Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. (1 John 4:1)
This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, (1 John 4:2)
but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world. (1 John 4:3)
You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. (1 John 4:4)
They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. (1 John 4:5)
We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood. (1 John 4:6)
Starting a 4 series where each week we discuss one of modern cultures objections to Christianity. Some of these objections are not just with Christianity but other religions too.
I am so grateful that God has given me this calling to be a safe place for people who are figuring out the faith. And if that's you today, I want to say that I'm so glad you're here this is a safe place for you. Now, because I respect you, I want to give you notice that some of the topics of this series are areas where I am diametrically opposed to modern culture. I am absolutely a product of my generation, and I am far from a world-denying separatist. But I need to tell you, there's some things that are very ingrained in modern culture that are just so wrong, it's not even right. And it's never my intention to offend, but we're gonna talk a little bit real.
We've talked about this before, but people mean lots of different things when they use the word 'Religion'. Some positive, some negative.
Of course in my personal language. I use the word 'Religion' mostly negatively. And when it's used negatively, it means: "A system through which we get to God." And in that case, we would say that Christianity is not a religion, we don't need a system too 'get to God' because God has come to us. So for us, it's not 'religion' it's …. relationship.
But there's also a more generic use of the word religion that just means the particular faith that we have and the way we worship. In that sense of the word, our church is a religious organization and the Christian faith is a religious faith.
That's the way I'm using the word in this series. So don't come up to me and say "You described Christianity as a religion. But you've said that it's not a religion." - I wish there was a better word, but there's no word for a faith structure other than religion.
Are we sufficiently disclaimed?
Faith is under tremendous scrutiny right now.
40 Years ago if you were to ask people "What's the main barrier to peace in the world?" - They would probably have said 'Political Ideology' - You think about the Cold War. - & Communism vs Capitalism. Today, most people believe that the main barrier to peace in the world is religion. There's a flood of books coming out right now that make the point that the issues we face today stem from religious ideology.
"Without religion, we'd have good people doing good things, and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion." (Steven Weinberg (Theoretical physicist))
I want to start off by saying something that might surprise you since I'm a Christian pastor and it's this: I agree that religion, generally speaking, has a very strong tendency to divide, a very strong tendency to create strife. In fact I would say that religion tends to create a slippery slope that can move people all the way down to oppression and violence.
What do I mean? Let's say you have a group of people who believe they have the truth, and they're saved by somehow acting upon that truth.
It's not that hard to develop a sense of superiority over the people who don't have that truth. And from there it's not that hard to believe 'What we need is to separate ourselves from those people!' - Then you become unfamiliar with them. Then you start to believe the worst about them. Then you create these stereotypes and caricatures of people with different faiths, or perhaps no faith at all. At that point, it can be very easy to either passively accept or even actively participate in the marginalization or oppression of groups with different beliefs.
You dehumanize in your mind, and then it's easy to dehumanize in your actions.
There's so many examples of this in the modern world I wouldn't even know where to start. I mean the amount of mosque shootings and church shootings are absolutely out of control. For what? You dehumanize in your mind long enough, it becomes easy to dehumanize in your actions.
So just know that I do not come to Christianity, or religion as a whole with rose-colored glasses. I am well aware of our error and the issues that we face today.
Yet despite all of that, I am MORE committed to Jesus today than I have ever been. I have never been more convinced that progress in the world apart from Jesus is at best a band-aid. That the only real and lasting change that's even possible for our world is the light of Jesus Christ. So then it becomes very important for people like me and perhaps people like you to be able to endure the scrutiny that's headed our way, and is only going to get worse. THUS THE SERIES.
The Objection: “Everyone should be free to determine for themselves what is true. Everyone should be free to determine their own truth and what is right or wrong for them. Absolute Truth is the enemy of personal freedom.”
The Supreme Court has enshrined this idea in a famous passage in a 1992 ruling :
“At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe …”
So the idea: "You're encroaching on my freedom by saying that you have the Absolute Truth." What - say to that? 3 Things, and these are in your notes.
You know what's really funny? Everybody already believes that. You have to.
The basic belief of the culture today: You should never believe that you have the truth. If you believe you have the truth and other people don't have it. You've created a binary. And ONE and ZERO system where it's either black or white.
You can't go to someone and say 'I have a truth about God and you should come over to my side'!! How horrible! we're told. People don't think that. Nobody thinks that. Lots of people think they think that, but they're wrong. Nobody believe we should all make the truth up for ourselves. Nobody.
It doesn't work. It doesn't work for 2 reasons:
Let's say you're a husband and one of the worst thing imagine things happens to her. She's raped. You hear about it, and you go tell the police. And you go on the news because they're trying to catch this guy before he assaults more women.
Do you think people are gonna hear this story and say "Well your wife has to find her truth, and this man has to find what's true for him. And if he doesn't think it's wrong, who I am to say differently?" - NOBODY THINKS THAT. Well, nobody SANE thinks that. So for someone to say "You should never say that you have the truth and someone else doesn't" just doesn't check out emotionally. That's not how the heart works.
