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

Bad religion.

by K.W. Leslie, 22 June

As I’ve said before, a lot of Evangelicals have it in their heads “religion” is a bad thing. They scoff, “I don’t have a religion; I have a relationship.” But in my experience, if they aren’t religiously working on that relationship (and I do mean that in the sense of “consistent and conscientious regularity,” which is exactly what religion is about) it’s gonna be a really sucky relationship.

Y’see, to their minds “religion” means an absence of that relationship. It means they’re performing all the rituals and acts of devotion: They’re going to church, reading bible, saying rote prayers, doing sacraments, going on pilgrimages, hanging crosses on the wall, putting Jesus fish on their cars, and all their Spotify playlists are non-stop Christian music. But they don’t know Jesus. They never honestly talk with Jesus. They don’t read the Sermon on the Mount and follow it. As soon as they set foot outside the church building, they go back to being the same pagans as everyone else.

Properly, that’s called dead religion. Yes it’s a religion. But a proper religion has a living relationship at the center of it—and the living relationship is the whole point of our religious activities. We’re not just doing this stuff to fit in, or look good, or feel righteous, or win votes for Congress: We’re doing it to get better at following Jesus! And just as faith without works is dead faith, works without faith are dead works. Dead religion.

Dead religion is a common form of bad religion, but it’s not the most common form. That’d be irreligion, in which there’s no religion: No good works. No self-discipline, no habits nor practices, no priorities, no self-sacrifice, no fruit of the Spirit. Yet illogically, despite this utter lack of effort on our part, irreligious Christians still expect to spontaneously grow as Christians. Oh, we’ll grow all right—grow wrong. Grow less Christian.

Disciples: Students of Jesus.

by K.W. Leslie, 12 January

The word disciple gets flung around Christianity all the time. Usually we mean by it “an acolyte of Jesus.” Someone who’s interested in him, fascinated by him, hangs around him, name-drops him. Not so much someone who actually does as he teaches; just someone in Jesus’s vicinity. A fan.

Yeah, some of you are going, “Waitaminnit, “disciple” does not mean a fan. It means someone who personally follows him. A devotee. A student.”

Oh I’m fully aware of how the popular dictionaries define the word. But let’s be honest: What Christians actually mean by the word, is demonstrated in how we live it out. Some of us “students” of Jesus are exactly like those kids who sit in the back of the room, sometimes asleep, perfectly happy to get D’s, and absolutely outraged when they find out they’re not just failing but getting held back. Somehow they never saw it coming. They figured attendance should count!

Yes, disciple means a follower, but we’re talking literal followers: They were in the crowds surrounding Jesus wherever he taught. God forbid he actually challenge them; they’d balk, and leave.

John 6.60-66 NRSVue
60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” 61 But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63 It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the beginning who were the ones who did not believe and who was the one who would betray him. 65 And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.”
66 Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.

Or they take the more usual way out: Christianism. They follow popular Christian culture. Jesus, not so much. They imagine what they’d like Jesus to be like, project their dreams and wishes all over him… and sometimes even quit following that image when he doesn’t come through with those wishes precisely the way they want ’em.

Does this sound extremely cynical? Honestly it’s not. I’m describing all disciples; not just Christian.

Disciples should be close followers of the person they consider their master. Fans of self-help experts, fans of radical economists, fans of this or that philosophy, fans of this or that theologian. Whether a martial arts master, a philosophy or religion teacher, or any sort of authority; we should expect a “disciple of Ayn Rand” to do exactly as she’d have them do. And they don’t.

Too many of them are trying to make a name for themselves, and sometimes the way they do it is to say, “Well my master says this, but I think…” yet they insist they still follow their master. Christians are hardly the only ones with loopholes. Rand fans seldom do exactly as she’d have them do. (Like quit their jobs and go hide in the mountains till the economy collapses.) Plenty of Rand fans claim to be Christian, but Rand’s philosophy is largely based on her devout atheism, her full-on Mammonism, and her pure contempt for Christian teaching. She’s in no way compatible with Christianity… and yet many of her disciples insist they’re totally Christian. In reality, they compromise either Rand or Jesus. Or both.

There are self-described disciples of all sorts of gurus. And every time these gurus push their disciples farther than they’re comfortable, they step back, reassess, and frequently go their own way. Yet they still claim to be a disciple, ’cause they’ve invested a lot of money, time, and pride in calling themselves disciples. Yeah, it’s hypocrisy. But hypocrites are everywhere.

Happens to Jesus; happens to everyone. We really shouldn’t be surprised it happens to Jesus so often. He’s got exponentially more fans than any other guru. And no, it’s not a failing with Christians; it’s a failing with humans. It’s life.

Religious. Not “spiritual.”

by K.W. Leslie, 03 January

Happy new year; or since it’s 3 January, happy 10th day of Christmas. At the beginning of each year I figure it’s a good idea to remind readers of the point of TXAB, i.e. the Christ Almighty Blog. And remind myself too: I’ve seen many a blog which began as one thing, evolved into another, and it wasn’t an improvement. God forbid TXAB warp into yet another blog where somebody’s ranting about immature Christian misbehavior.

This blog is about following Jesus the Nazarene, our God-anointed king and Messiah, or Christ. The first of his followers became known as Χριστιανούς/Hristianús, “Christ-followers,” or Christians, because that’s what we’re meant to do, or how we oughta be identified: We follow Jesus. We teach what he taught, believe what he tells us, do as he says, and grow good fruit.

Except some of us don’t follow Jesus… yet claim the title anyway. Because we’re fans. We really like Jesus, claim to love him (or at least love him as we’ve re-imagined him), and immerse ourselves in popular Christian culture. And thereby become Christianist. Such people presume they know Jesus—really well, they’ll insist—and don’t really. As we can see by the fact all their fruit is “fleshly.”

There are so many misbehaving Christians, it’s no wonder various Christians insist, “No, don’t call me Christian; I’m a Christ-follower. Call me that.” They want it very clear they’re honestly trying to follow Jesus; they’re not just in it because “Jesus” conveniently dislikes all their political foes, nor for the spiritual perqs.

