Jesus’s discussion falls apart.

by K.W. Leslie, 21 October

John 8.45-59.

So Jesus was trying to explain how if we stay in his word, we’re truly his students, and this truth’ll set us free. Jn 8.31-32 True to the Socratic-style way Pharisee instruction worked back then, Jesus’s listeners tried to pick apart his statements, and resisted the idea they weren’t free—that they were still slaves to sin. Jesus pointed out this was because they were still following their spiritual father, Satan… and you don’t need to be omniscient to predict they didn’t take this well.

So why’d Jesus say something so provocative? Well I used to think it’s because he was kinda done with them; they weren’t listening to a thing he said anyway. But we have to remember Jesus is patient and kind—’cause God is love, 1Jn 4.8 and those are the ways love acts. 1Co 13.4 So he did mean to provoke, but not to antagonize. Some in his audience heard what he was saying (like John, who recorded it) and repented and followed him. And others decided these were fighting words—and that’s what we read in the rest of this chapter.

Back to Jesus:

John 8.45-57 KWL
45 “You don’t trust me because I say the truth.
46 Who among you can convict me of sin? If I say the truth, why don’t you trust me?
47 One who’s from God, hears God’s words. This is why you don’t hear: You’re not from God.”

Determinists have used this passage to claim we first have to be elect before we can listen to God. If he never intended to save you, you weren’t created with the special innate ability to receive his words, and receive him. You were predestined for hell. Supposedly these Judeans were likewise predestined for hell, so Jesus was just talking to them for show. He knew they were doomed, but he had to at least look like he was engaging them, and pretend he wanted to lead ’em to truth. All to keep up the illusion God is love… ’cause in a deterministic universe, he’s really not.

In reality, Jesus figured telling them the unvarnished truth might shake a few of ’em out of their complacency. In John we only see the responses of those this tactic didn’t work on. Their bad behavior was a calculated risk on Jesus’s part. Well, now he had to deal with them.

John 8.48-49 KWL
48 In reply the Judeans told Jesus, “Don’t we rightly say you’re Samaritan and have a demon?”
49 Jesus replied, “I don’t have a demon, but honor my Father, and you dishonor me.”

Just to remind you: “You have a demon” is a Judean euphemism for “You’re insane.” It didn’t mean they literally thought Jesus was demonized. Demons make people act insane, but not all insanity is demonic.

“You’re Samaritan” was also a euphemism: It was their way of calling Jesus heretic, ’cause Samaritans were heretics. Certain commentators claim “Samaritan” was a slam on Jesus’s parentage, ’cause of the old doubts about who Jesus’s biological father is. (It’s presumed to be the source of the Judeans’ comment, “We weren’t begat by some fornicator,” Jn 8.41 but that ignores how they contrasted this with God being their father.) I seriously doubt the Judeans were trying to goad Jesus about his odd conception; they were just trying to call him a crazy heretic. The easiest way to dismiss someone: Claim his brain’s defective.

The Lord’s Prayer. Make it your prayer.

by K.W. Leslie, 15 October

When it comes to talking with God, Christians get tongue-tied. We don’t know what to say to him! And if we follow the examples of our fellow Christians, we’re gonna get weird about him. We’ll only address him formally, or think we’re only allowed to ask for certain things—or imagine God already predetermined everything, so there’s no point in asking for anything at all.

The people of Jesus’s day had all these same hangups, which is why his students asked him how to pray, Lk 11.1 and he responded with what we Christians call the Paternoster or Our Father (after its first two words—whether Latin or English), or the Lord’s Prayer. The gospels have two versions of it, in Matthew 6.9-13 and Luke 11.2-4. But the version most English-speaking Christians are most familiar with, actually comes from neither gospel. Comes from the Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer, which is based on an ancient new-Christian instruction manual called the Didache. Goes like so.

Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name,
thy kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.

The last two lines don’t come from the gospels, but from an idea in Daniel

Daniel 7.14 KWL
The Ancient gave the Son authority, honor, and the kingdom,
and every people, nation, and language, who’ll bow to his authority.
His authority is permanent: It never passes away.
His kingdom can never be destroyed.

—which was shortened to “yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever,” and tacked to Matthew’s version of the Lord’s Prayer. The editors of the Textus Receptus liked the Didache version so much, they inserted it back into Matthew. And that’s why the King James Version has “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.” Mt 6.13 KJV Nope, it’s not what Matthew originally wrote. But relax; the idea does come from the bible.