2. Logically - BRAIN
Doesn't work out logically. So that's not how your heart works, but guess what that's not how your brains works either. Lots of people believe that all religions are equally valid. That all paths lead to God. How egotistical are you Christians to say YOU have the truth!
Here's a common illustration: A group of blind men who come up to an elephant. I imagine if they really were blind men they would sort of run into the elephant, I guess. They all grab hold of it, and everyone begins to say what the elephant is like. One grabs hold of the trunk and says, “Ah! Elephants are long and flexible creatures.” Another one has ahold of the leg and says, “No, no, no. Elephants are very short and thick and stiff creatures. They’re not long and flexible. They’re short and stiff.” Another blind man has a hold of the side and says, “You’re not right at all. It’s huge and flat.” They begin to argue. Each one says, “No, no. Your view of the elephant isn’t right.” As they’re arguing, we realize every one of them is right, and every one of them is wrong. They all have part of reality of the elephant. They grasp part of it, but nobody can see the whole picture. Therefore, none of them should say they see the whole picture. They all see part of the reality. Nobody sees the whole reality. They’re all partly right, and they’re all partly wrong. The point: “Religions are the same. All religions see part of the spiritual truth. Nobody can see the whole thing. No one should insist they have the entire truth. That’s how we ought to understand religions.”
It almost sounds smart. Until you think about it.
The only way you could know none of the blind men had a grip on the entire reality of the elephant was if you could see the whole elephant. The only way you could tell that story is if you think you see the whole elephant. Because otherwise how would you know that one of them isn't exactly right? You wouldn't.
And in the same way, the only way you could possibly know that all religions see a part of the truth but not the whole truth is for you to see the whole truth- which is the very thing you say nobody can see!
Our postmodern tendency is to say 'Quit making Absolute Truth claims! No one can know the whole truth.' To which we would say 'That's an Absolute Truth claim.'
There two types of people in the world, people who believe in Absolute Truth and people who believe in Absolute Truth but don't know it. "There is no Absolute Truth." IS an Absolute Truth claim. There's no way to stop making Absolute Truth claims. There's no way to stop making right and wrong, binary statements.
“But you cannot go on ‘explaining away’ forever: you will find that you have explained explanation itself away. You cannot go on ‘seeing through’ things forever. The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it. It is good that the window should be transparent, because the street or garden beyond it is opaque. […] If you see through everything, then everything is transparent. But a wholly transparent world is an invisible world. To ‘see through’ all things is the same as not to see.” (C.S. Lewis Little book - The Abolition of Man)
What's his point? His point is this: To say "Meh. Truth doesn't matter." is to say that nothing matters. The sexual exploitation of children. It's either right or wrong. And you know it. Everybody makes truth claims. You have to.
The real question is this: Who's Absolute Truth claims cause them to be more loving towards people they disagree with? Now that's an interesting question.
Tolerance isn't about having no beliefs, tolerance is about how you treat the people you disagree with. But to say 'You should stop saying I'm right and you're wrong.' - That's not the answer. The answer is to have strong convictions but let those strong convictions lead to you treating people better. So saying that Absolute Truth impeeds on people's freedom doesn't make sense. Why?
Again the idea:
Wrong. Oversimplification. Freedom is much more complex than that.
As you get older, I regret to inform you that you can't just eat whatever you want. When you're a teenager, You can eat 12 polish sausages and the next day, you feel fantastic, and you never gain a pound. Well that ALLL changes. Eventually you're gonna go to the doctor and the doctors gonna tell you that you have about 50 polish sausages hanging out around your waistline that are probably going to kill you unless you make stop eating that stuff. So you're gonna have to see that food on the table or on the shelf and you're going to have to look at it, and say "No."
Is loss of freedom? Only in the most basic, juvenile way of understanding the world. And mature person would understand that saying no to all the junk that's killing you is actually a way for you to maintain as much freedom as possible.
You're constrained, but that constraint leads to the most most freedom.
For breakfast I drink this green smoothie that I make in the blender. It's mango, and banana, and avocado, and spinach. And it taste - meh, fine. But this past week was David Goldman's birthday, so there were boxes of Dunkin Donuts in the office all week. And every morning I had to walk past the donuts, I allow myself one smell, and I go to the blender and make my spinach drink. Does that somehow make me less free? Of course not. In fact, I believe being healthy is the way to maintain as much freedom as possible for as long as possible as I age.
So in that case: "Freedom" leads to bondage, and restraint leads to real freedom.
We have some great musicians here. And if you're a great musician in here today, I can tell you why. Sure, some of you have natural gifting and abilities, but that's not why. The reason is that at some point in your life, you decided to restrict your freedom for the sake of practice. Your buddies went out for drinks, but you didn't. You stayed home, and you practiced. And through that restriction, came the this beautiful freedom. Freedom to express yourself musically, to perform, too compose.
Restricting freedom 'here' leads to more freedom 'there'. So self-discipline, often times leads to the most freedom.