And the Christianists might claim they’re totally following Jesus too! (Certainly they’ll claim it whenever somebody does something they consider sinful.) But y’know, whenever you drop an authentic God-encounter on ’em, either they immediately recognize their errors and repent… or they lose their minds in horror and offense, and insist this has to be some kind of devilish trick. Yep, given the opportunity they’ll commit straight-up blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, which is why God doesn’t drop that on them as often as he could; why push ’em into sin? But we needn’t even bring up their near-blasphemies. Fleshly works prove ’em as frauds quite effectively.

Well. Once we quit following the crowd and follow Jesus whithersoever he leads, we call this being religious.

Ulterior motives for being religious.

by K.W. Leslie, 04 January

Two years ago Trevin Wax wrote “Routine bible reading can change your life.” Another site changed the title to the clickbaity, “Why so many Christians start, but don’t finish a bible reading plan.” ’Cause that’s what it’s about: Why so many Christians start, yet don’t finish… you know.

Got my attention because at the turn of the year, I usually urge folks to start a bible reading plan. I plug mine, but any will do. I encourage people to do it in a month, in part because I’m convinced longer programs are needlessly so, and you’re more likely to give up on them because they’re longer. You gotta rigidly stick to it for so long—and you’re not gonna get as much out of a bible snippet as you will a whole book.

Wax gave another reason Christians quit on these plans, and it’s quite insightful for a lot of reasons. I’ll quote him—but yeah, I edited out all his capitalizations.

One reason may be that we have too high of an expectation of what we will feel every day when we read. We know this is God’s word and that he speaks to us through this book, and yet so many times, when we’re reading the assigned portion of scripture for the day, it all feels so, well, ordinary. We read a story, note a couple of interesting things, don’t see how it applies to our lives today, and then move on. By the time we near the end of the first books of the bible, we’ve gone through extensive instructions on how to build the tabernacle, or how the sacrificial system is to be implemented, or a book of Numbers that is aptly titled. We read the daily portion of scripture, put down our pencil or highlighter and wonder, “Why don’t I feel like my life is changing?”

I sympathize with Christians who feel this way. We’re right to approach the bible with anticipation, to expect to hear from God in a powerful and personal way. But the way the bible does its work on our hearts is often not through the lightning bolt, but through the gentle and quiet rhythms of daily submission, of opening up our lives before this open book and asking God to change us. Change doesn’t always happen overnight. Growth doesn’t happen in an instant. Instead, it happens over time, as we eat and drink and exercise. The same is true of scripture reading. Not every meal is at a steakhouse. Not every meal is memorable. Can you remember what you had for dinner, say, two weeks ago? Probably not. But that meal sustained you, didn’t it? In the same way, we come to feast on God’s word, recognizing that it’s the daily rhythm of submitting ourselves to God and bringing our plans and hopes and fears to him that makes the difference.

If you’re the “too long, didn’t read” sort… well first of all, what’re you doing on TXAB? I write yards of articles. But in summary, Wax correctly points out people read bible because we’re hoping it’ll transform us for the better. And it does! But we want it to change us now. Not gradually, not over the course of the year we take to read it, not as an effect of reading and following it for years: Right bloody now. And if we don’t see immediate results, we’re gonna ditch it like we did cardio. Seems the bible’s just another thing that’ll make us sweaty, tired, hungry, achey, and frustrated.

We already know Christians lack the patience to stick with bible reading plans; again, it’s why I encourage short little one-month plans. But like Wax said, some of this impatience comes from what we expected to get out of reading the bible, and what we want, what we really want, are powerful spiritual experiences. We want every daily bible reading to be an epiphany: “Great Thundering Moses, I can’t believe I never realized that before. Why, that upends everything I ever believed. Now I have the secrets of the universe! I… have… the POWER…” and now you’re quoting He-Man instead of bible, ’cause you expect to be glowing like Prince Adam when he transforms into a guy who looks exactly the same, only shirtless and more tan.

That’s why too many Christians read bible: We want secrets. We want revelations. We want visions. We wanna grow a brain full of profound truths which make us wise and infallible, and know God better than the smartest bible scholars. We wanna infallibly know God’s will, and use that knowledge to have the best possible life in the best possible timeline. The bible is our magic lamp, so start rubbing!

Of course none of this is why we oughta read bible, and all of this betrays many of the reasons people think we need to follow Jesus. We’re not following him because we love him and want to grow closer to him. We’re following him because he’s rich and powerful, and whenever he throws us a bone, it’ll be a golden bone.

What is religion?

by K.W. Leslie, 03 January

Over the past four decades, Christians in the conservative Evangelical movement have come to consider “religion” a bad word. Even an offensive word. In fact we’ll get downright snotty about it: “I don’t have a religion,” we’ll scoff; “I have a relationship.” By which we mean a relationship with Christ Jesus.

To the conservative Evangelical, “religion” means ritual. Namely the rituals of people who lack this relationship with Christ Jesus. And for the most part, they’re thinking of people who aren’t conservative Evangelicals like them. They figure progressive Evangelicals are more focused on social justice and works righteousness. They figure non-Evangelicals are more focused on sacraments, on getting saved because they do the rituals—which is just another form of works righteousness.

If they grew up in such churches, the way they remember them was based on how these churches introduced ’em (or, let’s be fair, didn’t properly introduce them) to Jesus: How they were told they gotta behave themselves, gotta follow the rules, gotta practice the rituals, and so forth. These churches might’ve taught their adults about having a personal relationship with Jesus, but all they ever seem to have taught their kids was, “Goddamnit, behave yourselves.” Consequently they felt like hotbeds of legalism, and the kids had to leave those churches before they could adequately, properly hear the gospel.

Assuming they ever heard the proper gospel—that Jesus is inaugurating God’s kingdom. More often they just figure God forgives all, so regardless of the evil crap they still do, they go to heaven when they die. Good old-fashioned cheap grace. Which is great news for people who don’t care to change their lifestyles at all, and remain the same old a--holes they were before they turned to Jesus. But no, that’s not the gospel. As new citizens of Jesus’s new kingdom, we likewise have to be made new.

Hence, religion.

