Showing posts with label #Fruity. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #Fruity. Show all posts

On critiquing other churches.

by K.W. Leslie, 08 September

There are Christians who believe we should never, ever criticize one another. Nor other churches. What they do is their own business; it’s between them and God; it’s not for us to say they’re right or wrong. If you need a proof text, they point to this one:

Romans 14.4-5 KJV
4 Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand. 5 One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.

Okay, here’s a fun paradox: Isn’t this passage of scripture… a form of correction? Isn’t Paul right here telling the Roman Christians they’re wrong, and oughta do better?

Yeah, I’m clearly not one of those “live and let live” Christians. I tend to be mighty libertarian about a lot of things, but whenever it comes to immorality and irreligion, I’m gonna say something. And I believe I have biblical precedent for this. In the scriptures, Jesus and the apostles most definitely rebuked people. Paul, who wrote the above verses, did too—in every letter he wrote. Even to really good churches like that of Ephesus.

But I believe in loving, constructive criticism. Hopefully we’re all trying to get better at following Jesus. Well, you can’t do that without other people, the Holy Spirit included, prodding us to do better. And sometimes pointing out blind spots which we’re too dense to notice. But we gotta do it as the Spirit does it—with kindness, patience, love, and all his other fruit.

I appreciate the Spirit’s criticism, ’cause he does it so encouragingly we sometimes don’t even realize it’s criticism. Other times he’s completely blunt and matter-of-fact with me… because he knows me, and knows that’s what it’s gonna take to get through my thick skull. It always depends on the person he’s working on. He knows what works. Us, not no much; we need to follow his example much better than we do.

I suspect a lot of the reason certain Christians frown on critiquing other churches, is because they don’t see the encouraging, fruitful forms of constructive criticism. They only see angry, outraged Christians ranting against some church’s practices, calling them heretics and cultists and condemning them to fiery hell. That, not gentle guidance, is what Paul was rebuking when he wrote Romans 14.

As for Jesus telling us “Judge not, that ye be not judged,” Mt 7.1 —a passage taken out of context constantly—he was critiquing our tendency to practice double standards. If you judge, expect to be judged by the very same yardstick. It’s only fair. You are not an exception.

And again, we tend to see a lot of that same inconsistency and hypocrisy when Christians critique fellow Christians and our churches. We rebuke ’em for doing stuff, but we do similar stuff. We might complain their worship music lacks spiritual depth, but I’ve heard contemporary Christian songs, ’80s-style worship choruses, and hymns, all of which were mighty shallow. We might complain about their overt sexism, but what about our subtle sexism—where we claim we recognize women can be in Christian leadership, but our churches have no women on the church board, and our few women pastors only minister to the women and children?

Like I said, I have no trouble with constructive criticism—but we gotta be prepared to stand up to the very same criticism. If we’re holding Christianity up to Jesus’s standards, we don’t get to be exceptions to those standards. No loopholes.

The love we oughta see in supernatural gifts.

by K.W. Leslie, 22 September

1 Corinthians 13.4-8.

When Christians write the about the bit from 1 Corinthians 13 which defines love, we almost universally take it out of context.

Myself included. ’Tain’t necessarily a bad thing: We quote it when we’re defining love. It states what love is, as opposed to what popular culture, and sometimes even popular Christian culture, claims it is. The apostles defined it properly, and we need to adjust our concept of ἀγάπη/agápi (KJV “charity”) accordingly.

But in context, the apostles defined it because they were correcting the Corinthians’ misperceptions about the supernatural. If you’re gonna strive for greater gifts, the only valid way to pursue them and do them is in love. If you’re not doing ’em in love, you’re doing ’em wrong.

And if you’re not entirely certain what the apostles meant by this “love” concept, permit ’em to straighten you out a bit.

1 Corinthians 13.4-8 KWL
4 Love has patience. Love behaves kindly. It doesn’t act with uncontrolled emotion.
It doesn’t draw attention to how great it is. It doesn’t exaggerate.
5 It doesn’t ignore others’ considerations. It doesn’t look out for itself. It doesn’t provoke behavior.
It doesn’t plot evil. 6 It doesn’t delight in doing wrong: It delights in truth.
7 It puts up with everything, puts trust in everything,
puts hope in everything, survives everything. 8A Love never falls down.

This is the mindset we must have when we act in, or strive for, supernatural gifts. With love. Like this. Know any prophets, faith-healers, tongues-speakers, and teachers who act in love? I surely hope so. I do.

Now, d’you know any wonder-workers who act the opposite of all this? Likely you do. I sure do. Let’s play an irritating little game of “Spot the loveless”:

  • Impatient. If you aren’t healed immediately, or can’t accept their prophecy or teaching, you’re to blame. Not the (supposedly) spiritually mature miracle-worker.
  • Unkind. Rude, dismissive, condescending, needlessly harsh.
  • Do act with out-of-control emotion. In other words, not gentle.
  • Do draw attention to their greatness. They do love those titles.
  • Exaggerate all the time. They only tell the big success stories… even though not even the bible tells only the big success stories. Some of our failures are teachable moments; some of our little successes can be more profound than the big ones. But for them, everything’s gotta be huge.
  • Ignores others’ considerations. Are you offended by something they said? Tough.
  • Looks out for themselves. It’s about their convenience; they’re busy people.
  • Provokes behavior. And is actually quite proud of doing so. Sometimes teaches the Holy Spirit wants to be provocative… not restorative.
  • Plots evil; delights in wrongdoing. And we’re not just talking about extreme cases of hypocrisy. Some hypocrites never commit big sins, but their lives are full of little trespasses. White lies, petty thefts, small cheats, sins of omission. They do add up though.
  • Doesn’t delight in truth. If truth is embarrassing or inconvenient, phooey on truth.
  • Puts up with nothing. Trusts no one. Hopes for little. Falls apart easily.

Fleshly supernatural.

by K.W. Leslie, 21 September

1 Corinthians 13.1-3.

When Paul and Sosthenes wrote 1 Corinthians, specifically the parts about the supernatural, y’might notice they didn’t write about fake supernatural. They didn’t write about frauds, like people who pretend to be faith healers but actually do nothing, or “miracle workers” who are only doing impressive stage magic tricks, or “prophets” who are really practicing mentalism. Certainly they could’ve written about such people, because there have always been such people. Just about every religion in the Roman Empire had one—because their worshipers expected the supernatural, so the priests had to show ’em something. There are two particularly famous stories of frauds in the apocrypha’s extra chapters of Daniel, and you can read it here.

But the apostles didn’t write about the fake stuff. They only wrote about the real stuff. Their main concern was the Corinthians were doing ’em wrong. Because that’s what we Christians do: The real stuff, wrong.

And the main way we do ’em wrong is by being the sort of people who produce bad fruit—the works of the flesh. Yep, there are such creatures as fleshly Christians. Either they’re new to Jesus and still have a lot of growing up to do, or they’re longtime Christians who never did grow up, ’cause they think other things are more important. Or ’cause they learned how to make all their fleshly behavior sound like it’s really fruit.

Christians naïvely assume if God’s gonna empower us with gifts of the Spirit, he’s only gonna do it when we’re good. We imagine the supernatural gifts are like the hammer Mjölnir in the Thor movies, and if we’re not worthy like Thor, the gifts won’t come when summoned. But that’s not even how grace works. God grants us supernatural gifts because we need them, not because we’re worthy. If somebody needs to be cured of a dire illness, God empowers the miracle regardless of how good or evil the petitioner, and the recipient, might be. The supernatural is not God’s endorsement. It’s his grace.

But like I said, Christians naïvely assume otherwise. We think it’s all about karma. If we’ve racked up enough points in God’s great big MMORPG of life, we get a power upgrade! So if Christians can exhibit supernatural powers, it must mean God highly favors them, ’cause they’re good people… or when they’re clearly not good people, ’cause they’ve gained his favor in some other way. Learned a lot of bible trivia, maybe. Worked in ministry for 10 years with low pay, so God owes them one and gave ’em the power to prophesy. Something like that.

And it’s nothing like that. Sometimes the Holy Spirit empowers fleshly Christians.

Seriously? He trusts fleshly Christians with that kind of power? Well no he doesn’t, because he always controls the power, and always will. But yes, he’ll actually work with and through fleshly Christians. Like I said, that’s the whole point of Paul and Sosthenes writing these 1 Corinthians passages: Fleshly Christians were doing supernatural things, and doing ’em wrong, and the apostles had to set them straight!

So right after the bit about striving for greater supernatural gifts, 1Co 12.31 the apostles mention an outstanding way to do it, and then started talking about love. Because it’s the preeminent fruit of the Spirit. It’s the fruit which arguably generates all the other fruit. God is love, so it’s a character trait God’s kids absolutely should exhibit. And if we don’t, we gotta wonder whether these are even God’s kids at all; for anyone who doesn’t love, doesn’t know God. 1Jn 4.8

Many Christians, cessationists in particular, tend to pull “the love chapter” out of context and only focus on how it defines love. We forget it’s all about supernaturla gifts, and how love has to be part of their practice. Has to. It’s how the whole chapter begins.

