Being a jerk: “It’s just who I am.”

by K.W. Leslie, 16 July

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God’s not gonna accept it though.

I didn’t put it in you.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zeal’s a work of the flesh.

by K.W. Leslie, 15 July

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sometimes fleshly… and sometimes not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Improper zeal.

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

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

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

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

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

“But Jesus was a jerk sometimes.”

by K.W. Leslie, 14 July

Probably the Christian jerk’s favorite excuse for their awful behavior is Jesus himself: He’s a bit of a jerk sometimes, they’ll argue. Therefore sometimes (although it’s way more often than sometimes) it’s all right if they get a little bit jerkish.

Since when is Jesus ever a jerk? Well, they got proof texts.

Let me preemptively say they really don’t. They’ve got Jesus stories where yes, he can be accused of rude, harsh, thoughtless, dickish behavior. But this interpretation is entirely based on the presumption Jesus had a bad attitude: People pissed him off, so he was clapping back at them. Despite having God’s very nature, he decided to act entirely unlike himself, and be fruitless instead of fruity.

Why do they presume Jesus had a bad attitude? ’Cause they have a bad attitude. ’Cause they’re projecting their own bad attitudes upon Jesus. The gospels don’t remind us of his motives and character in every single story; the authors figured we oughta know Jesus already, or at least we oughta hear the stories from someone who does. They didn’t take into account all the selfish people who spin Jesus wrong in order to justify their own fruitless behavior.

And that’s what we have in all the Jesus stories they use to defend themselves: Misinterpretations. Every last one of ’em.

If you truly follow Jesus, you know what he’s like. He’s loving, patient, kind, generous. He’s thoughtful, not reckless. He’s self-controlled, not impulsive; especially not angrily impulsive; he gets ahold of himself so that love, not anger, is his driving force. Really love’s his only driving force.

If your interpretation of Jesus has him acting with any other motives, you don’t know him. Get to know him.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!”

Every Christian jerk’s favorite proof text is Matthew 23, where according to popular interpretation, Jesus has absolutely had it with the Pharisee and their scribes, and tears ’em a new one. This is the “woe to you” chapter, and the way people like to imagine Jesus, he’s just livid with rage and bile. Here’s a few pull quotes.

Matthew 23.13 NIV
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.”
 
Matthew 23.27-28 NIV
27 ““Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”
 
Matthew 23.33 NIV
“You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?”

Pretty much every translation from the King James onward has thrown in a number of exclamation points, ’cause they wanna give you the idea Jesus was yelling his head off at them. That’s how popular Christian culture has chosen to interpret Matthew 23, and far be it from them to disagree. To most, Jesus is cursing the Pharisees, calling down woes upon them in condemnation of their hypocritical behavior.

That’s not accurate. The bit the NIV renders “Woe to you” is οὐαὶ ὑμῖν/ue ymín. The ue is actually a Greek transliteration of the Hebrew word אוֹי/oy. We have that word in English, ’cause Yiddish-speakers used it so often: “Oy vey,” meaning “woe to me.” No, those who say “oy vey” aren’t cursing themselves; they’re expressing their own misery. Life is rough, and they’re lamenting this.

The Good News Translation puts it a little better:

Matthew 23.33 GNT
25 “How terrible for you, teachers of the Law and Pharisees! You hypocrites! You clean the outside of your cup and plate, while the inside is full of what you have gotten by violence and selfishness. 26 Blind Pharisee! Clean what is inside the cup first, and then the outside will be clean too!”

I mean it is terrible for them that their hypocrisy blinds ’em to the fact they’re not as good as they imagine. But again, Christians have traditionally read our own bad attitudes into Jesus’s statements, and assume he’s lecturing them. In reality he’s diagnosing them. This is what’s wrong with too many Pharisees: They focus on looking outwardly devout, but they’re not any more fruitful than before. Christian jerks are exactly the same.

Those who claim Jesus is raging at Pharisees, really don’t understand what he’s doing. He’s lamenting too. He’s weeping in dismay and frustration. As is obvious from how he ends his rant:

Matthew 23.37 GNT
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem! You kill the prophets and stone the messengers God has sent you! How many times I wanted to put my arms around all your people, just as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would not let me!”

He’s a spurned father, not an angry crank. Anybody who thinks otherwise is projecting.

And anyone who knows what Jesus is actually doing, but doesn’t care because it doesn’t let ’em get away with being a Christian jerk, is just as much a hypocrite.

Flipping tables, cursing trees, rude names, dead pigs, and the poor.

Moving along, we got Jesus flipping tables in temple. This one’s real popular with jerks who like to pick fights: Jesus got to whip people, so why not they? But double-check that story: Jesus doesn’t appear to whip anyone. Nor does anyone arrest him, or object that he shouldn’t do as he just did. They wanna know who gave him authority to act, Jn 2.18 but they never object and say he did wrong. Because those who ran the concessions legitimately weren’t supposed to be where Jesus found ’em. Jesus simply did the temple cops’ job for them.

There’s where Jesus was annoyed, so he killed a fig tree. Mk 11.12-14 Which strikes me as a little strange when people comment, “Aww, the poor tree.” Jesus used to be a carpenter; he had to get wood from somewhere, so this can’t possibly be the only tree he ever killed! But I think it’s the fact Jesus killed it with words alone which make people pay attention. Words can hurt as well as heal, and in this story Jesus demonstrates this profoundly—and that’s the point. Mk 11.20-24 People miss this point, assume Jesus killed the tree for petty reasons, figure that permits them to be petty… and no, that’s not the point either.

There’s the story of Jesus and the Syrian Greek woman who wanted Jesus to cure her daughter, and Jesus called her a dog. Mt 15.22-28 Most Christians realize Jesus wasn’t really being racist; he was testing whether her pride would get in her own way. It didn’t.

