by Mike Ratliff
3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave Himself for our sins so that He might rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be the glory forevermore. Amen. Galatians 1:3-5 (NASB)
Much of the doctrinal confusion in the “Church” is directly attributable to attempts to understand scripture without proper study. It is fine to read the Bible and find joy in God’s truths. The Holy Spirit can and does reveal those truths to our hearts as we read and study His Word. However, the fact that there are huge doctrinal disagreements in the “Church” can be quite disconcerting to those who seek only to live for the glory of God by obeying Him in all things. If some teach that a passage in scripture really means one thing while others teach something very different then we have the makings of a paradox if our understanding of doctrine and scripture is based entirely within human reason.
Why are there such huge doctrinal differences between teachers of the Word? Could it be that many of the points of contention that cause Christians to become separate are not critical to the spread of the gospel of Jesus Christ? That may be the case in some areas of doctrine, but there are also very many teachings within the visible Church that are not based on proper Biblical exegesis. These teachings are not biblical and lead many professing Christians into darkness and away from the Light.
One of the first things I was taught when I was studying how to study the Bible was the absolute necessity of keeping scripture in proper context. When studying a verse, keep it in the context of the paragraph, which is kept in the context of the passage, which is kept in context of the chapter, which is kept in the context of the book being studied. We look at the Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How of the book being studied. Who wrote it? Who was it primarily written to? Why was it written? Interpretation of passages is not allowed to be based upon conjecture within Human reason. Instead, we look at other passages by the same author about the same subject. Then we look at other passages in scripture about the same subject. We must allow scripture to interpret scripture. Then we can dig into the grammar. We look up the word definitions in the original language. We look at the verb and participle structure. When we have a passage that is still hard to understand after all of that then we look for the same, or at least similar, passages where the words are strung together the same way. We put that passage in context to see what it says. This is how we do real Bible study. When we do this faithfully and prayerfully, the Treasure of God’s truth is revealed to our hearts.
God isn’t hiding anything from us, but the battle, the work, to dig into His Word is part of the process of knowing Him and His truth. If we attempt to know Him, but aren’t going to take the time to dig for the truth then our interpretation of scripture will not be very deep and we take the chance of misinterpreting scripture to the detriment of our walk before the Lord.
I once received a comment on a post I wrote years earlier dealing with the passage from the book of James where he tells us, “Faith without works is dead.” The writer of the comment accused me of not understanding what a works based theology really was. He took up for the Pharisees. He said that their theology was not “works based.” Of course, Jesus very clearly told the Pharisees that their legalism was keeping them in the dark and that they did not know the Father. We know God by faith and serve Him by doing good works in obedience to His commands. Our living and saving faith will always produce good works such as helping the poor and sharing our faith.
Look at the passage I placed at the top of this post. In it we read that Jesus, “gave Himself for our sins so that He might rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father.” What is wrong with professing Christians who love the world?
15 Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 1 John 2:15 (NASB)
From these passages we know that Jesus came to deliver us from the present evil age. (Galatians 1) The word translated “rescue” from the Greek means to pluck out, tear out, or deliver. The Greek grammar structure of this passage tells us that our “rescue” or “deliverance” was a once and done type of action. Jesus’ death on the cross was done once and it was sufficient to save “us” from the penalty for our sins. However, His sacrifice also delivered us from the present evil age. This is what John meant in 1 John 2:15 in that we are not to love what Jesus died to deliver us from.
When we think of this “love for the world” mentioned in v15 above, don’t we envision a loving for the crude things we see in the sin all around us. However, it also contains a love for the ways of men as opposed to the ways of God. It is a love for doing things religiously in order to earn good will from God. I have some close relatives who hate to hear me talk about what I write about. When I talk about being Spirit-filled or Spirit-led or walking in Repentance they always equate the subject with the religious functions within a local church. This dumbfounds me to no end. Our walk before the face of God is not being measured by God as to how faithful we are in our religious practices. Instead, it is about our faithfulness in being Christlike. How do we treat others? How do we respond when mistreated? How honest are we? How is our fight against our sin nature going?