1 Corinthians 13.1-3 KWL
1 When I speak in human and angelic tongues:
When I have no love, I’ve become the sound of a gong, a clanging symbol.
2 When I have a prophecy—“I knew the whole mystery! I know everything!”—
when I have all the faith necessary to move mountains:
When I have no love, I’m nobody.
3 Might I give away everything I possess?
Perhaps submit my body so I could be praised for my sacrifice?
When I have no love, I benefit nobody.

When I have supernatural abilities—tongues, prophecy, enough wonder-working power to shove literal mountains around with a word—but there’s no love in it, there’s no love in me, I’m doing it for the power, authority, prestige, acclaim, and maybe donors will send a whole lot of cash my way. But really I’m a noise. I’m nobody. I benefit nobody.

And while Christians might pay particular attention to the “I’m nobody” parts—“See, you gotta minister in love!”—we too often forget this hypothetical loveless apostle… is still doing the supernatural acts. ’Cause the Holy Spirit still lets ’em do it.

Hatred’s a work of the flesh.

by K.W. Leslie, 07 September
Galatians 5.19-21 KJV
19 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, 20 idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, 21 envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

Hatred gets listed in verse 20 as one of the works of the flesh. The original-language word is ἔχθραι/ékhthre, “hostility” or “opposition” or “enmity”: Someone who’s decided in advance they’re not gonna be friendly. In fact, they’re looking for enemies.

In his first letter, John pointed out how those who hate their sisters or brothers are murderers. In their hearts, such people are dead to them. And those who “murder” in this way have nothing to do with eternal life. 1Jn 3.15 They won’t inherit God’s kingdom—same as those who exhibit the fleshly works which Paul listed.

Yeah, you know we’ve got a lot of such people all over Christianity. I follow a few of their blogs. They claim they’re all about Christian holiness and sanctification; about Christians following Jesus instead of the rest of the world, and becoming a pure, sinless, spotless church, ready and eager to greet Jesus at his second coming. But the way they go about doing it is to bring up the latest popular sin (typically one committed by members of the opposition party), then pound away at it like a carpenter trying to put thin nails into thick wood.

Yes, Christians oughta resist temptation and stop sinning. Of course. Duh. But these guys’ fixation on dirty, dirty sins? It’s not healthy. Much as these guys love to quote this memory verse—

Philippians 4.8 KJV
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

—the amount of time they spend digging through the news to find new things to be horrified by, the length of time they spend denouncing these travesties, and the angst and tears and hand-wringing and stress they suffer just thinking about how these evils damage our good Christian nation…

Yep, these guys aren’t actually avoiding sin. They may not be committing it, nor even be tempted to try it, but their minds are nonetheless stewing in it like shrimp in a gumbo. Because what they’re doing instead is hating it. Hating it with every fiber of their being. In so doing their minds are wholly fixated on whatsoever things are false, dishonest, unfair, impure, ugly, disturbing, useless, and wrong.

Hopefully they’re not doing this 24 hours a day, like pundits who are desperately looking for new content with which they can outrage their TV audience. But y’know, some of them are. You can tell whenever you talk with them: The first thing they want to talk about is the latest outrage. And they’re hoping it’ll outrage you too. Bad fruit likes to spread its seeds widely.

Love one another.

by K.W. Leslie, 29 July
John 13.34-35 KJV
34 A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. 35 By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.

Lest we miss the point, Jesus says “Love one another” thrice. It’s not unimportant to him. It is unimportant to Christians however. We’ve really pooched this one. On a global level.

We don’t love our fellow Christians in our churches. They’re family, and sometimes we acknowledge they’re family… but they’re kinda like the family we barely tolerate for family reunions. We don’t interact with them outside our church buildings. We don’t know what’s going on with their personal lives. We don’t care, either. We’re too busy.

We don’t love our fellow Christians in the other churches. In many cases we convinced ourselves half of them aren’t real Christians anyway. Their denominations teach weird, inappropriate things. They’re too legalistic to really love Jesus, or they’re too loosey-goosy with God’s righteous standards to really love Jesus. They’re not Spirit-filled enough… or they think they’re more Spirit-filled than we are, but really they’ve just confused their weird fleshly impulses with the Spirit.

We don’t love our fellow Christians in far-off lands. If the nearby Christians aren’t Christian enough for us, foreign Christians definitely aren’t. Their customs are too bizarre. Their people are dirt poor, and we wealthy Christians are so unconsciously used to social Darwinist and prosperity gospel thinking, we suspect they can’t have a proper relationship with God if he’s abandoned them to their poverty like that. We assume their so-called Christianity is really their country’s version of Christianism: It’s a cultural and ethnic thing which everybody does by rote. It’s not a living relationship, but dead religion. Shame they’re getting persecuted though… which can’t possibly be because they really do know Jesus, and would die for him.

We barely love our neighbors anyway. And besides, we’re busy! We have jobs. We have kids to raise, and drive to their afterschool activities. We have dates to keep, buddies to stay connected with, movies to watch, teams to support, video games to play… We “have lives.” Jesus understands; he knows all, and knows how busy we are. We haven’t time. We’ll do it once we finally have time, like when we retire, or after we’re resurrected.

“You don’t know his heart.”

by K.W. Leslie, 15 July

I got a coworker who loves to talk about End Times stuff, ’cause he’s kinda obsessed with it. (No, this article’s not on the End Times.) He likes to bring up any little thing which might be an End Times harbinger, just to get my take on it. Most of the time I tell him he’s worried over nothing. Yeah, some of those things are evil. Racism’s evil, slavery’s evil, pandemics are evil, wars are evil. And they’re the same evils humanity’s had since the very first humans. Wars happen. Plagues happen. Evil people take power. ’Tis nothing new. It’s new to him; he doesn’t know enough history. Which is the usual reason people claim, “Oh it’s so the last days; things have never been this bad.” Yeah they have. And worse.

In 2020 he asked me if I thought then-President Donald Trump was the Beast. Of course I told him no. Because I checked. Just because Trump still acts mighty beastlike on a frequent basis, and just because he’s managed to sucker a lot of partisan Christians into supporting him, doesn’t make him any more the Beast than Richard Nixon, Warren Harding, Woodrow Wilson, James Buchanan, Andrew Jackson, or any of the other various immoral men we’ve elected to govern the United States. Plus, I pointed out, we should never really be surprised when someone who’s not Christian doesn’t act Christian.

At this another coworker, whom I’ll call Yanni, butted in: “Trump is so a Christian.”

Yeah, no he’s not.

We got into a minor back-and-forth, where Yanni offered the usual arguments for why Trump’s a Christian. Like how he says he’s Christian. As do lots of people who aren’t really. Which is why I responded it doesn’t matter what Trump calls himself; he could call himself a unicorn if he so chose; doesn’t make him one. Calling yourself Christian means you think you’re Christian, but it’s really what Jesus thinks that counts.

“Who are you to say?” Yanni insisted. “You don’t know his heart.”

If you didn’t grow up Christian, “You don’t know his heart” is an old bit of Christianese which means “You can’t read his mind.” The ancients believed humans think with our hearts, and that’s what “heart” means in the bible. The medievals believed humans feel with our hearts, and from the middle ages to today, Christians have mixed up the medieval definition with the ancient one. So when many Christians say “You don’t know his heart” some of ’em mean, “You don’t know how he feels, deep down, inside.”

Either way, Yanni claimed there’s no way for me to know Trump’s true relationship with Christ. An argument, I might point out, which works both ways: Yanni doesn’t know his heart either, so there’s no way Yanni could know he is Christian.

But “You don’t know his heart” is false. Jesus told us how we can identify his followers: Fruit. If you’re Christian, you got the Holy Sprit within you. If you follow the Spirit—as you should!—you produce fruit. And if you resist the Spirit, you produce bad fruit; you’re fleshly. And back before he was banned from Twitter, what did Donald Trump tweet all day long? Hatred. Anger. Partisanship. Rabble-rousing. Separatism. Envy. Divisiveness. Unethical behavior.

Luke 6.43-45 KJV
43 For a good tree bringeth not forth corrupt fruit; neither doth a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. 44 For every tree is known by his own fruit. For of thorns men do not gather figs, nor of a bramble bush gather they grapes. 45 A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh.

You wanna know whether a person is Christian? Look at their character. Low character, no Christian.

Fleshly Christians.

by K.W. Leslie, 14 July

Jesus wants his followers to produce good fruit. Fruit of the Spirit, typically. It’s proof of our salvation: If we really do have the Holy Spirit within, if we really do abide in Christ, if we really have a relationship with our Father, we’re gonna be fruity.

No, not automatically, despite what some Christians claim. I know; I’ve heard their testimonies. “All of a sudden I just stopped sinning! It’s amazing!” No; at most the Spirit broke some addictions, but you chose to listen to the Spirit instead of your flesh. You chose to resist temptation instead of getting deterministically reprogrammed to follow God instead of your id. Fruit doesn’t spontaneously happen. It’s the product of a relationship—the one we often claim we have instead of religion—in which the Spirit leads and we follow. Most of the time it’s way easier than we ever expected (’cause the Spirit empowers us), and the more we do it the easier it gets, but still: Both of us do it.

And then there are the Christians who aren’t fruity. They’re fleshly.