There’s Jesus calling Antipas Herod a fox, Lk 13.32 which is kinda like how we nowadays call somebody a weasel: It’s a sneaky, thieving, ignoble animal. Doesn’t show a lot of respect for his king. (To be fair, Jesus is the proper king, and Herod was a weasely, murderous politician.) I should point out “fox” is as bad as Jesus gets in his descriptions of others, whereas Christian jerks say far, far worse. And we often slander our political opponents, just ’cause they’re on the wrong team. Calling a weasel a weasel was at least honest of Jesus; jerks can’t even do that.

Lastly I’ll point out Jesus letting demons kill a few thousand pigs. This one, jerks tend to skip ’cause they never realize how useful it can be to justify serious property damage. It can’t have gone over well with the Syrian Greeks who owned those pigs; it implies some thoughtlessness on Jesus’s part, ’cause he should’ve known the evil spirits would’ve slaughtered them. But we actually don’t know whether the evil spirits killed themselves… or whether the pigs chose to kill themselves rather than be possessed. Bible doesn’t say. And Jesus might not have known what the consequence would be; all he cared about at the time was the poor demoniac in front of him, and people take priority. Putting people first, and wealth second, is the correct move y’know.

Lastly Jesus’s comment about “the poor you will always have with you,” which materialists like to use to justify doing nothing for the needy. That one’s clearly not Jesus being a jerk; it’s purely taken out of context. There are many verses where Jesus obviously isn’t being selfish or jerklike at all, but Christian jerks misuse ’em to defend their behavior, ’cause any excuse will do.

Jesus is nobody’s excuse.

But I hope I’ve made it clear Jesus is not at all a valid excuse for Christians to behave badly.

Oh, they’re still gonna use him. And think they’re entirely right to. The human mind is wonderfully creative, and can psyche itself into believing anything that’ll let it get away with anything. Nobody likes to think of themselves as evil (well, unless they wanna terrify others, or have totally sold themselves out to evil), so they’ll bend, fold, spindle, mutilate, and outright deny any facts which say otherwise. They wanna claim Jesus, so they’ll go out of their way to distort him first.

And in so doing, convince pagans maybe Jesus is a jerk too. That, in many ways, is a far greater problem than the predominance of Christian jerks.

Christian jerks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I used to be one of ’em.

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

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

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

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

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

Kinda.

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

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

Taking pride in one’s jerkishness.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Call them on it!

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

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

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

But I find it works. And works really well.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you think it’s okay to dismiss the Law, you clearly don’t know Jesus.

by K.W. Leslie, 30 June

1 John 3.4-6.

Here we get to the parts of 1 John which bug Christians.

1 John 3.4-6 KWL
4 Everyone who commits sin also violates the Law. Sin’s against the Law.
5 You knew Jesus was revealed so he could take away our sins, and there’s no sin in him.
6 Everyone who remains in Jesus doesn’t sin:
Everyone who sins has neither seen him, nor knows him.

“Violates the Law” is my translation of τὴν ἀνομίαν ποιεῖ/tin anomían piheí, literally “does the anti-Law.” (KJV has “transgresseth… the law”; NIV “breaks the law.”) I capitalize Law because John wasn’t writing about Roman law; plenty of Roman laws encouraged if not committed sin. John meant the Law of Moses, the Hebrew Law, the תּוֹרָה/Toráh. The stuff God commanded the Hebrews at Sinai and thereafter. It’s the formal part of the relationship between the LORD and Israel, the backbone of Hebrew culture, the foundation of the Old Testament, the basis of the commands and interpretations Jesus himself presented to his students, and the backdrop of the Christian religion we practice to facilitate our own relationship with the LORD through Jesus.

The Law warned the Hebrews if they didn’t stick to it, the LORD would remove his hand and their enemies would have at ’em. And history has recorded they really didn’t stick to it. Time and again the LORD had to let Israel’s enemies crap all over them; then when they finally returned to him, he rescued them. The whole point of the Pharisee denomination was to break this cycle once and for all: Create schools which taught the Law to every Hebrew in every generation, make ’em experts in it, and they’d never break it again.

Problem is, some Pharisees missed the point, and thought following the Law saved them. After all, it broke the cycle and kept their enemies back! But that’s not how salvation works. The LORD already saved his people; that’s what the Exodus is about. And now that you’re a saved people, how ought you live? Good question; the Law is the LORD’s answer. Live like this.

But I should point out, same as other comparative religion scholars have pointed out, most Pharisees knew better. Paul was a Pharisee, Pp 3.5, Ac 23.6 and properly articulated the Pharisee view: Nobody’s saved by the Law. That’s not its purpose. That makes people think we’re saved by good deeds and good karma—and unsaved by bad deeds and bad karma. The Law doesn’t save; God does. His grace does. And grace forgives when we slip up and break the Law from time to time. Don’t break the Law; but when we do, we have Jesus. 1Jn 2.1 Our relationship with the LORD is more than merely the Law. It’s not contractual obligations: “I did such-and-so, and now you owe me salvation.” No he doesn’t. But he wants to save us.

So what was Jesus’s beef with Pharisees? Cherry-picking which commands they wanted to enforce, and which ones they’d create loopholes to slip through. Inconsistency. Hypocrisy. You know, all the stuff we Christians commit too.

And contrary to what the scriptures teach, many a Christian claims a giant loophole in the Law: They claim Jesus did away with it. The New Covenant wholly cancels out the old one. Because we’re saved by grace not Law, it’s okay to ignore the Law; even willfully break it.

So when John writes stuff like “Sin’s against the Law,” such Christians’ visceral reaction is to ignore John. Or explain him away, till he means nothing—same as they figure the Law means. They don’t wanna follow the Law. They don’t wanna quit sinning. Much easier to claim nothing’s a sin, or claim God’s reduced all the commands to the ten… plus abortion, homosexuality, and anything else which bugs them personally. Funny how their idea of God only hates the things they do.

Christians against the Law.

It’s not accurate to say Christians reject the Law because it doesn’t save. Christians reject the Law because we’re sinners. We don’t wanna follow the Law. We wanna sin. We want to take advantage of God’s grace regardless of our laziness and selfishness.

Well, one of the Law’s purposes is to make our laziness and hedonism super obvious—so we’d realize we massively need God, and turn to him for salvation. But one of its other purposes is this is how we oughta live. It still needs to be followed. We may not do it perfectly or well. But we’re expected to at least make the effort. It’s God’s minimum expectations for humanity.

