Tag Archives: Discipleship

The Church’s Most Dangerous Doctrine.

If one of the Church’s primary purposes is to fulfill God’s plan by leading a fallen world into right relationship with Him, then any doctrine that undermines that objective poses a danger to not only the Church’s mission but also to the world that so desperately needs God’s love. And while any Church teaching that contravenes Scripture is both deceitful and heresy, the most dangerous are those that send adherents down a path that leads to eternal suffering and separation from God.

Applying that standard, the most dangerous doctrine taught by many churches is that of ‘Easy Believism’. It offers all the benefits of salvation without requiring any of the costs of discipleship, asserting that eternal salvation is available to anyone who recites a handful of words proclaiming Jesus as Lord and imploring God’s forgiveness. Especially popular in evangelical churches and referred to as ‘The Sinner’s Prayer’ in other circles, this teaching insists that when individuals make a verbal profession of faith they immediately guarantee their place in heaven and nothing can ever compromise that eternal destination.

While that teaching enjoys broad appeal and a significant following among those who claim Christianity as their religion, it has no foundation in Scripture. On the contrary, it disregards the explicit truths Jesus frequently proclaimed about eternal life. Whereas Jesus taught that the path leading to eternal life is difficult (see Matthew 7:14), that only those who persevere enjoy salvation (Matthew 24:13), and that following Him has a considerable cost (Luke 9:57-62), ‘Easy Believism’ teaches the exact opposite. It insists that embracing Jesus as Lord need not disrupt our lives, does not demand we endure, and imposes no cost.

Before going any further, we ought to examine closely what Jesus taught about eternal life and His expectations for those who proclaim Him Lord. After all, as the Son of God and the Savior of the world, His word is final on the matter. What we learn from careful study is that Jesus often described faith in terms of discipleship (following Him) and was unequivocal as to what that involved.

To His disciples and a crowd of potential followers, Jesus said: “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Mark 8:34b, NKJV). To follow Christ is to deny ourselves. We set aside our hopes, plans, interests, and goals, and replace them with Jesus’. That may sound extreme, as if Christ were calling us to give up our very lives for Him. And in fact He is. In the very next verse Jesus says as much. “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it” (Mark 8:35, NKJV).

While losing our life for Jesus does not necessarily mean physically dying for Him (though sometimes it might), it does mean putting to death ‘self’ and all it represents: our greed, arrogance, selfishness, debauchery, materialism, and idolatry. That expectation causes many would-be followers to bristle. They want to proclaim Jesus their Lord but retain the rights to their lives, careers, pursuits, passions, and resources. In other words, they want to limit Jesus’ lordship to a verbal profession rather than make it a substantive, exhaustive, and ongoing commitment.

Jesus anticipated many of us trying to have it both ways – wanting to declare Him Lord without actually evidencing it in our decisions, our priorities, our time, our relationships, and our lives. That is why He advises potential followers to count the cost first (see Luke 14:25-32), because the cost of discipleship is high and ought not be entered into lightly or without knowledge of His expectations. He summarizes those expectations in very succinct and unambiguous terms: “Whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:33, NKJV).

Forsaking all sounds comprehensive because it is. Like all of Jesus’ teachings about discipleship it requires sacrifice, which Jesus modeled for us in His life and in His death. Sacrifice was why the widow’s tiny tithe was heralded as the most generous – because she gave all. Similarly, the merchant in Jesus’ parable about the kingdom of heaven gave all to secure the pearl of great price (see Matthew 13:45).

Genuine faith compels us to put God first and adopt His agenda as our own, not carve out and dedicate parts of our lives for His use and glory while retaining other parts for ourselves. Jesus addressed that duplicitous approach to faith and warned that those who embrace it have no faith at all. “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and riches” (Matthew 6:24, NKJV). Nor can you serve ‘self’ and Christ. All who try reveal that their true loyalty lies with the flesh and with the world.