Always? No. Some restraint is stupid. "Because of my devotion to Jesus, I never smile." - No that's dumb. So restraint is not always good, and it's not always bad.
True freedom is found in surrendering to the right restrictions. The ones that line up with who God created you to be.
That's why a fish isn't free in the grass. He's free to go wherever he wants, but that's not where he was created to live. The fish needs to restrict himself to the water if he's gonna be around very long. - But you put that fish in the water, he darts around effortlessly. So for the fish, to restrict themselves to what God made them for is actually the most freedom.
Love opens you up to all kinds of freedom. The freedom of security and fulfillment, and joy. There are millions of choices that open up to you through love. But love is also very restricting. You'd have to agree with that wouldn't you? To enjoy the freedom of a loving relationship, you have to surrender all kinds of personal freedom. The moment you said "I do." There are tons of things you're agreeing to not do.
Before I was married, me and my buddies were always going downtown to see concerts. We were friends with all the bands, and if you don't know, often times the FIRST band doesn't go on until 10pm and the last band goes on at 1am. So we listen to them, then we go to frontier restaurant around 2, and get home maybe 3am. And that wasn't an issue for me as a single dude without a care in the world. Now that I have a wife, and a daughter, who thinks I still do that?
So am I less free now than I was before? Depends what you mean by that. I traded cheap freedom, for deep, meaningful, lasting freedom. Freedom is a lot more complex that just being able to do whatever you want whenever you want. It's about surrendering to the RIGHT restrictions. The ones that line up with who God created you to be.
And so you might be thinking "I don't like the sound of restraining myself to get more freedom. I'm afraid of being exploited and used…
In the movie "I, Robot" - the movie not the book. The movie has nothing to do w/the book. In the movie, the main character in named Sonny, and Sonny is a robot. Sonny was created by his maker to stop a robot rebellion. And he does that. And then at the end of the movie he's talking to his friend Detective Spooner (Will Smith) and he says this:
Sonny: “Now that I’ve fulfilled my purpose, I don’t know what to do.” Detective Spooner: “I think you’ll have to find your way like the rest of us, Sonny. That’s what it means to be free.”
Which sounds like a perfectly nice encouragement to a robot who has lost his way, but do you see the implication? Now that you're free from your makers purpose, that's real freedom. But if you're just doing what your maker programmed into you, you're just a robot. Here's why that's nothing like Christianity.
We believe that Jesus is the ultimate truth. So the Christian faith is not built around a set of principles but around a person.
Let's go back to the love point. If you enter into a love relationship, you surrender some percentage of your personal independence. And two people enter into that surrender. You both have to do it.
When you both sacrifice, and put each others needs before you own. It's beautiful. On the other hand, if one of you surrenders their personal freedom and the other doesn't. That's hell.
If one person sacrifices and the other doesn't, THEN you're exploited. THEN you're dehumanized. Some people think that's how it is with God. That he hurls the 10 commandments down from heaven and you change, you sacrifice, or it's the frying pan for you.
YOU change. YOU sacrifice. That's what most religions look like. There's only one, Christianity, that says God, the Absolute Truth, comes to be with us and goes to the cross.
The cross is Jesus saying "I will lose my independence for you. I will adjust to you. I will sacrifice my freedom for you."
And in that vulnerability, we exploited him. We abused him. We killed him. And still his arms are open to us. So it's not you sacrificing for a cold, immovable God, it's God sacrificing for you FIRST, and you sacrificing for him
Jesus doesn't ask you to do anything that he hasn't already done. - And that makes it impossible for him to exploit you.
(Jesus) who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; (Philippians 2:6)
rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. (Philippians 2:7)
And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:8)
This is liberation. Relationship with God is not an abstract set of rules that goes one way. It's a loving, committed, sacrificial relationship, that goes both ways. He'll always hold up his end perfectly, and you never will. That's not the point. That point is that Christianity is not an oppressive system that you need to fall in line with, it's a loving committed relationship. And it's more liberating than you think.
For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. (2 Corinthians 5:14)
It says in the King James - "The love of Christ constrains us." Isn't that amazing? It's the love of Christ that constrains us. But in Christ, that constraint doesn't rob us of our freedom, in fact, it's the only thing that makes us free.
(As - prepare - communion)
Closing Statement: We live in a world that says it's wrong to say you have Absolute Truth. But Absolute Truth is something everybody thinks they have. There is no way around embracing Absolute Truth if you ever want to stand for anything. The better question to ask is this: Who's Absolute Truth claims cause them to be more loving towards people they disagree with? For the Christian, Jesus is Absolute TruthA. And part of our discipleship to Jesus is allowing him to set the boundaries for who we are, and what we do. And submitting our lives to his leadership, is where we find true freedom.
Old Hymn by John Newton …
Our pleasure and our duty Though opposite before Since we have seen his beauty, Are joined to part no more. To see the law by Christ fulfilled, To hear his pardoning voice, Changes a slave into a child And duty into choice. (John Newton)
As pass: In what ways do I need to surrender to the Lordship of Jesus Christ?