And despite what people claim about the Law being impossible to follow: Once you subtract the commands which don’t (and can’t really) apply to Christians—

  • Ritual sacrifice, wholly superseded by Jesus’s self-sacrifice.
  • Temple practices, wholly superseded by Christians becoming the Holy Spirit’s temple.
  • Ritual cleanliness, likewise wholly superseded by Christians becoming the Holy Spirit’s temple.
  • Laws specific to the descendants of Israel (which Jewish Christians should probably still follow).
  • Laws specific to the land of Israel (which residents should still follow).

—the Law’s not as hard as most people make it out to be. Read it sometime. Its difficulty has been exaggerated so people could point at that, and claim it’s impossible. Christians keep quoting Simon Peter,

Acts 15.10 KJV
Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?

and claim he rejected the Law. No; he rejected legalism. He rejected the idea certain Pharisees put to the Jerusalem Council—that gentiles gotta follow the Law before they could be saved. Nope; wrong; we’re not saved by Law. But now that we are saved, what’re we gonna do? Good works. Ep 2.10 Which good works? Well, there’s the Law.

John was at that council. He knows what James ruled; Ac 15.19-21 he agreed with it. He still wrote this letter years after that council. It’s not inconsistent with James’s ruling: You don’t have to be sinless to have a relationship with God, but you should strive to stop sinning. You shouldn’t be lawless!

And yet lawless Christians have accused 1 John and its author of gnosticism, or ignored this passage altogether. Others, who recognize they can’t ignore bible, try to twist its meaning away: “It’s about how impossibly high God’s standards are. If we don’t have grace, we’d have to follow the Law, perfectly. And we can’t. Therefore grace.” No; John already said there’s grace. But at the same time, in the same verse, 1Jn 2.1 he told his readers to stop sinning. And here he defines sin: “Sin’s against the Law.”

This is why I’ve known Christians to be simply horrified when I read 1 John 3 to them. They wait for me to offer an explanation which means 1 John 3 doesn’t count. They wanna hear we don’t really have to strive for sinlessness; that “Christians aren’t perfect just forgiven.” That we don’t really need to obey the Law. But God’s grace isn’t a loophole: He honestly does want us to obey him. Those who don’t, may make it into his kingdom anyway… but they’ll be the very lowest of the people in it. Mt 5.19

One common excuse of lawless Christians is this one: “All have sinned. Ro 3.23 So there’s no point in trying to not sin; we’ve already sinned. It’s too late. Our sins have condemned us.” True, if you were hoping to achieve salvation through sinlessness, it’s much too late. But John’s not writing about that. This is about those who abide in Jesus. If we’re actively following Jesus, truly following Jesus, we’re not gonna sin. Right now we’re not gonna sin. Like I tell my students all the time, “Are you sinning right this minute?… No? Good. Keep it up.”

So if we’re in Christ, continually in Christ, we’re gonna fight our tendency to sin, and not sin. No it’s not easy. That’s why we gotta remain in Christ: When we stay in the light it’s easier to stay away from sin.

So this becomes our litmus test. When we sin, clearly we’re not living in the light right now. And when we claim to have a relationship with God, but break the Law—no matter what excuses we use for doing so—it makes no bloody difference. We’re lying to ourselves and others. We’re not following God. And Christians who have an entire lifestyle of Law-breaking and loopholes and excuses, arguably aren’t even Christian.

So let’s cut the crap and follow Jesus. Repent! Repent daily, or hourly, or a minute at a time; but repent, stay in the light, and resist temptation instead of embracing it with lazy excuses.

Making us Christians like God.

by K.W. Leslie, 29 June

1 John 3.2-3.

Elsewhere in the New Testament, Paul, Silas, and Timothy wrote that we’re gonna get raptured at Jesus’s second coming: Dead Christians will be resurrected, living Christians will be transformed into our resurrected selves, and all of us will meet Jesus in the air. 1Th 4.15-18

These sinful sacks of meat we currently carry around: They get swapped for something eternal, to match the eternal life God always meant for us to have. They no longer have the same self-preservation instincts we currently do, ’cause they last forever… and therefore these instincts won’t go overboard and become self-centered and depraved. Our first impulse won’t be to do the selfish, sinful thing; it’ll be to do as Jesus does. Christians call this “the new nature.” Human nature is considered selfish and fallible, but this’ll become the new human nature: Selfless and Spirit-led.

Plus we can finally see Jesus as he really is. Without freaking out, Mk 9.2-8 passing out, Rv 1.17 or going blind. Ac 9.4-9

This is what John refers to in today’s 1 John snippet:

1 John 3.2-3 KWL
2 Beloved, we’re now God’s children—and God’s not yet revealed what we will be.
We’ve known once he reveals it, we will be like God: We will see him as he is.
3 Everyone who has this hope in God, he cleans them like he is clean.

Now the bit about becoming like God: This tends to weird out certain Christians. Partly ’cause a number of us misinterpret it and think we’re gonna become gods. Lowercase-G gods; we certainly won’t be the God, like Jesus is. But uppercase or lowercase, the idea of us having any form of divinity strikes em as disturbing.

Lesser gods.

Humans define God in two ways:

  1. As the Almighty, the mightiest being in the cosmos.
  2. As the Creator, the first cause, the origin of the cosmos.

If you’re those two things, you’re God. If you’re not, you’re not. The pagan gods, which claimed to rule the universe but never created it, aren’t really gods; either they’re mythical people which never really existed, or powerful spirits which appropriated the titles (and myths), and got worshiped as gods, but were frauds.

But that’s actually a western idea of God, developed under centuries of Christian philosophy. Other cultures define a god as a mighty and long-lived spirit, with a certain amount of power over nature. All the pagan cultures surrounding the ancient Hebrews defined gods that way. And arguably the bible describes lowercase-G gods that way; that the One God, YHWH, the LORD, created lesser gods subordinate to him, and put ’em in charge of certain things—in precisely the same way he put us humans in charge of the earth. Ge 1.28

And if we’re in charge of the earth, doesn’t that kinda make us humans lowercase-G gods? I would argue that’s exactly what Jesus meant when he said so.

