Ripped Off

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The Church is being ripped off. There’s a roaring lion out there seeking whom he may devour, but we’ve spent years promoting the half-gospel of “Jesus died to pay your sin debt” and have downplayed the total lordship, power, and authority of Christ over our lives (me in Christ) and His power in and through us (Christ in me) that is free for the taking. Really, we’ve let ourselves be ripped off.

Like many of you, I read a lot. Sometimes that just involves standing in the bookstore and skimming books I don’t want to buy, especially anti- or substitute gospels. I continually see powerful Christian principles being marketed in success literature. I saw one the other day in a Franklin-Covey store that was about taking our thoughts captive, not allowing negative, fearful, or anxious thoughts into our consciousness. Of course, it wasn’t “taking our thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ.” But the principle was there, minus Jesus.

Another principle I’ve seen is “act as if.” C.S. Lewis talked about this in Mere Christianity. “Very often the only way to get a quality in reality is to start behaving as if you had it already.” He then distinguishes between the bad kind, where pretense is there instead of the real thing, and the good kind, where the pretense leads up to the real thing.

So Lewis says we are to “dress up as Christ,” which is a totally Biblical principle. And in so doing, he continues, we immediately begin to see ways in which we are not being our real self. Christ is there “at that moment beginning to turn your pretence into a reality.”

The success book mirrors this: “One of the great strategies for success is to act as if you are already where you want to be.”

This ripping-off has been going on for years. New agers like Blavatsky talk about developing “the Christ-consciousness,” that constant awareness of our true identity. But of course without coming through the Cross, dying in Christ and resurrecting in Him and being implanted by the new life, they are merely exalting the old, false, satanic life of Eph 2:2. I said to a fellow Christian in that Franklin-Covey store, “You can be successful all the way through life right into Hell.”

Of course most of these books I’ve looked at and read talk about doing good, giving to charities, and all that, but that’s just a sugar-coated second death. Most of these success principles and many of the new age books are just a thick coating of truths hiding a big lie to keep people from entering the Kingdom of God.

Now, there will likely be those who take me wrongly, but I’m not saying success literature is bad. There are several great books that have helped me change bad, disorganized habits into good ones. But that’s another story.

As Christians, we have been given an ancient Power. This power is greater than “he that is in the world.” Should our lives not reflect and resound with this ancient power? Shouldn’t miraculous life change, victory, and the overcoming life of Christ within us be the norm? If this isn’t our experience, we must ask ourselves, “Why not?”

A powerless church, a mere-forgiveness church, allows the devil to rip us off, letting him sugar coat his big lie with wonderful truths because the world doesn’t see us living from our true selves in Christ. We have mistakenly thought we have to live the Christian life – by our effort and programs and techniques. We’ve grumbled and complained, and been unbelieving about this powerful, conquering Holy Spirit that lives in us. This Overcomer, Christ Himself, lives inside each of us, and if we just begin to let Him do His work by trusting in Him it will change everything. The Hebrews could have entered the promised land and taken it over years sooner if they’d just trusted the God who wanted to be powerful on their behalf. Life change doesn’t have to take a long time.

“He that abideth in Him sinneth not.” If we are abiding, we’ll love God and love people. We’ll be bold, strong, true-hearted. It’s not a works-trip, or a prompt to more effort. It’s a fact: it is impossible to abide in Christ and at the same moment be sinning. Simple, childlike abiding in Christ by faith will give the life change we – and the world – are looking for.

Profile photo of Ron Block

Winner of 147 Grammys (or so), Ron Block is the banjo-ninja portion of Alison Kraus and Union Station. When he's not laying down a bluegrass-style martial-arts whoopin' on audiences around the world, he's taking care of his donkey named "Trash" and keeping himself busy by being one of the most well-read and thoughtful people we know.


17 Comments

  1. Andrew C

    Absolutely. And I get so frustrated with myself, with the Church, that we can agree with all of the words wholeheartedly and yet continue to live the same fleshly existence.

    I am recognizing more each day that we have to be so proactive at giving the Spirit control of all of us. We have to be proactive in hating our own lives, and thus being empowered by the Spirit to really love Jesus and live in the abundant life that He is.

