How Not to Talk to Kids About Sin

“And, if you play this record backwards, you can hear a voice saying ‘Satan has his own religion. Satan has his own religion.’”

“How awesome is that?” my friend whispered to me.

Our youth group was dragged to a series of lectures about the dangers of Rock Music. It was the late ‘80’s, when rock music was at its dangerestest.

We learned about subliminal messages heard while playing records backwards. I was never quite clear how backward messages were picked up by my subconscious. I don’t recall that ever being explained. However, the invention of the iPod seems to have put an end to this nefarious Satanic scheme.

We learned about album artwork and the dangerous occult symbols hidden in paintings of scantily clad women. I believe I saw more scantily clad women at this Christian conference than anywhere else at that point in my life.

We learned about highways to hell and all my friends being there to party. We learned about sex and drugs. It was quite the education.

It was firmly ground into our little heads that listening to rock music will make us a drugged up minion of Satan that impregnates scantily clad women.

Mostly what these lectures did was fill us with an intense desire to listen to rock music. My radio was soon moved next to my bed so I could quietly listen to AC/DC and Metallica without anyone knowing.

As I familiarized myself with rock music, I did no drugs, I worshipped no Satans, and much to my junior highish hormonal regret, impregnated no scantily clad women. Rock music was a giant letdown.

Kids don’t always know what they are doing or why. Adults appear to be authorities, people who have been around and know more. There is a responsibility inherent in adulthood: look out for those youngsters and help them out.

Unfortunately, adults lack sense ourselves. Although we know sin is dangerous, we can go overboard in explaining its danger. We revert to the worst case scenario. Tiny sins always lead to slippery slopes to doom, no exceptions, so BE AFRAID!

Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, has been around the block a few times. In his treatise on the vanity of life, the Book of Ecclesiastes, he talks about sin and appears to be much less alarmed.

“Be not overly righteous, and do not make yourself too wise. Why should you destroy yourself? Be not overly wicked, neither be a fool. Why should you die before your time?” Ecclesiastes 7:16-18

“It is the same for all, since the same event happens to the righteous and the wicked, to the good and the evil, to the clean and the unclean, to him who sacrifices and him who does not sacrifice. As the good one is, so is the sinner, and he who swears is as he who shuns an oath.” Ecclesiastes 9:2

Here, perhaps, is the clincher of all clinchers, Ecclesiastes 11:9a, “Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes.”

Did you catch that one?! Solomon tells young men to follow their heart and go after everything they see! Really? That’s what the God-inspired Scriptures say to young idiot men raging in hormonal lust? “Go for it?” That’s the message?

Wow, I‘m glad Solomon was only a king and not a youth pastor.

But hold up a second. Solomon has a lot of other things to say about sin, too.

“Let not your mouth lead you into sin” Ecclesiastes 5:6a

“But it will not be well with the wicked, neither will he prolong his days like a shadow, because he does not fear before God.” Ecclesiastes 8:13

“The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.” Ecclesiastes 12:13,14

OK, now that’s better. Now we’re on safe ground with Brother Solomon.

But this is the same guy and the same book saying these things. How can Solomon, in the same breath, say that sin doesn’t seem to end up all that bad and yet also say we should pursue righteousness and avoid evil?

Solomon has two arenas in view. When it comes to temporal benefit, doing right and avoiding sin is mostly a waste. You will see the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer. Avoiding sin and doing good doesn’t pay well on this earth.

But Solomon also speaks about sin in light of the eternal arena. When it comes to judgment day, your sin will cost you and your righteous deeds will win praise.

I quoted Ecclesiastes 11:9a earlier about letting young men sin. Look at the entire verse (include the “b” part) and see how it conveys this point:

“Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes. But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment.”

Yeah, OK young men, go for it. Live it up. Go get what you see and follow your ridiculous heart. Live it up. But remember, you’ll stand before God with that someday.

When it comes to talking about sin with young people, I think we should follow Solomon’s lead. Solomon has no problem telling young men that sin is kind of fun and more than likely you’ll get away with it.