John 10.34-36 KWL
34 Jesus answered them, “Isn’t this written in your Law, ‘I say you’re gods’?
35 If God’s word came to the one who said those people are gods
(and the scripture can’t be dismissed),
36 now for the one the Father sanctified and sent to the world:
Do you say, ‘You slander God!’ because I say I’m God’s son?”

Then again, the psalmist says God made us humans lower than the אֱלֹהִ֑ים/elohím, “gods” Ps 8.5 (KJV “angels,” ESV “heavenly beings”); we’re not at the level of gods yet. We might have glory and honor, Ps 8.5 but we’re not quite that mighty.

But yep, there are such beings as lowercase-G lesser gods. These’d be the “sons of God” Ge 6.2, Jb 1.6 which are mighty beings which work for God… or not, in which case he has to judge them. Ps 82 In the Lucifer myth, Satan is one of those beings, gone horribly wrong; since Satan’s a dirty liar, I suspect it’s padding its résumé a lot. Regardless, God has plenty of mighty spirits working for him, and whether we call ’em gods or not, we don’t prioritize ’em over the LORD. Ex 20.3 We only worship the One God. He was really explicit about that.

The idea of other gods or multiple gods, tends to weird out western Christians: If there are multiple gods, doesn’t this diminish the One God? Absolutely not. There might be other mighty beings, but none of ’em are all-mighty. It’s the difference between a Matchbox car and a monster truck: Yeah, we call ’em both cars, but they’re way different from one another. The LORD isn’t really the same species.

So if God’s goal is to make us Christians into lowercase-G gods, no it doesn’t make us equal to him. Not in power, not in rank. Jesus is still the uppercase-G God; he’s still king.

Ancient Christians recognized this. They were familiar with pagan ideas about the gods, and whenever they talked about “how God became human so that humans could become gods,” that’s the idea they had in mind. Not that we were evolving into cosmic beings, not that we were gonna eventually become the divinity over a new planet, like Mormons believe. We were gonna become mighty, like Apollo or Athena; not almighty.

And, unlike Apollo or Athena, good. ’Cause pagan gods were awful. They sinned as much as humans!—and got away with it most of the time. Whereas we Christians are gonna be like Jesus: We’re not gonna sin any longer. We’ll have a good nature, a godly nature, instead of a corrupt one. We’ll be led by the Spirit, ruled by Jesus. We’ll continue to rule the world—but Jesus will rule us, and that’s as it should be.

Western culture has conditioned a lot of us Christians to be extremely uncomfortable with this talk about becoming lowercase-G gods. Feels like blasphemy, doesn’t it? Relax; it’s not. God’ll make us ready for it. We’re so not ready yet. But he’ll get us there.

God’s goal is to make us like Jesus. Not in rank, ’cause he’ll still be our king, but in species. We’ll have a perfect human body like his. As to what “perfect human body” means, we first need to get out of our heads this idea of bodybuilders or fitness instructors; or even perfect skin, ’cause Jesus has scars. Jn 20.27 Perfection comes from having a body that’s not instinctively sinful. Corruption won’t be built-in. There might still be a bit of corruption in our minds, and this may need to be purged from us a bit more; I won’t get into that right now. I’ll just say there will no longer be any physical limitations keeping us from doing God’s will. We’ll physically be like Jesus.

We’ll be clean, as John said. God’ll cleanse us. Cleaner than ritual cleansing does. God’s children will no longer sin, and we’ll be perfect like he is. Able to see him, and be with him face-to-face, just as he’s always dreamed of.

Society doesn’t know what to make of Christ-followers.

by K.W. Leslie, 28 June

1 John 3.1.

John didn’t write any of his books and letters with chapters and verses. Medieval Christians did it: They gave every line in the bible an address, so we could more easily find it. It’s great for that. But every so often, it splits a sentence, paragraph, or train of thought, right where it ought not. As a result Christians tend to lose the train of thought, if not miss it altogether.

  • Don’t love society, which is passing away. 1Jn 2.15-17
  • Don’t be misled by antichrists; you know better. 1Jn 2.18-23
  • Hold on to what you learned in the beginning. 1Jn 2.24-29
  • After all, society doesn’t understand us, or God, anyway. 1Jn 3.1
  • Meanwhile clean yourselves up. Jesus is coming! 1Jn 3.2-3
  • And stop sinning, wouldya? 1Jn 3.4-6

And so on. But today’s bit is gonna zero in on that bit about society not understanding us Christians.

The word I translate “society” is κόσμος/kósmos, and I already explained why I’m interpreting it that way: The KJV renders it “world,” but that’s imprecise. It means the social order—which ideally would be harmonious, but you know how society gets.

1 John 3.1 KWL
Look at the kind of love the Father gives us: We can be called God’s children! And we are!
This is why society doesn’t understand us: It doesn’t understand God.

The Textus Receptus left out καί ἐσμεν/ké ésmen, “and we are.” (Somehow John Wycliffe, who translated the Textus, learned these words oughta be included, and rendered them, “and be [his] sons.” 1Jn 3.1 WYC But the Geneva Bible dropped ’em, as did the King James.) John included it ’cause it makes clear we’re not merely called God’s kids, as if it’s an honorary title: He adopted us. We’re legitimately his kids, and he’s legitimately our Father.

Yeah. We are. Us scumbags. Well, many Christians are in utter denial about being scumbags, but the cold hard truth is we totally don’t merit adoption by God; we merit hell. But God loves us so much, he graciously offers us a route out of hell, a place in his family, a room in his kingdom, his presence (he himself!) to live within us and empower us to do mighty things in his name. It’s a hugely disproportionate response to humanity. It’s a massive act of love.

And society doesn’t get it at all. Because society doesn’t do grace. It does karma. If we get anything approaching this level of grace from our fellow human beings and our governments, society insists there be some level of merit and reciprocity as part of the package. We should only give vast fortunes to deserving people. And if they don’t deserve it right this moment, they’d better bloody well earn it, by spending the rest of their lives making themselves worthy.

