Friday, December 11, 2015

Christian Growth: Theology or Feelings

What defiles or corrupts us? And what interferes with spiritual growth?

  • Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by [teachings of] grace, not by ceremonial foods, which are of no value to those who eat them. (Hebrews 13:9) 
The Apostle Paul states it another way:

  • Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:2)
The source of growth is not the feelings but the thoughts. It is our thinking that allows us to “test and approve what God's will is.” Our feelings and experiences are only as weighty as our interpretation of these events. If we misunderstand them, we will be no closer to understanding the will of God.

While there are teachings that will carry us away from truth and maturity, there are also teachings which are in accord with truth and spiritual maturity.

According to Jesus, it is not those things that touch us or even enter into our stomachs that corrupt and misguide us:

·       "Don't you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man 'unclean.' For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man 'unclean'; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him 'unclean.'" (Matthew 15:17-20)

We are what we think. Our thoughts can either lead us away from sin or into its clutches and destructive influence. We will always have temptations. Even Jesus was tempted (Heb. 2:17-18, 4:15). Instead, it is how we understand these temptations that makes the difference. Ultimately, it is what we think that corrupts us. If this is so, then what we are taught and believe also corrupts or builds us. Therefore, Jesus instructed His disciples to be on guard against bad theology:

·       "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. (Matthew 7:15)

·       In the meantime, when so many thousands of the people had gathered together that they were trampling one another, he began to say to his disciples first, “Beware of the leaven [teachings] of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.” (Luke 12:1)

Why must we be so careful about what we think? Because what we think is who we are! It also determines our fate:

  • See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. (Colossians 2:8)
We can be imprisoned and controlled by our philosophies or worldview. In fact, what we believe is so central to our life in Christ, that what the church teaches is of critical importance:

  • Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality. Likewise you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. (Revelation 2:14-15)
Conversely, Jesus commended the Philadelphian church because they “have kept my word” (Revelation 3:8).  Jesus’ messages to the churches make it clear that what we teach and believe determines how we will act. Keeping His Word is even a measure of our love for Him (John 14:21-24).

Although this is so clear and simple, most of us just don’t get it. Why not? We tend to think that what we experience and feel is more important than what we believe. Therefore, we tend to pursue good feelings and peak experiences at the expense of correct thoughts.

Moses had had the ultimate peak experience. He had spent 40 days on top of Mount Sinai with the Lord. The experience must have been so intense that his face became radiant. Consequently, he had to cover it lest he frighten the Israelites.

When Moses met with the Israelites, instead of talking about his peak experience, he taught them about what mattered - the words of God.

But how was it that Moses face shined? Simply by being in the presence of God? By experiencing Him? No!

  • When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the Testimony in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the LORD. (Exodus 34:29)
Moses’ transformation wasn’t about experiencing God but about hearing His words – words of truth.

Correct thoughts are the safest and surest road to good feelings. There are thousands of examples of this. If I think that my dentist is trying to undermine my mouth, I will be paranoid. But if I trust him and his work, I will remain at rest.

This principle also pertains to the Bible. Take this verse, for example:

  • Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1)
It was this verse that enabled me to stand against my over-powering feelings of condemnation and trust that God had totally freed, loved, and accepted me. What a relief and what blessed feelings!

It is therefore easy to understand that the one who meditates on His Word continually will be blessed exceedingly:

  • He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers. (Psalm 1:3)
The Bible identifies that our battleground is in the mind not the feelings. Our warfare is to think God’s thoughts and not those of the surrounding culture:

  • The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:4-5)
Our warfare is against arguments and theological temptations to think and embrace thoughts and beliefs that are not of Christ. If we win the battle of the mind, we will be able to resist the temptation of our feelings.

Consequently, as we have been taken captive spiritually by wrong thinking, we are set free from Satan by right thinking through the Holy Spirit:

  • And the Lord's servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will. (2 Timothy 2:24-26) 
As the captive comes to the “knowledge of the truth,” he will “come to his senses” and escape. Of course, argumentation alone will not free anyone. Instead, it is God who must liberate by changing the heart.

In fact, our Lord will even chasten us if we don’t have the right theology. He even chastened the pagan King of Babylon. King Nebuchadnezzar had to learn this theological lesson the hard way. He had a dream that deeply disturbed him. He called Daniel unravel its meaning:

  • “This is the interpretation, Your Majesty, and this is the decree the Most High has issued against my lord the king: You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like the ox and be drenched with the dew of heaven. Seven times [or years] will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes. The command to leave the stump of the tree with its roots means that your kingdom will be restored to you when you acknowledge that Heaven rules.”(Daniel 4:24-26)
All of this would happen to the King until he learned a theological truth - that his success was all about God. However, he continued to take credit for the great empire he had built:

  • Twelve months later, as the king was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, he said, “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?” Even as the words were on his lips, a voice came from heaven, “This is what is decreed for you, King Nebuchadnezzar: Your royal authority has been taken from you. You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like the ox. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes.” Immediately what had been said about Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled. He was driven away from people and ate grass like the ox. His body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair grew like the feathers of an eagle and his nails like the claws of a bird.” (Daniel 4:29-33) 
However after seven years, his mind returned to him, and he had learned an essential theological truth:

  • “At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever. His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: 'What have you done?'... Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble.” (Daniel 4:34-35, 37) 
If this pagan King had to learn sound biblical theology - the lesson of humility and God's glory - how much more must God's people get this lesson down! If he had to lose his mind for seven years, what will happen to us if we refuse sound doctrinal truth?

Clearly, we are not free to reject God’s doctrinal truths. For one thing, they are available to all, but we reject them:

  • Wisdom calls aloud in the street, she raises her voice in the public squares; at the head of the noisy streets she cries out, in the gateways of the city she makes her speech: "How long will you simple ones love your simple ways? How long will mockers delight in mockery and fools hate knowledge? If you had responded to my rebuke, I would have poured out my heart to you and made my thoughts known to you. But since you rejected me when I called and no one gave heed when I stretched out my hand… (Proverbs 1:20-24) 
However, it is only at great cost to ourselves that we can reject wisdom and harden our heart against its warnings:

  • “Since they hated knowledge and did not choose to fear the LORD, since they would not accept my advice and spurned my rebuke, they will eat the fruit of their ways and be filled with the fruit of their schemes.” (Proverbs 1:29-31) 
The rejection of knowledge carries its own appropriate penalty. We will receive the very things we desire, the fruit of our own choices.

Scripture identifies growing in truth by the Spirit as a bedrock of Christian maturity, not feelings:

  • Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. (2 Peter 1:2-3)
Consequently, our primary battle is with our thoughts. Good feelings will follow sound thinking. If we walk in the light, we will be set free from a lot that binds us up:

  • To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (John 8:31-32) 
Christian truth – theology and doctrine - is the ark which bears precious cargo. To jettison the ark is to reject the entirety of the Christian inheritance.

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