Now, wow. Even I can’t quite see myself saying that. But let’s be honest. I remember the scare tactics used to get kids in youth groups to take purity vows and to abstain from pre-marital sex. We were constantly told what evils would befall us if we got a girl pregnant. Well, wouldn’t you know it; two young people in that group went out and had a baby outside of marriage.

They didn’t die. They didn’t lose their baby. They didn’t become Satan worshippers. They aren’t on drugs. In fact, 30 years later, these young people turned out quite normal. They are married, attend church, and have a well-functioning family.

As we are told, many young people leave the church once they get the freedom to do so. One of the many reasons why is because they have discovered that awful things generally do not happen when you sin. Oh sure, we can share the story about what happened to that one kid who is now on drugs and life is totally destroyed. It happens, but for the large extent, sin is something that happens and then life goes on. All those dire youth group warnings didn’t come true. What other lies did youth group tell me?

Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, knew sinners often get away with sin and do fine. “In my vain life I have seen everything. There is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his evildoing.”

We must be careful to not overplay the dangers of sin. Stealing cookies from mom won’t necessarily lead to a life of robbing banks. I stole many cookies: I have yet to rob a bank.

Sin is bad. In no way is Solomon telling us to tell kids to go ahead and sin with impunity. What Solomon says is that sin is often overcome. Doing what is right doesn’t pay well on earth. But this earth isn’t all there is. Eternity is a long time and you will stand before God with all you’ve done. Sin and righteousness matter—this life may not prove it, but Judgment Day will. Layoff the heavy-handed “your life will be destroyed” doom about sin. Instead, point kids’ minds to eternity and their stand before God.

Although It’s Been Said Many Times and Many Ways, You Are Not Saved By Faith Alone

I have been talking about Church History on Wednesday nights to our church group. Last night I dealt with Martin Luther and his claim of justification by faith alone.

Justification by faith alone has come to be called Sola Fide. That’s the Latin for “faith alone.”

Generally speaking, people who hold to Sola Fide also hold to Sola Scriptura–Scripture is our only basis for doctrine, it is our only authority.

I find this somewhat ironic since the only time Scripture says “by faith alone,” it says “NOT by faith alone.”

James 2:24, “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.

Luther, who held to Sola Scirptura, knew that James didn’t believe in Sola Fide. Therefore, as all good theologians do to maintain their pet point, Luther decided James shouldn’t be in the Bible.

I am going to go with James over Luther. The work that James is talking about in James 2 is love. The beginning of his talk about faith and works surrounds the Royal Law–love your neighbor as yourself. They were not doing this in the church based on their treatment of rich and poor people.

God gives promises to those who love Him (James 2:5). Note he didn’t say promises are given to those who believe Him.

Faith and love go together. Paul says in Galatians that faith works by love. John says we love Him because He first loved us.

Faith without love is not acceptable faith to God. Love is kind of a clinching matter. When push comes to shove, love is the determining factor. It would be nice if there were a verse that clearly stated that faith without love didn’t cut it.

Oh wait! 1 Corinthians 13 to the rescue

“If I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.

Faith without love won’t cut it. Paul concludes 1 Corinthians 13 with “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

The greatest is love; not faith.

You are not saved by faith alone. Faith must have love. Loveless faith is not what God is looking for. Loveless faith does not save. Love is what God desires from us. Love is greater than faith.

A doctrine that separates faith from love is a doctrine that is going to lead to problems. It will make you look more like a Pharisee than like Christ.

Love is a huge deal with God. To miss that is to miss God Himself–God is love. Faith in God who is love, results in love to Him and love to others. Therefore, if there is no love, then you don’t really know or believe God, because God is love.

Since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love.

Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

The Bible Was Not Written So You Could Accomplish Your Goals

It’s the start of a new year, which brings along talk of New Year’s Resolutions and goals to do for the New Year.

This is all fine and dandy. I have goals I want to do in the new year.

Problems comes when Christians try to pull a Bible verse out of context to buck up their self-help efforts. A classic verse for New Year’s Resolutioning is Ephesians 5:16, particularly the phrase, “Redeeming the time.”

Or, as the English Standard Version puts it, “making the best use of the time.