The only exception society recognizes, is inheritance: If a billionaire begets a kid, the kid inherits the billions. Doesn’t matter how utterly useless and stupid this kid might grow up to be, or how dangerous it might be to put such a mighty estate into the hands of an imbecile. He might hire immoral managers for his companies, and create poisonous products instead of healthy ones. Or he might implode the companies, destroy jobs, and ruin lives. Even so, inheritance is largely accepted by society; if a rich mother wishes to indulge her prodigal daughter, people shrug and say, “Well it’s her money.” But if that same woman wishes to adopt some ill-behaved stranger, make her a daughter, and enrich her? Society will figure she’s lost her mind.

Well, our heavenly Father is lost-his-mind gracious to us. And likewise, society doesn’t get it. They think any religion with sense should make us earn our spots in the kingdom, not just get ’em free. (And the gnostic groups of John’s day didn’t just make their followers earn heaven: They had to pay out the yin-yang for it too.) Free, unlimited grace?—you gotta be nuts. Buncha liberals.

Having God in the family.

Y’may not be aware of this: In the first century, when John wrote his letter, Greco-Roman pagans believed certain individuals were literally the children or grandchildren of the gods. ’Cause you remember their myths: Zeus was super horny and didn’t care that humans were a whole different species. Heck, he’d disguise himself as bulls or geese, and get freaky with humans that way.

Zeus wasn’t the only randy god. His daughter Aphrodite had sex with a Trojan prince named Ankhísis, and five years later brought him their son Aeneas. Julius Caesar claimed his family was descended from Aeneas, so this made him part god—and after he died, Julius’s adoptive son Augustus additionally had the Roman senate officially declare Julius a god himself. Which meant Augustus could include Divi filius/“son of god” in his official name. Many in the Roman Empire could claim to be related to gods… and be believed, by most people.

Today we’d consider such claims to be ridiculous. But not all of us. Some Hindu sects believe people can achieve godhood; you can have gods in the family. And of course pantheists believe everything in the universe is collectively God, so they’d say everyone has gods in the family.

Thing is, if ancient Greco-Roman pagans wanted people to believe they had gods in the family, they needed proof. So what they pointed to was their achievements. The Caesars were rich and powerful; isn’t that a sign of divine favor from their great-great-granddaddy Zeus? Isn’t it a sign the goddess Fortuna is smiling on them? And yeah, people assume Fortuna is the god of luck—namely dumb luck—but that’s not what the Romans believed. Fortuna only blessed people of good and noble character. If you had good luck, it was only because you merited it.

Yep, it all comes down to good karma. You were prosperous because you were worthy. Social Darwinism teaches much the same thing: Work smarter and harder, and the universe will reward you with wealth.

It’s not how the LORD works at all.

Christians aren’t identified as God’s kids because of our personal success. In fact ancient Christians had the worst of circumstances: Persecution, poverty, misery, disaster, death. Our Lord Jesus got crucified, remember? To pagans, this stuff didn’t identify God’s children at all. It identified someone who must’ve royally pissed off the gods. Someone worthy of being an outcast, not inheriting a kingdom.

God identifies his kids through our faith. If we trust him to save us, God considers us in right standing with him, and graciously does save us. It’s not by…

  • Our noble character: Our character might suck at the time we first turn to God. Stands to reason; we haven’t grown the Spirit’s fruit yet. But he’ll fix that.
  • Our wealth and success: The good news is primarily for the needy and poor, ’cause the wealthy and comfortable really don’t consider it any better than where they are.
  • Dumb luck, chance, or God’s mysterious whims. Determinists believe we’re not saved by grace; we’re saved by decree. God made some of us for saving, and the rest of us for destroying. We don’t deserve saving, which is why determinists claim it is so salvation by grace. But they themselves insist God’s sovereign determination comes before everything else. That’d include grace, right? His will alone would be his motive for saving us. Not his grace.
  • Our potential: God doesn’t save people because he foresees all the great stuff he can do through us. Some of us won’t achieve anything, ’cause we get saved on our deathbed. (Or our cross.) God isn’t a capitalist, who sees us as potential investments; he already owns everything, needs nothing, and saves us solely out of love.

All the things which’d make us merit salvation in society’s eyes? God ignores ’em and does his own thing.

Karmic Christians.

Not only does pagan society not understand this way of thinking, way too many Christians don’t appear to understand it either. ’Cause they don’t understand God. Whether that’s because they’re only going through the motions to fit in, or because the culture’s insistence on karma has overridden anything the Spirit’s trying to teach us, is debatable. (I’d like to optimistically think it’s the second thing. I might be wrong though.)

Hence many Americans think God’s kids are likewise identified by success, social standing, wealth, health, and other material blessings. It isn’t an idea which comes from Jesus, who shocked his students when he said it’s hard for the wealthy to enter his kingdom. Mt 19.23-26 But worship of wealth doesn’t just make it easy for some to ignore such scriptures; we’ve even invented a “prosperity gospel” which full-on swaps Jesus for Mammon. Follow Jesus and he’ll shower you with wealth. And the kingdom; but for now, wealth’ll have to do.

We need to watch out for such warped teachings. If God’s love isn’t at the center of everything we do, we’re not walking in light. We’re following a fake god, whether we call it Mammon or Fortuna or whatever. The rich use it to justify hoarding their resources instead of being as generous as God. The powerful use it much the same way. For the needy aren’t deserving; don’t have the proper karma. “If they only trusted God more,” or otherwise proved themselves worthy in some way, maybe their gods would enrich the needy too… though y’notice it’ll never be at their expense.

Such people’s churches don’t preach the good news, but libertarianism and social Darwinism. The needy get cursed for being a drain on society. The love of God is nowhere to be found among them. How sad for them: They’re not God’s kids, and despite their apparent riches they’re full of trouble, worthy of pity, fearful, blind, and naked. Rv 3.17

God’s love overcomes such things, and such delusions. If we’re walking in it, we’ll see the reality. If not, we’ll wonder why, despite our wealth, we lack peace. We’ll wonder about that nagging, in the back of our spirits, which warns us we’re not really God’s children. We’ll wonder if there’s something to it… but we’ll probably just try to drown it out by buying some Christian music and the latest devotional book. But I hope not.