No doubt you’ve met a few. Are related to a few. They aren’t loving. They’re joyless. Quickly irritated, angered, outraged, offended. Impatient. Out-of-control emotions. They do all sorts of evil things, ranging from white lies to full-on criminal activity, and justify it all sorts of ways. They claim they trust God, but more often trust their wallets, friends, political parties, media, and some stranger they found on the internet who tells it just the way they like it. They know it all; you can’t tell ’em different. They have no self-control, as you can tell from their debts, waistline, constant tardiness, and inability to let others reply, or have the last word. They haven’t crucified the flesh; Ga 5.24 in many cases they’re even saying God wants them to indulge themselves, because didn’t he make this world for us to enjoy?

Fruit isn’t their litmus test for Christianity. They came up with substitutes. They’re looking for orthodoxy, conformity, niceness, zealousness, baptism, whether you said the sinner’s prayer, whether you’re in a bible-believing church, the right politics, the right vocabulary. And sometimes they’re looking for nothing, and accept you’re Christian entirely because you say you are.

They get outraged when I suggest certain self-described “Christians,” who nonetheless demonstrate none of the Spirit’s fruit soever, are not.

As I said, fruit isn’t their litmus test. I claim it is; they claim it can’t be. Because they’ve never remotely thought of fruit that way. Fruit’s just a nice idea; the Galatians verses are just a nice passage to memorize; and when Jesus talked about fruit he was only talking about false prophets, Mt 7.15-16 and not all of us are prophets. Their churches claim one of the other unscriptural litmus tests, like a sinner’s prayer, and denouncing Satan at one’s water baptism.

And hey, what about newbies? If a person’s just become Christian a month ago, or six months ago, should we expect a “baby Christian” to exhibit the Spirit’s fruit to the level of a mature Christian? That’s ridiculous. They’re too new! Besides, even the spiritually mature Christians they know are occasionally, if not frequently, deficient in love, joy, peace, patience, and grace.

And whenever they point to the “mature Christians” they know with frequent lapses of fruit, you begin to realize exactly why they never remotely thought of fruit as evidence of one’s Christianity.

Jesus’s list of works of the flesh.

by K.W. Leslie, 13 July

Mark 7.17-23, Matthew 15.15-20.

Every so often I bring up a fruit of the Spirit like grace, or a work of the flesh like gracelessness. And no, these aren’t among the fruits and fleshly works Paul listed in Galatians 5. Because, in I said in my article on the topic, it’s not a comprehensive list. Wasn’t meant to be.

Because it’s not in Paul’s list, I’ll get pushback from time to time from a Christian who has the Galatians lists memorized, and has it in their head the lists are comprehensive. “Waitaminnit, that’s not one of the fruits.” And then I have to explain how this particular attitude and behavior has its clear origin in a Spirit-led lifestyle, or Spirit-defying human depravity. Grace should be one of the more obvious ones, ’cause grace is obviously a God thing. But you know how literalists can be. The scriptures gotta literally say it’s a fruit, and if they don’t it’s not.

Sometimes it’s not even about literalism: It’s because they want it to be a comprehensive list. Because they’re doing fleshly stuff, and wanna get away with it. Because there are good behaviors they really oughta develop in their lives, and they don’t wanna. Turning Galatians 5 into a comprehensive list is their loophole, and they’ll fight to the spiritual death to defend it.

Funny; the context of Galatians 5 is the Pharisees and their loopholes. Paul objected to how certain Christians figured grace means we can get away with stuff, ’cause no it doesn’t. And right after Jesus critiqued the Pharisees for the very same attitude, he explained to both his students and the crowd how evil comes from within, not without. It’s not what goes into us which makes us ritually unclean; it’s what comes out. Evil attitudes, intentions, and behaviors defile us. And all of ’em come from the id, from the selfish impulses, from the יֵצֶר הַרַע/yechér ha-ra, from the flesh.

’Cause the Pharisees of Jesus’s day claimed evil comes from the outside in. Entirely wrong. Humans are inherently selfish, but we wanna justify our selfishness so we can (selfishly) feel good about ourselves despite all the destruction we wreak by our self-serving behavior. The result is pretty much all the evil in the world. (The rest comes from natural disasters—some of which human behavior also produces.)

First problem Jesus ran into was his students telling him his lesson had offended the Pharisees. Well, Jesus explained, they’re blind guides. They think they understand God; they really don’t; there’s no telling them anything; forgive it as best you can. Pity the fools.

Second was the students not getting it.

Mark 7.17-18 KWL
17 From the crowd, once Jesus entered the house, his students were asking him what “the parable” meant.
18A Jesus told them, “Don’t you understand this either?”
 
Matthew 15.15-16 KWL
15 In reply Simon Peter told Jesus, “Explain the parable to us.”
16 Jesus said, “Don’t you yet understand either?”

Peter makes it clear they thought this is a parable. It’s not. Jesus’s parables are about his kingdom, and this teaching is about the stuff which keeps people away from his kingdom. So Jesus got blunt: He wants us to understand him, and not weasel out of it by claiming he’s being hyperbolic. He’s not.

Food goes in. Evil comes out.

The Pharisees objected that Jesus didn’t ritually wash his hands. Which is admittedly unsanitary, but they weren’t trying to be sanitary (and since they all dipped their forearms and feet in the same jars, it really wasn’t all that sanitary); it was all about being ritually clean.

The word Pharisees used to describe Jesus and his kids was κοινοῖ/kiní, “common,” which isn’t really an insult unless you have a caste system where Pharisees are nobles in the top rank, and non-Pharisees are commoners in the lowest rank. To them, Jesus was acting like a dirty peasant pagan.

Whereas to Jesus, their ritual washing was all for show anyway. Skipping it didn’t make you “common.” Thinking like a dirty pagan peasant, with a heart full of selfish and depraved ideas, is what did it to you. The show covers up the fact your heart might be full of that selfishness and depravity—but you look good, so nobody can call you on your evil.

Mark 7.18-20 KWL
18B “You know how everything from outside, which goes into the person, can’t make them ‘common’?
19 Because it doesn’t enter their heart, but into the bowels, and goes out into the latrine.
All the food gets cleaned out.”
20 Jesus said this: “What comes out of the person? That makes the person ‘common’.
 
Matthew 15.17-18 KWL
17 “You know how everything which goes in the mouth, enters the bowels and goes down the latrine?
18 What comes out of the mouth, comes out of the heart—and that makes the person ‘common.’ ”

Food passes through your alimentary canal. It doesn’t get to your heart… although if you eat too much of certain types of foods, you’re gonna clog your arteries with plaque. But Jesus isn’t speaking of one’s literal heart, but one’s mind. Your food isn’t gonna make you think and do evil. Your mind will. Your food’s just gonna come out in your poo.

Evil’s far more deeply embedded than that.

Mark 7.21-23 KWL
21 “For evil reasoning comes out from within the person’s heart:
Porn. Theft. Murder. 22 Adultery. Covetousness. Depravity.
Deception. Immorality. Stinginess. Slander. Conceit. Stupidity.
23 All these inner evils come out and make the person ‘common’.”
 
Matthew 15.19-20 KWL
17 “For evil reasoning comes out of the heart:
Murder. Adultery. Porn. Theft. False witness. Slander.
20 These make the person ‘common’. Not washing one’s hands to eat doesn’t make the person ‘common’.”

Like Paul’s list, Jesus’s isn’t comprehensive either. But these are traits we should never see among Christians. When we see the Spirit’s fruit in our lives, we’re clean, kosher, Christian. When we see no evidence of any influence of the Holy Spirit—unchanged, unregenerated, unrepentant, unfruitful people—we’re unclean, treyf, pagan.

Evil reasoning (διαλογισμοὶ πονηροί/dialoyismé poniré, KJV “evil thoughts”) tends to get listed with the others, but really all these things are evil thoughts. And notice how a number of ’em violate the Ten Commandments.

PORN (πορνεῖαι/porneíe, “sex-minded,” KJV “fornications”). Porn refers to any inappropriate sexual activity: People who regularly have sex on the brain, and won’t limit it to monogamy, fidelity, and the considerations of their partner.

Lots of Christians figure sex isn’t an issue once you’re married: Have all the sex you want with your spouse! But you can still be inordinately interested in sex. Some years ago a few famous pastors raised eyebrows by declaring Christian couples need to have sex daily… despite what either partner, usually the under-appreciated wife who now has to submit to her husband’s objectifying lusts, is comfortable with. Look, if the wife doesn’t wanna have sex every day, usually there’s good reason! Her husband probably sucks at ministering to her needs. (And not just her sexual needs; get your mind out of there.) The demand for daily sex is still selfish. Still lacks self-control. Still porn.

Bad Christians dismiss their promiscuity by claiming it’s a form of love. I once met a guy who called himself a “love addict”—by which he meant he couldn’t keep himself from bedding women, despite his marital vows. What he was really addicted to was the thrill of adulterous fornication.

THEFT (κλοπαί/klopé, KJV “thefts”). Refers to whether you’re outright stealing things, or secretly trying to get away with stuff. Getting an unfair advantage over everyone else, getting ahead by misusing other people’s trust. To them, life is war and competition and profit, and if you’re not playing the game you’re a fool.