‘Easy Believism’ also damages the souls of men and women by suggesting that no ongoing faithfulness to Jesus is required for salvation – that He does not demand we endure to the end. That could not be further from the truth.

When Jesus sent the twelve out He warned them of the trials and challenges they would face, explaining that they would be hated and persecuted for His sake. As an encouragement He reminded them: “he who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 10:22b, NKJV). Years later, as he described the end times, he repeated these words to His disciples (see Matthew 24:13). In addition, He gave that message to each of the seven churches He counseled in Revelation – those who endure and overcome will eat from the tree of life and not be hurt by the second death.

The parable of the sower communicated a similar message (see Mark 4:13-20). Of those who hear the good news about Jesus’ redemptive sacrifice, few receive it and then bear fruit for the kingdom of God. Most wither in their faith and do not endure. They are unfruitful. That may seem an insignificant detail except that Jesus later tells us that everyone who abides in Him bears much fruit and those who do not bear fruit are not His and are cast out and burned in the fire (see John 15:1-6).

Despite the clarity of Jesus’ teachings about faith and His expectations for those who would call Him Lord (and there are many more Bible passages that reinforce the verses above), many refuse to accept His truths. They insist that the call of Christ imposes no demands on them, does not require they remain faithful, and that they can decide what areas to consecrate to Him and which ones they can keep for themselves.

Sadly, many pastors, deacons, and church leaders reject Jesus’ message for fear it will chase people from their congregations and result in people forsaking their faith. What they fail to understand, though, is that those who practice ‘Easy Believism’ have no genuine faith to forsake – they follow a faux-faith created out of whole cloth by spiritual wolves. Churches teaching that salvation and discipleship are unrelated are leading parishioners astray because Jesus never made such a distinction. For Him, discipleship and salvation were intrinsically linked.

Why, then, do millions of people fall for such deceit? Why do so many discard the clear word of God and embrace a false gospel instead? Because ‘Easy Believism’ tickles our ears and tells us what we want to hear. It appeals to our flesh, which refuses to be inconvenienced or removed from its throne in our hearts. We want it to be true and refuse to study Scripture to learn if it actually is.

Do you desire to make Jesus your Lord and receive His forgiveness? If so, search the Scriptures to understand what He expects of you as His disciple. Start with the verses above and then read through each of the four gospel accounts found in the New Testament. You may find that what Jesus taught about faith, discipleship, and eternal life is different than what your pastor, priest, or shepherd teaches. And eternity is too long, heaven too exciting, and Jesus’ presence too awe-inspiring for you to leave your faith in the hands of someone who may be more motivated by church attendance and donations than your eternal soul.

Make it a priority this week to get right with God, commit your life fully to Him, and begin building that intimate relationship with Jesus that costs everything but yields an eternity of joy, peace, and love with the Maker of heaven and earth.

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Three Verses that Bible Literalists Ignore.

A significant number of Christians, especially in the Evangelical community, embrace a literal interpretation of the Bible. They believe God means exactly what His Word says and refuse to entertain any idea that some passages in Scripture employ literary devices such as metaphors, hyperbole, and allegories. Convinced of their position, they demand church doctrine align with a literal view; all other perspectives are heresy.

For example, literalists read Genesis and insist that God created the world in six 24-hour days. They read Revelation and contend that exactly one-third of the grass is burned (and not a blade more) when the first trumpet sounds, exactly two hundred million soldiers are saddled at the River Euphrates (and not one less) when the sixth trumpet sounds, and exactly a quarter of mankind is killed with the opening of the fourth seal (no more and no less). For them, orthodoxy requires rigid adherence to every dotted ‘i’ and crossed ‘t’.

Curiously, Bible literalists often ignore other Bible passages where a literal interpretation inconveniences them or disrupts their lifestyle. They employ a literal view of Scripture on an inconsistent basis. Let’s look at three such passages often disregarded by Bible literalists.