Needing not that any man teach you.

by K.W. Leslie, 25 June

1 John 2.26-29.

Ever heard of a “life verse”? It’s an idea y’find in some Evangelical circles; it means there’s a bible verse which isn’t just a Christian’s favorite verse, but one they kinda consider their personal mission statement. They base their life on it.

Heck, a number of these “life verses” are all found in the very same chapter of 1 Thessalonians:

  • “Always rejoice” 1Th 5.16 for people who are big on joy.
  • “Pray without ceasing” 1Th 5.17 for people who are big on prayer.
  • “Give thanks for everything” 1Th 5.18 for those who definitely do.
  • “Don’t quench the Spirit” 1Th 5.19 for those who love to listen to the Spirit.
  • “Don’t dismiss prophecy” 1Th 5.20 for prophecy (or prophecy scholar) fans.
  • “Test everything” 1Th 5.21 for big skeptics.
  • “Abstain from every form of evil” 1Th 5.22 for big legalists.

Anyway. I once worked with this woman whom I’m gonna call Eustacia. Her “life verse” was clearly this one:

1 John 2.27 KJV
But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him.

Not just ’cause Eustacia quoted the “ye need not that any man teach you” part all the time. Really, nobody could teach her anything. She wouldn’t let ’em. She had “the anointing,” the Holy Spirit abiding in her, teaching her. So we weren’t allowed to.

Eustacia isn’t alone in this interpretation. 1 John 2.27 is the favorite proof text of the go-it-alone Christian. They’re all over Christendom; they’re the folks who won’t go to church lest the pastor and elders try to teach ’em. And since I teach, I run into this type all the time. Paradoxically enough, they even attend my classes. But the instant I tell ’em something they don’t wanna hear, or never heard before and really don’t like, up comes this verse like it’s their shield.

Eustacia did go to church; not mine. She picked one of those fiercely independent anti-denominational types, ’cause if she didn’t answer to anyone, why should her church? But if her pastor dared cross her, expect her to immediately find another church and take her family with her. She didn’t really need a pastor anyway. She had Jesus.

Didn’t read bible commentaries; don’t need bible scholars when it’s just you ’n Jesus. Didn’t read books by other Christians; can’t trust men, and all she needed was a good King James bible. Whenever she read it, and came to conclusions about it: Didn’t need anyone’s contributions, insights, and especially corrections. She had license to interpret her bible any old way she liked. If someone asked Eustacia, “How’d you come up with that?” she’d tell ’em. If someone objected, “But the context says otherwise,” she’d point to 1 John 2.27 and proudly proclaim her independence—from any tradition, any preachers, any scholars, any denomination, any fellow Christians.

And while we’re at it: Independence from logic, reason, context, and the Spirit’s fruit.

When iron can’t sharpen iron.

Nearly every time I hear someone quote 1 John 2.27, it’s to declare their absolute authority to make the bible say whatever they want, and declare we’re not allowed to correct ’em; we have zero authority. “I don’t need a teacher. Certainly not you. I’m anointed by the same Holy Spirit as the holy apostles. The same anointing teaches me all things. That’s why I’m right… and you’re wrong.

Back to Eustacia. I knew better than to try to teach her anything. I saw others try, and watched her blast her “life verse” at ’em like buckshot. She wouldn’t be corrected; she knew best. I always kinda wondered what was gonna happen when one of her kids realized their mom’s “life verse” might be useful as their life verse, spun the bible in a way she objected to, and quoted her favorite verse right back at her. Never did find out. Had to happen eventually. Bet it was epic.

This is the core problem with this “I don’t need any teacher” jazz: Works both ways. Ironically, some go-it-alone Christians never notice this, and try to become everybody else’s teacher. But like I said, misinterpreting 1 John 2.27 means you can sling their false interpretation right back at ’em: You won’t listen to me? Fine, I needn’t listen to you either. You have your wacky theories about what the bible means, and I have mine. One of us is right and the other wrong, and each of us think it’s the other. You can go to your church and I can go to mine, and both of us can think the other’s church is heretic. Twas ever thus.

Remember how we Christians are supposed to build one another up? 1Th 5.11 (Why’s that never anyone’s favorite “life verse”?) Remember we’re to encourage one another to do good, discourage one another from going astray, and love one another like Jesus loves us? Jn 13.34 Kinda impossible to do when we’re not permitted to teach one another.

If it’s just me ’n Jesus, and nobody’s permitted to instruct me but the Holy Spirit, it sorta makes all the scriptures’ instructions to teach one another impossible. And yeah I got a list:

  • Teach your kids the Law. Dt 11.19
  • Teaching the Law makes one great in God’s kingdom. Mt 5.19
  • Teach new believers to do everything Jesus commands. Mt 28.20
  • God’s appointed teachers in his church. 1Co 12.28, Ep 4.11
  • Share good things with your teacher. Ga 6.6
  • Teach in wisdom. Cl 3.16
  • Church supervisors must teach. 1Ti 3.2, Tt 1.9
  • Church elders ought to teach. 1Ti 5.17, 2Ti 2.24
  • Scripture is useful for teaching. 2Ti 3.16
  • Teach good behavior to the people of your church. Tt 2.3
  • There are false teachers, sure. 1Jn 2.1 This verse also implies there are valid teachers.

But if nobody can teach us but the Holy Spirit, there are no teachers.

Thankfully, God hasn’t designed his church, and his Christians, to be this level of stupid. We’re to submit to one another, Ep 5.21 which means I need to listen to what the Spirit told you, and you oughta listen to what the Spirit told me. This is how iron can sharpen iron. Pr 27.17 Which isn’t gonna happen when one iron tells the other, “You don’t sharpen me. Only the Spirit gets to sharpen me. You stand back.”

What are we to do with such people? Just as Jesus taught.