This looks nothing like the humility, transparency, love, and service Christians oughta see in one another. Yet I’ve been in a few Christian organizations where theft is everywhere: People brought their “business sense” from the “real world” into the environment and corrupted it. But then again they didn’t really bring it in from outside. They justified it on the outside. It was already within them.

MURDER (φόνοι/fónë, KJV “murders”). Thankfully we don’t see a lot of murder among Christians. (Well, not after they turned to Jesus.) There are exceptions, but by and large Christians know better.

Where we don’t know better is when we wish others were dead. We Christians do this all the time. I know from experience: I still know a lot of people who are really interested in politics, and really, really hate the opposition party. And anyone who supports it. And enemies of the United States, both real and imaginary. And so forth.

Jesus equates this hatred with murder. Mt 5.22 If you hate a person enough to wish they were dead, you murder them in your heart, and people with this level of hatred in ’em are unfit for God’s kingdom. Supposed to love our neighbors and enemies, remember?

ADULTERY (μοιχεῖαι/mikheíë, KJV “adulteries”). Our culture’s definition of adultery, and the bible’s, are very different. It was a patriarchal culture, where men were culturally permitted to have sex with anyone they were personally responsible for. God forbade ’em to have sex with relatives and slaves, but they still had polygamy and “concubines”—an old-timey word for “girlfriend.” (I don’t care if your favorite bible dictionary claims it means “secondary wife.” It did not. It meant an unmarried woman with whom a man had sex.)

Adultery in that culture meant having sex with someone who wasn’t yours to have sex with. Someone else’s spouse. Someone else’s significant other. A minor. A relative. A stranger in the pornography you consume (and they’re all strangers, aren’t they?). Rape would also fall into this category. Sexual harassment as well.

There’s a fair amount of overlap between porn and adultery, but Jesus was covering the bases.

COVETOUSNESS (πλεονεξίαι/pleonexíë, KJV “covetousness”). Coveting is simply wanting stuff. Which isn’t in itself a sin, but when you want what you can’t or ought not have, that’s sin. But notice Jesus doesn’t specifically single out the sinful stuff: He lists coveting in general. Simply wanting stuff.

’Cause there are a lot of people who aren’t at all satisfied with what they have. They gotta have more. Could be money, position, authority, honor, special treatment, perqs, benefits, and so forth. Unlike the humble, who are fine with where and who they are, these folks demand whatever they can get. And y’know, certain churches teach we should demand whatever we can get, ’cause we’re God’s kids Mt 7.11, Lk 6.38 and deserve the best of everything.

But in so doing we violate Jesus’s example. Part of the devil’s temptations to Jesus included goading him to demand all the stuff Jesus was due by being God’s son. And Jesus wouldn’t. There’s nothing wrong with asking for daily bread, Mt 6.11 but the self-entitled ask not for a day’s worth, but a pantry’s worth. They justify their greed by pointing out how God has more than enough. He does—but the kingdom’s resources are meant to further the kingdom, not line our pockets.

DEPRAVITY (πονηρίαι/poniríë, KJV “wickedness”). Habitual evil behavior. You know the sort who can’t or won’t quit their vices? They’re not addicted; they just don’t wanna quit. Won’t stop drinking, gambling, red meat, sarcasm, holding grudges, or other bad behavior. They’d rather be destroyed than give it up. It’s freedom! It’s who they are! But it’s wrecking ’em and their relationships—including the relationship with God.

DECEPTION (δόλος/thólos, KJV “deceit”). You know, liars and hypocrites.

IMMORALITY (ἀσέλγεια/asélyeia, KJV “lasciviousness”). People who do as they wish and don’t care who it offends, what biblical commands it violates, who gets offended, whether it’s false or evil: Their heart wants what it wants, so they’ll do as they please.

Sometimes it takes the form of “the greater good” argument, or the ends justifying the means—and in this form it regularly works on Christians. “Yeah, we gotta hide our ministers’ sins—but only so the name of Jesus isn’t dragged through the mud.” It’s never really his name they’re concerned about.

STINGINESS (ὀφθαλμὸς πονηρός/ofthalmós ponirós, KJV “an evil eye”). Yeah, literally it says “evil eye.” A “good eye” and “evil eye” are Hebrew idioms which refer to generosity and stinginess. Hopefully we have good eyes: We give when we can.

The stingy don’t give when they can. Or they give the minimum amount necessary to appear benevolent, like when a billionaire gives a thousand dollars to a charity—a millionth of their money, which they’ll never miss, and can deduct from taxes. They don’t think of money as something God gave them to bless others; if they’re not already worshiping it, they figure money’s something God gave them to bless themselves.

SLANDER (βλασφημία/vlasfimía, KJV “blasphemies”). Slander’s when you falsely accuse anyone. It applies to everyone, not just God. And Christians commit it all the time… usually in the form of gossip.

FALSE WITNESS (ψευδομαρτυρίαι/sevtho-martyríë, KJV “false witness”). Claiming you know something when you don’t. Not necessarily slander, although slander is definitely a form of false witness. Like I said, Jesus was covering his bases.

A pretty common way Christians bear false witness is by spreading internet rumors. We’re really lazy about checking facts, and wind up spreading fake news instead of stopping it in its tracks. But there are people who live for this sort of thing, and will never tell an honest story when a juicy one will do. So this’d be them.

CONCEIT (ὑπερηφανία/yper-ifanía, KJV “pride”). Taking pleasure in our achievements, i.e. pride, isn’t necessarily evil. It’s only when we make too much of ourselves that we’ve crossed the line into conceit: Pride gone too far.

Naturally conceit’s the opposite of humility—of recognizing our true value, which is a fruit of the Spirit. Jesus is humble, Mt 11.29 for he knows precisely who he is. We must remember who we are in his kingdom, and never claim otherwise.

STUPIDITY (ἀφροσύνη/afrosýni, KJV “foolishness”). People who don’t think things through—or don’t think at all. They react. Their lives are reduced to knee-jerk reactions: Either “I like that” or “I don’t like that,” yet they can’t always tell you why they like or dislike things. Or, when they do, it’s usually their favorite talk-radio host’s explanation instead of their own thinking.

God gave us brains, and God grants us wisdom when we ask him for it. Jm 1.5 He expects us to think and reason, and get ourselves out of trouble preventatively, not after the fact. He doesn’t want us to react on instinct; certainly not the selfish instincts we were born with. He wants us to think on what’s good and right and God-pleasing, and thoughtfully respond to the world around us. There are far too many irrational Christians among us, whose first response is based on instinct, and whose second response is to cover up the misbehavior by giving it Christianese names: “That just grieved my spirit, so that’s why I said what I did.” Hogwash: You didn’t think. Confess. Repent. And next time, think.

These things make us unclean.

A Christian is defined by our relationship with God through Christ Jesus. If we have such a relationship, we’re Christians. How do we know, how do we prove, we have such a relationship? We’re fruity. We have the Holy Spirit within us; we follow his guidance and leading; we produce his fruit. Fleshliness suggests, at best, we’re sucky Christians; at worst we’re not Christian at all.

So. If we have any fleshly works in our lives—and every Christian, to some degree, has some—we gotta be rid of them. We gotta make the effort. Which God recognizes, and honors: We’re saved by his grace, and God’s grace is for those who make this effort. But for those who make no effort—who figure baptism, the sinner’s prayer, or good karma is getting them into heaven—they’re betting on the wrong horse. Work the relationship. Fight the works of the flesh. God will help you win.

The sinner’s prayer isn’t proof of your salvation.

by K.W. Leslie, 30 June

Back in grad school I heard this ridiculous story from a preacher. I’ve shared it before; now again. Goes like so.

There once was this Christian who felt unsure of his salvation. He hoped he was saved, but he was just so full of doubts. A little voice inside his head kept telling him, “Oh you’re not saved. Not really.” Of course the preacher assumed this voice was Satan, but considering how such baiting will simply drive us Christians to make certain we’re saved, I’m pretty sure Satan abandoned this tactic long ago as stupid. But I digress.

This uncertain Christian came up with a clever plan: First he said the sinner’s prayer again. (He no doubt said it ages ago, but bear with me.) Next he made a sign with that day’s date on it, fixed it to a stake, and pounded the stake into his backyard. Now every time the voice in his head told him, “You’re not saved,” he could look out the back window at his sign, and say, “I am so saved, devil. Get thee behind me.”

Followed by a rash of my fellow students placing signs with various dates on ’em in the yard behind their dorms… Nah, just kidding. Nobody did that. Because this uncertain Christian posting signs in his backyard is, to put it kindly, dumb. “Yeah I know what’ll confirm my salvation: A sign in the yard!” Say the wind blows it away some day; then where will he be? Wouldn’t that surely look a sign from God suggesting no, he’s not saved?

Signs in your yard may indicate all sorts of things. Like whom you voted for, who installed your solar panels, who does your lawn, whom you voted for, whether the house is on the market, when the garage sale will be. Of course they mean nothing if they’re not true; if the sign says “Garage sale Saturday” but it was actually a Saturday in 2019. A sign can tell you the date of your sinner’s prayer, but did the sinner’s prayer even work?

Because sinner’s prayers don’t save people. Never did. God saves us, by his grace and through our faith. Does he automatically do this whenever a person says the sinner’s prayer? Well some evangelists claim he absolutely does, every single time.