    Thanks, Ron. Once again, it is so cool to see God speaking to others in very similar ways as me, at the same time, and to be able to encourage one another in our journey with Him.

  2. Chad

    Loved your comments Ron. In thinking about the “success-driven” literature that pervades our culture (mainstream/Christian) I cannot help but think about Christ’s words to Peter:

    “I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” (John 21:18-19)

    At the beginning of the New Year I find myself wanting to set goals that put me on a “successful” trajectory and honestly have little to do with Christ and his power within me. The words of Jesus to Peter are sobering as Peter was probably contemplating prominence as a leader in the early church. After all did not Christ say that he would build his church starting with Peter (Matthew 16:18)? This hunger for success and position was a struggle that all the disciples faced and even argued over (Matthew 20:20-23). The irony of what Jesus revealed to Peter was that it had nothing to do with “success” in the worldly way of thinking, but rather a “success” that was found in surrender. Christ said to the disciples that “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant and whoever wants to be first must be your slave.” And if that wasn’t enough he went on to say that even “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:26-28). Successful living, then, comes through surrender of the will and each desire that is contrary to everything that Christ has for us. (i.e. – My goals for the New Year are relinquished for the greater purpose of Christ in me.) Perhaps this is why Jesus was sometimes referred to as a “Man of Sorrows”. Would we welcome grief if it made us more holy and able to identify with our savior? Yes, but maybe not if our version of “success” is defined by the world. So what is your trajectory for the New Year? Do you have big plans or are you letting God “lead you where you do not want to go?”

  3. JTS

    Great post Ron (loved the term “sugar-coated second death”). It seems to me that by and large the church has become discontent with holiness. The sad thing is that Christ’s holiness is the source of His true power and the church is missing it.

  4. Tony Heringer

    Ron,

    Interesting post. Ironically, I’m walking through one of those types of books with my teens. We are not reading it, they are in high school and are being bored with greater books than this one. 🙂 Instead, I’m gleaning the principles and then anchoring them to the Gospel.

    The book opens with the concept of “Inside-Out” change. As a part of his discussion, the author paraphrases this quote by George Dana Broadman:

    “The law of the harvest is to reap more than you sow. Sow an act, and you reap a habit; sow a habit, and you reap a character; sow a character, and you reap a destiny.”

    In my dialogue with my teens we tied this to Galatians 6:7-10. That passage also fits our topic of conversation here.

    Like you said Ron, we should seek the filling of the Spirit at all times. To not do so robs the follower of Christ, and therefore His Church (i.e. when one of us falters, we all falter as we are one Body). However, when we do, “we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.”

    I loved the quote from Lewis: “dress up as Christ” as it reminded me of this passage from Colossians:

    Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. – Colossians 3:12-14

    I seem to remember that the folks in this church worked with textiles and Paul here is using a clothing example to drive his point home. The phrase “put off” and “put on” (translated clothe in the NIV) is used to contrast the old way of life vs. the new way of life in Christ. According to F.F. Bruce’s commentary on this passage, putting off the old and putting on the new as a figure of speech was associated with wearing of new garments at one’s baptism.

    One other side note, apparently Broadman, the son of Baptist missionaries, was part of the “Social Gospel” movement in the late 19th/early 20th century. A movement that used the phrase “What would Jesus do?”

  5. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Good comments all.

    Chad – as long as we are opening ourselves up to Christ, asking Him to work His will in our lives no matter what the cost, I don’t see a problem with using principles to make us more organized, to streamline our businesses, to improve our playing. I have many goals of that nature. But the underlying goal is to be everything I am meant to be in Christ, through Him living through me. Christians should excel at what they put their hands to – doing all things as unto the Lord; “My utmost for His highest.” Sometimes the success literature can help with that, helping us overcome bad organizational habits and giving us new ways of thinking about what is important in our lives. Unfortunately most of them are intent on building “the good life” and having lots of retirement money in the end. Not many of them talk about stepping out of this life into eternity.

