I was listening to a sermon this past Sunday, and I realized how very much I disagreed with what the pastor was preaching. No, this was not my church– it was a friend’s church, so I feel safe to reject his message. But it has been an eye-opener for me this week, and I hate how often we find sermons like these in today’s church.
1. You’re Not A Good Enough Christian
This particular pastor used a visual aid to demonstrate their principle, which they conveniently issued to every congregation member inside their program. It was a triangle, with 8 different levels inside. Each level, or “tier”, represented a level of faith, starting at the bottom with “Faith – a decision to believe,” then going to “Moral Excellence,” then “Knowing God Better,” then “Self Control,” all the way up to “Godliness,” then to “Radical Love For All.” Most of the sermon was dedicated to this triangle. The pastor encouraged his audience to continue to climb the triangle as much as they could, so they could ultimately reach the top level; Agape, or radical, love for everyone. This is the kind of love God has for us.
This was the main point of the “Epignosis Triangle” (which is a Greek word for “knowledge of all things,” or more simply, “becoming divine.”), to put God’s love in perspective to our own, and to define the type of love God has for us, compared to our everyday love of waffles or roses. It is a simple comparison, until you begin to throw guilt into the mix. This is where things get hairy.
In a practical application of the triangle, we must make ourselves better people by avoiding sin, loving everyone, enduring hardships, loving everyone, reading our Bible, and loving everyone. In this model, the only way to get to the top is to be perfect and God-like. To have the self-control of Jesus Christ. And that, I’m sorry to say, is impossible. We as a human race will always fall short of God’s perfect love, and every time we feel a spike of completely unavoidable human bitterness, or if we even look at sin the wrong way, we fall back to the bottom level of the triangle in our mind. This triangle is ultimately a progress chart to measure each member of the church against each other, and when we don’t measure up, all the guilt and shame come rushing in to control us.
To place such an unachievable goal of God-like, radical love in front of a congregation is just plain mean. Everyone in that audience will go home and beat themselves up for weeks because they don’t measure up on this progress chart their pastor made. Everyone has their own faith-threshold– no one’s faith map will look the same! There’s no way that each of these levels will apply to everyone, and definitely not in such a calculating, mathematical way. One person may have only the faith of a mustard seed, and feel like every small prayer is a struggle. Another person might be a diligent Bible-reader and worshipper for several hours a day. God looks on both of these people as equals, and loves them both with an equal amount of his perfect, God-like love that we can never attain.
If you feel guilty about not “measuring up” to your church’s high standards, then perhaps your church is lying to you.
2. Sin Will Come Knocking If You Don’t Do…
Again, back to the Epignosis Triangle. This message has been centered around this damn progress chart that brings guilt, shame, and condemnation on everyone, and there’s no escaping it!
At least three or four times, the pastor said, “sin will come knocking if you don’t…” and that is the biggest lie of the morning, as he was referring to his beloved triangle. Sin will come knocking if you don’t keep moving up the triangle toward Godliness, because sin likes to trap those people with mustard-seed faith at the bottom! Sin will come knocking if you don’t find and overcome your threshold of love this week, and begin to reach out with radical love! Sin will come knocking if you fail to pay your tithe (my personal favorite one)!What a load of bologna! This performance-oriented, guilt-trap is sickening.
The whole concept of “sin will come knocking” is an interesting point. Will Satan himself really come ring your doorbell and tempt you with telling a white lie or “committing adultery” if you don’t read your Bible daily? No.
Fear of sin is an extremely silly concept. Jesus saved you from your sins, so even if sin does tempt you in the future, Jesus has your back. Sin is essentially an insect or reptile or some such evil creature, and you have authority over it anyway (remember– trampling on snakes and scorpions? Kill that darn sin!)– it only has a hold on you if you let it.
So why do pastors preach about the fear of sin? Because they want you to continue climbing the progress chart of epignosis, then fall to the bottom and come back to church time and time again because you feel all the shame and guilt of not accomplishing God’s love for all. Oh, and they want you to pay your tithe every week, or else sin will come knocking…
If you are afraid of sin, then perhaps your church is lying to you.
3. “Love Is A Choice That You Make,
Through The Actions You Take”
Yes, and no. Love is a choice– sometimes. You can choose to respond correctly and with love and grace in a situation, sure. You can obtain a very low level of “tolerant” love by your own actions, and it’s fairly simple to love everyone in this manner (just become a passive Christian wallflower with no guts, and it’s easy to love everyone), but “tolerant love” or “brotherly love” isn’t what this pastor was talking about. He was talking about working your way up the afore-mentioned Epignosis Triangle, to reach the radical, God-like love at the top. There is absolutely no way on Earth that any human being is going to reach that level of love through their own actions! (Again with this unachievable goals thing!)
I firmly believe that you cannot “get more love” or “get more faith” by making choices and taking action. Galatians 5
talks about love and faith (mostly 16-26, but the first part has some nuggets, too). It says, “(16) walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” as in, the way to combat temptation is a walk with the Holy Spirit. It also says, “(22-23)But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” Did you hear that? FRUIT! Fruit grows out of something– in this case, these fruits grow out of the Holy Spirit, not yourself, not your own actions! Only a walk with the Holy Spirit can bring you the fruits. Fruit also takes awhile to grow! You can’t go home one afternoon all revved up from your pastor’s awesome sermon, and expect yourself to become a more loving person in a week– it doesn’t work like that! By developing a consistent, dedicated relationship with God, by walking in step with the Holy Spirit, all those fruits like love and joy will come naturally, and all the temptation of sin will slowly begin to melt away. Your actions will have no effect on this process– reading the Bible, constant prayers, and loving everyone is not going to get you all the way there (even if it will help a bit). You cannot physically create love– it all comes from a walk with the Holy Spirit.
If you feel like you are trying to do everything you can for God, and it’s just never enough, then perhaps your church is lying to you.
I didn’t mean to preach– sorry! I was a little upset with this sermon from Sunday. I hate the fact that so many people have been tricked by pastors like this. Even if it’s not even the pastor’s fault, it is still an incorrect way of thinking. Or maybe the pastor was right, and I’m wrong…
Anyway, from time to time it’s okay to second guess and double check your pastor’s sermons and his motives. If what he says isn’t working, then perhaps your church is lying to you.