What if you were never saved to begin with?

by K.W. Leslie, 11 October

If you believe Christians can never quit Jesus—that it’s impossible to reject God’s salvation, probably ’cause you believe God’s grace is irresistible or something—how do you explain the existence of ex-Christians?

Because plenty of people identify themselves as former Christians. Grew up in church, said the sinner’s prayer, signed off on everything in their church’s faith statement, got baptized, got born again. Believed in Jesus with all their heart, same as you or I or any true Christian does. Even had God-experiences, saw miracles, did miracles. But now they’re no longer Christian. They left.

So how do those who believe once saved always saved, reconcile their belief with people who say they were once saved and now aren’t saved? One of two ways:

  • Those people only think they used to be Christian. But they never truly were.
  • Those people only think they quit Jesus. In reality they’re still his; he’s still gonna save them. They’re just going through a period of rebellion. Give ’em time. They’ll snap out of it eventually. He who began a good work in them will be faithful to complete it. Pp 1.6

So, y’know, denial.

I once attended the funeral of my roommate’s ex-girlfriend. She grew up Christian, but abandoned Jesus in college. I had recently helped lead him back to Jesus, and in his new-believer zeal he naturally wanted to lead her back to Jesus. But she was uninterested and dismissive. A few months later she died. We attended her funeral. It was awful. Friends and family, one after another, got up to eulogize her, to talk about what a good Christian she was, and how she’s certainly with Jesus… yet both her ex and I had personally heard her say she quit Jesus. We hoped to goodness she had a last-second change of heart. (Hey, you never know!) But… well, you can see why Christians far prefer denial. I get it. Believing otherwise sucks.

But when you believe ex-Christians were never truly Christian to begin with, this belief leads us to a really heinous logical conclusion. One which actually plagues many Christians. It’s simply this: How do you know you’re truly Christian?

Once saved, always saved?

by K.W. Leslie, 10 October

Let’s start by getting this first idea straight: God saves us, by his grace. It’s entirely his work, done by his power; we don’t save ourselves; we can’t possibly. No number of good deeds, no amount of good karma, not even memorizing all the right doctrines, is gonna do it. We gotta entirely entrust our salvation to God. Period. Full stop.

Since we can’t and don’t save ourselves, various Christians figure an attached idea—and they insist it’s a necessary attached idea—follows: We can’t and don’t un-save ourselves. If God saves us, the only way we can get unsaved is if God does it—and he’s not gonna. He’s chosen us, he’s elected us, for salvation. And it’s permanent. It’s a done deal. Nothing in our universe can separate ’em from God’s love. Ro 8.39

Not even if they themselves later choose to quit Jesus. (So how do they explain ex-Christians? “Oh, they were never really Christian.” Which opens up a whole different can of worms… which I’ll get to tomorrow.)

Sometimes Christians call this idea perseverance of the saints, or “perseverance” for short. Sometimes eternal security or absolute security. Sometimes assurance, though other Christians (like myself) mean something very different by this term. More recently some Christians have adopted the term free grace. All these terms mean “once saved, always saved”—OSAS for short, but since I really don’t like acronyms I’m going with “always saved.”

And loads of Christians have adopted the “always saved” view. It tends to get associated with Calvinists, but they’re far from the only Christians who believe it. Legalists don’t, ’cause they love being able to threaten people with hell; Pelagians don’t, ’cause they think God saves them based on karma, and bad karma earns you hell. But the rest of Christendom tends to think, “Well yeah, we don’t save ourselves… so it stands to reason we can’t unsave ourselves, so I guess it is a done deal.” The only reason they’d consider an alternative view, is if they know any ex-Christians and can’t rationalize ’em away as “weren’t real Christians before they quit.” Or, of course, if they grew up among legalists and Pelagians.

I grew up among both, but that’s actually not why I reject the always-saved view. Because I used to have the always-saved view. I totally get its appeal: It’s the security. It’s awesome that we can never just lose our salvation—that if we have one bad day, or commit a particularly heinous sin, God’s not gonna say, “That’s it! I’m done with you” and now we’re damned; our sins have driven God away. God loves us far too much to give up on us entirely. It’s a wonderful idea.

But “always saved” takes this idea to an extreme that can’t be supported by the scriptures. Because, as I say in all these articles on apostasy, the bible’s authors warn us to not reject God and his salvation; and it makes no sense that these passages would be in there if it’s impossible to unsave ourselves. Only God can save us, true. But we can still totally reject his salvation.

“They were never saved to begin with.”

by K.W. Leslie, 09 October

Sometimes people who believe they’re Christian aren’t really.