Jesus tells his followers, “When you give a dinner or a supper, do not ask your friends, your brothers, your relatives, nor your rich neighbors, lest they also invite you back, and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind. And you will be blessed because they cannot repay you, for you shall be repaid at the resurrection of the just” (Luke 14:12-14, NKJV).

The literal interpretation of this verse is quite clear. Yet, I wonder how many of those who claim to follow the Bible literally have obeyed this verse? How many have invited the homeless, destitute, and diseased into their homes and celebrated with a dinner party, social event, or celebration? We can all come up with excuses for why we don’t. It’s too dangerous. They’ll steal my stuff. No poor or homeless people live near me. They smell bad and behave boorishly. But Jesus doesn’t condition our obedience on convenience or safety. If you follow the Bible literally, then the next dinner or social event you host should include lots of strangers marginalized by society, not friends and family.

Some will argue that their church sponsors something similar during Thanksgiving, inviting the homeless and poor into the fellowship hall for a meal. Others will explain that they visit a homeless shelter once a month to help serve meals. And that’s all well and good, but it does not represent a literal application of Scripture. Those who claim to believe the Bible literally must invite “the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind” into their home the next time they host a social or family event. That’s literally what Jesus taught.

On another occasion Jesus told His disciples, “Assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:23-24, NKJV). The literal interpretation is clear. It is difficult for the rich to enter heaven. That’s a very straightforward and easy to understand message. Yet, I wonder how many Bible literalists strive to be rich, or are rich? If your goal is to spend eternity with Jesus why make things hard on yourself by being rich?

I’ve heard this passage taught dozens of times by pastors and church leaders across the country. Curiously, the focus is almost always on what Jesus isn’t saying rather than on what he is. Ministers tell their congregations that Jesus isn’t telling us it’s wrong to be rich. He isn’t telling us that wealth is bad. He isn’t telling us that no one who is wealthy can make it into heaven. And so on, and so on. They want their flocks to understand that they can continue living prosperous lives of comfort, luxury, and excess and still experience eternity with Christ. They use the passage to teach the exact opposite message of what Jesus is communicating to His followers: Quit wasting your time pursuing wealth and the things of this world. Why? Because those who do become distracted from following Him and their faith never blossoms. Anyone serious about following Scripture literally will have a much different understanding and application of this passage than what we hear from the majority of pulpits on Sunday. Jesus’ words could not be clearer. Literally.

Finally, Jesus also informed His disciples, “You will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 10:22, NKJV). Too often we hear that following Jesus will make things easier in life. Jesus rebukes that nonsense here and explains that things will actually get tougher. People will hate us for no other reason than our love for Him. To experience salvation, though, we must endure to the end. It is not enough to make a profession of faith and then succumb to the temptations of the world or renounce our faith in the face of persecution. Jesus declared we must endure. Only then will we enjoy eternity with Him. Too often we hear that as long as someone professes faith in Christ, he or she is guaranteed eternal salvation. But that is not what Jesus teaches here, or in any other passage. If we really believe the inerrancy and literal interpretation of the Bible, we must recognize that God calls us to remain faithful until the end.

Sadly, few Christians embrace the literal (and intended) interpretation of the above passages. Instead, most of us perform all sorts of intellectual gyrations to avoid arriving at the application Jesus intended when He taught His disciples these truths. Surprisingly, even Bible literalists reject the literal (and obvious) message of Jesus’ teachings because doing so will burden or inconvenience them. It will force them to live lives they have no interest in living and follow a faith they cannot reconcile with their current lifestyles. So to ensure their doctrinal purity they proclaim themselves defenders of Bible truth and insist on a literal interpretation of the Bible – but only when it’s an intellectual exercise that doesn’t disrupt their daily routine. But that’s not Bible literalism, that’s hypocrisy.

I’m not suggesting a literal interpretation of Scripture is wrong. Generally, I take that approach myself, except when it is clear a literary device is being used. However, when Bible literalists apply their rigid interpretation only to verses that require nothing more than intellectual assent and refuse to apply it to verses that inconvenience, discomfort, or disrupt their lives and lifestyle, then that is not only wrong, it is dangerous duplicity. And that could cost them in the end.