So, once we plaster a Biblical phrase on our goals, we can convince ourselves that our self-help goals are actually fulfillment of Scriptural command!

Verses have contexts and contexts are very important for determining what a biblical author is talking about.

When Paul tells you to make “the best use of the time,” he’s not referring to you being busy, doing goals, keeping resolutions, or anything like that. The immediate context refers to doing righteousness.

Ephesians 5:11 says we should have no fellowship with works of darkness
Ephesians 5:13 the light of God reproves evil works
Ephesians 5:14–so wake up and Christ will give you light
Ephesians 5:15–be careful, walk wisely
Ephesians 5:16–redeem the time for the days are evil
Ephesians 5:17–don’t be stupid: know what God’s will is
Ephesians 5:18–don’t get drunk, be filled with the Spirit
Ephesians 5:19-20–sing and give thanks to God
Ephesians 5:21–submit to one another in the fear of God
Ephesians 5:22–wives submit to your husbands
Ephesians 5:25–husbands love your wives
. . . and so on

Paul is not talking about your precious little goals to make your flesh look better and make more money to achieve more materially.

Paul is talking about becoming righteous, cleaning up your life, and, lest we forget, the main thrust is submission. The exact same context, and many of the same words, are repeated in Colossians 3:16-4:5–give thanks, be wise, submit, redeem the time, etc. He’s consistent on what he means by “redeeming the time.”

So, unless your New Year’s Resolutions consist of: don’t get drunk, sing and give thanks to God, submit to everyone, submit to your husband or love your wife, then Paul is not talking about your goals.

Don’t turn the Bible into a self-help manual. The Bible was not written so you could attain earthly success in all its temporal glory. The Bible is not a self-help book; it is a mortify the flesh by the Spirit book.

The Difference Between Contentment and Comfort

Today’s prosperous American Christianity is confused about contentment.

Our view of contentment is being satisfied, pleased with what we have or with what is going on around us. If you aren’t content, do something to add to your surroundings so you are content. Buy some more stuff, get a different, less stupid husband, move to greener pastures, or focus on “finding yourself.” A life focused on me seems to be the best way I can be content! I get what I want when I want it. Sweet!

Biblical contentment has nothing to do with physical satisfaction. Here are the most popular New Testament usages of contentment:

Philippians 4:11–I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.
1 Timothy 6:6–godliness with contentment is great gain.
1 Timothy 6:8–having food and raiment let us be therewith content.
Hebrews 13:5–be content with such things as ye have

In each case, a single Greek word is at play. It’s a word that literally means self-sufficient.

So, what’s the difference between Biblical self-sufficiency and worldly fleshly-satisfaction?

Fleshly satisfaction needs stuff outside of self to keep the self happy. It needs its appetites fed, its lusts fulfilled, and its desires granted.

Biblical self-sufficiency needs nothing, it is independent of external circumstance. Self-sufficiency is based on something inside you, something that no physical thing can fulfill nor steal.

If you break the Greek word in two, you get the two halves self and sufficient. The word sufficient is used by Paul in another context (2 Corinthians 12), a context where he is asking God to remove his thorn in the flesh. In other words, something was happening physically that was destroying Paul’s comfort–remove it please!

God did not. Instead God said, “My grace is sufficient for you.” There’s our word sufficient.

Because we have been given all things that pertain to life and godliness. Because we have all spiritual blessings in heavenly places, nothing physical should destroy our sufficiency. We have been given everything we need by God’s grace to be self-sufficient.

Contentment has little to do with physical things. If you have food and clothes, be content, be self-sufficient. God has you. He takes care of His people.

Worldly comfort that makes you satisfied has nothing to do with biblical contentment.

This whole concept is easier said than done. But this only shows the degree to which our priorities are out of whack with God’s. I imagine having proper expectations about contentment is a good place to start though.

The Truth Will Set You Free. Free From What?

“You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

This is a quote from the Bible, from Jesus in fact, that I hear quite often. Here are a few examples:

Truth – reality – is all that there is. Everything real is what it is, and anything else is pretense; half-truths as well as direct lies spun to deceive others do not exist. The meaning of the truth will set you free is that only reality and what’s factual actually exist. Lies, falsehood, cheating, and deception are all not real.

