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

“No weapon formed against you shall prosper.”

by K.W. Leslie, 21 September

Isaiah 54.16.

I’ve lost count of how many times Christians have cited this verse and claimed it for themselves. Or for others, to encourage them. “It says in the bible no weapon formed against me shall prosper. And I believe that, and it won’t!

The verse in question would be this one. I quoted the translation which sounds the most like the way people quote it.

Isaiah 54.16 NKJV
“No weapon formed against you shall prosper,
And every tongue which rises against you in judgment
You shall condemn.
This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD,
And their righteousness is from Me,”
Says the LORD.

The original saying comes from the KJV’s, “No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper,” but of course people prefer “you” instead of the out-of-date “thee”—and most other translations like to go with other words than “formed” and “prosper.”

Anyway. Since I can be a smartass y’know, I have tested just what people mean when they quote this verse. “You’re saying no weapon formed against you will prosper. Well I can take this perfectly harmless hair tie” (I have long hair, and I usually have elastic bands on me so I can tie it back) “and form it into a weapon against you.” Here’s where I put it over the tip of my finger and pull back. “If I flick this hair tie at you, are you saying God will miraculously keep it from hitting you?”

Most of them, especially when they’re younger, immediately flinch. Or hold their hands up to block the hair tie. Because confronted with a literal weapon—even though I’m not pointing it at their face; it’s harmless—it turns out no they didn’t mean that.

Well again, depending on how young they are. Little kids sometimes are thinking of literal weapons. Sometimes toy weapons, like sticks and squirt guns and plastic swords. Sometimes not. In the United States, we have school shootings on far too regular a basis; and in nonwhite neighborhoods, too often the police are far more antagonistic than helpful. So sometimes little kids are naïvely thinking maybe, maybe, if they pray really hard, God’ll keep the scary men with guns away.

But for most of us: No they didn’t mean literal weapons. They don’t imagine God’ll stop the fists of an abusive spouse, or the assault rifles of the gun nut next door. Not that he can’t, but that’s not what they had in mind when they were talking about how no weapon formed against ’em would prosper.

So… what, were they saying this for no reason? Not at all. They’re thinking of spiritual weapons. They’re thinking of spiritual warfare. They think God’ll make it so none of those weapons formed against us will prosper. Whereas if Sig Sauer, Smith & Wesson, Remington, or Lewis Machine and Tool makes ’em… yeah they’ll most definitely put holes through us. But they aren’t thinking of AR-15s. They’re thinking of the devil’s fiery darts. Ep 6.16

Okay. So if all we’re talking about are the weapons of spiritual warfare, is this verse then valid?

Of course not. You think I’d write an article about its context if it were?

God doesn’t believe in no-win scenarios.

by K.W. Leslie, 22 August

Back in seminary my theology professor introduced us to the concept of the tragic moral choice. Ancient Greek playwrights invented it for their tragedies: One god ordered the hero to do one thing, and another god ordered him to do just the opposite. Obeying one god meant sinning against the other god. And like us, the ancient Greeks recognized sin has dire consequences… and wanna bet their plays would show the consequences?

Now, we Christians don’t have multiple gods with conflicting wills. We only have the One God. Yes he’s in three persons, but the wills of all three persons are in absolute sync. God’s not the problem. We are. We sin, and we live in a sin-plagued world.

So in the Christian version of the tragic moral choice, we’re thrust into a scenario where all the possible outcomes are gonna be bad. The only choices we make are gonna be sinful ones. We can’t win. That’s just the world we live in.

Fr’instance imagine you’re hiding Jews from Nazis who wanna murder them. Suddenly the Nazis come knocking. What do you do?

  • Duh; lie and say there are no Jews there. Except lying is sin. Yeah, it’s a really minor sin compared to Jews getting killed—and if the Nazis find out you’re lying, you’re getting murdered. Still, this is the option most people unthinkingly take, as the best-case scenario. Still, lying is sin.
  • Give them up; let them be murdered just to save your own skin. True, you didn’t lie, but you did passively permit evil, so that’s sin.
  • Try not to literally lie, and hope the Nazis misinterpret you and go away. Most Christians prefer this one… usually because we don’t recognize God doesn’t do loopholes. Still lying, no matter what you might tell yourself to salve your conscience. Still sin.

Basically you’re going with the least-evil option. But don’t kid yourself: They’re all evil. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

Tragic moral choices make a really good intellectual problem, and great drama. But they’re really bad theology. ’Cause unlike the Greek gods, who’d mess with humans and watch us squirm for fun, God loves his kids and doesn’t abandon us to such tragedies. Says so in the scriptures.

1 Corinthians 10.12-13 NRSV
12 So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall. 13 No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.

Christians commonly misinterpret this to mean, “God will never give you more than you can handle,” which isn’t so. He regularly gives us more than we can handle—because he’s meant to handle it for us, and we need to stop striving and start trusting. But when it comes to temptation, he wants us to win. And there’s always a winning option. In every temptation.

Y’see, God doesn’t believe in the no-win scenario. Even though we might.

Blaming the devil for our drama.

by K.W. Leslie, 14 March

Back in college I was one of the organizers for an evangelism project: We were gonna go to downtown Santa Cruz and hand out bibles to passersby.

Yes I know; The Gideons International already do this. Why weren’t we doing this with them? Several reasons:

  • They won’t let you hand out bibles with them, or hand out their bibles for them, unless you’re a member—“a Gideon.”
  • They won’t let you even be a Gideon unless you’re a man, and have a white-collar job. Seriously. The ministry was founded by businessmen for businessmen, and it’s still kind of a big deal to them that only businessmen be Gideons. (Emphasis on business men.) So, no college students.
  • At the time they only handed out KJV New Testaments, and we wanted to give out entire bibles—in an easier-to-understand translation.

I’m not knocking the Gideons; they do good work. Those bibles they put in hotel rooms have been immeasurably useful. But their exclusivity can be a problem. So we did our own thing.

This was a Christian school, so students had to be involved in one ministry a year, and I picked the bible-handout thingy because, honestly, it was gonna be a cakewalk. All you had to do was order bibles, hand them out one Saturday, and you were done. For the year. You could spend all your other Saturdays on intramural sports. Which I did.

My job on this team—my entire job—was ordering the bibles. I told them I could find bibles for cheaper than their usual sources. I did. It took a bit of work (Google wasn’t invented yet; yeah, I know, I’m old) but I found a place which sold NIV bibles for 50 cents each, and bought 200. They were thick, ’cause they were printed in tiny text on newsprint-quality paper, but they were bibles. They took several weeks to deliver, because two-day shipping wasn’t a thing yet, but they arrived when expected, and on time. My role went off without a hitch.

Everybody else’s role? Load the five boxes into a van, take ’em to Pacific Avenue, and hand ’em out. We set up an undecorated plastic table as our home base, carried a handful to different places on the street, and accosted people with, “Would you like a free bible?” Maybe one in five did. But we gave ’em all away. We figured we’d be there for 4 hours, or until all the bibles were gone; they were gone in about an hour, so we went out for coffee.

All in all this was a really easy ministry. Did it have any impact on the people who were given bibles? I hope so; I liked to think so back then. Unless the Holy Spirit tells me any impact it had, I really have no way of knowing.

Okay, now to the point of this story.

Right after we set up the table, our group leader asked to pray for us. So we gathered round the table, joined hands, and he prayed something along the lines of, “Thank you God for letting us do this ministry. Man did Satan come against us. Hard. But thank you for holding him back. Now let people be touched by your word. In Jesus name amen.” And off we went, bibles in hand.

Of course when he prayed this, none of this felt at all hard to me. Like I said, it was a cakewalk. The bibles arrived on schedule, the weather was nice, turnout was decent (slightly lower than expected, but that always happened), and my personal life was running smoothly. Satan came against us hard? When?