    So true success is to be everything we are meant to be in Christ. That calling is different for everyone – we each have a unique calling God has made us for. If we have that true success in mind we won’t be elated when we succeed in worldly terms, or cast down when we fail in the world’s eyes. We live from Eternity’s mindset, not from this world’s. George MacDonald said, “If it be things that slay us, what matter if it be things that we have, or things that we have not?”

    The idea is not “Christ first” but “Christ only.” Only then will our lives come into true focus.

    Andrew – the Church must start taking God at His Word, and stepping out on it in faith no matter what the circumstance. That’s the starting point of a powerful life. Anything less is just busywork. It all begins with the man or woman saying, “Lord, work Your will in my life no matter what the cost.” That’s trust. We know Him as Father, and we step out on His unchanging love, even if it looks like we’re stepping off the cliff edge.

    JTS – the Church has largely ignored holiness because many of us do not believe a holy life is possible.

  6. Stacy Grubb

    I’ve somehow become the recipient of some “self help” emails. It’s a subscription service that someone on my email list liberally forwards around. I’ve long been put off by the author of the self help tips, anyway, but I once read that he (a preacher) intentionally left out God and the Bible in his wildly successful book because he didn’t want to disclude that population of people who wouldn’t want a book centered on “religion.” I don’t think I need to explain the absurdity of that. So, every so often I get that dreaded forward cluttering up my inbox to remind me of how much that particular self help author gets my goat.

    So often, these authors include just enough Scripture to be dangerous. I’ve known people who, rather than read their Bible, will accept the interpretations given in these books that take things out of context, paint half truths, and rosy up the reality. I don’t mean to come off like I’m bashing motivational speakers or books that are aimed at helping one be successful at what he or she hopes to achieve. Certainly, a person is responsible for reading their own Bible rather than blindly relying on what the author of a book says the Bible means. But it is disheartening to see how many people basically victimize their own self when what they seek is often a closer relationship with God and a life that reflects that desire.

    For some reason, I just had an image of Eddie Murphy singing, “Wookin’ pa nub in all da wong pwaces.”

    Stacy

  7. kevin

    I think it was Patrick Morley that called it “the Gospel of addition”- our acceptance of Christ being merely adding Him to all the other aspects of it. This is not the Gospel. The Gospel is Christ minus everything

    I was reminded of that when I read Stacy’s comment. The writer who excluded the God and the Bible shows his ultimate concern: the self-help tips, not that Goad and that Bible. But the ultimate concern IS God, He’s the anchor for everything, and all the motivation of the believer must rush out of that.

    I seem to see quite often a policy of “others have been excessive in an area, so we will minimize that area so we are not associated with that”. Many excesses have been made in the more charismatic churches, so we act like the Spirit doesn’t do anything or move us in any way. That’s just one example.

    But shouldn’t our policy be to seek out biblically centered teaching, grounded in consistent, accurate interpretation, irregardless of anyone’s actions? Cause really, who cares if the readers can get up earlier every morning and go the gym if they do not have the Blood on their shoulders?

    We worry about others opinions too much, and then act like it shames the Gospel if we are slandered. But I think the true motive is masked: that we seek to never get into trouble, and to get along with everybody, never offending. Very American, not very biblical. the NT shows us that being slandered and abused is one of Christianity’s defining characteristic.

    Our is an age when the church is weak, anemic and worldly, but doesn’t even know it. We can’t study our Bibles for ourselves, we shouldn’t talk about anything that makes anybody mad, which means that we can ‘t really talk about anything much. We look very much like the world around us, we just use different terms.

    Don’t get me wrong, the church has always been messed up. That’s one of the things that makes it so beautiful: Christ redeemed me, not only for yesterdays sins, but for tomorrow’s as well. Mindblowing and tearjerking. But it has been said that no man is so ignorant as the man that is ignorant and does not know it. Today’s church is that man.

  8. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Kevin, Stacy,

    Books are handy things; we can get inside an author’s mind. Lewis said, “In reading I become a thousand men and yet remain myself.” In reading we can access the wisdom of other people, but unfortunately we also get the bad along with the good. That’s why a sound Biblical foundation in our minds is crucial – a foundation which can only be had by personal Bible study. Going to church once a week will not cut it. Even church and a mid-week Bible study won’t do it. The Church is the Body of Christ, but we can’t forget that that Body is made up of individuals. Lukewarmness comes from being soaked in the world-mind and not holding to the Head, in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Believers who make a point of a daily encounter with God through the Word will be marked with passion and power – as Tozer said, “God tells the man who cares.”