Conservative Evangelicals insist they have a relationship, not a religion. But here’s the thing: We do have rituals. We do practice various faith-based things on the regular, in order to further our relationship with God. ’Cause when we don’t, our relationship with God is really gonna suck. So we pray. We go to church on a regular basis; maybe not every week, but certainly more than Easter and Christmas. We read, and quote, our bibles. We behave ourselves, more or less; we cut back on the cussing (at least when church people are around), and rein in some of our evil… well, the evil we can’t justify to ourselves any more.

But that’s religion. Might be disciplined; more often it’s extremely undisciplined. Still religion.

And whenever we conservative Evangelicals tell a pagan, “Oh, I’m not religious,” the pagan immediately notices:

  • We name-drop God an awful lot for someone who’s “not religious.”
  • We rail against sin an awful lot for someone who’s “not religious.”
  • We keep up to date with our bibles an awful lot, for someone who’s “not religious.”
  • We pray way more often than any not-religious person would.
  • We use a lot more religion-based vocabulary than any not-religious person would.
  • Wait, we go to church? Voluntarily?

Pagans know we absolutely are so religions. Because they’re not religious. So what other conclusion can they come to?—they think we’re trying to pull a fast one. “You’re ‘not religious’? Oh, what a hypocrite; you are so.” And they’re exactly right.

So, if you’re using the word “religious” wrong, this is why you need to cut it out.

Spirituality. Which leads to religion.

by K.W. Leslie, 10 September
SPIRITUALITY spɪ.rɪ.tʃu'æl.ə.di noun. Being concerned with the human spirit, as opposed to material things or the material world.
2. [Christianity] Following the Holy Spirit.
[Spiritual 'spɪ.rɪ.tʃ(.u)əl adjective]

I regularly meet pagans who consider themselves “spiritual, but not religious.” I sometimes like to poke back at ’em by describing myself as religious, not spiritual.

Of course pagans and Christians have very different definitions for these words. By spiritual they mean they’re trying to be mindful of their spirit. And they have some idea what a spirit is. They know it’s the immaterial part of themselves. Frequently they mix it up with the soul, and use those words interchangeably—and to be fair, so do many Christians who likewise don’t know the difference. If they believe in afterlife, they figure their spirit lives on when they die. Otherwise… they kinda associate everything in their heads, which they think is immaterial, with their spirits. Namely their thoughts. Particularly any thoughts which really make ’em feel good. The more emotional it makes ’em, the more “spiritual” they find it. Weddings, tear-jerking movies, a nice sunset, a happy occasion, an inspirational book: For your average pagan, spiritual is just a way to make their happy thoughts sound more metaphysical.

Likewise religion to pagans means “organized religion,” i.e. church, where supposedly a preacher is gonna order you what to think, and they prefer to think for themselves. Of course if they’ve ever visited a non-cultic church, they’d know preachers aren’t supposed to tell us what to think; only the Holy Spirit gets to do that. And it’s not like the people of the church obey the preacher anyway!

These pagan definitions have wormed their way into Christendom. So much so we now have Christians claiming they’re “spiritual, not religious.”

But y’might notice the way Christians practice our “spirituality”… is mighty religious. We pray. We read bible. We go to church. We tithe. We read Christian books, tune in to Christian radio, listen to Christian podcasts. We do good deeds. We share the gospel with others. We just won’t stop posting out-of-context bible quotes on Instagram. We might try to claim to our pagan friends we’re just as “spiritual, not religious” as they, but to pagans we’re totally religious.

Which stands to reason: When we read our bibles and we come across the words “spiritual” or “spiritually” (Greek πνευματικός/nefmatikós) it refers to following the Holy Spirit. Not our spirits. Not human spirits. Definitely not being led by our emotions, which can be influenced by all sorts of outside factors, including devilish ones.

And if we’re truly following the Holy Spirit—who of course is gonna encourage and empower us to follow Jesus—we’re easily gonna slide into a disciplined, structured life of doing what it takes to grow our relationship with God. Like prayer, bible, church, worship, service, goodness. Our spirituality becomes religion.

Yeah, even if you really don’t like to use the R-word.

Kamala Harris and religious affiliation.

by K.W. Leslie, 29 August

Kamala Harris. Wikimedia

Kamala Harris is one of my state’s senators, and recently she’s become presidential nominee Joe Biden’s choice for his vice-president. No, this isn’t an endorsement. (Though I confess I’m totally voting for Biden, ’cause Donald Trump is awful.) Instead I’m gonna talk about how the press talks about her religion.

Harris is a regular at Third Baptist Church in San Francisco. She considers herself Baptist. Now, her mother’s from Chennai (formerly Madras), Tamil Madru, India. Her mom was born into the upper-class Brahmin caste, and Harris has been to India many times to visit the family, and go to temple with them. Various news articles claim she was raised Hindu and Christian.

Hence I’ve heard a number of people claim this means she’s both. I’ve heard it from people in both parties: From Democrats who think having multiple religions makes her broad-minded… and from Republicans who think it makes her pagan.

The way certain articles report it, she sounds both Christian and Hindu. But you gotta remember a lot of reporters, including religion reporters, aren’t religious. So they don’t know squat about religion… and presume you’re born into your religion. Just as they themselves were born into the religions they no longer practice.

So if Harris’s mom is Hindu and her dad is Christian, that makes her both. Right?

Following that logic, I should be both Christian and atheist. Except I’m totally not atheist. I picked a side. People can do that, y’know. Harris did.

What religion is Jesus?

by K.W. Leslie, 26 August

Most of the time we Christians simply take it for granted Christ Jesus is the same religion we are. After all he founded the religion. He taught us who the Father is, taught us his interpretation—the proper interpretation—of the Law of Moses, voluntarily died for our sins so we can have new life, and he’s the king of God’s kingdom. He’s vital and central to Christianity.

But whenever somebody says out loud, “Jesus is a Christian”… well it just sounds weird.

’Cause Christian (which literally means “a little Christ”) means a Christ-follower. And Christ doesn’t follow himself. He does his thing, and expects us disciples to follow him. So technically no, Jesus is not a Christian: He’s Christ.

Where people start to go screwy is when they say, “Well… I guess no, he’s not a Christian. What religion does that make him? Um… well… I guess that’d be Judaism.”

Incorrect. The religion Jesus practices is the one he preached: Christianity.