Romans 10.13 KJV
For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. Jl 2.32

Of course they forget to quote the context of this verse—namely the verses following.

Romans 10.14-16 KJV
14 How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? 15 And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things! Is 52.7 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report? Is 53.1

If a petitioner lacks faith in God—as proven when they don’t live the gospel after they prayed the sinner’s prayer—calling upon the Lord won’t save you. “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed?”

It’s like claiming, “I don’t know whether my checking account has any money in it. So I’m gonna send the bank a letter, then put the date I sent the letter on a sign. And every time I’m not sure there’s anything in that account, I’m gonna look at that sign and tell myself, ‘No you do have money. ’Cause you sent ’em a letter on this date!’ ”

Like I said, dumb.

Spiritual maturity: It’s based on fruit, not knowledge.

by K.W. Leslie, 20 April

Years ago I had a boss who was seriously immature. Same age as me; we were both in our thirties. But he was completely unreliable. Couldn’t be trusted with private matters. Lied to cover up even minor mistakes. Had serious lapses in judgment. Regularly did inappropriate things, or told inappropriate jokes, so he could impress the teenagers we worked with.

How’d this guy get put into any position of authority? He was a pastor’s kid.

A whole lot of nepotism takes place in churches. Our word nepotism even comes from the practice: Various popes regularly gave important jobs to their “nephews” (really, their illegitimate kids), and the Italian for “nephew” is nipote. But lemme first say I’m not saying we should never hire family members. Most of the time they’re just as talented, gifted, and qualified as their relatives, if not more so. Being a pastor’s kid is a plus, not a minus.

Of course sometimes the apple didn’t fall near the tree. Sometimes it fell into a whole other yard, rolled down a hill, fell off a cliff, landed in the pigpen, and is working its way through a pig’s large intestine. Some pastor’s kids are not at all qualified to take any position of leadership whatsoever. But they got the job anyway, ’cause Dad or Mom gave it to them, or pulled strings. That’d be my boss. He got his job because Dad knew some people. He had connections… so he didn’t need to be a person of good character.

And character is Paul’s one requirement for leadership: You only put mature Christians in charge. Do otherwise and you get disaster. Which is exactly what happened to this boss. I don’t know the details (and they’re none of my business anyway) but he pooched something so huge his dad couldn’t bail him out. So the board fired him, and I wound up with a much better boss. Happy ending.

But during that time I worked for that immature man, my coworkers and I had more than one discussion about maturity and leadership, ’cause our boss was such a poor example of Christian maturity. One of those talks went kinda like this.

SHE. “I mean he’s qualified and all that; the board wouldn’t’ve hired him if he weren’t qualified. But he’s so immature.”
ME. “Sure. And the spiritual immaturity is undermining the job…”
SHE. “Hold up. I didn’t say he was spiritually immature. He’s just immature.”
ME. “They’re the same thing.”
SHE. “No they’re not.”
ME. “Mature people exhibit self-control, emotional control, patience, kindness, gentleness, and peace, right? Those are all spiritual things.”
SHE. “Mature people know stuff.”
ME. “When the smartest person in the world sticks her tongue out at you, would you say she’s being mature?”
SHE. “No.”
ME. “Smartest person gets bad customer service, so she throws a massive hissy fit in the middle of the supermarket. Still being mature?”
SHE. “No.”
ME. “Because it’s not about knowledge or ability. Betcha the oldest, wisest people in your church don’t know squat about computers.”

(Like I said, this happened years ago. I’m old now. We old people grew up with computers. But our parents, not so much.)

ME. [continuing] “But here’s the thing. When an old person’s spiritually mature, and you tell them, ‘You need to go on the internet for that,’ they’re not gonna freak out—‘Oh I don’t know anything about computers, and I’m too old to learn. What do you need a computer for? You young people and your computers. In my day we didn’t use computers for anything.’ They’re not gonna have a mini-meltdown; they’re gonna be patient. ‘I don’t know how to do that. Can you show me?’ Because maturity isn’t about knowledge or ability. It’s all behavior.”

Humility.

by K.W. Leslie, 11 March

Humility is an obvious fruit of the Spirit, ’cause it’s a form of self-control. It’s when we resist the temptation to claim status, prerogatives, or power over other people. Before we say or do anything, we think about how our actions and words affect others. We unselfishly take them into consideration. We submit.

Humility isn’t about claiming we’re all on the same level. Because we’re not. I am smarter, more handsome, and wealthier than other people. I have connections others don’t; I have a better job than others do; I’m white, which means I’m gonna suffer from racism way, way less than nonwhites. Claiming or pretending I don’t have these advantages isn’t humility; it’s hypocrisy. Especially when it’s in my power to use these advantages to help others. Maybe not to the level Esther did, Es 4.13-14 but it is why God has people in positions of privilege: So we can help.

Popular culture defines humility as demeaning, embarrassing, or dishonoring ourselves. And yeah, sometimes humility involves those things. It can be embarrassing to admit our failings. But once we start, we break that fear pretty quickly. Plus, notice all the stand-up comedians who make a really good living at it.

But properly, humility is when we don’t lord our advantages over others. Or lord over anyone. We Christians are meant to love and serve one another. We have no business closing ourselves off, or hiding behind gatekeepers, secretaries, “armor-bearers,” or other functionaries who keep everyone “unimportant” away. Way too many bishops and pastors get that way, and are obviously not humble. Contrast that with our Lord, who angrily told his students to stop keeping the kids away.

Matthew 19.13-15 KJV
13 Then were there brought unto [Jesus] little children, that he should put his hands on them, and pray: and the disciples rebuked them. 14 But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven. 15 And he laid his hands on them, and departed thence.

“Suffer” as in “put up with,” not “make them suffer.” Y’all need to get up to speed on King James Version vocabulary.

Still: Jesus is an infinitely important guy, but he makes time to meet with people, and bless ’em with any resources he has. So should we.

No seriously. Start giving.

by K.W. Leslie, 27 January

Too many Christians falsely believe the Spirit’s fruit grows spontaneously. Since it’s the Spirit’s fruit, he grows it, just like in Jesus’s Independent Fruit Story where wheat grows without the planter realizing how. Mk 4.26-29 That parable, by the way, is about God’s kingdom, not the Spirit’s fruit—but hey, if it means we get freebies and don’t have to lift a finger, people are perfectly happy to receive freebies.

So the assumption is if we’re truly following Jesus, fruit happens. Obviously we’ve not thought this idea through: Exactly how are we following Jesus when we’re not deliberately behaving in ways that’ll grow fruit? Passively? Is anyone meant to follow Jesus passively? (Spoiler: No.)

If we’re gonna grow in love, we gotta love others, particularly unloveable people. If we’re gonna develop patience, we gotta be patient despite suffering in minor or major ways. (Which is why I hate developing patience.) And if we’re gonna develop generosity, we have to give.

And since Americans are so very very Mammonist, generosity is probably the hardest fruit to develop. We’ve made so many concessions to greed. We consider ourselves clever, not stingy, when we find ways to avoid giving. We’ve justified so many practices because we want wealth, not poverty. And I get not wanting poverty. I’ve been poor; it sucks! But even when I was poor I could give. That woman throwing small copper coins into the treasury Mk 12.41-44, Lk 21.1-4 could give; so can we. So can anyone.

But stinginess is a work of the flesh, a sign we’re not fit for God’s kingdom. Like Paul wrote:

Ephesians 5.5-7 KJV
5 For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. 6 Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience. 7 Be not ye therefore partakers with them.

Coveting wealth means you’ve made an idol of it, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. God’s gonna judge those who were covetous instead of generous; don’t lump yourself in with them. The stakes really are that high.

So like I said, the way we develop generosity is to give. Let’s get started.

Generosity.

by K.W. Leslie, 26 January

Generosity is a form of kindness. It’s about helping the needy, being an aid and comfort to them, being gracious regardless of whether they deserve our help, and fighting our fleshly urges to hoard and covet.

Those fleshly urges definitely do get in the way of generosity. Sometimes we’ll only give because it’ll profit us. We’ll feel proud of ourselves for being wealthy enough to fund good deeds. Or we’ll feel this paid off our karmic debts—we may have done some evil before, but this totally makes up for it, and this means we’re good people. Or we’ll expect to be compensated: “I’m doing this for you now, but someday later I expect you to pay me back, or pay it forward to society.” Or we have an ulterior motive; we want to look like benevolent people while we’re hypocritically hiding our sins.

This is why there are a lot of “generous” people out there, but they’re doing it for self-interest, not goodness. This is why a number of Christians will tell me, “Generosity is found in Paul’s list in Galatians, so it’s not really a fruit of the Spirit; besides, look at all the ‘generous people’ in this world who are actually evil.” Yeah, I hear you. It’s why we gotta make the distinction between true generosity and just throwing money around.

And it’s also why we gotta bring up the fact we Christians aren’t always so generous, and use worldly “generosity” as our cop-out. Too many Christians get mighty stingy, and justify this behavior by calling it “good stewardship.” I challenge you to look at all the instances of stewardship in the bible and show me where “good stewardship” means we never take risks, never give to the needy, and lay up reserves “just in case.” Reserves are always stockpiled with a goal in mind, like building a temple… or providing a large sum for the needy. When there’s no purpose for our savings accounts other than to feel comfortable about our financial cushion, we’re not depending on God anymore for our comfort. We’re depending on Mammon.