Later I found out the details. Satan wasn’t coming after our project all that hard at all, if at all. It’s just our group leader was going through some really intense stuff with his girlfriend. He personally felt like he was under attack by the devil. So he presumed everyone was likewise under some devilish attack; probably because of the massive effect our bible handout might have on the neighborhood, the city, the county, the state, the world.

Yep, projection.

Easier to just sin.

by K.W. Leslie, 03 February

It’s way easier to just give in to temptation, and beg forgiveness afterward, than it is to resist.

That’s the attitude most Christians have. That most people have: “Instead of asking permission, ask forgiveness.” You wanna do something, you know people are gonna be outraged if you do it, but rather than seek their approval (only to offend them even more when you defy them) it’s easier if you just do as you please, and deal with things after the fact. Assuming they ever find out!—and you’re kinda hoping they won’t.

Yeah, it’s thoroughly selfish. And it shouldn’t surprise us when selfish humans behave this way. Pagans or Christians.

But if we’re gonna grow as Christians, we have to resist this temptation too.

Still, it’s a commonplace attitude. Even among “good Christians”: Plenty of ’em figure “God’s in the forgiving business; he forgives all, so he’ll forgive this.” Not with major sins or mortal sins, however they define ’em; but it’s okay to fight temptation when we’re dealing with small sins. Stuff which has few to no consequences. Like indulging the stray evil thought. Like telling a white lie. Don’t stress yourself over such minor piffle. Don’t worry about following God in every little thing. What, are you trying to earn salvation or something? You legalist.

Yep, the line of thought in someone who’s trying to justify a sin, even a minor sin, is to immediately lunge towards, “Well it’d be a greater sin to resist temptation.” Which is stupid and irrational, but since when is it rational to dismiss and defy God in favor of our desires and convenience? Never has been. But if you wanna sin badly enough, any excuse will do.

Still, I have heard it preached, in actual pulpits, that it’s okay to go ahead and commit that sin. That it’s better to sin and be forgiven, than burn with unfulfilled desire. That it’ll get that sin out of your system, and then you can go back to following Jesus with post-nut clarity. Go ahead and sin. “Be a sinner and sin boldly,” as Martin Luther once put it; “but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly.”

Yeah, the Luther quote is taken out of context. He was writing Philip Melchanthon about how Christ can forgive any sinner; he wasn’t advocating sin. But y’know, people much prefer the idea Luther was telling Germans to sin their brains out ’cause grace. Again: It’s easier to just give in!

But it’s evil. Let’s not pretend it’s not, nor pretend small sins aren’t that evil. Evil is evil. Jesus expects better of us than that.

The appearance of evil.

by K.W. Leslie, 02 February

1 Thessalonians 5.22.

I’ve said many times before: The King James Version is a very good bible translation. Problem is, it’s a 407-year-old bible translation. Therefore it uses the English of William Shakespeare, Francis Bacon, Ben Jonson… and arguably William Tyndale, who first started translating the New Testament for English-speaking commoners in 1522. A lot of the KJV is still phrased exactly the same as Tyndale’s version.

Five-century-old English is not the American English we use today. ’Cause language evolves. If you have kids of your own, you’ve heard it happen with your very ears: People redefine words to suit themselves, and if their redefinition catches on, that’s the new definition. Oh, you might hate it—like when literally grew to mean “well, not literally.” But it doesn’t matter how much you rail against it: Language is defined by popular vote, and if you’re in the minority, you lose. Sorry.

So, many of the words in the Tyndale’s bible no longer mean what they did in 1522. Heck, they no longer meant that in 1611, when the KJV was published. Like this verse.

1 Thessalonians 5.22 Tyndale
Abstain from all suspicious thing.

How would you define a “suspicious thing”? Well in the early days of the English Reformation, when Anglicans under Henry 8 were murdering Catholics, Catholics under Mary 1 were murdering Anglicans, and Anglicans under Elizabeth 1 went back to murdering Catholics, all sorts of behavior was “suspicious”—including the legitimate worship of Christ Jesus by either church. If you didn’t do it Catholic-style when the Catholics were in power, they’d kill you; if you didn’t do it Anglican-style when the Anglicans were in power, they’d kill you. It’s a problematic translation, so by the time of James 6, the verse was updated to this:

1 Thessalonians 5.22 KJV
Abstain from all appearance of evil.

And now that has become a problematic translation. When the KJV used it, it meant the act of becoming visible: When you make an appearance at a social function, you’ve shown up and people can see you. Well, in this verse the apostles instruct the Thessalonians that whenever evil shows up and people can see it, stay away. But in our present day appearance has another, more common definition… and that’s the one people assume the KJV was using. It means the act of looking like something else. Of seeming.

And that’s why plenty of Christians read this verse, and claim, “Stay away from anything which seems evil.” It might not actually be evil; it might be benign; it might even be good—but because it looks evil, because the public believes it to be evil, stay away. Have nothing to do with it. Keep your reputation intact.

One is holiness. The other hypocrisy.

Lead us not into temptation.

by K.W. Leslie, 01 February

Matthew 6.13, Luke 11.4.

This part of the Lord’s Prayer gets controversial, because it sounds like our Lord’s brother James totally contradicted it when he wrote,

James 1.13-15 NRSVue
13 No one, when tempted, should say, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one. 14 But one is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it; 15 then, when that desire has conceived, it engenders sin, and sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death.

So because James said God tempts nobody, people don’t know what to make of it when Jesus has us pray,

Matthew 6.13 NRSVue
“And do not bring us to the time of trial,
but rescue us from the evil one.”
 
Luke 11.4 NRSVue
“And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial.”

’Cause praying that God not lead us into temptation, implies sometimes he might lead us into temptation.

Okay. The word in the Lord’s Prayer which popularly gets translated “temptation” in both Matthew and Luke, is πειρασμόν/peirasmón, “temptation, trial, test.” Yep, the translators got it right. It’s the noun-form of the verb James used, πειράζω/peirádzo. Means the same thing.

But while James said God tempts nobody, we got scriptures where it kinda looks like he does. Look up any Old Testament verses which include the word נָסָה/naçá, which means the same thing as peirádzo: Test. Try. Prove. Experiment. Tempt. Here, lemme quote just a few.

Genesis 22.1-2 NRSVue
1 After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 2 He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.”
 
Deuteronomy 8.3 NRSVue
“He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.”
 
Deuteronomy 13.1-3 NRSVue
1 “If prophets or those who divine by dreams appear among you and promise you omens or portents, 2 and the omens or the portents declared by them take place, and they say, ‘Let us follow other gods’ (whom you have not known) ‘and let us serve them,’ 3 you must not heed the words of those prophets or those who divine by dreams, for the LORD your God is testing you, to know whether you indeed love the LORD your God with all your heart and soul.”

Heck, David even told God to put him to the test:

Psalm 26.2 NRSVue
Prove me, O LORD, and try me;
test my heart and mind.

Not sure whether David passed that particular test; he was a horny fella. Definitely loved God though.

Anyway. How do we deal with this particular bible difficulty? Real simple: We remember James is wisdom literature.

The prayer warrior.

by K.W. Leslie, 31 January
PRAYER WARRIOR 'prɛr wɔr.i.ər noun. A prayer intercessor who believes this form of prayer is spiritual warfare.
[Prayer warfare 'prɛr wɔr.fɛr noun.]

As I’ve written elsewhere, spiritual warfare consists of resisting temptation. We gotta reject our selfish nature, and in so doing, resist the devil. Jm 4.7 It’s not a complicated idea. It’s just not easy to do. We really enjoy the things which tempt us; they wouldn’t tempt us otherwise! But we gotta resist.

