Captivated by Christ

See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. Colossians 2:8

Are you captivated by Christ or by the world?  That is the context for Paul’s admonition to the Colossian believers.  Our focus verse sums up the point Paul made earlier in this passage by telling his readers that his great desire was for them to attain “all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself,  in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I say this so that no one will delude you with persuasive argument.”

So, if our spiritual wealth comes from a full assurance of understanding that true knowledge is found in an ever-growing relationship with Jesus Christ, why do we still give so much time, attention, and value to the things of this world?

Some may think that they are not captive to the world and are captive to Christ.  There is any easy test to prove whether or not this is true.  Ask yourself a few probing questions such as:

  • Do you see your church as a place to come and receive or to come and contribute? Are you involved in ministry at your church? Do you volunteer for ministries where there are known needs? Or do you use the excuse that you are too busy?
  • Do you make up your own morality? Do you decide for yourself what is true, what is right, what is good? Or do you look to God’s Word for understanding what is true, right, and good?
  • Do you believe that God’s primary concern for you is that you are happy? Or do you understand that God’s primary concern is that you are holy and recognize this process may require sacrifice and difficulty?

Friends, we were once all captive to the domain of darkness but God in His mercy caused us to be born again into a living hope. God desires to transform us into the likeness of His Son Jesus Christ. It is His desire that we be renewed day by day in our thinking so that we will understand the riches of His mercy and grace.  Don’t trade this magnificent inheritance for the things the world has to offer.

That is a transforming truth.

Doctrine Matters, But . . . .

As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines, nor to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere speculation rather than furthering the administration of God which is by faith. But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. 1 Timothy 1:3-5

In most Christian churches today doctrine reigns supreme as the number one litmus test for fellowship as well as for consideration for leadership and ministry. Believe the same things as those in power and you’re in.  Have a different view on specific subjects and not only are you not considered for leadership, you are essentially shunned for any other ministry opportunity.

Is this the right approach?  How can the big “C” Church ever become united as Christ prayed we would if we allow doctrine to divide us?  In our focus passage the Apostle Paul urged Timothy to teach sound doctrine.  On this we can all agree – sound doctrine matters.  But here is where we have to consider a very important question – does disagreement on certain doctrinal matters disqualify one for ministry or leadership?

People ask me all the time why there are so many denominations.  My answer is nearly always the same – because people make doctrine the dividing line and forget that what really matters is the life we live based on the doctrine we believe.  What do I mean by that?

Note that after Paul instructed Timothy to correct the strange doctrines being taught in his day, he gave Timothy the reason why doctrine matters – because “the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.”  In other words, doctrine matters but the more important thing is that what you believe results in godliness, a pure heart, a good or clean conscience, and a sincere faith.

If you are like me you know churches which allow for the most oppressive, obnoxious, and rude behavior from its leaders because they adhere to certain doctrinal positions.  The true litmus test of the validity of any doctrine is the fruit it produces.  Doctrinal “purity” that does not lead to godliness and the spiritual fruit of Galatians 5 is no better than the “strange doctrine” Paul warns Timothy about. It is high time that the big “C” Church came to grips with this truth.

When we do, we will all experience a transformation in our relationships, ministries, and churches.

Be Careful How You Walk

Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise. Ephesians 5:15

It seems that many within the Christian community today have thrown away any pretense of caution, opting to rush headlong into cultural engagement through “coolness.”  Those that have taken this approach are known as “hipster” Christians, as well as by a few other names.  Regardless of what name they go by, these believers have jettisoned the old forms of Christian engagement and Gospel proclamation for a completely different, sometimes hard to identify cultural engagement.

By it’s very nature hipster Christianity is more about the individual than the body of Christ corporately; more about paying close attention to social trends and fashion than it is about emerging debates about morality and challenges to orthodoxy; more about pushing whatever envelope is perceived as a restraint to personal expression, instead of understanding why the forms Christianity takes today are there.  In short, hipster Christianity is about creating an individual faith free from the constraints of corporate identity.

On the surface it seems that the old Christian adage “in the world but not of the world” has been permanently shelved in favor of a “in the world and enjoying everything it has to offer” mentality. Hipsters have decided that being immersed in the culture is the only way to be relevant. I don’t think this is a wise approach and it cannot be argued as a valid approach biblically in my opinion.

Christians who are tattooed, sport Duck Dynasty beards, wear earrings, have their bodies pierced or sculpted, and sport the latest clothing fashions and electronic technology might appear relevant to their peers but what follows from that? How does that provide an inroad to sharing the Gospel?

The bottom line friends, is that the culture needs redeemed not emulated.  Dipping your toe into the cesspool of culture attempting to smell like them in order to fit in is a misguided strategy. The Apostle Paul was invited to speak to the Athenians and heard on subsequent occasions not because he tried to be relevant to them but because he rocked their world with talk of a dead man being resurrected.

One thing is sure, hanging out at the local pub and knocking down a few beers with unbelievers may give you a sense of belonging but don’t kid yourself. You are not called to be cool or relevant to the lost. You are called to live Christ in front of them and to tell them of the only way to salvation – faith in the One who died to forgive their sins. So be careful to walk in a manner worthy of your high calling in Christ.

Grasping that is a transforming truth.

When Your Church Becomes A Fortress

The reformer Martin Luther was known for many things, not the least of which is being a hymn writer.  One of his most noteworthy efforts is the classic “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”  The first stanza says:

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing; our helper he amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing.  For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe; his craft and power are great, and armed with cruel hate, on earth is not his equal.

I thought of this hymn when contemplating the statistics about the number of churches that have closed their doors or are in danger of closing due to dwindling attendance.

In a spiritual climate awash with spiritual seekers how can this happen?  I am convinced that the primary reason so many once thriving Christian churches have closed is because they confused their faith as a fortress with their church as a fortress.  What do I mean by this?

Simply this – our faith is a fortress that enables us to withstand the most difficult of circumstances without being defeated.  However, our faith is in our great God and not in our own abilities. When Christians believe that their church must be a fortress that stands against a culture in decline then they have made the fatal misstep of substituting the biblical mandate to be salt and light with a theology of self-preservation.

Churches that cease to look at their communities as opportunities to demonstrate the love of God in practical, meaningful ways have sentenced themselves to first irrelevance for the Kingdom, and secondly to slow, painful deaths.

Remember friends, our strength is in God and He has willed that His people will triumph in His Kingdom affairs.  That is a transforming truth!