Wealthy Christians are nowhere near as kind as we oughta be, and this includes generosity: We’re nowhere near as generous as we oughta be. We begrudge every nickel taken from us, begged of us, or taxed from us and given to welfare programs. When we give to fund our churches, our checks are calculated to be precisely 10 percent of our paychecks, down to the cent—’cause it’s our obligation, not our donation.

And when it’s time to tip the waiter, we likewise calculate the gratuity down to the cent. When we’re asked to give to charity, we limit ourselves to a small obligatory amount, like a dollar, which we’ll contribute, but no more. When we find it’s time to tighten the budget, the first thing to go are the charities—not the cable TV, even though it’s a far bigger bill and the least necessary of all of them.

As C.S. Lewis put it,

If our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc, is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditure excludes them. […] For many of us the great obstacle to charity lies not in our luxurious living or desire for more money, but in our fear—fear of insecurity. This must often be recognised as a temptation.

Mere Christianity, “Social Morality.”

Or as St. Paul put it,

Ephesians 5.5 KJV
For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.

Greed destroys. Generosity is a fruit of the Spirit.

Are Christian jerks even Christian?

by K.W. Leslie, 10 August

Bouncing back to the question my pagan friend had in my first article on Christian jerks: “So you’re the real Christians, and they aren’t?” My response is “Kinda.”

Other Christians will respond “No.” Kindness is a fruit of the Spirit, and if we’re not producing fruit as Jesus expects, these folks will point out there’s no evidence of the Spirit within us, so he may not even be within us. No fruit, no Spirit, not Christian.

And that’s a valid point.

No seriously: That’s a valid point. If we’re truly following Jesus, fruit’s gonna grow! In part because we’re gonna mimic his compassionate, kind, loving character: We see how Jesus treats people, and we treat ’em the same way. We’re not gonna project our bad attitudes on him so we can justify ourselves; we’re gonna choose to adopt his good attitude. And the other part is when the Holy Spirit pokes us in the conscience—“Hey, quit being a dick”—we’re gonna listen, instead of pretending the devil’s tempting us to stop being so zealous.

If we’re truly following Jesus, our character’s gonna transform into his. If we’re not, particularly if we’ve been self-identifying as Christians for decades, we might not even be Christian. Gotta repent and be saved.

But the reason I don’t just say Christian jerks aren’t real Christians, is because I’ve been one of ’em. And I was legitimately Christian. A sucky Christian, but still Christian. Fruit took a long time to develop, in part because instead of adopting Jesus’s character, I embraced the idea of cheap grace and took my salvation for granted: I did as I pleased, and didn’t bother growing fruit. Some grew, ’cause some always will, ’cause it’s how the Spirit marks his people. But it grew in spite of me, regardless of my poor efforts or lack of effort altogether. (I did grow in my knowledge of bible trivia, which was all the “fruit” my fellow Christian jerks cared about.) When the Spirit corrected me, or sent others to correct me, too often I’d blow him off: Didn’t God save me by his grace? He did? Well then I’m good… right?

Only good enough to be the lowest in God’s kingdom. Mt 5.19 But you realize Jesus expects more of us than that. Which is why the Spirit didn’t stop going after me till I got the point and worked on the fruit. Took me years. Takes others decades.

Some of Jesus’s first students committed some pretty serious dick moves, y’know. James and John wanting to rain fire on Samaritans. Lk 9.54 Simon Peter straight-up denied Jesus. Yet these things didn’t unsave them. I know; you mighta heard sermons which claimed otherwise. There’s a popular misinterpretation going round which claims Jesus had to restore his relationship with Peter by asking him “Do you love me?” thrice, Jn 21.15-19 to make up for Peter's three denials. Almost as if Jesus had to restore Peter’s karmic balance—which is how we know this interpretation is crap. Jesus totally foreknew Peter would fail him, Jn 13.38 and loved him anyway. Likewise he foreknew we’d fail him, as we regularly do. And no, there are no restorative incantations necessary. We won’t have to spend a thousand years in purgatory answering “Do you love me?” to make up for every boneheaded act we’ve committed.

Yes, Jesus saves jerks. Jerks like me. They’re not fake Christians, false Christians, phony Christians, lapsed Christians, heretic Christians. If they are, it’s because other things put ’em into those categories: Jerkish behavior isn’t what does it. You could totally be both a Christian and a jerk.

But please don’t.

Being a jerk: “It’s just who I am.”

by K.W. Leslie, 16 July

Many a novelty T-shirt warns you they’re coming. “I speak fluent sarcasm,” or “If you can’t handle me at my worst, you don’t deserve me at my best,” or “Back up till I’ve had my Risperdal coffee,” or “I can go from zero to [awful] in 60 seconds.” There, that counts as their necessary legal notification that they’re gonna be a jerk.

That, and pitching a hissy fit when somebody asks ’em to put on a face mask. Yeah, those folks are just a ray of sunshine whenever their faces screw up… Sorry, I’m also kinda fluent in sarcasm. But I’ll stop now.

I used to be a jerk myself. It came out as sarcasm, which is how I got away with it for so long in Christian circles: It amused and entertained people. I still have pastor friends who enjoy the fact I can say the things they can’t. Not because I’m being a dick and they have to be better than that; plenty of pastors are dicks, and Christ Jesus expects better of both them and me. No; it’s because when the things I say bug people, it’s not gonna make ’em quit my church, or try to get me fired. But back in my a--hole days, my pastor friends were jerks like me, and appreciated how much better I was at ridiculing people than they. I had more practice, I guess.

In any event, I mocked people so often I became known as “the sarcastic guy.” Which is not a badge of honor… but I wore it like one. I thought it was a compliment: “Look how clever he is.” Wasn’t just me either: When people met my family members, they immediately noticed we were all that way. Looked like it was hereditary: Mom did it, Grandpa did it; it’s our thing. So that became my excuse: It’s in my genes.

It really wasn’t. Sarcastic people are angry, the anger gets turned into angry humor, and that’s where sarcasm comes from. Grandpa was angry that Grandma treated him like crap. Mom was angry that Dad treated her like crap. I was angry with Dad too; same reason. Sarcasm was my outlet, and since I didn’t know psychology I of course misdiagnosed the problem. And since I enjoyed making fun of others, I justified the problem: It was hereditary. I was born that way.

Humanity does the very same thing with all our favorite sins: We blame ’em on anything but ourselves. It’s because we’re the products of evolution, of our environment, of the culture, that our families messed us up, that it’s a birth defect… and of course that it is a product of our birth, but it’s not a defect; it’s like mutations in the X-Men movies, which might have their down sides but ultimately grant us superpowers. We take neither credit nor blame for them; we can’t help them either way. We have no control. It’s all predetermined.

And if it’s all predetermined, if it’s all part of the design and the plan for the universe, who’s ultimately responsible? God. He put it in us. Who else?

And God is good, and God doesn’t create evil, so if he made me this way, it can’t be evil. Doesn’t take long before determinists discover this logical argument, and immediately apply it to themselves: “I may be a rotten bastard first thing in the morning, but God didn’t make me a morning person; he made me this way. So back up. Touch not the Lord’s anointed.

So yeah, this is how jerks justify a whole lot of jerkishness. We pass the buck to God.

God’s not gonna accept it though.

I didn’t put it in you.”

Yes, in the beginning God created humanity, and called us good. Then humanity sinned, and now we’re not good. We sin; we’re self-centered. God didn’t put those traits in us, and it’s wrong to credit him with ’em. Even when we like some of those traits; if we think they’re badass. God doesn’t agree.

Imagine an automobile manufacturer who puts out a really good, reliable car, then sends ’em to the dealerships. The dealer thinks they’ll sell better if she repaints them, so she does. The dealer’s mechanic thinks he knows a trick to get better mileage out of the cars, so he tinkers with the engines. The customers don’t know any of this, and when they buy the cars they assume they’re getting ’em just as the manufacturer made ’em. Well, that’s kind of humanity’s deal. We’re not as God originally made us. Sin’s tweaked us a bunch. We need a factory reset.

The stuff God actually does put into us, is the fruit of the Spirit. We just have to cooperate with the manufacturer. But we don’t; we’re kinda fond of the “customizations”—which are actually flaws.

Jerks enjoy being jerks. They don’t care to change their character and become more like Jesus; they’d far rather be jerky than fruity. They like being known as the tough guy or the bad b----; they identify with these traits and consider them essential to who they are. They don’t want the Holy Spirit to mess with “perfection.”

But he will, ’cause he’s got an entirely different idea of perfection.

I had to get over my desire to remain “the sarcastic guy.” The Holy Spirit had to convince me I need to be better than that. ’Cause as far as I was concerned, there wasn’t better. Sarcastic Guy had fans, got laughs, was fun. I had a few arguments with the Spirit about it; I wasn’t gonna win, but I didn’t know any better. I insisted this was who I am, but he countered with, “But I didn’t put it in you.” And if it didn’t come from God, it’s gotta go. True of everything.