Sometimes people whom we believe are Christian aren’t really: They’re faking it for any number of reasons. Or they’re Christianists; they’re big fans of popular Christian culture, but have no relationship with Christ Jesus himself. Somehow we missed the fact they bore no fruit of the Spirit… or, more likely, we didn’t care they were fruitless. We were much too happy to consider them one of our own; we never bothered to ask real, penetrating questions for fear we wouldn’t like the answers. We get that way about celebrities, wealthy people, politicians, or on-the-fence friends and family members; we’ll take what we can get.

So when these not-actually-Christian folks have a faith crisis, or God otherwise doesn’t come through for them in the way they expect or demand… they leave. Or when the only reason they pretend to be Christian is to make people happy, and they grow tired of making those people happy… they leave. Heck, even actual Christians will quit church and quit Jesus himself under these circumstances; we should hardly be surprised when pseudo-Christians do.

Thing is, when real Christians leave church or Jesus for much the same reasons, many a Christian will figure it’s for the very same reason the not-really-Christians did: They, too, were never really Christian to begin with. They were faking it. Pretending. Going though all the motions but never had the Holy Spirit.

I mean… that has to be the case, right? Because once saved, always saved. Right?

Well I wish that were so, but the scriptures indicate it’s not.

Hebrews 6.4-6 KWL
4 Can’t be done: Those who were once given light,
tasted the heavenly gift, became partners with the Holy Spirit,
5 tasted the goodness of God’s word, and the age to come’s powers 6 —and fall away.
To restore them to repentance again, crucifying and humiliating the Son of God for them:
Can’t be done.

Sometimes people do have living, saving relationships with God. Are born again. Are filled with the Holy Spirit; even experienced his baptism. Do have real live God-experiences same as the prophets and apostles in the bible; even heard God speak to them, and let him perform miracles through them. They were fully authentic Christians.

But they quit Jesus.

Quitting Jesus.

by K.W. Leslie, 08 October
APOSTASY ə'pɑs.tə.si noun. When one leaves a religion.
[Apostate ə'pɑ.steɪt adjective.]

About half the pagans I meet say they used to be Christian. They grew up Christian, or at least grew up in church. Some of ’em even think they’re still Christian—though their nonchristian beliefs indicate they’re obviously pagan. Whatever their churches taught, they no longer follow. They left that behind. They went apostate.

I know; a lot of folks think “apostate” is a bad word. It’s really not. It comes from the Greek ἀφίστημι/afístimi, “step away.” Lots of us step away from things. I used to ride a bicycle everywhere; I’ve since discovered I prefer walking, and gave away my bicycle. So I’m an apostate cyclist. (Nothing against cyclists though. Whatever works for you.)

In the case of apostate Christians, they left Christianity. In my experience most of ’em no longer consider themselves Christian, nor consider Christianity to be valid. A minority quit God and went nontheist. Or joined another religion, like Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, or Wicca. But most are simply pagan: They believe in God, but reject “organized religion,” by which they mean church… and everything the church teaches, like who Jesus is, and who Jesus says God is.

Why’d they leave? The usual reasons.

  • They had the crisis of faith. But nobody guided them through it, or their so-called guidance consisted of “Quit doubting and just believe really hard.” Well, they couldn’t, didn’t, and left.
  • When they had the crisis of faith, Christians didn’t step up… but nontheist friends, or friends of other religions, did. So they believed those guys, and left.
  • They never did believe. They grew up Christian, but went through the motions of Christianity because their parents, leaders, or peers pressured ’em to. Once they got away from those people, they got away from Christianity, and stayed gone.
  • Cheap grace: They believe God’ll let ’em into heaven no matter what they believe. So it doesn’t matter if they believe nothing. Or aren’t religious at all.
  • They expected or demanded God to come through for them in a certain way. He didn’t. So they’re pissed at him, and aren’t coming back to him.
  • They’d like to be Christian. But all the Christians they know are a--holes, and they simply can’t affiliate with such awful, immoral people. Anything’s gotta be better. So they try to follow God in their own way. (Which isn’t easy without a support system.)

And a number of ’em insist they have their own ideas about what should constitute Christianity—which of course don’t mesh with orthodoxy. But technically such people aren’t apostate, ’cause they didn’t leave Christianity; they’re what we call heretic. Whole different category.

Are we free—or the devil’s children?

by K.W. Leslie, 07 October

John 8.30-47.