The “Judaism” people assume Jesus interacted with and was involved in, is not at all the Judaism of today. Largely it was Pharisaism, which over the centuries, with heavy influence from the second-century Mishna and the medieval Talmud, evolved into what we nowadays call “Judaism.” It’s not the same “Judaism” Jesus encountered in synagogue and temple.

Sorta like today’s churches don’t look a lot like the first apostles’ churches. The cultural Evangelical Christianity I grew up in, looks way different than first-century Jewish in-home gatherings. Sunday morning worship services, one-year bibles, Christian radio, crosses and fish as decorations, preachers with big hair and suits and ties, bible quotes from Paul and John posted on Facebook. Yeah, doesn’t much sound like the Didache.

Well, describing Pharisaism as “Judaism” is like describing the early Christians’ activities as “Fundamentalist.” Wrong culture. Wrong era. Doesn’t fit.

Though Jesus clearly interacted with Pharisees most, and taught Pharisee children in Pharisee synagogues, he’s his own thing. “You heard it said,” he preached, quoting the Pharisee elders at first… and then he’d set aside their ideas and proclaim, “And now I tell you.” Which astounded Pharisees: He wasn’t teaching what their scribes did. He had his own religion.

Many people get this wrong. They insist Jesus was so a Jew. And when they mean Jesus is an ethnic Jew—a descendant of Abraham, Jacob, and Judah—they’re entirely right. Though sometimes they wrongly assume Jesus was white, kinda like white Jews in the United States, and imagine all sorts of white culture in his experience which wasn’t there. Jesus is brown. It’s the Europeans—the Romans and Greeks who once occupied his homeland—who were white.

Likewise when people mean Jesus is a cultural Jew—that he stuck to the Law instead of adopting Greco-Roman culture and traditions—they’re also right. But when they mean Jesus followed the Jewish religion, they’re imagining today’s Judaism, and that’s quite wrong. Jesus didn’t do Judaism. Not just because it hadn’t been invented yet; really Jesus really didn’t do Pharisaism either.

You say “faith,” but you mean religion.

by K.W. Leslie, 02 April
FAITH feɪθ noun. Complete trust or confidence in someone/something.
2. Religion: A system of beliefs and practices about God.
3. A strongly-held belief or theory, maintained despite a lack of proof.
4. A name Christians like to give their daughters. My niece, fr’instance.
[Faithful 'feɪθ.fəl adjective.]

I bring up the definition of faith because today I’m addressing the second definition: A system of beliefs. A religion.

A lot of Evangelicals in the United States have this idea that religion is a bad thing. It’s because they mixed up religion with dead religion, and they don’t practice that. They don’t go practice rituals they don’t believe in; they’re not just going through the motions. They have a real relationship with God. Which is why they’re so quick to tell everyone, “I have a relationship, not a religion.”

Since they really don’t wanna use the word “religion” except to rebuke and mock it… how are they gonna describe their system of beliefs and practices? Simple: They’re gonna call it the faith. Or their faith. They’re not religious people; they’re “people of faith.” They’re “the faithful”—by which they don’t actually mean they’re dependable and committed, ’cause they’re often not; just that they firmly believe in that system of beliefs and practices.

Nope, they have no religion; just the faith.

Which creates all sorts of confusion when we’re talking about one of the other definitions of faith, but they mean religion.

For skeptics and many pagans, “faith” means the ability to deny reality, and believe the impossible and ridiculous. So if you “have faith,” you’ve chosen to believe something despite no evidence it’s so, just like people who believe space aliens built the pyramids, or people who claim coronavirus is no deadlier than flu. As an Evangelical is talking about their faith with reverence and awe, a skeptic will think, “What, are you taking pleasure in the fact you turn your brain off? Man are you messed up.” Yep, they’re talking right past one another.

And because so many Christians have totally buggered the proper interpretation of this verse—

Ephesians 2.8-9 KJV
8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.

—they claim it teaches we’re saved by faith. Not by grace, like it literally says; by faith. Not through faith; by faith. And when they say faith they don’t mean putting our trust in Jesus; they mean what they usually mean by “faith”; they mean religion. You’re saved by religion. The very opposite of what Paul taught in Acts, wrote in Romans and Galatians and Ephesians; the very reason Jesus kept objecting to the Pharisees’ legalism and loopholes. Because that’s what faith righteousness, this belief we’re saved by having perfect orthodox beliefs, devolves into.

Those are big problems, and I wrote a bunch more about ’em elsewhere; click the links. But the solution to these problems is really simple: We need to stop talking past one another and specify what we mean by “faith.” Which definition are we using? Trust in God? Religion? Wishful thinking? Or women named Faith?

Which definition did the bible’s authors have in mind when they wrote πίστις/pístis?

faith, belief, firm persuasion; 2Co 5.7, He 11.1 assurance, firm conviction; Ro 14.23 ground of belief, guarantee, assurance; Ac 17.31 good faith, honesty, integrity; Mt 23.23, Ga 5.22, Tt 2.10 faithfulness, truthfulness; Ro 3.3 in NT faith in God and Christ; Mt 8.10, Ac 3.16, etc. ἡ πίστις/i pístis, the matter of Gospel faith Ac 6.7, Ju 1.3

William D. Mounce, Greek Dictionary

With few exceptions pístis generally means trust in God. No, not even the verses where we think we can overlay the religion idea on top of it. It primarily means religion in our culture.

Faith meant trusting God—to Jesus, to the apostles, and the folks who came before. When Abraham believed the LORD, and was considered righteous for it, Ge 15.6 this wasn’t at all Abraham’s embrace of religious doctrine. It was a personal trust in a personal God, with whom Abraham held a personal relationship.

In using the word “faith” to mean religion, Christians regularly mix up the definitions in our own minds, and imagine them to all be one and the same thing. When we say we have faith, yeah we mean we trust God, but we also mean we have religious faith: We believe the proper doctrines. We have foundational, fundamental beliefs we base our Christianity upon. Hopefully it’s orthodox—or at least we’ve convinced ourselves it is.

The result will be all sorts of interesting heresies.

Saved by faith?

The most common such heresy, the one I touched upon already, is the belief we Christians are saved by faith.

