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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Something we can learn from the Christian TV station

There was something I had planned to bring up during Sunday's sermon and our examination of 1 John 2:12-14...but...ran...out...of...time. What I wanted to say was that this passage serves as a reminder that there is something beneficial we can learn from the bulk of the teaching found on Weststar's Channel 21 (a Christian TV network). Let's get God's Word out there before we go any further.  1 John 2:12-14: 















What is 2:12-14? This is an interesting set of verses, but what exactly is it? In all the commentaries, no one claims for it to be poetry for the sake of poetry nor a hymn, nor is it a blessing or benediction. As best as I can ascertain, it seems to be a poetic pronouncement of truth meant to provide assurance and comfort for the genuine Christian. Or, as is often said in the modern church: "Speaking truth into someone's life."  

Bold pronouncements & Weststar TV Channel 21. John provides some bold pronouncements here to some of which we might respond: "Yeah, sometimes but not always or even normally." For instance: You have overcome the evil one. To which you might say, "Sometimes I have these moments, but I also give in to temptation." The point John is making is that through the cross and the testimony that results (see Revelation 12:11), Satan has conclusively been defeated. Similarly: You are strong. To which you might protest: "Well, not really. I give in quite a bit to the lusts of the flesh or simply to those Reese's Peanut Butter Eggs over Easter." But John is saying, Jesus' has put His Word of salvation in you so you are strong even when you don't feel it and his strength working within you even more than "makes up for" any weakness on your end (see 2 Corinthians 12:9-10). The bulk of teaching on Weststar Channel 21 consists of what is known as "The Word of Faith Movement", or "Positive Confession," or, more crudely, "Name-it-and-Claim-it." One of the main tenets of this movement is that it blurs the lines of justification (our legal standing of being presently right before God) and sanctification (our becoming right with God as the Holy Spirit changes us to be more like Jesus). A great example of the distinction comes in Romans 6:11-14.
So you must also consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present you members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought form death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
The purple (v.11 and v.14) represents the reality of our justification and Paul uses what we call the indicative voice describing the way things currently stand (see also v.2, v.6, v.18., v.22). We are dead to sin. Sin will not have dominion over you. Hear the boldness, right? So why even talk about sin since you've overcome it?! Because Paul also includes verses 12-13 - the reality of the ongoing work of being saved and Paul uses the imperative voice to urge us to presently do in response to what has been done (see also v.19). Though Jesus has finished the work of paying the penalty of sin, we keep going to the cross to give us the strength, power & fuel to kill sin daily - not putting ourselves in situations to afford our bodies as instruments to be used by sin, putting Jesus on the throne of our hearts to reign where sin would wish to sit. So you will hear "The Word of Faith" teaching use terms like "victorious life" and we are like "little gods" because of extreme confidence in the work of justification to the extent that it has obliterated the ongoing work of sanctification. You might note already, however, the immediate appeal of seeing Scripture as a whole being a positive affirmation that the Christian can do anything.

First, the dangers of Word of Faith. I will limit myself here to two dangers with respect to blurring the lines of justification-sanctification and will largely try to stay out of the fray on issues of the Word of Faith movement as it relates to physical healing, prosperity and giving to "God's work" (for a fuller treatment on this movement see first Dr. Sam Storms' wonderful book review on the topic; secondarily, an even more sympathetic but helpful treatment from Jon Ruthven). 

The first danger of this teaching is the subtle shift of confidence from God to self even as we tag on "in Christ." The full weight of perspective and priorities shifts from who Christ is is to who I am in Christ. The latter is crucial - but often word of faith teachers encourage action more in the "who I am" (therefore I can assume God will give me the job, the role, the person, etc. for which I ask) than the "in Christ" aspect. It also ignores Jesus' teaching about the relatively small role we have to play in Him doing big things - God likes to use faith the size of a mustard seed to move a tree or even a mountain largely to remind persons that it's not the quality of their faith but the object of their faith who does the work (Luke 17:6; Matthew 17:20). I remember once hearing G.K. Chesterton saying wisely:
What we suffer from today is humility in the wrong place. Modesty has settled itself upon the organ of conviction; where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself but undoubting of the truth; this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays the part of man that a man does not assert is exactly the part he ought not to doubt - the Divine Reason...we are on a road to producing a race of man too mentally modest to believe in the multiplication table.
The magnetism of this teaching, in my opinion, also rests in the notion that the majority of the worlds problems are largely due to personal self-esteem issues. By subtly shifting the bulk of the focus to "who I am  in Christ," self-esteem is boosted - though even secular psychology has largely pushed back against the myth that low self-esteem is a problem.

The second danger of this teaching is related: Word of Faith Teaching tends to use Scripture in a man-centered, utilitarian fashion. Scripture becomes almost entirely a series of promises to claim and act upon. As the UK-based Alliance Commission on Unity and Truth among Evagelicals (whew...) pointed out about Word of Faith teaching:
[They employ] a highly utilitarian use of the biblical texts. Scripture is treated as a contractual or covenant document whose practical value lies almost entirely in the fact that it comprises a set of rules, laws, conditions, etc., which must be appropriated and activated by the believer in order to achieve spiritual and material success.
This is a problem. There are loads of questions we can ask of Scripture to help us, with the Holy Spirit's help, understand how God wants us to apply it. But as you can tell from a previous post, promises to be claimed consists of only one of about 10+ diagnostic questions. The brief prayer of a man named Jabez amongst a long list of the descendants of Judah is another example of this (1 Chronicles 4:8-11).

Second, what can learn from Word of Faith Teaching. Because we are sons and daughters of a King, dead to sin and alive in Christ, co-heirs with the Son, we have a status that allows us to "boldly approach the throne of grace" (Hebrews 4:16). The Word of faith movement rightly encourages a strong act of the will involved in faith. Trust in Jesus not only for salvation for present and ongoing activity in this world ought to translate into something beyond passive acceptance but an aggressive and zealous component of action ("stepping out in faith"), especially when God has clearly made or advocated a promise. I think therein lies the key. God does not promise each person wealth in this life, nor complete healing, nor a total freedom from the presence of sin.

1 John 2:12-14 is a great example of promises that can be claimed. If you trust Christ, you have overcome the ruling power of Satan, we do know Him who is from the beginning (Him whose track record is so good at providing all our needs that it pre-dates track records), your sins have been forgiven and Jesus is being glorified every day just based on this fact alone, that word planted inside of you is making you strong.

So as you walk out your door this morning, today, this evening, go with these truths as reality in your life (justification), then you will only be empowered to overcome harmful attitudes, misplaced priorities, false idols, to grow in a trusting relationship and knowledge of Him who is from the beginning, to further receive and experience the forgiveness of sins, and to daily feed yourself with God's Word to make you stronger (sanctification). That's how this Christian life works: Believing and acting like you are and so becoming who you are.

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