Monday, July 11, 2016

Definitions Matter

I was talking with a church friend the other day about matters of the faith, and he said, "definitions matter." He hit on a really important truth: sloppy definitions lead to sloppy theology. And sloppy theology leads to sloppy life-application and a muddled worldview.

The biblical definitions behind the Christian terminology we use matter because if we're not clear about what we mean by them in the first place, we can be thrown off course when we try to act on what we say. In other words, when we try to walk the walk after talking the talk our feet aren't sure where to go. And we may well find ourselves straying off the path.

In the face of what is beginning to seem like a constant barrage of emotionally and politically unsettling tragedies hitting the headlines, how are Christians to respond? We hear a lot about, "love!" "forgiveness!" and "grace!" We tend to use these terms frequently, and with good intention, but we're not always clear about what we mean by them. And as things progress, we find ourselves getting muddled.

Should we call sin, sin? Or should we show grace? Should we speak truth? Or show love? Should we withhold judgment? Or uphold justice? Without sound theology, we might forget that truth and love cannot be separated. Without sound theology we might forget that to downplay sin, is to diminish grace...

In other words, we need to be careful with our Christianese. We need to be careful we our theology.

But I don't like theology! You might hear some say... In fact, "theology" has almost become a bad word today. It is often associated with rigidity, harshness, even bigotry. In our post-modern culture, theology has become taboo.

The truth is, however, everyone has a theology. Theology is simply the study of God. Or as Saint Augustine in the fifth century put it, theology is a “rational discussion respecting the Deity.” The term comes from the word theos which is Greek for “God” and ology which is from the Greek word logos meaning “word.” Most literally, then, the word theology means “words about God.” As believers, who think about, and discuss, God, try to understand Him, and live out our faith accordingly, we are all developing a theology. Even atheists have a theology!

The big question is, however, does our theology reflect sound biblical truth, or something else?

The truth is, false teacherslike the mega-popular spiritual and self-help icons of secular culture and the New Ageoften use terms like love, peace, and truth. Yes, the enemy, who masquerades as an angel of light, loves to spout off about forgiveness and spiritual fulfillment. He might even talk about "god." But if we listen discerningly, we might realize that what he means by love, peace, truth, and god, is very different from the biblical definitions of those things. "Love" is a mere emotion. "Peace" is mental detachment. "Truth" is relative. And "god" is the inner light within ourselves. The enemy claims that we create our own truth, that we shape our own destinies, and ultimately that we can save ourselves. He can use "Christian" terminology, while at the same time convincing us that we have no need for a Savior.

In the same vein, what Mormons mean by Jesus, salvation, and atonement, is fundamentally different than what the Bible teaches about these things.

If our theology doesn't reflect God's truth, but something else, we are in danger of viewing God through a lens of deception. In fact, if we are consistently sloppy with our theology, over time we can even end up creating our own fictitious god, who bears little resemblance to the One revealed to us in Scripture.

Theology matters.

For example, when Jesus asked the disciples, "who do you say I am?" (Matt 16:13-15), He was asking them to define their theological perspective on who He is. And our answer to this pivotal theological question will be the most important one we will ever have to give.

Jesus said to Thomas, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well.” (John 16:6-7, emphasis added). But the fact is, many who use His name do not actually know the true Christ. Jesus said:

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (Matt 7:21-23).
To know Him and to do His will involves understanding the truth about who He is, what He did for us on the Cross, and what His Word teaches. It involves sound theology.

The good news is that God in His mercy and wisdom has provided us with a carefully worded guide in which He has clearly defined the truths about His nature and how we can be reconciled to Him. It's important, then, to pay careful attention to these definitions. As Paul says, "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth." (2 Tim 2:15).

Before we use biblical terminology, we should hold up our own words against Scripture. We are commanded to hold all teaching up against God's Word, like the "noble" Berean Jews were commended for doing in the Book of Acts. This doesn't mean cherry-picking verses selectively. It means making a humble, honest examination of the text to make sure our definitions are sound.

Don't be discouraged; this isn't going to be a popular standard to uphold, for we've been forewarned that "the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths." (2 Tim 4:3-4).

It is all the more crucial, then, that we equip ourselves with sound theology, in order to distinguish absolute truth from lies in a relativistic culture of deception.

Definitions matter.

Friday, July 8, 2016

The Humility Paradox: Keeping it Real...or Just Really Awful?

Here's a paradoxical truth: True humility exudes confidence. 

Yep. The most humble person you'll ever meet will at the same time be the absolute most confident, most assured person you'll ever meet!

How can this be?

Because humility, in its purest form, is to seek your identity not in yourself, but in your Savior. For if you have truly died to self, then you can truly live in Christ. And if your identity is rooted in Him, so is your confidence!
"For the Lord will be your confidence and will keep your foot from being caught." (Prov 23:6).

Sadly, however, there is a growing trend among Christians to lead with their failures in an effort to "keep it real" and "stay humble." Increasingly, they publicly beat themselves up. They wallow in their weaknesses. They air their dirty laundry.

But for all intents and purposes, this self-deprecating behavior could be considered a form of humblebragging. For leading with one's failures is becoming a popular way for Christians to draw attention to how "humble" they are.

But that's not keeping it real. That's just really awful.


...Because this tragic misunderstanding of what it means to be humble distracts us from the power of the Cross.

...Because when we lead with our failures, we've actually committed the biggest failure of all: we have failed to glorify God.

...Because leading with our failures is false humility, which is actually rooted in pride. Essentially, it is self-absorption.

...Because when we lead with our failures, we have moved our focus from the holy He, to the sinful Me. And that is pretty awful.

I'm not good at that. I'm not gifted at that. I'm not as good as he is at that. I can't do what she can. I fail at this. I stink at that.

Did you notice that these ostensibly self-deprecating statements all start with an "I"? But the problem is, if your spiritual dialogue constantly starts with "I" instead of "He" then you're likely idolizing yourself in God's place.

This is not to say that we shouldn't be honest about our failings. We're all sinners. We all screw up. We all get discouraged. By no means should we pretend otherwise.

And we should absolutely confess our sins to one another! But we should not confess our sins with the goal of appearing "humble" or "real" to our friends/audience. Our ultimate goal should be to turn from that sin and to embrace our true righteousness in Christ. When we do this, we take the spotlight off ourselves, and place it on Him. We fix our eyes on Jesus!

In fact, truly humble believers will not only exude confidence, but they will actually be terribly boastful people when it comes to their Savior and what He has done for them. As Paul puts it, "May I never boast except in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world." (Gal 6:14).

So, then, let's not be a people of humblebraggers. Let's be a people of Christ-boasters! Because that is really keeping it real!