But because actual spiritual warfare isn’t easy, it’s way easier to pick something else, anything else, and claim that’s spiritual warfare. Preferably something easy, and kinda fun.

Hence one of the more common claims you’ll find among Christians across the board (it’s in no way just a Evangelical thing!) is prayer is spiritual warfare. Intercessory prayer is how we resist the devil. We pray for other people. We pray for our nation and its leaders; namely the leaders we like. We pray that they control themselves, that they repent of their sins, and they submit to God’s will. Really hard.

Not so much that we control ourselves, repent, and submit. Though we might. But most of us are pretty sure we’re already doing that. We’re good. It’s the sinners who are the problem.

Christians who pray this way a lot, love to imagine they’re engaging in “warfare.” After all, they’re asking God for stuff, and surely Satan doesn’t want this stuff done, right? Surely the devil’s fighting this stuff, trying its damnedest to repel God’s kingdom and Christianity’s growth and the salvation of more people.

Hence “prayer warriors” claim whenever they pray for other people, or for God to do things, they’re doing battle with the devil. ’Cause the devil doesn’t want them to pray. ’Cause then God’ll do things, and as far as Satan’s concerned, God intervenes far too much for its comfort.

I grew up in a church which was big on prayer-warrior teachings and beliefs. Very little of this theology was based on bible, though. Most of it came from a popular novel, This Present Darkness by Frank Peretti. Published in 1986, it’s a horror novel about a New Age cult taking over a small college town, and the invisible demons which were really behind the cult. (In many ways it feels like Peretti read C.S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength, but decided it needed less human free will, and more demons.) The good guys are of course praying Christians, and the angels feed off their prayer energies like solar panels feed off the sun. Better pray before the angels run out of juice!

Peretti didn’t invent these ideas. They’re found all over Christian mythology. The battle of Satan’s fall really fascinated such Christians, so they imagine battles like that are still going on in the heavens: Demons and evil spirits which wanna destroy humanity, angels which wanna defend us, and they’re going at it with swords and shields like the ancients. Or, depending on the whims of the artist, with medieval armor, Elvish armor, mecha armor and lightsabers… or even buck naked. (Some of these artists, you gotta wonder about.) And these battles have been waging non-stop ever since Satan was toppled. But every time we Christians pray, it provides support to the angels on God’s side.

Problem is, there are a lot of dark Christian teachings about how our “prayer warriors” affect this battle. Like how every time we pray, God grants his angels power and support. Thing is, this implies when we don’t pray, God doesn’t grant his angels support, and the devils get to win. And sometimes dark Christians don’t just imply this; they overtly teach this. When Christians don’t pray, God lets his loyal angels lose—and may even let his loyal humans lose the very same way. So don’t forget to pray for one another!

In this way, prayer warriors imagine themselves the most important Christians on earth. It’s because of them Christianity advances. The rest of Christendom? The missionaries and activists and ministry leaders and evangelists? Meh; they do some stuff; it’s not nothing. But the prayer warriors are on the front lines of the spiritual war. (Well, the angels are more like the front lines, but the prayer warriors are right behind them; they’re mighty close.) They’re keeping the front from receding, giving the rest of us a safe space to do our thing. Don’t forget to appreciate and thank them, same as you would for any soldier or veteran.

Okay. Any of these ideas based on bible? Loosely. Really loosely.

“The spirit of…”

by K.W. Leslie, 18 March
SPIRIT OF… 'spɪ.rɪt əv noun, genitive. A quality considered the defining or typical element in the character of a person, people, or institution.
2. A supernatural being creating or facilitating that element.

Pagans don’t know what spirit is, and their best guess is emotion: Spirit is the feeling you get when a speaker talks about stuff you care about—or stuff that terrifies you. Spirit is the emotions stirred up by a great piece of music or a great work of art. Spirit is the mood in the room when you enter it, and it’ll either make you want to stick around or flee. Spirit is the vibes you feel from a really positive or really negative person. Spirit is the feels.

No surprise, this false definition is all over Christianity. So much so, people think the way you detect the Holy Spirit, or some other evil spirit, is by our feelings. If the spirit of a room is all dark and creepy, it means there’s an evil spirit in there, trying to tempt or mislead you; your feelings are how you supernaturally discerned this. Conversely if the spirit of a room is all bright and cheerful, it’s the Holy Spirit, or some ministering angel, or maybe even Jesus making an appearance, visible or not.

To be fair, your emotions are a clue… that something’s affecting your emotions. But it’s naïve to assume the effector is always a spirit. It might just be you had a really good lunch. Or you had a bad day, you’re now in a place you don’t wanna be, and you’re looking for any excuse to leave. Or there’s something about a person’s behavior that really bugs you, and you can’t put your finger on it… and it’s his cologne, but you don’t currently remember your least favorite gym teacher used to reek of it, and your “bad vibes” are really just part of a bad memory. This is where natural discernment has to be practiced.

But it’s much easier to practice no discernment whatsoever, and leap to the conclusion, “I feel funny—because the room is haunted.” Yeah, you don’t know that.

Anyway this is where we come up with the Christianese meaning of “the spirit of” anything: They read the emotion in a room—or project their own emotions on the entire room—and conclude there’s a spirit causing the room to feel this way. Could be Jesus; could be Satan.

Christians who don’t want you to fast.

by K.W. Leslie, 18 February

As I elsewhere said, if fasting weren’t in the bible, it’d nonetheless be a fad. One Christians still frequently use as a spiritual exercise, because it does strengthen our self-control. When seeking God in prayer takes priority over sustaining our very lives, it’s this kind of hardcore behavior which makes us less likely to give in to the many temptations which comfort offers us.

So what keeps Christians from fasting? Usually it’s those very same comforts.

Years ago I was in a prayer meeting where the leader challenged us to fast for a week. Really, diet. He wasn’t telling us to utterly go without food. Just go vegan for a week, and set aside sweets and coffee. Set aside a few comforts so we can focus better on God. And my knee-jerk reaction was, “I just went to the grocery store yesterday and bought a bunch of yogurt. I don’t want it to go bad…” as if we were gonna be dieting that long. Wasn’t really about the expiration date either. It’s ’cause I love yogurt.

So as we were praying, the Holy Spirit got on my case about this: “Really? You’re gonna put aside growing your relationship with me over yogurt?” Okay yeah, it does sound petty and stupid when you put it that way. But frequently our temptations are just that petty and stupid. Doesn’t take much at all to make us stumble sometimes.

Fasting is uncomfortable. That’s kinda the point. Having food in your stomach feels way better than hunger pangs. Eating something delicious is way more pleasurable than eating something just to keep your blood sugar levels stable. But, just like when you sit on the edge of a chair to keep yourself from falling asleep during a boring meeting, fasting is meant to keep us spiritually alert, meant to keep us more aware of our dependence on God. Meant to help us pay attention to what he’s telling us.

So yeah, we gotta fight the temptation to make ourselves more comfortable, and thereby compromise our fasts or diets. And the other thing we gotta watch out for—the main topic of this article, which I had to get to eventually—are the fellow Christians who are gonna try to make us stumble.

Yep. Because while you are trying to get more religious, they have no such interest. They’re not fasting. Or they’re pretending to, but they’ve swapped the fast for the most comfortable diet they can find. They’ll do a “Daniel fast,” yet fudge it so they can eat all the granola bars they want… because let’s be honest: Granola bars are cookies. Shaped like a bar, with a few healthy things thrown in, but they’re totally oatmeal cookies.

Because your activities are more hardcore than theirs, they feel convicted—“Maybe I should step up my game a little”—but they fight this feeling by telling themselves it’s wrong. That you’re too hardcore. That you’re engaging in works righteousness, as if fasting harder than them earns you special Skee-Ball tickets with God, which you can exchange for prizes. That you’re only doing this so you can feel better about yourself—“Look how Christian I am”—and look down on lazy Christians like them. To only look like a better Christian, even though you’re not really.