Yes of course it’s heresy; Jesus saves us, not our beliefs. God, in his generous, forgiving attitude towards his kids, does the entire work of saving us. We don’t save ourselves. We couldn’t possibly acquire enough good karma to make our salvation a possibility, much less a reality. Only God can do it, and only God does it.

But like I said, people quote Ephesians, jumble up the prepositions, and claim we’re saved by faith instead of grace. We’re saved through faith, Ep 2.8 and no that’s not the same thing. If I’m rescued by the Coast Guard ’cause they threw me a rope, what’s doing the rescuing? The rope? Me ’cause I grabbed the rope? Or the Coasties? It’s by the Coasties, through the rope, through me grabbing it: If I don’t have a Coast Guard boat or helicopter at the end of that rope, fat lot of good grabbing it will do me.

Same with our salvation. It’s by God’s grace, and through the faith he grants us, through this same faith we respond in. Don’t get the idea this faith alone saves anyone.

Yeah, Christians’ll easily dig up a proof text to defend the idea:

Luke 7.50 KJV
And he said to the woman, Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace.

Usually ’cause they’re ignoring context. This is where Jesus cured a bleeder. He’s talking about getting cured, not saved; σέσωκέν/sésoken can be translated both “saved” and “cured,” and that’s what Jesus means. He’s hardly talking about eternal salvation, nor even temporal salvation: This hemorrhage wasn’t a fatal disease! But it made the woman miserable, and in an act of desperate faith she touched Jesus, and the Holy Spirit rewarded her faith by curing her. If we’re gonna leap to the conclusion salvation works the same way… well, you we need much better proof than the word sésoken misinterpreted in a miracle story.

The deal is this. Faith is a vital component of God’s kingdom. Can’t be our king when we don’t trust him! And when he offers us salvation, we gotta trust he’ll follow through on his offer, and bring us into his kingdom. Which is why we really gotta live like he’s brought us into the kingdom already: If it’s valid faith, our lives must reflect it. When they don’t, it implies we don’t trust him and aren’t saved. But regardless: Our faith is not the cause, and salvation the effect. Faith is the byproduct. The fruit.

When Christians believe we’re saved by our fruit, and not grace, we’ve gone right back to believing we’re saved by good karma.

Saved by grace. Not orthodoxy.

Religion, the practices which further our relationship with God, is work. Good work, but still work.

We believe certain things about God because we recognize he revealed them to us. We sought out the truth, he helped us find it, and we embraced it. That too is a good work. But still work. We had to realize we’re wrong. Had to go through the process of changing our minds, abandoning well-loved but heavily flawed beliefs, and accepting God’s truth. For some it was light work: We didn’t really believe the old crap anyway. For others it was hardly light. These were deeply-ingrained beliefs. Sometimes they still bubble up when we least expect ’em; they do me! But whether we’re on one extreme or the other, religious orthodoxy is still work. Religious “faith” is work.

So are we saved by work? Nope. Only God’s grace. He doesn’t save people ’cause we’re good, or worthy, or have amazing potential. (The only reason we’d ever have potential, is God anyway.) He saves people entirely out of love. He makes that clear. Dt 7.6-8

But in the hands of a Christian who believes we’re saved by faith, it gets clear as mud. They admit yeah, we’re saved by grace… but it’s through faith, and all their emphasis is thrown upon faith. “It is of faith, that it might be by grace,” they’ll misquote. Ro 4.16 KJV The reason we’re saved by grace is because we first acted in faith. Grace requires faith. But we’re really saved by faith alone. Sola fide, remember?

Once they establish we gotta have faith before we can earn grace (yes I know that’s an oxymoron), they’ll remind us our faith is an orthodox faith: It’s the stuff they consider fundamental truths. Stuff the apostles believed, and all the real Christians throughout history—real like them. It’s the faith of our fathers, our forefathers, and our forefathers’ fathers. Once we embrace each and every one of these beliefs, it unlocks the safe to God’s grace, and gets us saved.

And orthodoxy can’t be work, ’cause faith and work are two different things. Paul said so. Ga 2.16 Even James, who insisted the two were carefully linked, said so. Jm 2.14 So if orthodoxy is faith, it’s not work. How much work is it to hold a belief, anyway? It’s real easy. Shut off your brain and just mynah-bird that belief. That’ll do.

This is why these folks go absolutely bonkers when they encounter people they consider heretic. After all, if the only way to be saved is to have all the correct beliefs, any wrong belief will disqualify us from grace, and plunge us into fiery hell. Grace doesn’t make up for our deficiencies; we’re not permitted any deficiencies.

Yeah, I know: This doesn’t sound like grace at all. ’Cause it’s not. We don’t earn it, and we don’t lose it by making mistakes about God. True, if we really are following the Holy Spirit, he’s gonna redirect us away from the false beliefs, and point us to truth. Orthodoxy is, once again, fruit. It’s one of the good works which should stem from an authentic relationship with God. So, work—and therefore it’s not truly faith.

Real faith trusts God to save us. Fake faith insists we gotta earn it through right belief. And in all our striving to get the right beliefs, we nudge ourselves further and further away from the grace that actually does save us. Yikes.

Push away the false definition of faith.

Like I said, this incorrect definition of faith is everywhere. The best way to combat it is to stop using it. Repeat after me: “I don’t have ‘a faith.’ I have a religion. One based on faith in God.”

When people try to talk about “our shared faith,” I like to challenge that statement: “Our shared faith in what?” Usually they get the answer right: It’s in Christ Jesus. It’s in God. Unless they’re pagans, in which case they usually go on about our shared ability to believe nonsense. Or unless they think we’re saved by faith, in which case they talk about shared beliefs.

But faith isn’t about shared beliefs, nor shared abilities. It’s trust. In God. That’s the only definition I care to use.

If you’re using it to describe religion, I’d rather you say “religion.” I don’t care if Evangelicals have a hangup about the word. We need to get over that. Religion is a fine word, and when it’s living religion, an excellent practice.

If you’re using it to describe blind optimism, or a belief in the ridiculous and stupid, or any other form of false faith, I’m gonna object. Those definitions are only meant to malign the real thing, mock Christianity, and make people hesitant to trust God.

And if you’re using the slogan sola fide to describe salvation: That’s sola gratia/“grace alone.” Grace, not faith. Don’t mix your solas.