Those who haven’t read the gospels, but only know of Jesus by reputation, often wonder why on earth anyone’d want to kill him… because Jesus is so nice. He only said nice things. He loved kids. He was so friendly to sinners. Why would anyone wanna kill such a nice guy?

And they’re partly right. Jesus is kind. He has the traits of the Spirit’s fruit, and kindness and niceness overlap greatly: He’s gonna be nice more often than not. But even so, kindness and niceness aren’t the same thing. Sometimes when we tell the truth, we’re gonna say things people can’t handle. As kind as we might be, as tactfully and constructively as we might put things, they’re not gonna see them that way: They’ll read their own bad attitudes into it, and interpret us as cold or cruel.

So in Jesus’s following discourse, that’s how many people have chosen to interpret him. They don’t look at him as accurately diagnosing the real problem with people who won’t listen to him, and warning us of it. They look at him as calling people names. They read their own hostility into Jesus—probably same as Jesus’s audience at the time. They desperately didn’t want him to expose their hypocrisy, and figured he only did it to be cruel. And that’s why they wanted him dead.

And the discussion started so nicely…

John 8.30-32 KWL
30 As Jesus was saying these things, many believed in him,
31 so Jesus told those Judeans who’d believed him,
“When you remain in my word, you’re truly my students.
32 And you’ll know the truth, and the truth will free you.”

We Christians still quote this passage. It’s a reminder that truth’s a good, liberating thing. Truth will set you free. Sometimes we aren’t particular about which truth, and figure any truth will set us free. Well, truth is always better than error and lies. But in context Jesus was talking about τῷ λόγῳ τῷ ἐμῷ/to lógho to emó, “my word,” the stuff he taught us about the Father. That stuff really sets us free. Other truths, less so.

Thing is, the way the ancient Judeans taught was Socratic style, which meant as soon as you made a statement like this, your pupils responded by taking your words apart to see whether your statements could stand up to intense scrutiny. It’s a good method, but in the hands of nitpickers who don’t care to learn and only wanna cut you down, it can quickly disintegrate into harsh words and hurt feelings. John 8 is a really good example of this.

John 8.33-38 KWL
33 The Judeans answered Jesus, “We’re Abraham’s seed. We’ve never been enslaved, ever.
How can you say ‘You’ll become freemen’?”
34 Jesus answered them, “Amen amen! I promise you everyone who commits sin is sin’s slave,
35 and a slave doesn’t remain in the house in this age.
In this age, the son remains, 36 so when the son frees you, you will truly be free.
37 I know you’re ‘Abraham’s seed’—but you seek to kill me, because my word doesn’t take hold of you.
38 What I see with my Father, I speak, so you’ll hear what’s from the Father and do it.”

The discussion goes downhill from there, but I’ll get to that.

Worship.

by K.W. Leslie, 03 October
WORSHIP 'wər.ʃəp noun. Expression of love, respect, and honor, particularly in formal acts or rituals. (Usually expressed to a deity, but frequently to people or principles at a level comparable to religious homage.)
2. Feelings of love, respect, and honor for a deity.
3. [verb] Showing love, respect, or honor.

Properly, worship is anything and everything we do as part of our religious devotion to God. Whether we do it out of active love or passive custom, it’s all still worship.

There’s a tendency in charismatic churches to equate worship with worship music. Prayer too, but mostly music. And no, I’m not saying music isn’t a valid form of worship, or a really good form of worship; it totally is. But you know the reason Christians sing a song’s chorus over and over and over again… has nothing to do with whether God loves the song. It’s entirely about how much the music pastor loves it. Or the people of the church.

And when it becomes much more about our preferences than God… well, then it’s not so good a form of worship anymore. This is not to say God wants us to sing songs we don’t like; he’s not a sadist! He wants us to enjoy worship. We should sing songs we enjoy. But maybe just remember who it’s all supposed to be about, okay?

But worship’s anything we do for God. Could be something which doesn’t look overtly religious or obviously holy. But the way we’re doing it, we’ve made it something we’re doing for him, and turned it into worship. And therefore it can be literally anything. Could be singing in church… and could also be raking the lawn, correcting the kids, cleaning the tub, eating your vegetables, doing your taxes. Anything.

Provided of course we’re actually doing it for God. Sinning isn’t for God; don’t do that and call it worship. If God forbade it, whether to everybody or just you personally, don’t just declare, “This is for Jesus” and figure it whitewashes the sin into worship. Don’t do Christian rituals and figure that makes up for sinning yourself sticky; God hates that. Is 1 Don’t do stuff with the attitudes of bad fruit, and figure if you’re doing it for Jesus it doesn’t matter what bad fruit it generates: Being angry “for Jesus,” or partisan “for Jesus,” or treating any human being as less than God’s image “for Jesus,” is never something God approves of, so don’t try. You’re not fooling anyone, least of all him.