A lot of people are avoiding this particular conversation with the Holy Spirit… ’cause deep down, they know it’s coming. He really does want us to change, to become better people, to be more like Jesus, to produce fruit. And we’d really rather not. We’re comfortable where we are. We’re having fun; why’s the Spirit anti-fun? Well he’s not, but they don’t trust him enough to accept that he knows better, and has better things in mind for us.

He’s not content to leave us where we are. We shouldn’t be content where we are either. We should always strive for self-improvement. The path to that, is through Jesus. Follow him.

Zeal’s a work of the flesh.

by K.W. Leslie, 15 July

Frequently the excuse Christians make for being jerks is… they’re just so dedicated to God. He comes first. Orthodox truth and godly standards and biblical principles come first. Your feelings, your hangups, your boundaries, your convictions, most definitely do not—nothing comes before God. They’re never gonna compromise that. It’d be idolatry.

So while they’re defending God and his favorite things (which coincidentally happen to be their favorite things, ’cause projection they’re so tight with God), if they happen to set aside kindness, patience, gentleness, forgiveness, grace, love, or any other of the Spirit’s fruit… well, that’s just gonna be a casualty of the culture war. Fruit’s important and all that, but orthodoxy? Principles? Standards? Absolute truths? We can’t compromise those things; the whole universe will fall to pieces if we do. But we can totally compromise fruit, ’cause on God’s cosmic totem pole fruit’s probably not that important.

Which only goes to show how Christian jerks don’t really know God as well as they imagine. The Spirit’s fruit is God’s character. You think his character’s not important? Not so important, he deposited God himself in us so he can teach and grow this character in us, transform our very nature, and make us like Jesus? Seems fruit’s rather high on God’s list of priorities. But not theirs. They’d rather remain the same jerks they’ve always been, but slap Christian labels on all their works of the flesh instead of do the hard work of transforming into what God wants them to become. It’s way easier. It’s hypocrisy though.

And one of the things they slap Christian labels upon, is their impatience. Which they call zeal, and claim God wants ’em to be zealous. Wasn’t Jesus zealous when he flipped those tables in temple?

John 2.12-17 KWL
12 After this, Jesus went down to Kfar Nahum with his mother, his siblings, and his students.
They stayed there—not many days; 13 it was nearly the Judeans’ Passover.
Jesus went up to Jerusalem, 14 and in temple he found cattle-, sheep-, and pigeon-sellers,
and coin-changers taking up residence.
15 Making a whip out of ropes, Jesus threw everyone, plus sheep and cattle, out of temple.
He poured out the money-changers’ coins, and flipped over the tables.
16 He told the pigeon-sellers, “Get these things out of here!
Don’t make my Father’s house a market-house!”
17 His students were reminded it’s written,
“The zeal of your house will eat me up.” Ps 69.9

Look how zealous Jesus was for his Father’s house! Shouldn’t we be just as zealous for our Father’s house?—and for all the things in it, like orthodoxy and principles and standards? Shouldn’t we be willing to whip a few people if need be?

Here’s the problem: When Paul wrote about the Spirit’s fruit in Galatians, he first stated there are a few character traits we shouldn’t see among Christians, ’cause they indicate a person who’s not following the Holy Spirit. Instead they’re following their own selfish, fleshly impulses. And he provided a list—not a comprehensive one, but it gives us the general idea—of the behaviors we’ll find in such people.

Galatians 5.19-21 KWL
19 Fleshly works are obvious in anyone who practices the following:
Promiscuity. Uncleanness. Unethical behavior.
20 Idolatry. Addiction. Hatred. Rabble-rousing.
Too much zeal. Anger. Partisanship. Separatism. Heresy.
21 Envy. Intoxication. Constant partying. And other people like these.
I warn you of them just like I warned you before:
Those who do such things won’t inherit God’s kingdom.

Now check out that item in the second line of verse 20: “Too much zeal.”

Sometimes fleshly… and sometimes not.

What’s it say in the original Greek text of Galatians? Ζῆλος/zílos. Our word comes from their word. It’s not a different word. But it certainly gets translated as other words:

  • AMPLIFIED, CSB, ESV, GNT, ISV, MEV, NASB, NET, NIV, NLT, NRSV, TLV, VOICE: Jealousy.
  • CEB: Obsession.
  • GENEVA, KJV: Emulations.
  • WYCLIFFE: Indignations.

Jealousy, y’notice, is the most popular translation. Because people don’t wanna translate zílos as zeal.

In part because of that quote from John, which is a quote from Psalms, “The zeal of your house will eat me up.” Jn 2.17, Ps 69.9 If Jesus was zealous, and zeal is fleshly, we can’t say Jesus was being fleshly. The Spirit’s fruit is his character and nature; fleshly works are antithetical to Jesus’s very nature!

Likewise Paul wrote it’s okay to be zealous in certain situations—and in the very same letter to the Galatians; in just the chapter before.

Galatians 4.17-18 KWL
17 The legalists are zealous for you. Not for your good:
Instead they want to isolate you, so you can be zealous for them.
18 Being zealous is good—when it’s for every good thing,
and not only when I’m present with you.

He used the verb-form of zeal, ζηλόω/ziló. Means the same thing. And stated zealousness is good—when we’re zealous for good things. When we’re zealous for God, for trusting and following Jesus, for loving our neighbors, for the scriptures… and yes, even for orthodoxy, principles, and standards.

Yet Paul still called zeal a work of the flesh. Because, when misplaced or taken to extremes, it can go very, very wrong.

Same with jealousy. Y’notice those other bible translations turn zílos into “jealousy,” figuring zeal’s fine but jealousy’s not. Well, sometimes jealousy is fine. God is jealous. Straight-up calls himself jealous. Ex 20.5, 34.14 Which means he doesn’t want us worshiping anyone but him, and he’s right to feel that way; worshiping anything else will ruin us, and not because God does the ruining. And when humans get jealous, it’s likewise because we want someone’s exclusive devotion. Sometimes rightly so! You don’t want your spouse lusting after other people; you likewise don’t want our fellow Christians trying to borrow contradictory ideas from other religions, just because they prefer what the Buddha taught to what Jesus teaches.

Now. When I point this fact out to certain Christians, it freaks them out. Because they like their lists of dos and don’ts to be absolute: Always do this; never do that. Makes it simple. Means you don’t have to think too hard. Means you don’t have to practice wisdom—and there’s the real issue, right there. They’d rather not think! Or they’re a bit legalistic, and would prefer that other Christians not think; just act. They don’t want such things as situational truths, to exist. Some of ’em insist there are no such things; that everything’s a black-and-white issue; that this is how loopholes and relativism and sin happen.

But the reality is the bible was written for wise people. And if you lack wisdom, go get some; the Holy Spirit’s giving it out for free. Jm 1.5 He’ll tell you where and how to apply it. He’ll tell you whether you’re practicing proper zeal for God’s house… or improper zeal, which rightly alienates Christians and pagans alike.

Improper zeal.

And of course improper zeal demonstrates most of the other works of the flesh. It’s unethical. Hate-filled. Rabble-rousing. Angry. Partisan. Separatist. Heretic. Envious. And when it’s hopped up on caffeine, sugar, alcohol, adrenalin, or (less likely, but it happens!) liquor and cocaine, yep it’s intoxicated.

Improper zeal ditches the Spirit’s fruit because that stuff gets in its way. It doesn’t bother to be patient and kind. It claims it’s acting in tough love, or harsh love, or “love” modified by all sorts of adjectives which take all the actual love out of it. It’s not about winning people over, but about winning—we gotta defeat our opponents in the debate, or purge sinners instead of rehabilitate them. It’s not about growing closer to Jesus, but about achieving personal goals in knowledge, power, or prestige. It’s not about love of God; it loves his stuff or his perqs, like miraculous power or New Jerusalem—and God himself is secondary, and sometimes we can even take or leave him.

Proper zeal exhibits good fruit: More love, more patience, more grace. Those who demonstrate proper zeal are never gonna get called jerks by the people they interact with—or even the people who oppose them. Even their opponents will appreciate their zeal. They might totally think it’s misplaced—“Y’know, all that effort she puts into her ministry would make her far more money in the private sector”—but they’ll still appreciate it, and recognize she’s a good person regardless of their feelings about her ministry.

Improper zeal? Just the opposite. Their opponents don’t appreciate their enthusiasm; to them it just demonstrates how they’re dicks through-and-through. Any good which might’ve come from it, is wholly squandered.

So yeah, when the subject of zeal comes up, we gotta use our noggins. What kind of zeal are we talking about?—the good kind, or the evil kind? What kind of fruit is it producing? Pay attention. And be cautious, ’cause human nature means it’s more likely to go wrong than not.

Christian jerks.

by K.W. Leslie, 13 July
SHE. “Ugh, religious people are the worst.”
ME. “Hey. I’m a religious person. How am I ‘the worst’?”
SHE. “Oh, you’re not that religious.”
ME. “I beg to differ. I’m extremely religious. If I weren’t, I’d be a massive jerk. Now explain how I’m ‘the worst’.”

You can tell my pagan friend recently had a bad experience with a Christian, and wanted to vent. Wanted to complain how religious Christians are bigoted, narrow-minded, and judgmental.