Goodness, and lawless Christians.

by K.W. Leslie, 29 April

If you know Jesus—really and truly know Jesus, not just know of him—you’re gonna want to follow him. You’re gonna want to do as he teaches, and actually try to obey his commands instead of shrugging them off with, “Well, they’re nice ideals, but they’re not gonna be practical.” You’re gonna want to be good.

Goodness is a fruit of the Spirit. A rather obvious one: God is good, so shouldn’t those who have the Holy Spirit in us be likewise good? Shouldn’t he encourage us to be good, empower us to do good deeds, be gracious to us when we drop the ball and help us return to goodness? Shouldn’t he point us in the direction of sanctification, of living holy lives, unique from the rest of the world—where goodness is a huge factor in why we’re unique?

Likewise if you don’t wanna be good, not only do you lack the Spirit’s fruit: You’re probably not even Christian. And yes, bluntly saying so has a tendency to really offend people: “Goodness doesn’t make you Christian! That’s legalism. How could you say that?” Well I didn’t say that. I said you have to want to be good. You have to make the effort. You’re gonna suck at it in the beginning; everybody does; it gets easier with practice. And I didn’t say goodness makes you Christian; only the Holy Spirit does that. But the lack of goodness, or substituting it with hypocrisy and hoping no one will notice, indicates the Holy Spirit isn’t in your life—and if he’s not there, you’re not Christian. Period.

Let’s not be naïve. “Obey Jesus” is a hard lifestyle choice. The world is against us. Christianists have gone to a lot of trouble to swap real obedience with their cheap knockoff, and sometimes they’ll fight goodness just as hard as Satan itself. They’ll claim Jesus’s commands were nullified by a new dispensation, or they’re only meant to describe God’s kingdom after Jesus returnsnot before. They’ll claim our resistance to evil is really works righteousness and legalism; that trying to be better is another form of pride; that our commonsense interpretation of God’s commands is extremism, whereas the proper way to interpret them is to water ’em down till they’re nothing but water.

Plus our own selfish tendencies are gonna fight us. And yes, the devil might fight us too… but you’ll find the devil’s far easier to beat than your own flesh. We start off with a lot of ingrained bad habits, and conquering ourselves has to be done first. Which a lot of people never bother to do. Most of us simply relabel all our bad behaviors with Christianese names, and presto-changeo, we’re fixed now! But widespread popular hypocrisy is still hypocrisy.

Still, if we have the Holy Spirit in us, we’ll want to do better. And we’ve got to trust him to help us out with this. We absolutely can’t do it alone. God offers us power to live for him. Grab it with both hands. You accepted his salvation. Now accept his sanctification.

“To follow thee more nearly.”

by K.W. Leslie, 18 July

Ephesians 1.15-23.

Humans are creatures of extremes. It’s why American churches are likewise creatures of extremes. Either we pursue God with all our might, and strive to make sure our teachings are accurate and solid… and ready to pound into the heads of newbies, skeptics, people of other church traditions which aren’t as up-to-speed as we. Or we pursue godly behavior with all our might, strive to behave ourselves and help the needy… and feel incredibly guilty when we don‘t.

I know; why can’t we get this stuff right? Why can’t we pursue accurate teaching without turning into insufferable know-it-alls? Why can’t we pursue good works without turning into legalists? Why can’t we do both bible study and charitable works—why do we have to pit these behaviors against one another? More than that, why must we insist on pretending to do one or the other, yet use compromise, loopholes, and excuses to do neither? What, are there just too many chainsaws to juggle?

Well. Paul, upon hearing of the Ephesians’ good behavior and faith, prayed God’d grant ’em more wisdom, revelation, knowledge, and power. Partly because knowledge is power; partly because God gives us access to supernatural power, and we oughta learn how to tap that, and minister more mightily.

Ephesians 1.15-19 KWL
15 For this reason I too—hearing the about your trust in Master Jesus and the acts of love towards all the saints—
16 I don’t stop giving thanks for you, working my memories of you into my prayers
17 so the God of our Master, Christ Jesus, the Father of glory,
might give you the spiritual wisdom and revelation to understand him—
18 flooding your hearts’ eyes with light, so you’d understand.
It’s the hope of your calling. It’s the saints’ glorious inherited riches.
19 It’s the over-and-above greatness of God’s power for us believers, through the energy of his powerful strength.

Ephesians is the rare letter where Paul doesn’t have to spend a lot of time correcting the church for its misbehavior. To be fair, this may be because Ephesians is a form letter (as I explained previously) so Paul couldn’t offer customized correction to any one particular church. Not that this hasn’t stopped commentators from leaping to the conclusion Ephesus was the one church in ancient Christendom which was following God properly. I expect they made the same mistakes as every Christian does. But I also expect they were getting a lot right—otherwise Paul would’ve felt the urgent need to write ’em something custom. But he didn’t. He wrote this.

And in it, he prayed the church and its Christians would grow. He made a regular practice of such prayers. He knew from experience they’d need the help. Ephesus especially: They lived in a city which manufactured new religions on a daily basis. (Some of which featured really bizarre versions of Jesus.) They needed to know the truth and hew to it, lest someone lead them astray with some strange but appealing novelty. You know… like nowadays. ’Cause Americans are so easily led astray by churches which claim God promises us a safe, comfortable, unchallenging, prosperous life.

Grow your faith!

by K.W. Leslie, 04 July

As I’ve written multiple times, authentic faith is not the magic power to believe ridiculous things. It’s “the proof of actions we’ve not seen,” He 11.1 KWL stuff we believe even though we haven’t seen it for ourselves, because we trust those who told us this stuff. Because they’re trustworthy. (And they’d better be trustworthy.)

More than that: It’s when we act on this stuff. Fr’instance your friend told you a certain movie was good. You heard it wasn’t, but you have faith in your friend—specifically, his judgment about movies—so you ignore what everyone else told you, and go see the movie for yourself. And either your faith in your friend is proven, ’cause the movie was good… or it was broken, ’cause it sucked. Either way, you acted on faith.

