Never has the bible been more available to us all. But sometimes, as I read social media, I wonder if this bible, available in so many versions and formats, is actually being read in full at all!
Some seem to base their world view on no more than Psalm 23, the first half of Ephesians, a few political preferences and the slogan that “God is love”. But this is not enough to develop a divine world view that truly sees God, as revealed in the scriptures.
Because of this probable trend in biblical illiteracy, I wonder if some are beginning to see God as a divine Father Christmas figure, that hell is a myth, our behaviour is irrelevant, repentance is old-fashioned and church should be a kindly club, just doing nice things for society, in the hope we will “win them over”.
As I read through the Gospels, I find they are packed with confrontation and controversy, that the epistles bristle with clear and direct lifestyle commands and that the Old Testament is full of fire and fear, as well as faithfulness and God’s friendship. So I wonder if we are, at times, putting words into God’s mouth that have never been there? Are we attributing fashionable slogans to the eternal Being that is God? And are those slogans subtly leading churches and Christians astray?
Sadly, I believe they are.
So here are some provocative little thoughts about this: 6 things Jesus actually NEVER said, that I think some Christians think he did… (remember I always write with a slight twinkle in my eye – just trying to get us to think, I’m not really this cranky!):
- “God’s love is unconditional”
I think we are now living in an age when true intelligent discussion is not really allowed. Instead, definitive sweeping changes are being driven by slogans like “Love wins” “God is Love” and “God loves unconditionally”. While these sound great on the surface, three word slogans are not adequate to sum up the real truth of God’s love, holiness, the free gift of salvation or the cost of discipleship.
That is why we have a WHOLE bible to read, a book filled with as much terrifying might as it is mysterious mercy!
Many who quote “God loves unconditionally” subtlety seem to mean that “if He loves me, that must mean he approves of all I do, I can live how I want. He will not correct me, because that is rejecting me. He will not discipline me, as that is disapproval – and that’s not loving!” But biblical Christianity includes correction, discipline, change and repentance – it is not simply automatic approval. It is rather like the loving context of parenting – true love corrects and adjusts behaviour and belief, resulting in a mature, fully developed person.
God is indeed Love, but the bible shows he also hates, detests, turns over tables, shouts, cries, get’s frustrated with his dilatory disciples and says that we will remain in His love only “IF you obey my commands” (John 15:10). To try to grasp that God is love, without the context that God is also holy, will lead your theology astray, and will lessen your appreciative awe of His grace.
- “Church should be Inclusive”
Wow – this is a hard one. The remit of the Church is to “make disciples” (Matt 28:19) which infers her members should be open to discipline, growth, training and development. To be a disciple is to be devoted to a teaching. Now, while our evangelistic “reach” should be all inclusive (although, Jesus was sometimes pretty non-inclusive with those Pharisees, did you notice?), true membership into the body is one that clearly includes church discipline (Matt 18:15-17 “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over… if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.) the expulsion of members over certain issues (1 Co 5:1 expel the immoral brother), and even the shunning of those who will not rise to be a true disciple where able.(2 Thess 3:6 In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us.)
While our reach should be all inclusive, local church membership is not completely unconditional.
- “Let’s make God so attractive, people come to Church”
OK, I’m being a tad provocative here, and I certainly don’t think we should aim to make church UNattractive! But while it is true Jesus said we should be a city on a hill and a light to the world – He also modelled a message that was offensive, rejected, hated by many and brought persecution to both himself and his followers. Jesus said the world “hates me because I testify that its works are evil.” John 7:7. He also said ““If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” John 15:18+
While we would be crazy to try to be offensive and cranky, our message is not of this world, and we are not here to appease the culture of the day, but to bring heaven to earth – a kingdom coming! The Gospels, book of Acts and church history shows that a true church is, at times, a riot causing church! We don’t aim to offend, but our message is eternal, and not always loved by the temporal fashions of the day.
Some truly old Methodist church buildings have “escape hatches”, where the preacher could run and escape if the congregation were about to attack them because of their preaching! Not always loved, Methodism radically transformed the nation in its day. However, it was not by populism, but by truth, power and grace!
- “Whatever you do – don’t offend anyone” (or, “please be nice”)
It is sad to see many church leaders feel they must assume the posture of kindly chaplains, as if that is what church leadership is all about. Of course, once again, kindness is vital and godly, but if it is the only type of leader we consider “Christian” then our world view is not biblical. Biblical leadership can be confrontational, pioneering, brave, adventurous, wild, prophetic, dangerous, bringing truth as well as grace to our spheres of influence. Jesus himself had thousands turn away from him when his preaching became “strong”. His response to his disciples: “Do you want to go too?” (John 6:67)
- “God Doesn’t Hate”
Again, a modern misunderstanding of the concept of God’s love, leads some to think God hates nothing. The bible clearly shows he loves the whole world, but he also hates our involvement in certain behaviours:
There are six things the Lord hates,
seven that are detestable to him:
a lying tongue,
hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked schemes,
feet that are quick to rush into evil,
a false witness who pours out lies
and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.
Read that last line again: “He hates a person who stirs up conflict”. Our behaviour can put us in a place where God’s hatred is expressed – scary! Now, from my reading of the whole bible, I believe he loves the person, but hates the behaviour. Either way, let’s not aim to have our lives experience the hatred of God!
- “Your sins are forgiven – now do whatever you want!”
To the woman caught in adultery, without even a record of her obvious repentance, Jesus says “I do not condemn you”. That leaves some fundamental theologians twitchy, while some more liberal ones would love to teach from this, that this is God’s unconditional, “Do whatever you want” approach to our sin. But Jesus didn’t actually stop there. He finishes by saying “go, and sin no more.”
To a man just healed he said: “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” John 5:14 (Jesus in straight talking mode again!)
Perhaps humanity’s toxic pursuit of personal approval has invaded our theology, creating a liberal hope that God never has anything other than pure approval for us, in every way. This however, is simply not biblical.
I realise, in this short, provocative piece, I am picking and choosing only certain verses, to express a few less fashionable thoughts and extremes from the bible, Truly, I realise we are not on this earth to be cranky, unloving, judgmental and cruel. But also, the lack of true biblical “World view” of many Christians is worrying.
I also realise the Church currently finds itself in a tense time, as we wonder how to grapple with a society bent on new ways of moral anarchy and sexual confusion. But our response should not be a knee-jerk reaction that tries to re-write scripture to appease, but rather the discovery of innovative ways to reach a hurting world with grace, while allowing God’s bride to be truly glorious and holy.
Can I implore you to read the whole bible. I picked up a copy of The Passion Translation for my birthday (such a great fresh read!). I settled down the first few weeks, slowly pouring over the Gospel of John, catching a fresh sense of what Jesus was REALLY like. My conclusion – As well as loving and kind, He was wild, offensive, radical, truthful, a tad rude (perhaps “pointed” or straight talking is a better word – but many would call it rude if they encountered a leader like it today!), and he lost a lot of disciples because of his wild style. He was no soft, push-over. He was a powerful, confrontational figure.
As I read, I began to pray: “Jesus, I want to know the REAL you. What REAL love, REAL kindness, REAL truth is. I don’t want to make you a God in my image. I don’t want to pretend that things are true, just because I would prefer them to be. Teach me. I humble myself before your Word.”
Be really bold my friend. Read all the scary scriptures, as well as the nice ones, and ask God to give you a truly, biblical world view.
If you’d like some more radical thinking about Jesus, try this article: Jesus, What was He Really like?