Matthew 15.13-14 KWL
13 Answering, Jesus said, “Every plant my heavenly Father never planted will be uprooted.
14 Leave them be; they’re blind guides for blind people.
When a blind person guides a blind person, both will fall in a hole.”

Don’t fret about go-it-alone Christians. They’ve chosen to learn the hard way—through harsh, unforgiving experience instead of godly wisdom. Through trial and lots of error, instead of learning from others’ mistakes. So let ’em fall into a few holes till they learn to finally ask for help.

But whatever you do, don’t put such people in leadership. Eustacia was a schoolteacher, and that’s one of the worst places to put an unteachable person. Thankfully she didn’t stay in that job long.

The context.

Now if you’re actually willing to be taught, here’s what John actually meant by this scritpure.

John’s church was beset by gnostics, religions which claimed they know all the answers to all the universe’s secrets. Yep, gnostics and gnostic religions totally still exist: Y’know how people come up with theories about how God works, turn those theories into Pinterest memes, and spread ’em all over the internet? Very same thing. Especially how they try to make a profit off their “spiritual wellness” by starting a lifestyle blog, selling tchotchkes, writing books, hosting seminars, and so forth. They wanna sell you their “secrets”—because who doesn’t wanna hear a secret?

Problem was, some of these “secrets” were leaking into Christianity and fuddling the Christians. So 1 John was written to reject these false ideas, and remind the Christians they did know God. They did have valid information. The gnostics didn’t have any dark secrets which God had withheld from Christianity—God doesn’t even do darkness.

1 John 2.26-29 KWL
26 I write you these things about those who mislead you.
27 As for you, the anointing you received remains on you.
You have no need for a certain new instructor who might teach you about everything;
instead it’s like the anointing itself teaches you about everything.
It’s true, isn’t false, and just as it teaches you, remain in it.
28 Now children, remain in the anointing so when it’s made known,
you can have enthusiasm and not be ashamed of it, at its coming.
29 When you recognize it’s righteous, you also know
everything it does is begotten by God and is also righteous.

John wasn’t rejecting teachers. At all. He was a teacher, remember? This letter is all about teaching his church. Teaching them they aren’t wrong about Jesus, they do know him, they do have the Holy Spirit within them, and they don’t need to listen to some antichrist teaching ’em otherwise.

True, the go-it-alone crowd will claim John really wasn’t saying this. They point to his bits about not writing new commands, 1Jn 2.7 or how fathers already know God, 1Jn 2.13 or how everybody has knowledge. 1Jn 2.20 They cherry-pick the heck out of 1 John 2 to defend their independent lifestyle. Doesn’t come from a pursuit of real knowledge; doesn’t come from a desire to know God better. It’s all about escaping accountability. They don’t wanna answer to anyone. They don’t wanna love one another.

Yes we already do have the Holy Spirit within us, steering us right. He anointed us when we first became Christian; no he didn’t literally pour ointment on us, but he did what anointing represents in the bible, i.e. gave us a mission. We’re to follow Jesus, and share him with the world. And not get sidetracked by weird gnostic bulls---… as far too many Christians will.

There are various Christians who confound the anointing with the Spirit. After all he teaches and reminds us of everything Jesus teaches. Jn 14.26 So when John wrote “the anointing itself teaches you about everything,” people leap to the conclusion the anointing is the Spirit and the Spirit is the anointing… and that’s not correct. If you’re in the military and your sergeant sends you an email with your mission spelled out in it, the email and your sergeant are two different things. Your sergeant might even misunderstand the mission and unintentionally mislead you—which is why you gotta keep referring back to the mission. The Spirit won’t ever make mistakes like that, but the same idea applies: He and his anointing are still two different things. They’re on the same page, same as Jesus and the Father, but we’d never say Jesus is the Father; same principle here.

Jesus’s church doesn’t have a shortage of teachers. (Some Christians claim it does, but that’s only because these particular Christians have trust issues.) Gnostics will claim otherwise: “They can’t teach you; they don’t know everything; we do, so follow us.” Gnostics aren’t the only people who do this; a number of churches and religions likewise try to grab our attention and lead sheep away from the flock.

One of the Holy Spirit’s jobs—assuming we listen to him—is to guide us away from them, and towards truth. Jn 16.13 When we’re wrong, or go wrong, he corrects us. Sometimes personally. Often through fellow Christians, ’cause we aren’t the only people who can hear him. He’s trying to foster community and teamwork, which means sometimes he’s gonna divvy up the knowledge, same as he does his gifts. And we’re to dig through it, dismiss the bias and bad information, get to the truth, and follow it.

Not arrogantly dismiss every teacher but him. That’s the fastest way to go weird. As we regularly see among go-it-alone Christians.

So we need teachers. Even those of us who are teachers, need teachers. We need one another. We need our fellow teachers to fact-check us: Test our statements to make sure they hold up. Keep us honest. Correct us when we’re off course. Ask tougher questions than we’ve thought of ourselves. You know, the whole iron-sharpening-iron idea.

Woe to Christians who think they’re beyond teaching. The time’s coming, and is already here, when they won’t listen to the Holy Spirit either.

We can’t have the Father without the Son.

by K.W. Leslie, 24 June

1 John 2.20-25.

In my article about antichrists, I pointed out not every antichrist is a radical atheist. Plenty of people totally believe in God… yet deny Jesus is Christ, or Lord, or in any way like Christians describe him, or that he’s even real.

Jews fr’instance.

And let me preface this with a warning about antisemitism. ’Cause there’s still a ton of racism out there. Racists want to hassle and exclude anybody they consider different, and they don’t care if there’s no reason for it, or if their “reasons” are stupid or nonsense. They wanna hassle Jews, and any excuse will do for them. They will, and historically have, used “antichrists” as an excuse. It is not an excuse, not a valid reason. The racists are simply being evil.