Yes, that’s faith. I know; the way people commonly define faith, it sounds more like you go to see a movie regardless of what anyone tells you, because you want so badly for it to be good, and are hoping it’ll be good if you wished hard enough. Again, that’s not faith. That’s self-delusion, and those who try to swap self-delusion for faith have either been tricked by con artists, or are seriously trying to delude themselves. Faith is based on something or someone solid. Like Jesus.

So when you want to grow in faith, you don’t have to believe so hard something snaps in your brain. That’s how you lose your grip on reality; how you lose your mind. That’s not at all what Jesus calls us to do when he wants us to grow in faith. You know how you really grow in faith? You take leaps of faith: You trust God enough to actually do as he tells us.

See, Christians who lack faith, haven’t trusted God this far. They claim they believe, but they’ve never done anything. Never put themselves in situations where they had to; they deliberately avoided such things. They never tested their own faith. That’s why, the moment something shows up which does test their faith, they break.

You wanna break at the first sign of stress? Be like them. But if you wanna grow as a Christian, and develop faith that doesn’t shake as easily as grass in the wind, start testing your own faith. Get off your duff and act on what you claim to believe. Find out, once and for all, whether you really do believe it.

Surrendering our authority to Jesus.

by K.W. Leslie, 26 June

When I was a kid I came across one of Bill Bright’s gospel tracts, in which he diagrammed the difference between a self-centered life and a Jesus-centered life. Looked like yea.


Or “self-directed” and “Christ-directed.” Either way. Discover God

If our lives are self-centered, supposedly they’ll be chaos. Whereas if they’re Jesus-centered, they appear to be neat and orderly and crisis-free. With none of the challenges, persecutions, temptations, suffering, or any of the things Jesus totally warned us were part of life. Yeah, certain gospel tracts tend to promise a little too much. Bright’s was one of them.

But lemme get back to my point: The idea of a Jesus-centered life, as opposed to a self-centered one. That is in fact the whole point of Christianity: Jesus is Lord. We’re meant to follow his steps in everything we do, 1Pe 2.21, 1Jn 2.6 always take him into consideration, obey his teachings, seek his will. He’s the king of God’s kingdom, and if you want in, he has to be in charge.

In practice he’s not Lord at all.

Well he’s not. Absolutely should be. But you know how humans are: We decide who we’re gonna follow and obey. Sometimes actively, ’cause we seek out authority figures and mentors and books to follow; sometimes passively, ’cause we do as our bosses or spouses or parents tell us, and don’t fight it, even when we really oughta. Sometimes willingly, sometimes grudgingly. Sometimes connivingly: We decide exactly how we’re gonna fulfill our orders, and some of us accomplish them in ways our bosses never dreamed of, or even wanted. Even if we like these bosses.

Connivingly was the Pharisees’ problem. Contrary to popular belief, the problem with the Pharisees in the New Testament wasn’t legalism. Jesus’s complaints to the Pharisees were about how they bent God’s commands, or outright nullfied ’em for the sake of their traditions. That’s why he called them hypocrites: They pretended to follow the Law, but broke it all the time. True legalists are no hypocrites; they’re trying to follow the rules as carefully as possible, but in their zeal they’re overdoing things. Pharisees overdid a few things, but only as a smokescreen for the many, many things they left undone.

We Christians tend to condemn Pharisees whenever we read about ’em in the bible. But because most of us have no idea what their real failing was, we condemn them soundly… then turn round and do the very same things they did. We pick and choose which of Jesus’s instructions we’re gonna follow, and let the others slide. We interpret Jesus’s teachings all loosey-goosey, reinterpret Jesus himself so he suits us best, project our motives upon him, and claim we loyally follow him… when we’re really following ourselves. Never stopped following ourselves. We simply dressed the id in a Christian T-shirt, redefined our fleshly behaviors as spiritual fruit, and presume our irreligion is “maturity” because now it comes so easily.

Basically we’re still in that left circle, with ourselves in charge and Jesus outside. But we imagine Jesus is in charge. We imagine it really hard. Doesn’t make it true, but people can psyche ourselves into all sorts of things when we want ’em bad enough.

Repent!

by K.W. Leslie, 21 June
REPENT rə'pent verb. Turn away from one’s current, usually sinful, behavior.
2. Feel regret or express remorse about wrongdoing or sin.

Our culture has used the word repent to mean feeling bad. For centuries. For so long, you’re not gonna find the definition “turn away from one’s behavior” in most dictionaries. Even the Latin word repent is based on, re-paenitere, gets defined as “feel great penitence or sorrow.” When people repent, they feel bad for what they’ve done. Sometimes they bother to make amends, or try to. (Penitentiaries, annoyingly, have little about them anymore which involves making amends, community service, or good deeds in general.)

But the Christian definition comes from the Greek words we translate as “repent,” namely metanoéo the verb, and metánoia/“repentance,” the noun. The word’s literally a compound of the words metá/“after” and noéo/“think,” but combined they mean “turn round.” In other words, don’t go that way again. Don’t do that again. Walk it back.

So when Jesus first began to preach the gospel—

Mark 1.14-15 KWL
14 After John’s arrest, Jesus went into the Galilee preaching God’s gospel, 15 saying this:
“The time has been fulfilled. God’s kingdom has come near. Repent! Believe in the gospel!”

—he wasn’t telling the Galileans, “Feel really bad about what you’ve done, and believe in the gospel!” He was ordering them to stop what they were doing—good or bad—and come to God’s kingdom. It’s come near!

Problem is, when Christians don’t understand the proper definition of repentance, we try to obey Jesus’s command by psyching ourselves into feeling bad. We manufacture an emotion. We make ourselves feel sorry for our sins, and some of us even claim this sorrow is mandatory before God can forgive us. ’Cause if you’re not sorry, what kind of unfeeling jerk are you?


Well we do suck big time sometimes. Sinfest

But after we’ve whipped ourselves into a lather (not literally, although you know Christians throughout history actually have done so literally) and got all the self-pity and self-condemnation out of our system, are we following Jesus any better? Or at all? Not usually. Nope; we go right back to the same “Forgive me” prayer every time we pray, and never notice how we’re not growing spiritually whatsoever.

Because we gotta actually repent. We gotta quit doing as we’ve been doing, and follow Jesus into his kingdom.