Money the root of all evil?

by K.W. Leslie, 02 October

1 Timothy 6.10.

Most Christians, and a fair number of pagans, already know “Money is the root of all evil” is a misquote. Properly the verse goes,

1 Timothy 6.9-10 KWL
9 Those who want to be wealthy fall into temptations, traps, many stupid desires, and injuries—
whatever sinks people into destruction and ruin:
10 The root of all this evil is money-love, which leads those who desire it away from faith.
They poked themselves with many sorrows.

It’s the love of money, not money in and of itself. Money’s a tool, useful for getting and supporting things. The problem becomes when people pursue that tool instead of God, who can get and support things even better than money can—and who isn’t morally neutral like money, which can get and support evil just as well as good. The problem is when people’s allegiance shifts from God to money and Mammon, and it has their worship instead of him. Or, just as bad, they only worship God because they think he’ll give ’em money.

Here’s the ironic bit. A lot of the people who are quick to correct others—“It’s the love of money; money itself isn’t evil”—are often saying this because they wanna justify their money. And their use of money. And their pile of money. And their love of money.

Exactly like guns, money’s not the problem: Money nuts are. People who can’t prioritize Jesus over their money. People who wanna harmonize the two, so they can worship both Jesus and money, on the grounds he gave them the money, or they’re being “good stewards” of “his” money. People who, as a result, can’t be charitable, and have a big problem with anyone else being charitable—especially their churches, or their governments. That’s the sort of “stewardship” they practice… but I already dealt with them in my Mammonism article.

The Law is part of the gospel.

by K.W. Leslie, 01 October

Galatians 3.21-29.

Legalists and libertines alike miss the point of the Law. For legalists, it’s rules we have to follow lest we compromise our salvation. For libertines, it’s rules we no longer follow because grace nullifies them—and in fact following them compromises our salvation. Follow them, don’t follow them; either way we get accused of heresy.

Both groups have a bad habit of misquoting Paul, James, Hebrews, and Jesus himself to support their positions and justify their behaviors. It might help if we actually read the bible, right? So let’s.

Galatians 3.21-29 KWL
21 So “the Law versus God’s promises”—never say that!
If the Law gave living power, righteousness might come from the Law.
22 Instead the scripture locks everyone up under sin—
so the promise of faith in Christ Jesus can be given to believers.
23 Before faith came, we were guarded by the Law,
locked up till the revelation of this faith.
24 Thus the Law became our introduction to Christ, so we could be justified by this faith.
25 After faith came, we’re no longer in need of an introduction.
26 By this faith in Christ Jesus, you’re all God’s children;
27 whoever among you was baptized in Christ, now wear Christ.
28 There’s no such thing as Judean nor Grecian, no such thing as slave nor free,
no such thing as masculine nor feminine: All of you are one in Christ Jesus.
29 If you’re of Christ, you’re Abraham’s seed, heirs according to the promise.

Whenever Paul used the term μὴ γένοιτο/mi ghéneto, “it ought never be” (KJV “God forbid”), he was usually quoting something false he’d heard Christians say, and saying Christians ought never say such things. Get this idea out of your heads! But since translators usually don’t know how Roman-style rhetoric was practiced, they don’t realize Paul was quoting bad theology, and phrase it as if Paul was posing rhetorical questions, then rejecting them:

Galatians 3.21 NIV
Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law.

It also informs us this is a bad idea, but not quite in the way Paul did it. Close enough though.

So we’re meant to reject this idea the Law isn’t part of God’s plan. Or is, as dispensationalists describe it, the old plan—which God ditched and replaced with a new plan, namely salvation by grace instead of works. Salvation has always been by grace, as Paul taught earlier in this chapter. We trust him; he saves us. It’s how things have always been. It’s why Paul kept using the Old Testament for his proof texts.

But the Law was never the basis for salvation. It’s how a saved people are meant to live after they’ve been saved. It’s how the Hebrews were to live once they were no longer Egyptian slaves; it’s how Christians oughta live now that we’re no longer sin’s slaves. And what it also did, as Paul explained here, was prepare us for Christ Jesus’s first coming. Because it teaches us what God expects of his people, it exposes us as sinners—and shows us why we need salvation. Why we need to trust God to save us—because we can’t possibly save ourselves!