(Incidentally, don’t do any of those things.)

To some degree they’re projecting. That’s why they’d strive harder to follow God: To earn heavenly merit, or to look or feel superior. But it’s not that… right? You’re trying to grow. You’re pursuing God. You wanna get closer to Jesus. It’s about him, not you. And this pursuit of God can, sad to say, provoke jealousy in Christians who aren’t pursuing God, who imagine fruit grows spontaneously… or who wanna stay “ahead of you” when it comes to spiritual things, and don’t want you maturing faster than they.

In so doing, sometimes they pick really lousy excuses for why you shouldn’t fast. Not valid ones, like it being a feast day. Poisonous ones, like the idea fasting’s an Old Testament practice and we shouldn’t do it anymore. Or the ridiculous claim that fasting in the bible was dieting, not doing without food… contrary to what the scriptures themselves state.

Luke 4.2 KJV
Being forty days tempted of the devil. And in those days he did eat nothing: and when they were ended, he afterward hungered.

“Nothing” as in οὐδὲν/udén, nothing. Really nothing. No food. Not even quails and manna.

Religious people bug irreligious people.

Years ago I heard a sermon on fasting where the preacher noted how often things are gonna tempt us to violate the fast. Suddenly every business meeting is gonna have pastries and coffee. Suddenly old friends will visit town for a few days and wanna meet for lunch. You’ll get invited to birthday parties. You’ll drive past your favorite restaurant and find it’s their 20th anniversary, so for one day they knocked all their prices down to what they charged in 2001. (Yes, 2001 is 20 years ago. You’re old.) Man alive are you gonna drool.

Now yeah, some of that stuff isn’t really the entire fallen universe conspiring to knock you off your fast. It’s simply the fact there’s a lot of functions in our lives with food involved. Functions we never really think about… till we’re on a diet, or a fast. Food addicts know exactly what I’m talking about. In the United States, food’s everywhere. It’s one of our favorite comforts.

So for jealous Christians who wanna throw us off our fasts, it’s not at all hard for them to point to these temptations and say, “You can take a break from your fast for just this once. Hey, you don’t wanna be legalistic about it.”

Yeah, that’s the way they think: Self-control is legalism.

Actual legalism is when your church is gonna penalize you, threaten you with hell, or simply threaten you with a lack of prosperity in the coming year, if you dare to skip a fast. Is that what’s happening here? (If so, you’re probably in a cult.) What should be happening is you’ve voluntarily chosen to fast, you’re requiring no one else to fast along with you, and it’s not gonna irreparably damage your body to do it. If that’s the case, it’s far from legalism.

But to an irreligious Christian, any spiritual exercise which they don’t wanna do, which threatens their comfort, is “legalism.” Those of ’em who like to bash religion will correctly call it religion, but in their minds this means dead religion—it’s an unnecessary practice which doesn’t bring us any closer to God.

In that, they’re wrong. Fasting, if we do it right, rejects the idols we can make of our palate, our stomach, and one’s reputation as a discriminating foodie. Fasting rejects a material need in favor of spiritual things.

Because irreligious people reject nothing, this is gonna bug them. A lot. So they need to drag you back down to their level, and then they won’t feel so bad about themselves: “You quit your religious nonsense, proving I was right.” Nah, it only proves you’re susceptible to peer pressure. And if that’s the case, maybe stay away from such people, and work on your self-control. (Conveniently, fasting helps!)

Part of the reason Jesus told us not to play up the fact we’re fasting, Lk 6.16-18 is because we don’t need the public acclaim… and neither do we need the hassle of irreligious people mocking our devotion and trying to make us stumble. And, if we promised God or others we’d fast, trying to make us sin. But you realize if they have no idea we’re fasting, they’re not gonna try to sabotage us: They shouldn’t know any different. If we cancel lunch, they’re not gonna assume, “It’s ’cause you’re fasting, isn’t it?” Don’t promote your practices, and you shouldn’t encounter any intentional backlash from anyone.

Nope, the only temptations you’ll have to fight are the usual temptations in life: The coworker who puts doughnuts in the break room, the neighbors who leave the windows open when they’re frying bacon, the husband forgets you’re fasting and brings home a pizza… You know, life. It happens. Exercise that self-control!

Satan’s excuses precede lawless Christians.

by K.W. Leslie, 27 July

1 John 3.7-12.

Many of the verses from today’s passage tend to be yanked out of context.

  • “Let no one deceive you” 1Jn 3.7 —used to refer to anything which might trick or mislead Christians, from heresy to the latest internet conspiracy theories.
  • “The Son of God came to destroy the works of the devil” 1Jn 3.8 —treated as though it’s the only reason Jesus came to earth, so certain dark Christians use it to justify their fixation on demonology instead of good news.
  • “Everyone borne of God doesn’t sin” 1Jn 3.9 —used to condemn Christians who do sin, instead of encouraging them (really, all of us) to go back into the light.
  • And of course those folks who wanna interpret the Cain and Abel story to make Cain an irredeemably evil person… instead of recognizing the LORD and Cain had a conversational relationship, Ge 4.9-15 and God obviously wanted to redeem Cain, not destroy him. (Otherwise he’d have destroyed him!)

All right, best I jump into the text before unpacking it.

1 John 3.7-12 KWL
7 Children, let no one deceive you: Doing what’s proper is right, just like Christ is right.
8 Doing sin is of the devil, because the devil sins from the very start.
This is why God’s Son appeared: To undo the devil’s works.
9 Everyone reborn by God doesn’t do sin, for God’s seed remains in them.
They can’t sin, because they’ve been reborn by God.
10 This is how God’s children and the devil’s children are identified:
Everyone who doesn’t act properly, who doesn’t love their fellow Christian, isn’t of God.
11 This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another.
12 Not like Cain, who murdered his brother Abel out of evil.
Why did Cain murder him? Because Cain’s works were evil.
The works of his brother Abel were proper.

John wrote this right after he defined sin as violating the Law. Parts of the Law are still totally valid. (The ritual sacrifice and ritual cleanliness parts are redundant, and the rules for native Israelis and Israel’s descendants don’t apply to nonresidents and gentiles.) Following those valid parts is still what God expects of a saved people: Now that we belong to Jesus, be like Jesus. He didn’t sin; we shouldn’t sin.

So John went on to say his readers shouldn’t let themselves get tricked into thinking otherwise. ’Cause plenty of us have been deceiving ourselves for years. Like the Christians who are anti-Law, who think Jesus nullified God’s Old Testament commands and therefore nothing’s a sin anymore. John cuts right through this rubbish: If you don’t resist sin, if you don’t behave as God’s children ought, you’re not one of his children. “Everyone reborn by God doesn’t do sin.” 1Jn 3.9 He doesn’t, so we shouldn’t.

No, this doesn’t mean Christians never ever sin. Of course we do. Hence grace. The proper idea, reflected in some translations, is N.T. Wright’s “Everyone who is fathered by God does not go on sinning.” 1Jn 3.8 NTE We don’t continue in a lifestyle of sin; we don’t wanna live that way. We want to follow Jesus!

And people who legitimately wanna follow Jesus, crack open their bibles and find out what Jesus taught so we can follow him. What they’ll invariably find is Jesus took the Law, expounded upon it, and closed all the Pharisee loopholes. We’re not to follow the letter of the Law, like any lawyer, politician, or activist judge; we don’t twist it till it suits us. We’re to follow the original intent of the Law, “the spirit of the Law,” the will of the One who gave it. How does Jesus interpret it? ’Cause we do that.

