thus Isaiah says: “Wash yourselves, make yourself clean. Put away the evil of your doings from before my eyes. Cease to do evil. Learn to do good. Seek justice. Relieve the oppressed. Judge the fatherless. Plead for the widow.” (Isaiah 1:16-17.) Which is the same as if he had said: though your sins are many and great; yet upon your repentance and reformation they shall be forgiven.

Jesus requires and recommends a conformity of mind and life to that rule of action which is founded in the reason of things, and makes or declares that compliance to be the sole ground of divine acceptance, and the only way to life eternal.

He also laid down some general principles of action, namely, the doing as we would have done to us, the loving of God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and the loving our neighbor as ourselves (from general principles, since they are founded in reason.)

And this law of reason is fitly called the law of Christ, as he specially and strictly requires our compliance with it, and declares that compliance to be the sole ground of divine acceptance, in distinction from, and in opposition to that law of ceremonies or positive institutions which Moses had delivered to the Jews, and which therefore was called the law of Moses.

He also represented to us the good and bad consequences which would most certainly attend our compliance, or noncompliance with this law, with regard to the favor or displeasure of God, and their safety or miscarriage in another world.

In his most excellent Sermon on the Mount, after he had shown what attitude and behavior his Disciples and followers ought to put on, and what to avoid; he then represented to them the mighty consequences which depended upon such their attitudes and actions.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven; but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will tell me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, in your name cast out demons, and in your name do many mighty works?’ Then I will tell them, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you who work iniquity.’” (Matt. 7:21-24.)

Here we see as great pretensions – professing Jesus, prophesying in his name – this availed nothing; because they were lacking in that which upon their acceptance with God solely depended; namely, conforming their attitudes and actions to the law of righteousness.

By believing in him, it is clear that Jesus did not mean a bare assent to the truth; but he means by it the attending to that message which he was sent out to deliver to the world, and the governing our minds and lives according to it.

(Adapted from “The Gospel of Christ Asserted,” by Thomas Chubb, 1738)

Sunday, October 9, 2022

We Will All Face God's Judgement! #JesusFollowers

There is no truth more clearly taught in in the scriptures than this: that God will render to every man according to his deeds. (Psalms 62:12) 

The scriptures contain scores of passages which teach us that God will bring every work into judgement, whether it be good or whether it be evil. (Ecclesiastes 12:14)

Being accountable to God for our actions, those who high handedly disobey God (Numbers 15:30) are justly deserving of a punishment, and can be sure of their reward.

In relation to the native characters of human beings, we all came into the world pure; that is, free from any innate depravity, and are born into the world without a moral character; we neither possess any positive virtue, nor actual vice; but we inherit a nature which is capable of both. We cannot believe a God of infinite mercy would bring His own offspring into being under a load of hereditary guilt. 

We also cannot admit that infants in all ages are "liable to the pains of hell forever," in consequence of the sin of our first parents – a sin committed without their knowledge or agency, and thousands of years before they had a being.

The scriptures teach us that infants are free from moral defilement. Our Savior took up little children in his arms and blessed them, and pronounced them heirs of his kingdom. But if they had been totally depraved, filled with all that is evil, would he have taken them up in his arms and blessed them? Had they been embryos of hell, as they are frequently represented, Jesus would not have pronounced them heirs of his kingdom. Again, our Master says, “Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matt. 18:3)

With these, and several other passages before us, we are constrained to believe that we are born into the world pure. The doctrine of imputation appears to be cruelly unjust. Every man is accountable for himself, and for himself alone. The scriptures assure us that, "the father shall not bear the iniquity of the son, nor the son the iniquity of the father." (Ezek. 18:20)

Such passages entirely destroy the doctrine of imputation. All who arrive at years of understanding are depraved in some degree, but their depravity is of their own making.

How is it possible to transfer the guilt of Adam's sin to me? I cannot be criminal, unless I have a consciousness of committing the act, and I cannot have this consciousness of committing the act, unless I have in fact committed it; and if I have in fact committed the sin, it ceases to be Adam's, and becomes my own.

The doctrine of inherited total depravity appears to impeach both the wisdom and goodness of the Deity. If we are the subjects of this total corruption, the revelation which God has given us would be useless.  If God requires all to love him, was it wise of Him to give us a nature which would forever prevent our compliance?

The scriptures assure that God will punish sin. But does it not infringe upon His goodness to say He will punish us for our sins which the nature He gave us compels us to perform? 

There is no truth more sacred than this: that we are accountable for our actions, just as far as we have an ability to perform our duty, and no farther. Whenever you limit our ability to do good, there our accountability ceases.

We must contend for moral virtue. I object to the contemptuous manner in which some speak of morality. Some denounce moral excellence as "dry morality," and insinuate that it is akin to infidelity. If moral goodness is the fruit of infidelity, then give us infidelity in preference to that Christianity which teaches us to slight virtuous actions. 

We may perform good actions from bad motives. In such a case, there is no moral worth in such an act. But if we perform good actions from benevolent motives, they are in the exercise of practical Christianity. Whoever does to others as they desire them to do to him, obeys the requirement of the religion of Jesus.

"Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father," (James 1:27) consists in gratitude to God, good will to others, and watchfulness over our own conduct. 

If we do not exercise charity one to another; if we do not deal justly with our fellow creatures, our religion is of a spurious kind. As Christians, it is our duty to correct our own faults, rather than point out those of others.

We should so favor excellence of character, so that all preaching ought to be directed to this one object, namely, to make people better. Religion in theory should not be valued as much as in practice. Further, religion has no value unless it effects the conduct and renders people virtuous and good. Not that theoretical religion doesn’t have worth, but its value lies entirely in its influence upon the mind and the heart.

That system of doctrines which does not exert an influence over the person is useless. Every scheme, therefore, which is made up of cold speculations which cannot warm the affections, or of inexplicable mysteries which no mortal can comprehend, is not worth professing.

(Adapted from a Sermon by Rev. Charles Hudson, 1795-1881)

Sunday, October 2, 2022

A Church for Today #JesusFollowers

The church that worked for the 5th century, or the 15th, will not work for this century. .What was good enough at Rome, Oxford, or Berlin in past centuries, is not good enough for Boston, Orlando, Seattle, or Houston today.

It must have our ideas, the smell of our ground, and have grown out of the religion in our soul. The freedom of America must be there before this energy will come; the wisdom of our century, before its science will be on the churches' side, or else that science will go over to the ' infidels.' 

Let us have a church that dares imitate the heroism of Jesus; seek inspiration as he sought It; judge the past as he; act on the present like him; pray as he prayed; work as he wrought; live as he lived.

Let our doctrines and our forms fit the soul, as the limbs fit the body, growing out of it, growing with it.

Let us have a church for the whole person; truth for the mind; good works for the hands; love for the heart; and for the soul, that aspiring after perfection, that unfaltering faith in God, which, like lightning in the clouds, shines brightest when elsewhere it is most dark.

Let our church fit humanity, as the heavens fit the earth!" In other terms, a parallel religious progress ought to correspond to the scientific, commercial, and industrial transformation of our age. Either the church will find a way to transform itself in this manner, or it will lose all influence.

Adopted from "The True Idea of a Christian Church," by Rev. Theodore Parker. Preached in January, 1846. Photo: a Fifth Century church ruin in Syria.