I could start ranting about her own religious prejudices here—as many of my fellow Christians immediately would. But not today. ’Cause there’s good reason for this negative stereotype she claims for all Christians. You’ve seen it too: The Christian jerk. The person who claims they follow Jesus, but are just awful to other people. Sometimes to pagans and fellow Christians alike; sometimes just to pagans. With all the bigotry, narrow-mindedness, and judgmentalism my friend objects to… and thinks all of us are like.

I wanted to burst this stereotype, which is why I challenged her to define me by it. But she just figured I’m an exception to the rule—I’m “one of the good ones.” She’s still pretty sure religious people are the worst.

Way too many of us Christians are totally bigoted, narrow-minded, and judgmental. I don’t know the percentage of Christians who are like this; Jesus does, but he’s not told me. I will say it sometimes feels like a lot. I’ve visited churches where they’re all jerks. I’ve also visited churches where none of ’em are… at least, not that I could see; I don’t know how they behave when they’re on Reddit hiding under their screen names. In any event it’s too many, and they give antichrists a legitimate reason to despise Christians.

How do these people justify such fruitless behavior? Any way they can. Any excuse will do. Usually by preemptively condemning the people they wanna be terrible to: They’re sinners; they have it coming. God’s gonna smite them, so they’re just warning the sinners of this… or in all sorts of little ways, they’re making contributions to the smiting.

I used to be one of ’em.

No, I’m not exaggerating some minor unloving misbehaviors. I was a real a--hole, and I didn’t discriminate between pagans and Christians either. Think Ann Coulter with more swearing.

I’m definitely not that way anymore, which is why I could actually tell my friend, “How am I ‘the worst’?” and she could actually consider me “one of the good ones.” Means I must be succeeding, more or less. Yea me.

Plenty of my fellow Christians are also trying to resist such fleshly, unloving behavior. And like I said, it’s because we’re religious. We’re trying to perform the good works God laid out for us. Ep 2.10 We’re trying to love our neighbors. Lv 19.18 Trying to be fruity; trying to be kind.

Pagans have a pretty good idea Jesus teaches such things, but they also figure Christians are giant hypocrites whose “religion” is to affiliate with Christ but not really follow. You know, Christianism. Religion and irreligion is all the same to them, so of course they blame religion.

“So you’re the real Christians, and they aren’t?” she half-seriously told me.

Kinda.

Not that Jesus won’t save them; we’re saved by grace not good works. But a Christian follows Jesus, and if we legitimately follow him we’re gonna produce fruit! The Spirit’s gonna transform our character to resemble Jesus’s. We’re gonna be patient, gracious, gentle, kind, forgiving, like Jesus: We’re not gonna be jerks.

The Christian jerk doesn’t reflect Jesus’s character at all. Oh they might, in private; various people are quick to defend prominent jerkish Christians by pointing out their acts of charity, or how kind and loving they are to their family, friends, and pets. (Big deal, Jesus once pointed out; pagans do this too, so how’re we any better?) Thing is, this argument is used to dismiss how, when it really matters—when it’s vital a Christian be Christ to people who need Christ at a critical moment—they blow it. Not just the one time; even the best of us stumble once in a while. I’m talking consistently. I write of Christians who simply aren’t christlike. And they aren’t getting any better. We got too many.

Taking pride in one’s jerkishness.

When I call people out for their jerklike behavior and call it fruitless, most of ’em don’t know how to respond to me. Because nobody’s ever done this before.

Let me write that again, in italics. Nobody’s ever done this before.

A third time, in caps. NOBODYS EVER DONE THIS BEFORE.

I’m not saying nobody in the world ever rebukes fruitless behavior. My mom absolutely did with me. “Is that how a Christian’s supposed to behave?” And I had to admit it’s really not. And Mom’s hardly alone; plenty of Christian parents and mentors correct their children and disciples when they forget themselves and get jerklike. They expect better of us, and remind us Jesus likewise expects better of us.

But if your parents are sucky Christians, or your Christian mentors and “elders” aren’t all that spiritually mature… well y’might not have anyone in your life who’d even think to correct you when you get fruitless and unloving. Because they get fruitless and unloving on a regular basis—and make all the typical excuses for it.

Back when I was a young zealous Christian jerk, I was in the newspaper business. I’d write sarcastic opinion pieces for the newspaper about various issues, mocking my political opponents, trying to be funny while I slammed all the things which annoyed me. And the people of my church cheered me on. Encouraged me to keep it up. One of the associate pastors actually told me I was doing the Lord’s work.

No, they didn’t know any better. Nobody ever taught ’em better! Or did, like Mom (and the Holy Spirit), but like me, they ignored ’em as no fun, or not zealous enough. ’Cause it’s fun to be a jerk. Bullies wouldn’t bother if it didn’t feel good to smack other people around.

Popular pagan culture isn’t any better. Sometimes they rebuke jerks, like when outraged parents try to put a stop to online bullying. (Although y’notice they don’t really make a fuss till they or their kids are getting bullied.) More often we watch these jerks’ shows, or make them the protagonists of sitcoms, or elect ’em president.

Sometimes jerks even lead churches, and the church members cheer ’em on for slamming all the things they hate too. God forbid the members ever find themselves on the receiving end of their bullying pastor's ire; it's a lousy place to be, as any legalistic cult’s survivor can tell you.

How’d I snap out of this behavior? God’s grace. He put up with me long enough for me to realize the value in seriously following Jesus. As I investigated what following Jesus means, I noticed good fruit’s kinda important. So I sought that… and the Spirit purged the jerkishness out of me. Not all at once; it’s a process. It’s not entirely gone yet. Still working on it.

But at least I now know better than to revel in my awful behavior… as you’ll still see among Chriatians who warn you, “I speak fluent sarcasm,” or “This is who I am; deal with it,” or “I have zero tolerance for you bulls---,” or the various other red-flag T-shirt slogans they tweet. All of which mean, “I’m deficient in the Spirit’s fruit and proud of it.”

And a lot of people are proud of it. They sell T-shirts with these slogans on ’em, you know. They sell rather well. Christians wear ’em too. They take pride in being ornery, impatient, hostile, even shooty. They figure they’re right to be immediately angry at whatever pisses them off; it’s a righteous anger; impatience is a virtue.

It’s all over the culture, and all over Christendom. And like I said, many a Christian indulges in this behavior, and nobody rebukes ’em for it. Because they’re doing it too.

Call them on it!

Jerks aren’t gonna change unless they realize they need to. And they’re not gonna realize they need to, not gonna even think they need to, unless they’re first called out for their bad behavior.

Like most people, their self-preservation instinct is gonna kick in: “I’m not the problem; you are. You’re too sensitive. You lack a sense of humor; you can’t take a joke. You snowflake.” Whatever turns things around so they’re the good guy and we’re the uptight jerks who wanna take away all their evil fun.

Too many people fear confrontation. It makes ’em profoundly uncomfortable, so they avoid it like crazy. It’s why jerks can go for years, if not their whole lives, without any pushback: People avoid them instead of telling them to their face, “Don’t.”

But I find it works. And works really well.

If you fear confrontation, fine; try the easiest form of it, which’d be on social media. Instead of blocking or unfriending someone who’s awful to you, simply tell them they’re being awful to you. Watch what happens.

Yeah, frequently they get self-defensive and accuse us of stuff, and adopt the attitude of “F--- you if you can’t take a joke.” Doesn’t help if we’ve been a little unfruitful ourselves. But if that’s true—if you have been a little less-than-Christian in your online behavior—own it. “Yes that was wrong of me. I admit that. And this was wrong of you.” Kick the excuse of “Everybody does it, so it’s okay” right out from under them. We’re all wrong.

I’m a member of a few social media discussion groups. I like to joke discussion groups are really debate clubs, ’cause they quickly turn into argument clinics. Some people join ’em because they’re truly interested in the topics… and some already have their mind made up, and wanna pick a fight so they can defend their side. I don’t mind disagreement, but I do mind when fruitless people’s inner jerk comes out. In those cases I put the discussion on pause: We need to deal with the bad behavior.

Well they don’t wanna deal with the bad behavior. They wanna keep debating. They actually look at my objections to their behavior as a debate tactic: “You’re not dealing with the real issue.” No; I’m dealing with the more important issue: Their lack of self-control. I’m not indulging their immaturity.

Some discussion group leaders think the very same way. Others don’t moderate their groups at all… at least not until someone does something which offends them personally. Social media has all sorts. But either way, I’m not gonna wait till a moderator steps in: I’m gonna speak up. As should we all. “Your behavior isn’t appropriate. Stop or I’m leaving.”

This is much easier to do on social media, than in real-life situations. When you’ve got a jerk in the workplace, at school, at home, at church, it’s not always so easy to step away. Sometimes we do need to call in a moderator. Sometimes there isn’t one; if your boss, the pastor, or your parents are the jerks, what’re you gonna do? (In these cases, of course stepping away isn’t easy. But you gotta. Start making arrangements.)

Jerks aren’t gonna change their behavior until they get enough pushback. Until it’s no longer amusing: “Ha-ha, look what an uncompromising jerk I am.” And for Christians, enough of it might be what finally gets ’em to listen to the Holy Spirit and repent.

As for your own behavior: You know better. Don’t be a dick. Don’t give pagans any more ammunition to complain, “Religious people are the worst.” Be better than that. Be like Jesus.