Those who don’t really wanna follow Jesus, but only look like they do: They prefer loopholes. The bigger the better. They like to quote “Christ is the end of the Law,” Ro 10.4 but they don’t mean, as Paul does, that Christ expresses it better than the Law does itself; they mean Christ ended it. Or “He taketh away the first [Law], that he may establish the second [Law],” He 10.9 not just updating the old covenant with the new, but abolishing it altogether, so that breaking the Law is no longer sin, 1 John 3.4—

1 John 3.4 KWL
Everyone who commits sin also commits an act against the Law.

—notwithstanding.

No, this passage isn’t about perfectionism either. John isn’t claiming Christians don’t sin anymore. He already objected to that idea in chapter 1. What he’s stating, is real Christians try not to sin. We no longer consider a lifestyle of sin to be acceptable. “Not perfect, just forgiven” simply isn’t good enough! We have God’s seed in us, the Holy Spirit within us, leading us away from sin and selfishness, and towards Jesus. If we’re following him, we recognize sin is the opposite direction. We don’t make excuses for it any longer!

And if we do make excuses for it… well we’re not God’s children. Really we’re Satan’s.

Children of the devil.

I translated John a bit literally: Ἀπ̓ ἀρχῆς ὁ διάβολος ἁμαρτάνει/ap arhís o diávolos amartánei, “from [the] start, the devil sins.” John used present tense, not past; not aorist. The devil sins now.

Yeah, this isn’t how this verse has been traditionally interpreted. Most translators tend to put it in past tense:

  • KJV “…for the devil sinneth from the beginning.”
  • CSB, NKJV “…for the devil has sinned from the beginning.”
  • ESV, ISV, NIV, NRSV “…because the devil has been sinning from the beginning.”
  • GNT “…because the Devil has sinned from the very beginning.”
  • NLT “…who has been sinning since the beginning.”

This is one of those instances where Christian theology has bent our interpretation of the bible, rather than reading the text itself and beginning from there. John clearly wrote in present tense, but translators keep throwing it into past tense because they keep fixating on the story of the Fall: At the beginning of history, either before Adam was created or shortly after, Satan must’ve revolted against God and got thrown to earth, Rv 12.7-9 because here he is in paradise, in the form of a serpent, tempting Eve. Ge 3.1-5

So when your average translator reads ap arhís/“from [the] start,” their brains immediately leap to that start, and adjust the verb tense accordingly. And incorrectly. They get us to miss an important truth about how temptation works.

Don’t get the wrong idea: When we humans sin, that’s on us. We make the decision to do wrong. Blaming the devil doesn’t cut it. Eve tried it, Ge 3.13 and it didn’t work then either. We have free will; we never have to sin. God always provides his kids a sin-free option.

But when we sin, we usually adopt an excuse. Whatever loophole justifies us, excuses us, blames someone else, makes us feel we’re an exception to the rule, makes us feel like the good guy in the story. “Jesus did away with the Law,” or “I simply didn’t see any other option; I had to choose the lesser evil,” or “I’m not trying to achieve salvation by works,” or “I’m not a legalist,” or whatever. None of these excuses are new; they’ve been around forever. They predate John.

Guess where every last one of ’em originated? Duh; Satan.

Satan doesn’t have to actually be there, at the moment of temptation, nudging us to do evil. (Nor any other devil. Satan’s not omnipresent, remember? If you’re tempted by a devil, it’s not necessarily the devil—who’s probably tempting somebody more important.) But Satan set up all the common human arguments for why we’re not all that bad. Those arguments do its job for it. Once we humans embed the excuses in our heads, we can pretty much sin on autopilot. Satan sins first; we sin thereafter.

The bulk of the devil’s followers aren’t Satanists. They’re dupes, suckers, marks, the easily confused, the heavily prejudiced, the inattentive, the apathetic, the shallow thinkers, the gullible, the irrationally angry. They’re not using a lot of brainpower. They don’t need to. And they think their knee-jerk reactions, their gut instincts, are the right responses. Some of ’em even claim God put these reactions in ’em.

The devil ropes these suckers into believing there’s some sort of Christian foundation for the evil they do in Jesus’s name. Next, the sucker sins. Both bear responsibility for the sin. But here, John forewarns the Christian: Don’t let anyone deceive you. Proper Christians follow Jesus and his Law. False Christians, the devil’s unwitting followers, don’t.

Loving one another, as opposed to murdering one another.

When people read the Cain and Abel story, where the first murder took place between the first brothers, Ge 4.1-16 they constantly skip over the fact Cain heard God. And talked with him. And heard God’s answers. Cain heard God better than many Christians nowadays hear God. And no, this isn’t because these were prehistoric bible times, when just anybody could hear God: This is because Cain and God were much closer than, sad to say, many Christians and our God. Yeah, Cain murdered his brother. That was evil. Even so. Moses and David were murderers; Paul got people killed. Nobody’s irredeemable. Not even Cain.

John pointed to the story of the first murder, ’cause the writers of the scriptures regularly liked to point out hate leads to murder. Mk 7.21, Ro 1.29, Jm 2.11, 4.2 In our day murder is illegal, and prosecuted by the state… unless cops do it, but that’s a tangent let’s not go down today. In John’s day murder was also illegal, but there were no prosecutors: If you wanted a murderer dealt with, the victim’s family had to have influence with the government. Otherwise they’d get away with it—and a lot of murderers did. Some of those murderers were even right there in the church.

Murder’s a heinous crime, and for that reason murderers go out of their way to justify themselves. Nowadays it’s self-defense, or the victim “got what’s coming to them,” or otherwise karmically deserved it. The murderer was simply restoring balance to the universe. Life for a life, Dt 19.21 or something they consider just as valuable as life… like their honor, or their personal code of ethics, which assigns the death penalty to all sorts of offenses.

Because of how often murder took place in the first century, the bible’s various statements against murder aren’t just hypothetical worst-case scenarios. They aren’t just subtle reminders of how hate and murder are connected. Mt 5.21-22 The two are connected. People back then murdered their enemies. In some countries people still murder their enemies. Warlords and dictators do. Even criminals in our country do. And think they’re right to… and need to be reminded they’re not. Especially when they consider themselves Christian, as (believe it or not) some ganglords do.

Sheltered American Christians tend to reinterpret the anti-murder sentiments in the bible, to reflect their world where murder seldom happens. Hence “don’t murder them in your heart”—don’t hate anyone so much, it’s like they’re dead to you. Yeah, that’s one way to look at it too. We shouldn’t hate anyone that much. But John wrote to a culture where murder isn’t a metaphor, murder isn’t hypothetical. People murdered Christians for being Christian. And in a heat of passion, anybody might murder someone else, exactly like Cain had. We all have it in us to do something just as extreme, just as regrettable. Don’t delude yourself.

’Cause it’s the self-deluded who usually wind up becoming—to their great surprise and horror—murderers. If you know you have a temper, no matter how successful you’ve been thus far at keeping it under control, take steps to make sure it never escapes you. Those who tell themselves, “No; I never would; people are naturally good” never take such steps… and sometimes become the folks who “snap,” of whom everybody later says, “I never knew she had it in her.”

We should love one another, and reject hate in all its forms. Hate’s typically the product of sin. Cain’s works were evil because he refused to recognize the danger in him, even though God warned him his sin “has stretched out for you.” Ge 4.7 He was in denial, and the consequences of his denial were terrible. It could happen to us too. Sin stretches out for all of us.

Sins which send you to hell?

by K.W. Leslie, 16 January

Quoting from John’s first letter:

1 John 5.15-17 KJV
15 And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him. 16 If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it. 17 All unrighteousness is sin: and there is a sin not unto death.

This passage has managed to confuse an awful lot of Christians. What’s John mean by ἁμαρτάνουσιν πρὸς θάνατον / amartánusin pros thánaton, “sinning unto death”? Or sinning not unto death?