Customized Faith.

Increasingly, American consumers demand customized products. From coke bottles that bear individual names to homes designed to meet the exotic tastes of an eccentric buyer, manufacturers recognize the affiliation purchasers have for personalized goods and offer them with growing frequency. They understand that consumers will pay a significant premium for products tailored to their specific palates.

This phenomenon thrives in matters of faith as well, even among American evangelicals. This significant segment of Christianity confesses religious orthodoxy and a literal view of the Bible, yet it ignores passages of Scripture it finds uncomfortable. Most evangelicals view Christianity primarily from a benefit perspective. What can God do for me? They eagerly receive His love, mercy, forgiveness, peace, joy, promises, and blessings. They believe God wants to shower them with these gifts and requires little in return – perhaps regular church attendance and an appearance of holiness but nothing more.

Sadly, many evangelical pastors and leaders enthusiastically peddle false or compromised gospels that reinforce this view so they can line their pockets with thirty pieces of silver. They readily preach and promote what evangelical audiences want to hear and explain away any objectionable lesson Jesus taught. Sharing the whole truth of Scripture jeopardizes their position, income, and status. Better to preach half the truth and enjoy prosperity, reputation, and acclaim then advocate the entirety of the Bible and walk in camel’s hair eating locusts and wild honey.

What most evangelicals want, and most church leaders willingly teach, is a gospel that legitimizes their current lifestyle. They demand a faith that does not disrupt their dreams, does not inconvenience them, makes no difficult demands, and allows them to enjoy all the accouterments of this world. They insist on practicing a faith that offers the best of both worlds: a life of comfort, pleasure, leisure, and wealth in this world, and eternal life with God in the next.

What such evangelicals fail to understand, however, is that Jesus routinely rebuked that form of faith. He emphasized time and again the considerable cost of following Him as a disciple. In describing His expectations for those who place their faith in Him, Jesus asserted, “if anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me,” (Luke 9:23). Later He added, “whoever does not forsake all that he has cannot be my disciple,” (Luke 14:33).

The crux of these two verses is that following Christ is a full-time commitment that requires we go all-in. The result is a life so transformed that no one recognizes us. We put to death our own interests, plans, and desires, and replaced them with His. Does this sound more challenging than what the church teaches? Would you prefer a faith that is easy to follow? If so, consider the counsel Jesus offered His disciples. “Narrow is the gate and difficult is the path which leads to life, and there are few who find it,” (Matthew 7:14). Christ does not mince words about the challenge of becoming His disciple. It will be difficult. So difficult, in fact, few people actually find eternal life.

I encourage readers to meditate on these verses. Seek guidance from the Holy Spirit as to how your life should reflect these words from Jesus. Resist the temptation to disregard them or embrace the idea that Christ didn’t really mean what He said. Your salvation is at stake.

What Jesus taught about following Him as a disciple.

In my book, Difficult Is the Path: Why Life as a Disciple of Christ Is Not for the Fainthearted, we examine Scripture and identify examples Jesus provided, parables He shared, and lessons He taught about the challenge of living as His disciple. We focus particular attention on verses the American church has ignored historically or dismissed as irrelevant.  During His sermon on the mount Jesus specifically said that the path that leads to eternal life would be challenging, yet often we want to create an alternate path that arrives at the same location but follows a more leisurely and comfortable route. My book explores the dangers with pursuing that approach.9781462726233_COVER.indd

Of course, just because the path is difficult doesn’t mean it is not worth taking. This study lays the foundation for the reader to deepen his relationship with the Lord and increase his faith, and in the process enjoy a far more satisfying, purposeful, and rewarding life. Though Jesus left no ambiguity over the fact that following Him would be challenging, He also makes clear that doing so would lead to indescribable peace, joy, and hope.