    We center too much on “Christ died to pay my sin debt” when really Jesus came to save His people from their sins. He came to save us from being a sinning sort of people; He became sin for us, so that we could be made the righteousness of God in Him. This righteousness is not merely imputed, as if God “sees us as righteous even though we’re not.” God sees us as righteous because we have become partakers of the divine nature; God has put His own self in us in Christ by the Holy Spirit, and now we have “everything we need for life and godliness” living inside us. We are “filled full” in Him.

    I ignored such verses for years, preferring to center on forgiveness of sins, a future salvation from Hell, and God providing for my needs as per Matthew 6. While God did all these things, I didn’t begin to enter into the abundant life until the mid 1990s. Even then it has been a process – sometimes a painful one as God forces me to let go of false identities created during childhood. But then He always ends up by showing my real identity in Him – the man I was made to be.

    Personal Bible study has been a big factor in beginning to grow up in Christ. Church on Sunday is wonderful; midweek fellowship group is a shot in the arm. But personal Bible study and prayer – encountering the God of the Word – connects every day with the limitless power of Christ.

  9. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Kevin,

    Boldness is a result of going deep into the Word and knowing who we are, what we are about. It comes from continually being so connected with Christ – abiding – that the awareness of eternity soaks into our daily life. And I don’t mean in a fear sort of way. I mean that we become aware that our daily choices, even seemingly inconsequential ones, make eternal waves. And the only way to deal with that fact is to abide, to connect with God’s wisdom and knowledge, and to stay centered there. Bible study and prayer can center us in Christ; we’ve got to learn who we really are, and abide in Him – apart from Him we can bear no eternal fruit.

  10. Ryan Newcomb

    A great book on this topic is “The Gospel According to Jesus” by John MacArthur. I’m reading it now, and it is all about the lordship of Christ and the folly and deception of “easy believism”. We are telling people they can say the words of a prayer and they will be saved. Meanwhile, we are not looking for the change of heart and the fruit of a life regenerated by Christ and indwelled by the Holy Spirit. Simply put, Christianity in America is becoming more about having a good life rather than living a life subject to Christ as is clearly presented in Scripture. My belief – isn’t this what happens when the Bible is no longer the authority or relied upon as the very word of God? Great post and topic Ron, as always!

  11. Peter B

    Thanks, Ron; the “saving us from our sin” is one aspect of Christ’s sacrifice that is far too easy to overlook. It sounds great in trite recitation, but the real power shows up when you realize what that means.

  12. Mike

    This reminds me of a story that Donald Miller tells in Searching for God Knows What. He said that he was teaching a bunch of college kids and gave them the modern gospel without Jesus and asked them what was missing. None of them could tell him. They thought he had covered everything and he had completely left Jesus out of the equation.

  13. Gracie Muldoon

    Well said Ron Block!! I agree wholeheartedly. Everyone rip’s off God’s word – without giving credit to where credit is due. His Word never changes! Times change – people change – but His Word does not! A time tested truth!

    I heard a good friend once say, that God is only as BIG as we make Him in our Lives. That is true. He can do anything – yet we don’t trust him with the simplest or the most complex things going on in our lives.

    Recently I’m going through a big crisis in my personal life – and I’ve decided not to worry about it at all. I’m trusting God through His Word and my life in His hands through His comforting Word – to get me through! What? A crisis without worry??!! Yes it is possible. Its working too!

    You see – God made me – in His image. His image is powerful! He can get me through it all – I just have to trust Him. I do. Totally. It’s working!

  14. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Gracie,

    Lay out the promises that apply to your situation before God, “remind” Him of them, and step out in faith, looking for opportunities. God loves when we put the pressure on Him. There may be a time of His stretching our faith, teaching us endurance in faith; sometimes that is a long time. But if we trust His concept of reality we will “walk according to the Spirit.”

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