Both Paul and James wrote that sin causes death. “The wages of sin is death” Ro 6.23 and “sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” Jm 1.15 and all that. They weren’t just speaking of sins which obviously cause death, like murder and suicide and abortion; or sins which indirectly but still kinda obviously cause death, like gluttony or addictions or other lapses of self-control. Popular Christian thinking is that all our sins contribute to the decay, and eventual end, of our lives. Sin is a cancer which eats away at our lives until they finally but inevitably end. And even if we resist temptation—even if we could be as sinless as Christ Jesus—sin is so toxic other people’s sins will kill us, same as they did Jesus.

But when Christians read John’s passage about sinning to death (KJV “sin unto death”) what we tend to think of is the Roman Catholic idea of a peccatum mortale / mortal sin, a sin which is so offensive to God, committing it the same as committing apostasy: We effectively just told God “I’m not following Jesus; I prefer hell.

Now, Catholics believe—same as most Evangelicals, including me—God can forgive all. If you commit a mortal sin, you don’t have to end up in hell; you can repent, so do! Murder’s a mortal sin, but Moses murdered an Egyptian slaveowner, David murdered Uriah, and Paul probably murdered Christians before he became one; all of ’em repented. (Well, maybe Moses repented. Bible doesn’t say.) But if you never repent—if you murdered someone, and if you could redo everything, would totally murder ’em again—Catholics are entirely sure you’re going to hell. Because a real Christian would realize they were wrong, feel sorry for it, and be repentant.

How do Catholics determine what’s a mortal sin, and what’s a non-mortal (i.e. easily forgivable, dismissible, venial sin)? Usually it’s by degree. If popular Christian culture considers it especially bad, and enough Catholic leaders and theologians have denounced it as something that’d particularly get in the way of our relationship with God—if it’s a serious violation of his will—it’d be a mortal sin. It’s not that venial sins don’t degrade our relationship with God, especially when we keep committing ’em. It’s that mortal sins have effectively broken it off.

You want a list? Most people who ask me about this want a list. Here ya go.

  • APOSTASY, obviously. Quitting Jesus definitely won’t get you into his kingdom.
  • ADULTERY—as defined as deviating from heterosexual marital activity. (Not as the Old Testament describes it, i.e. sex with wives and concubines.) Catholics also lump any non-marital sexual activity, divorce, homosexuality, incest, masturbation, polygamy, porn, prostitution, and rape under this category.
  • ANGER, ENVY AND HATRED. Particularly to a degree where people take harmful action, like terrorism.
  • BLASPHEMY, by which they mean disrespecting God, not just slander against God. So this’d include using God’s name as a profanity, sacrilege, and skipping Mass.
  • CHEATING AND FRAUD. Unless we’re talking harmless frauds like pranks, this refers to anything which harms others, like unfair bets, stuff which endangers others’ lives, injustice, lying, perjury, unfair wages, unjust prices, or oppressive interest rates.
  • HERESY. Teaching other than, or sowing doubts in, what Christians oughta believe. This includes encouraging people to defy church leadership, church splits, idolatry, simony, sorcery, and trying to be simultaneously Catholic and another religion. Catholics also include Freemasonry—in part ’cause Masons have historically been anti-Catholic, and in part ’cause Masonic rituals like to dabble in pagan, magic, and Muslim iconography, which creeps Catholics out.
  • MURDER of various sorts; anything which intentionally kills another person. This’d include abortion, euthanasia, and suicide. Catholics also include contraception.
  • SUBORNATION, i.e. getting someone to sin for you, or otherwise encouraging another person’s sins and vices. Likewise gossip, scandal-mongering, or other such things which nudge others the wrong way.

All these things are forbidden, or implied to be forbidden, in the scriptures. You notice many of ’em are taken from the Ten Commandments. So obviously we should resist any temptation to slide into ’em.

Does sin undo our salvation?

The big problem with the idea of mortal sins, is its logical conclusion: If certain sins cut us off from God’s grace, and we never repent, nor have the chance or means to repent… it means if we die with a mortal sin on our souls, we’re not saved. We’re not forgiven, not getting into God’s kingdom, not getting eternal life. Sin unsaves us.

Is that how God’s grace works? No.

Catholics have a slightly different idea of how grace works, than Evangelicals. Properly, grace is God’s generous attitude towards his people. But lots of people treat grace as a substance, a liquid God pours out on us, or a blanket God covers us with; an object not an attitude. And if it’s a substance, it’s a finite substance: It’s not unlimited. There’s only so much of it God’s gonna grant us. So don’t push him!

For Catholics, God gives people all sorts of grace, in all sorts of ways. But he particularly grants us grace through his sacraments. That’s why we gotta do them! Go to church and have holy communion every week—every day if possible—because you need to stay connected to Jesus, and that’s the easiest way to do it. And in response God will pour out more grace. So if you’re feeling low on grace, go to church!

Now yeah, if you go to church you’re certainly gonna notice God’s grace a lot more than in most places. But God’s grace isn’t something he only grants when people are religious. On the contrary: God’s grace is all the more for people who aren’t religious. Sinners can’t be saved unless God finds us, comes and gets us, forgives us, and brings us into his kingdom! And does God go and get ’em because they go to church and participate in sacraments? Nope; he went and got us because he loves us. Loved us before we made any effort to follow him; loved us before we repented of our awful, sinful behavior; loved us before we even knew we needed grace. Loves us in spite of many of us not entirely understanding what grace is.

Loves us in spite of those mortal sins. Wants to save us anyway. Isn’t giving up on us, but the Holy Spirit continues to prod us in the conscience so we’ll wise up and repent. That’s grace.

Romans 5.20-21 NABRE
20B …but, where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through justification for eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

So does sin, any sin, cut us off from grace and salvation? Only apostasy. Only intentionally quitting Jesus. Properly that’s how blasphemy of the Holy Spirit works—we deliberately cut himself off from him and his guidance, and refuse to follow him further. Rejecting God is the only way we “lose” his salvation. Which means we gotta mean to do it. It’s not accidental! You’re never gonna stumble into losing your salvation; you can only willfully reject it.

(Or, as is the case with pagans who believe they’re Christian, never have it to begin with. They still need to repent, and actually follow Jesus instead of only following the trappings of Christianity which they like best. But they merit their own article.)

So what’s John talking about?

If John didn’t mean to create this whole designation of “mortal sin,” describing sins that’d send us to hell as opposed to venial sins God can easily forgive, what was he really writing about? For that, we gotta look at John’s culture, not ancient Christian culture nor medieval Roman Catholic culture. John grew up Pharisee.

The Pharisees identified two categories of sin in the Law—all of which God forgives, but all of which still had consequences. For most of ’em, like killing a neighbor’s animal, the consequence was restitution for the sin against one’s neighbor, and ritual sacrifice for the sin against God. And for many of ’em, like killing a neighbor, the consequence was death.

Yep. That’s what John meant by “sinning to death”: Violations of the Law which merited the death penalty.

The United States has such laws too. Largely we’ve limited them to murder, terrorism, and treason. The Law in the scriptures executed people for stuff we’d never execute people over, like breaking Sabbath. Its list of mortal sins is a lot larger than the Catholics’ list—and includes much different things. Anger’s not a mortal sin in the Law. But these things are:

  • Not properly penning an ox, so that it broke out and killed someone.
  • Interfering with temple ritual, or the Levites and priests who do it.
  • Priests being drunk on the job.
  • Going to temple while ritually unclean.
  • Kidnapping.
  • Hitting or cursing your parents.
  • Bestiality.
  • False prophecy, promoting other gods, or spiritualism.

Stuff American culture won’t kill you over—but ancient cultures would and did. Whether you repented or not.