Therefore, the writer says TRUTH = REALITY. You are set free from lies. Therefore, the quest of man is to find what is real. No doubt the scientific method will come in handy as we test our hypothesis through experiment.

So discover the meaning of truth, learn to overcome your self sabotage, then the truth can work its magic – and set you free.

Truth here means the real you. Not the pretend you in your head, or the you your parents or society defined, but the REAL you. You are then free to be YOU! This, of course, assumes that the real you is a you actually worth you being. There is a reason why fantasy land is so attractive.

Only by embracing the truth of our past histories can any of us hope to be free of pain in the present.

This was said by a psychoanalyst, a psycho for short, about becoming fully you. Being free of pain is her endgame. Truth apparently does not hurt anymore.

OK, so weirdos from the world say weird things about the truth setting you free. What about Christians? Surely Christians know what Jesus was talking about.

Are you in bondage right now? Are you trapped in deception and weighed down by “rules and regulations?” Do you want to be free? Then look to Jesus. Pick up His Word and read it. Learn His truth, and it will set you free!

Truth is God’s Word, which is a fine place to start. Nice to be on common ground. However, they blow it by then saying FREE means being free of legalism. Not that I’m defending legalism, but no, this is not what Jesus is talking about.

If the Bible isn’t infallible, inerrant, and flawless, you’re in a heap of trouble. The Bible tells you how you can be saved. It tells you that your life isn’t an accident. The Bible tells you how to be forgiven. It tells you how God can use you for good in the world.

Again, we’re on common ground of having the Bible be truth. Rick Warren, Purpose Driven guy, said this quote. His freedom is forgiveness (which is closer) and, of course, God using you to do your purpose in the world. Although I can’t say any of this is necessarily wrong, it still misses the force of the words of Jesus.

That truth liberates us from superstition and from customs that displease God and harm us. The following shows how Bible truth has liberated people in various lands from some of the burdensome customs associated with Christmas.

Hey, I’m not making this up. The truth is the Bible, which is nice, but freedom is freedom from Christmas customs. Oh boy. As much as I’d like to be free of Christmas, no, Jesus was not talking about Christmas customs.

Truth gives freedom. Ultimate freedom is found in God’s Word, the Holy Bible. Scriptures speak and tell the truth destroying lies and deception.

Again, we’re agreed on where the truth comes from, but the freedom falls short of Christ’s freedom.

I’ll stop there. For the world, truth means what you experience to be real, and knowing the “real” sets you free from false-you, so you can be real-you, which is supposed freedom.

For most Christian types, truth is God’s word, but the freedom is usually along the lines of “freeing you from being wrong and being in disagreement with me,” or some amorphous deliverance from lies.

Now, the Grand Finale, let’s see what Jesus meant when He said the truth would set you free.

Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. They answered him, We be Abraham’s seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free? Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin. And the servant abideth not in the house for ever: but the Son abideth ever. If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.

The Truth is the word of Jesus Christ. The Freedom is FREEDOM FROM SIN.

When you believe the words of Christ, you are no longer a slave of sin. You defeat sin. You stop sinning habitually. The power is broken.

The way to determine how well you know truth, is to determine how well you are beating sin.

Not overcoming sin? Then you should get to know more Truth.

Jesus is the one who said these words. I think we should stick with His point.

10 Facts About 1 John 5:7

For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.

This is 1 John 5:7 as it reads in the King James Bible. Most modern translations do not include this verse, or at least put a footnote telling you it isn’t original to the Greek. Although you will find some who will defend its inclusion, most believe it is a later addition. Although this verse will always cause debate, here are some facts about it:

  1. This verse is known as the Comma Johanneum, which is Latin for John’s Comma where “comma” means a short clause. You know it’s important if there are Latin words involved.
  2. This verse does not appear in any Greek text until the 1500’s. An earlier 10th century Greek text has it as a marginal note.
  3. The first debates in the Early Church were mostly about trinitarian theories. If this verse were in the original text, it would show up all over the place in the writings of the Early Church Fathers as a nail in the coffin, proof-text extraordinaire. Some defenders of this verse will attempt to show Church Fathers quoting the verse, but reading the quotes shows that none of the Fathers actually do.
  4. This clause might be from a fourth century Latin homily that made its way into copies of the Latin Vulgate, the New Testament of Erasmus, and into the King James..
  5. “Saint” Augustine, who loved to argue about the Trinity (he wrote a large book originally titled, On the Trinity, as well as a commentary on 1 John), never once mentions this verse.
  6. This passage is so famously controversial, it even gets a mention in Edward Gibbons’ Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.
  7. Isaac Newton even mentioned this controversy when he wrote, “In all the vehement universal and lasting controversy about the Trinity in Jerome’s time and both before and long enough after it, this text of the “three in heaven” was never once thought of. It is now in everybody’s mouth and accounted the main text for the business and would assuredly have been so too with them, had it been in their books.”
  8. Various popes have gone back and forth on the accuracy of the Catholic Bible regarding this text. The last known papal statement on it (June 1927 by Pius XI) said it was open to dispute. The Jehovah Witness’ Bible (New World Translation) does not include it.
  9. Translations that do not contain 1 John 5:7 are not inherently anti-trinitarian and one should back off that notion right quick. The fact that this verse is not in early Greek manuscripts does not mean the Trinity is not a true doctrine. The Trinity is an extracted doctrine nowhere explicitly defined or defended in the Bible. The Trinity is a doctrine based on many verses in the Bible that logically lead to a trinitarian conclusion.
  10. The fact that there is a verse in some Bibles that is not original, should not shake your confidence in the Bible. Instead, it should raise it. There are people who study things and are careful with the Word of God. There are no extraneous bits in there that have snuck by us without study. The existence of the controversy over this verse should make that point clear.

Faith Does Not Cancel Reality

I recently wrote a devotional for a group called The Back Row. It was about the “believe in yourself and you can do anything” line. Needless to say, I disagree with the line. I can believe in myself all day and there will be many things I cannot do.

Believing in yourself is fine if you are telling yourself you can do something you can actually do. For instance, if you are playing the piano in front of a group of people and you are nervous, it is appropriate to trust in your training and all your practice.

Unfortunately, what happens is we don’t practice and we don’t get training, and then we think that by believing, piano-playing skills will automatically show up.

Life doesn’t work that way. Modern education techniques tell kids they are smart and to believe in themselves in an effort to raise their performance in school. Recent studies show that our kids, while having some of the lowest test scores of any generation, at the same time have the best self-esteem about their smartness.

Many find this good. I find this evil, a lie, and of the devil.

OK, maybe not that bad, but it is dumb.

What is of the devil is when Christians use this same Jedi mind trick when it comes to our faith.

Christianity has borrowed, and possibly even invented, the idea that faith overcomes natural consequences.

Many Christians believe that, although they sin all the time, they are righteous. They believe that faith overcomes responsibility. Although I know I’m not righteous, I will believe I am, and thus God will have to accept me.

This is pretty close to foundational Christian doctrine at this point. God doesn’t see you, He only sees Christ’s righteousness in you. Is how I’ve heard it put.

Unfortunately for them, the Bible doesn’t say this. There is much deception on this issue by false teachers in the church today.

There are two verses in the Bible I’d like to point out that both begin with not being deceived. The reason why the writers of these verses said to not be deceived is because they knew there would be deception on this issue. Here are the two verses:

Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.

let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous.

Paul and John both knew false teachers would play on this personal accountability issue. They knew many people would succumb to the false teaching that you don’t really have to be righteous. That faith somehow replaces reality.

If you live in sin, if there is no growth in you putting it off and doing righteousness instead, you are not saved. That is the clear teaching of 1 John and of the Bible.

Yeah, I know hardly anyone teaches this truth, but that doesn’t mean it’s not truth.

Faith does not cancel reality. You can’t suddenly play Mozart on the piano simply by believing, nor can you fool God into thinking you love Him, if love for Him is not a reality in your life.

Faith does not cancel reality. Faith in Christ gives you a new reality, a new life from above, one lived in righteousness, with fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.