In John’s definition of antichrist, anybody who actively rejects Christ Jesus is an antichrist. Plain and simple. So if you worship YHWH, Abraham’s God, same as Christians, yet reject Jesus the Nazarene as Christ the Lord, you’d be an antichrist. Cut ’n dried, plain ’n simple. Jews do. Christians don’t… and to many Christians’ surprise, Muslims don’t. (Muslims totally believe Jesus is a prophet, is Messiah, and that he’s coming back. It’s why when he appears to them and tells ’em to follow him, they eagerly do. They just don’t believe he’s God incarnate, among many other problematic things.)

Religious Jews absolutely believe in YHWH. But do they think Jesus is their Messiah? Nope; if they did they’d be Christian. (Or “Messianic Jews,” if they prefer to call themselves that; still Christian.) If we try to tell ’em otherwise, they’ll blow it off as the ramblings of silly gentiles; if they’re zealous or young or somewhere in the “cage stage,” they’ll even fight us over it. And fighting the idea that Jesus is Christ, means they most definitely fall under the definition of antichrist.

Funny thing is, there are a lot of Evangelicals who treat Jews as co-religionists, as slightly wayward brothers. Usually for political reasons; often because they have a distorted idea of the End Times which confuses the present-day state of Israel with the ancient kingdom of Israel. These very same Evangelicals also tend to fear and distrust Muslims. But like I said (even though we’d consider both these religions heretic), religious Jews are antichrists, and religious Muslims aren’t. Just goes to show how politics can do mighty weird things to one’s theology.

The problem with being an antichrist who nonetheless believes in God? Well, God’s a trinity. Jesus is a person of this trinity. If you reject Jesus but claim to follow God, you got a problem.

1 John 2.20-25 KWL
20 You have an anointing from the Holy Spirit and know all these things.
21 I don’t write you because you don’t know the truth already,
but because you know it, and that every lie doesn’t come from truth.
22 What’s the lie, if not the denial, “Jesus isn’t Christ?”
This, who denies the Father and the Son, is an antichrist.
23 Everyone who denies the Son, doesn’t have the Father.
One who confesses the Son, has the Father as well.
24 Have what you heard from the beginning, remain in you.
When what you heard from the beginning remains in you,
you remain in the Father and in the Son.
25 This is the promise God promises us:
Life in the age to come.

Properly, believing Jesus is Lord recognizes there isn’t any other lord. Y’can’t serve two lords, as Jesus pointed out when he talked about God and money. Mt 6.24, Lk 16.13 Prophet Isa ibn Maryam (blessings upon him), as the Muslims call Jesus, can’t be superseded by Prophet Muhammad ibn Abudullah (even more blessings upon him). Jesus can’t be one master of many. Not one guru of a collection we’ve cobbled together. Not an avatar of God, same as the others before him. Not one of seven major prophets. Not a son of God in the same way I’m a son of God, and you’re a child of God. Jesus is unique, and uniquely Lord. He’s to be followed and worshiped the same way God is. It’s because of this uniqueness, Christians came to recognize he is God.

If you imagine you can challenge, reject, or oppose the Son—meaning Jesus—and think you’re still good with God, you’re in for a significant surprise. You can’t oppose the Son without opposing the Father who sent him.

One God. Turns out Jesus is this one God.

If you think of God as your heavenly Father, as many a religion does, I again remind you God’s a trinity. The Father is a person of this trinity, same as the Son. And he is always, indivisibly, on the Son’s side. You can’t divide one being and fight one of the divisions, without fighting the entire being.

Sigh… y’realize every analogy of the trinity is gonna misrepresent God to some degree. But I’m gonna tackle it anyway: If you have a problem with my leg, and would be perfectly happy dealing with me if only I’d get that leg removed, so you take a machete and start hacking it off, you now have a big problem with me. I’m rather fond of that leg. It gets me places.

How much significantly more, then, does the Father not want the Son removed from him—and separately ignored, belittled, hated, rejected. The Son is part of the Father. They’re one, y’know; they’re both the one God.

Second, fighting Jesus opposes the Father’s will. The Son is an instrument of the Father’s will. Who d’you think sent us the Son in the first place? The Son does everything he sees the Father do.

  • The Father wanted humanity saved… and so does the Son, who died for humanity and got us saved.
  • The Father wanted his will for the world revealed. The Son did that.
  • The Father wants us to be his people so he can be our God. The Son’s preparing a place for us where this very thing will be done.
  • The Father wants to give us his kingdom. Guess who’s gonna be its king? Yep, the Son.

Again with an inadequate analogy about body parts: My hands do what I want ’em to. When you cut off my hands because you don’t like what they’re doing, it’s really because you don’t like what I’m doing. Same with the Father and Son: If you object to Jesus, you’re really objecting to the Father. You’re not as tight with the Father as you imagine.

Third, you’re really hobbling your own spiritual growth when you dismiss the Son. No fooling, I’ve heard various Christians claim they wanna study and understand the Father apart from Jesus. They think there are insights to be gained if you divide the persons of the trinity from one another, and analyze them independently.

But it’s like trying to understand me by asking me questions… yet not watching anything I do, listening to anything I say, nor reading anything I write. Instead you’re trying to read between the lines: What am I really “trying to say”? And in the absence of any useful information, you fill in the blanks with yourself: I must think like you do. (Or the opposite of you, if for whatever reason you don’t like me.)

Same with God. We can detect plenty of things about God apart from the revelation of Jesus… but we won’t understand why, how, or even the answer. So we’ll project the rest. Deists claim they can deduce through nature that God exists and he’s good… though I don’t know how they got that through nature, which is chaotic and Darwinian, and in so many ways unlike God. So how’d they conclude God is good? Filled in the blanks with themselves. They want God to be good, so that’s what they started with. Nontheists, in contrast, started with the idea of no God at all… and looked at nature same as the deists, and no surprise, came to all the answers they liked best.

We’re all wrong, and it’s usually because we try to understand the Father without the Son. In the end we know nothing. And we Christians need to make sure we understand this. Jesus is central, vital, to everything we do. He must remain that way. He isn’t just a conduit to the Father: His mind and the Father’s mind are one. Knowing him is knowing the Father. Knowing Jesus is knowing God. Jesus isn’t the means to an end: He is the end. He’s the point. Don’t miss the point.