Naturally, many ancient Christians didn’t bother to study the Law, had a lot of biases against the things they considered sinful, and decided it wasn’t too huge of a leap between stuff which got you capital punishment, and things which might endanger your eternal life. Plus threatening people with hellfire goes a lot further when you’re trying to get ’em to stop sinning.

But yeah, it’s wrong. John wasn’t writing about stuff that might put you in hell. Just sins people commit which, in context, are serious crimes. Read it again; I translated it with this idea in mind.

1 John 5.15-17 KWL
15 Once we’ve known God hears us about whatever we may ask,
we’ve known we have the requests we ask of him.
16 When anyone sees their fellow Christian sinning a non-felonious sin, they’ll ask,
and God’ll give life to that person—to those who commit non-felonious sin.
There’s felonious sin: I say this so you’d ask, but not about that.
17 Everything immoral is sin—and includes non-felonious sin.

If the sins they commit are things they really oughta go to prison for, like fraud and thievery and molestation, or even treason and murder, we can’t only pray about it, and figure that’s that. We need to get authorities involved. John wasn’t writing about felonious behavior, but sins between us and God, stuff where authorities don’t need to be involved, and hopefully we have the sense to know the difference.

And regardless of the sins, God can and will forgive all. So relax.

Instead of spiritual warfare… a culture war.

by K.W. Leslie, 09 January

Spiritual warfare is about resisting temptation. It’s about fighting our own self-centeredness, our tendency to produce works of the flesh, and anything which tempts us to choose ungodly, evil behavior. Tempters might be evil spirits, but more often it’s just our own corrupt nature. Regardless, we gotta fight it and follow Jesus.

But to many Christians, spiritual warfare doesn’t look like this at all. It’s about being a “prayer warrior” and praying really hard for things. Because our prayers somehow provide energy to the angels fighting the demons in the clouds above. Or so the Frank Peretti novels tell us.

And to Christianists, spiritual warfare has nothing to do with praying away the demons, nor self-control. Spiritual warfare is solely about fighting Satan and its evil plan.

What’s its evil plan? To take over the world. Didn’t Satan tell Jesus it already ruled the world?

Luke 4.5-8 KWL
5 Taking Jesus up, Satan showed him every kingdom in civilization in a moment’s time.
6 The devil told Jesus, “I’ll give you all these powers and their glory: It’s been surrendered to me.
If I want, I can give it to anyone. 7 So once you worship before me, all will be yours.”
8 In reply Jesus told it, “It’s written you’ll worship your Lord God and serve only him.”

Thing is, Satan’s a dirty liar Jn 8.44 and we can’t trust a thing it tells us, so why should we believe it when it claims to rule the world? Especially since Jesus states he conquered the world, Jn 16.33 and he’s eventually coming back to take possession of it. But meanwhile we run things… and we’ve made a mighty mess of things, and since humans don’t care to take responsibility for our mess, we blame Satan. It wrecked the world; not humans who exploit one another and vote for morons.

Anyway, blaming the devil for everything, and presuming spiritual warfare is about fighting the devil, means logically these Christians think they’re at spiritual war with everything. Seriously, everything. They’re fighting the world—however they define “world.”

In practice, this usually means the things they personally don’t like. Like the opposite political party. Like all the forms of entertainment media they don’t like: Television, movies, music, video games, and certain sections of the internet.

And if they’re bigots, it includes all the people they don’t like. Like foreigners. Coloreds. Rednecks and white trash. The poors. The one-percenters. Queers. Incels. Hippies. Millennials (which they still think means “college students,” ’cause they don’t realize millennials are in their thirties now). Non-Christians. People of other churches, whom they’re pretty sure aren’t real Christians. People who live in liberal enclaves on the coasts, or conservative enclaves in the “flyover states.” Anything “other”—meaning other than them.

However tightly they define their circle, their spiritual warfare consists of fighting everyone else, leaving ’em all alone in the world. It’s just them and Jesus.

Well… Jesus left to join all the people they’re persecuting. But they don’t wanna hear it.

Yep, this is some dark Christian stuff. It’s how Christian terrorists get developed: They think they’re right to even descend to violence in the fight against “evil.” So they build bombs, shoot “bad guys,” and imagine themselves righteous. Hey, didn’t people in the bible kill bad guys? Why not them?

And in so doing, they utterly lose the real spiritual battle. And think they’re victorious as they become less and less like Christ Jesus every day.

Your politics don’t matter.

You may presume I’m writing specifically about people on the Christian Right or Christian Left. Certainly you can think of more examples in the opposition party.

I’m not. I know bigots on both sides. I grew up conservative, so I knew plenty of people who think the entire reason we join God’s kingdom is to become his culture-war foot-soldiers. That’s all they focus on. Meanwhile they make excuses or cover up their own temptations and sins, they don’t develop any fruit of the Spirit, and they don’t rid themselves of their old bitterness, hatred, and anger. Why should they?—they can use ’em to fight the devil!

But in the workplace I’m largely surrounded by progressives, and man do they hate conservatives. Mostly because they’ve got conservative relatives who are jerks, and they imagine all conservatives are like that. (To be fair, many are.) But same as conservative Christians, progressive Christians figure the battle’s with the forces of evil without, not within: They don’t concentrate on overcoming their own selfish impulses, but on political victories, large and small.

So this isn’t a political problem. It’s a human problem. Politics are the distraction. They’re the means by which we figure we can conquer the world… forgetting, ignoring, or even dismissing, the fact Jesus already has conquered the world. (To their minds, he’s simply not conquered it enough. Not to their satisfaction!)

I’ve heard a number of Christians claim politics is the way the devil gets us to miss the point. Ugh… again with the devil. Yeah, I’m entire Satan gets a kick out of the way we self-righteously tear at one another, and enjoys tempting people to join in. But the devil doesn’t have the power to fuel all that rage and bile. That’s humanity. That’s all us. We don’t need a lot of provoking to do what comes, thanks to our fallen nature, naturally. We just need to take our eyes off Jesus.

So don’t.

Our duty is to fight our own sins. Quit being distracted by other people’s sins: Look at your own. Stop getting so angry at their misbehavior that you feel the urge to fight them: Fight your own misbehaviors. Stop putting all your energy into changing the world, and put it into changing yourself. Because until we’re able to conquer our own sins, we’re in no position to tackle the sins of the world. We’re just hypocrites.

Yeah, the sins of the world frustrate me. The misbehavior of my elected government officials outrages me. But what should outrage me is my own misbehavior—the stuff I know better than to do, and you’d think I’d’ve stopped doing it by now! Resisting temptation is a constant fight, and one we can’t let up on. But that’s the battle we must win first. Till we do, we simply contribute to the world’s problems.

The seven deadly sins.

by K.W. Leslie, 18 December

The “seven deadly sins” confuse a lot of people.

Back in 2008, a rumor spread that the Vatican declared more deadly sins. It came from an interview with Gianfranco Girotti, the head bishop of the Vatican’s Apostolic Penitentiary. (I know; this sounds like the Vatican prison. It’s actually the theologians who handle questions about sin, repentance, and forgiveness.) Anyway, in Girotti’s interview with L’Osservatore Romano on 7 March 2008, he listed certain present-day practices which he believed have a harmful global impact: Pollution, drug trafficking, embryo-destroying research, other unethical human experiments, abortion, pedophilia, and economic injustice.

Somehow the press converted this into “The Vatican announced there are new sins!” And since your average reporter (lapsed Catholics included) know bupkis about the seven deadly sins, they just assumed there are now 14 deadly sins. Now littering is gonna send you to hell.

Like I said, they confuse people.

Most people figure they’re a Roman Catholic thing. And they largely are. Few Protestants teach on ’em. More of them, particularly the Fundamentalists, consider way more things to be deadly sins than seven. Like voting for the wrong political party.