Faithfulness in man-made religious activity earns no one any points with God. We are called to worship Him, pray to Him, and to obey Him. I love to attend church. I love to teach. I love the fellowship. I love to sing to my Lord. All of that is important, but it is only meaningful if it is done in obedience to the commands of our Lord and for His glory alone. In other words, those things must flow from our relationship with the Living God, not the other way around. We Love God and serve Him for that reason alone. When we do, we do good works and we do religious things. I pray that you see the difference.
16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. 17 The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever. 1 John 2:16-17 (NASB)
When we are religious from the motivation of earning grace or good will from God it is not done borne from a grateful heart that is simply so in love from God that worship breaks out. Instead the motivation is selfish. Instead of approaching God to serve Him from a grateful heart, the professing Christian who is simply religious is attempting to earn a standing with God that they hope will provide them with the things of the world, good health, or even a place in Heaven. There is no seeking to pray God’s will, to become Spirit-filled. Instead they substitute going to church and doing religious things.
The sinfulness in our hearts is astounding. If left to itself, it will blind us and put us in chains of bondage that we cannot break. The sin that so easily ensnares us starts with thoughts in our minds. That wicked sin nature in us desires nothing but self-gratification. It doesn’t care what the source is, as long as the motivation is wrapped up in self. The thoughts are the source of the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes and the pride in possessions. If we keep them as simply thoughts and do give any credence to them then they eventually fade away. We take them capture and deny them access to our members. If we do this then we are the process of killing our sins. However, if we do allow those thoughts to become solid desires in our heart then they will manifest themselves in the three ways mentioned in v16.
The word “lust” is translated from the Greek word “Epithumia.” It is the active and individual desire resulting from “Pathos,” the diseased condition of the Soul. (Mark 4:19, Jude 1:16) Some Bible translations render this word as “desires.” These desires are not of God, but of the fallen world system. This is the “world” we are not to love. We are to do all we can via God’s grace to become free from bondage to it instead of submitting our members to it. If we do submit to it then our sins will come from one or more of the gateways found in v16. The first one is the lusts of the flesh. This refers to being dominated by our Sin Nature’s insatiable appetite for fleshly self-gratification. Christians must not live in a way where they are dominated by this. The lusts of the eyes are the gateway of seeing something that we lust after. Eve saw the tree, that it was beautiful and good for food. This started her slide into deception. The pride of life could also be translated as “pride of possessions.” This is owning things for the sake of lording it over others. It is arrogant ownership.
What does this have to do with “works based religion?” God looks at our motives. We can do good works that are nothing more than filthy rags in God’s eyes because they are done from the motivation self-gratification wrapped around a desire to earn good will from God so things will go right in our lives. Works righteousness is attempting to earn God’s grace with good works. As we discussed earlier, our good works must flow naturally from us as we serve Him for His glory alone. If we do that, our motives are pure. We do not do good works in order to earn anything. If we do, then we are involved in some form of evil desires born from a heart that is bound to the ways of men and the ways of the world which are antithetical to the ways of God.
So, do I have a problem with liturgical worship services? I suppose it isn’t the worship style or the wardrobe or the religious activities themselves I have a problem with. Instead, it is the heart conditions from which they flow that is the problem. Those who use their faithfulness in being religious as a substitute for actually knowing, loving and serving God with a grateful heart are doing nothing more than feeding some part of their Sin Nature’s appetite for self-gratification.
I fight this all the time. When I find myself in the valley of humiliation or the slough of despond, it is nearly always because I have caught myself serving my Lord with improper motives and, therefore, by my own energies and for my own self-gratification. This is always wrong. It is nothing more than chasing after the wind from a religious perspective. Jesus gave Himself to rescue me from the penalty for my sins and to deliver me from the ways of the world. When I try to serve God from any other motivation than my love for Him and for His glory alone, I am doing it for myself. That is nothing more than works righteousness and it is as filthy rags in God’s sight.
O Lord, please forgive us for doing this. Draw us from this self-focused darkness into your light. Help us surrender entirely to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and serve you with pure motives for Your glory alone.
Soli Deo Gloria!