“…But God knows my heart.”

by K.W. Leslie, 28 February

The way I share Jesus is pretty basic: I talk with people. They ask what I’m doing. My answer is nearly always Christianity-related… ’cause that is what I’m doing. Sometimes they have hangups about religion, in which case I change the subject. But far more often they’ll talk about it. Frequently it turns out they’re Christian.

But there are Christians, and there are Christians. Some of ’em are devout. Some of ’em only think they’re Christian. Most often they’re just irreligious: They don’t pray. Don’t go to church. Never read their bibles; wouldn’t know were to begin. (Somehow they found out the bible doesn’t have to be started at the beginning—and ever since, they’ve used this as an excuse for why they never started. Sounds like the options simply stymie them. Maybe we’d better stop telling people they don’t have to start at Genesis, and tell ’em they totally do. But I digress.)

One of my shortcuts for finding out how religious they are, or aren’t: I ask where they go to church. And even though they should totally go, and know they should totally go, a lot of ’em just don’t. “Oh, I went to [big local church] all the time. I admit I don’t now; not as often as I ought to.” Seldom do they ever try to give the rubbish argument Christians don’t need to go. They kinda know that’s heresy.

But recently I bumped into someone who gave this excuse for skipping church.

ME. “So you’ve not gone recently?”
SHE. “No, I admit it’s been a while. But it’s okay; it’s a relationship, not a religion. And God knows my heart.”

It’s far from the first time I’ve heard the “But God knows my heart” argument. It’s really popular in the Bible Belt. “Yeah, I fully admit I [insert heinous sin] on the regular. But God knows my heart.”

Yes, God knows we have good intentions! Buried in us somewhere, deep down… ’cause they’re clearly not visible for anybody to see, or even deduce. But they’re in there, and that counts for something, right?

Yeah, you just keep telling yourself that. It’s how people eventually find themselves in this predicament:

Matthew 7.21-23 KWL
21 “Not everyone who calls me, ‘Master, master!’ will enter the heavenly kingdom.
Just the one who does my heavenly Father’s will.
22 At that time, many will tell me, ‘Master, master! Didn’t we prophesy in your name?
Didn’t we throw out demons in your name? Didn’t we do many powerful things in your name?’
23 And I’ll explain to them, ‘I never knew you.
Get away from me, all you Law-breakers.’

Except it’s even worse than Jesus describes it.

Yeah, worse. Read it again. Jesus is chiding people who prophesy in his name, throw out demons, do miracles. In other words, they do stuff. They minister to others—or try to. Problem is they’re “Law-breakers”—they don’t do what Jesus tells us to when it comes to loving God and our neighbors. They presume they have a relationship ’cause they’re ministers. They don’t, ’cause they’re not at all religious about their relationship.

Now these folks who figure God knows their hearts? Not even ministers. They don’t do miracles. Might not even believe miracles happen any more, or imagine God only grants such power to the super-devout, which they’re not. They got any evidence of any relationship with Jesus at all? Super nope.

God knows your heart? Yes indeed he does. And he knows it’s full of crap. Same as most of the Christians around you. You’re not really fooling anyone.

An irreligious religion.

by K.W. Leslie, 14 June
RELIGION ri'lɪ.dʒən noun. Worship of a superhuman controlling power, usually a personal God or impersonal universe.
2. Particular system of belief and worship, as demonstrated through actions and declarations.
3. A supremely important pursuit or interest, followed as if worship.
[Religious ri'lɪ.dʒəs adjective.]

A significant part of authentic Christianity is religion: We worship God, and we do it through actions. For any belief system which doesn’t take any action, which doesn’t result in any changed lives or good deeds (or even bad deeds), isn’t real. Or, as James puts it, it’s dead. Jm 2.26

But for a lot of Evangelicals in the United States, religion’s become a bad word. “Religious” has become mixed up with traditional. More specifically with the more empty, meaningless traditions which attempt to express worship through action, but don’t appear to bring us any closer to God.

Fr’instance. When we were kids, and somebody taught us a rote prayer, they didn’t always explain why we pray rote prayers, or what good they can do, or what use they are. Sometimes they assumed we already knew. Sometimes they gave us a brief but inadequate explanation. Usually they gave me a wrong explanation. Just as often, I’d get no explanation: “Just do it. It’s what we do.” Consequently we did it, but never saw the point. Didn’t feel like it was doing anything for us. Kinda boring, actually.

The proper term for this is dead religion: Actions we don’t really believe in. Works without faith.

If it were explained properly, would it be living religion? Sometimes. My church, I think, did a really good and thorough job of explaining water baptism to me. It’s why I still tell new believers to get baptized as soon as they can, and stop putting it off till it’s “convenient.” But despite their explanations I still don’t think it absolutely vital to dunk people, or especially to tip them backwards into the water so they can get it up their noses. But I digress.

The problem is, Evangelicals drop that adjective “dead” and simply call these works religion. To them, dead religion is what “religion” means. For Christianity isn’t about practices and rituals: It’s about faith in the living God, as defined by Christ Jesus. It’s about grace, where God grants us his kingdom despite our really obvious inadequacies. The rituals, the practices, the charity, the obedience? All that stuff’s optional, they insist, since we’re saved by grace, not works. Ep 2.8-9 And really, since the works so easily turn into works without faith, best to avoid it altogether.

That’s what Evangelicals mean when they sing Darrell Evans’ 2002 song “Fields of Grace.” Third verse:

There’s a place where religion finally dies
There’s a place where I lose my selfish pride
Dancing with my Father God in fields of grace
Dancing with my Father God in fields of grace

My previous church used to sing this, and a number of ’em would give a big whoop when we sang, “religion finally dies.” Not because they’re disobedient, uncharitable Christians; not at all. Again it’s because they considered religion and dead religion to be one and the same, and they’re so happy to be done with the wasteful hypocrisy. As, I expect, does Evans when he sings this.

But here’s the problem. In George Orwell’s novel 1984, the government officially deleted words from the language. Supposedly to make it more efficient; why have the word “bad” when “ungood” can do the job? But really it was because they astutely figured if we don’t have a word for something, it’s harder to express that idea without it. So if we drop the word “religion” from Christianese… how do we discuss the idea of faith lived out in good works? which words take its place? Do any?

In my experience, no.