Loads of people think the seven deadly sins are in the bible. And they actually are. Just not in the form of a list.

I’ve heard Protestants claim the list is found in Catholic bibles. Well, maybe if it’s a Catholic study bible, it’ll be in the notes, but no. You’ll find passages—in all bibles—which rebuke these attitudes and the behaviors they cause. And whether you’re Catholic or not, you might wanna know about them. So here’s the list, in convenient chart form.

DEADLY SINLATINOUT-OF-CONTROL DESIREOPPOSITE VIRTUE
1.LECHERYluxuria/“sexual lust”For sex. Cl 3.5Purity
2.GLUTTONYgulaFor food, drink, intoxicants. Ek 16.49Moderation
3.GREEDavaritia/“avarice”For money, wealth, possessions. Ep 5.3Generosity
4.LAZINESSacedia/“sloth, discouragement”To evade responsibility, avoid work, stay uninvolved. Mt 25.26Integrity
5.WRATHira/“anger”To fight, take revenge, act out of rage or bitterness. Ep 4.32Meekness
6.ENVYinvidia/“begrudge”To covet, be jealous. Mk 7.22Kindness
7.PRIDEsuperbia/“magnificence”To exalt oneself: Self-praise, self-promotion. Mt 7.22Humility

What makes ’em deadly? Well, they’re works of the flesh. And those who choose a lifestyle of works of the flesh don’t inherit God’s kingdom. Ga 5.21 Their lifestyle implies they’re not saved: They don’t have the Holy Spirit indwelling them, making ’em fruity, making ’em not want to sin, getting them to reject the sort of lifestyle which burps up deadly sins.

Start listening to God.

by K.W. Leslie, 27 August

When we pray, we’re not just meant to talk at God. We’re supposed to listen to him as well.

Which some of us are pretty good at. Others, not so much. We’ll do all the talking, then patiently listen for God to say something… and detect nothing. He mighta said something, but we’re not sure. Can’t tell. Why not? Simple: We got used to not listening to him.

Y’see, when we heard him in the past, it was usually because he was poking us in the conscience. We were sinning. Or about to sin. Or otherwise not resisting temptation. We figured sin would be way more fun, more satisfactory, more appropriate—everybody else is doing it—so we stifled our consciences. In so doing, we stifled the Holy Spirit who speaks to us through our consciences, and tells us, “Hey, quit it!” We blocked him out.

We’re so used to blocking him out, it’s hard to go back to not blocking him out. In fact the behavior you’ll see among many a Christian is to try to hear God when it’s convenient, and try to not hear him when it’s not. We wanna sin, so we basically try to gouge out our spiritual ears… and then wonder why they don’t seem to work anymore!

Well God can cure physical ears, so of course he can also cure spiritual ones. We need to relearn how to listen to him. So how do we start doing that? Duh: Quit ignoring your conscience. Stop sinning. Resist temptation.

Spiritual warfare: Resist temptation!

by K.W. Leslie, 01 April
SPIRITUAL WARFARE 'spɪr.ɪtʃ.(əw.)əl 'wɔr.fɛ(.ə)r noun. Actively opposing the activity of evil spirits by resisting temptation, exposing their hidden involvement, and exorcism.
2. Popularly (but inaccurately), vigorous prayer, singing, or other acts of worship.
[Spiritual warrior 'spɪr.ɪtʃ.(əw.)əl 'wɔr(.ri).ər noun.]

Spiritual warfare is fighting evil. Plain and simple.

Every human, Jesus obviously included, gets tempted to do the self-serving, self-satisfying thing, regardless of whether it’s wise or right or good. And usually if someone else is urging us to do it, it’s for their own self-serving, self-satisfying reasons. In the case of evil spirits, it’s so they can spread evil, chaos, and corruption—and of course ruin us. So when we realize there are evil motives mixed up in our decision-making process, we gotta fight those temptations, expose the evil, and maybe even exorcise the evil spirits.

It’s hardly a complicated idea. But you know humans. We complicate everything.

Usually with false definitions. Visit a lot of churches, and yeah, they’ll correctly describe spiritual warfare as opposing and fighting evil. Funny thing is… their way of opposing it isn’t always to resist temptation. Sometimes they never even talk about resisting temptation. That’s not the evil they worry about. What they’re worried about are other people. Namely pagans, their nonchristian lifestyles, and their godless politics. Namely their fears that pagan behavior is corrupting our nation and families, and threatening to start the cycle and trigger God’s wrath upon us. Or at least rob us of God’s blessings.

Eek! How are we to fight this evil? Well you won’t find such Christians talking about integrity, personal accountability, confession, and other activities which help us behave ourselves and develop the fruit of self-control. Instead we’re encouraged instead to pray really hard. Sing harder, and it’ll create a positive atmosphere where somehow evil can’t thrive. Pray harder, and really contort yourself in asking God for stuff. Go through all the motions of Christianity, and supposedly this is “spiritual warfare.”

It’s why people who pray a lot like to call themselves “prayer warriors,” and musicians like to claim, “Worship is warfare.” They’re not necessarily resisting temptation… but they’re certainly agitating themselves against evil.

But you do realize Jesus and his apostles describe neither prayer nor music as warfare. Because they’re not. Resisting temptation is.

The armor of God.

by K.W. Leslie, 01 October

Ephesians 6.10-17.

Christians are fascinated by the armor-of-God metaphor which Paul used in Ephesians 6. Sometimes a little too fascinated.

Jesus teaches us to foster and encourage peace. Mt 5.9 Of course, our sinful human nature would much rather fight, and kick ass for Jesus if we can. So the idea we get to wear armor and play soldier really fires up certain Christians, who’d love to engage in a little testosterone-fueled warfare, and find this passage an excuse to indulge their blood-soaked he-man fantasies a little. If only metaphorically.

For such people, God’s armor is never for defense, Ep 6.11 only offense. Those who fancy themselves prayer warriors love to talk about how to attack with the armor. Christians even make plastic armor for children to play with—including a sword of the Spirit, Ep 6.17 which kids can use to smite one another. In so doing they learn—wrongly—the word of God is about hurting people.

But just because God’s word is sharper than a sword He 4.12 doesn’t mean we’re to wield it in any such way. Using it surgically is the Holy Spirit’s job. When we use it, we’re not so expert; without his guidance it’s a blunt instrument, used to maim our foes, not cure them.

But as part of Paul’s inventory of God’s armor, properly it’s used for defense—to parry our opponents’ swords, just as Jesus did with Satan. Our Lord quoted Deuteronomy in order to defeat the devil’s, not to sin, but to promote himself. And sometimes we gotta do likewise: We know what God’s told us—assuming we do, and aren’t just projecting our own will upon him. So it doesn’t matter what devils and nay-sayers suggest: God’s will and motives win.

Paul actually borrowed the idea of God’s armor from Isaiah 59.17, and expanded it a little:

Ephesians 6.10-17 KWL
10 Lastly: Get powerful in the Master, in the authority his strength gives you.
11 Wear all God’s gear, so you’ll be able to stand fast against the devil’s tactics,
12 because we aren’t in a battle against blood and muscle:
We’re against types of authority, power, things which govern the dark places in this world,
types of supernatural evil in the high heavens.
13 This is why you put on all God’s gear,
so you’ll have a fighting chance on the evil day. You’ll be entirely ready to stand fast.
14 Stand: Belt your waist with truth. Wear a vest of righteousness.
15 Lace your shoes in preparation for the good news of peace.
16 Carry at all times the shield of trust in God,
which you’ll use to put out every flaming arrow of evil.
17 Accept the helmet of your salvation
and the machete of the Spirit—which is God’s spoken word.

And pray at all times in the Spirit Ep 6.18 —but I’ll discuss that another time.