Seeing the rise of persecution against Christians in Iraq, the far East and Africa, Msgr Pope has a great archived article here on the five stages that precede outright persecution. Can it happen in the USA – land of religious freedom? Msgr Pope observes the five stages.
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What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.
While we live in an age of ever increasing marvel and technological wonders, some things never change–like human nature. Due to the ever increasing rise in terrorism that is spreading around the globe like a cancer claiming it’s next victim, we do ourselves a great disservice if we bury our heads in the sand and pretend it can’t happen here in America. And all of the braggadocio talk we can muster won’t stop it, either. In fact, it won’t even put a dent in it. If anything, it encourages it all the more. . . .
This post is going to deal with the subject of persecution and, specifically, the rise of persecution and the basic steps involved in persecuting others. Persecution is defined as “hostility and ill-treatment, especially because of race or political or religious beliefs; and persistent annoyance or harassment” (quote source here). Whether it is individualized to a specific person or an entire group of people, there are several stages that take place in the systematic persecution of any individual or group. An article titled, “The Five Stages of Persecution,” published on July 31, 2014 on Patheos.com written by Fr. Dwight Longenecker spells out those stages:
1. Stereotyping the targeted group – To stereotype means to repeat without variation, to take a quality or observation of a limited number, and generalize it to the whole group. It involves a simplified and standardized conception or view of a group based on observation of a limited sample.
Basically as the stereotype goes, Catholics and Bible believing Christians are a sad, angry, boring, backward and repressed lot. To many who accept the stereotyping we are a laughable, even tragic group, caught in a superstitious past, incapable of throwing off the shackles of faith.
2. Vilifying the targeted Group for alleged crimes or misconduct – As the stereotyping grows in intensity, Catholics and Christians who did not toe the line in the cultural revolution were described as close-minded, harmful to human dignity and freedom, intolerant, hateful, bigoted, unfair, homophobic, reactionary and just plain mean and basically bad people.
The History of the Church is also described myopically as little more than bad and repressive behavior as we conducted crusades, inquisitions, and hated Galileo and all of science. Never mind that there might be a little more to the story, or that the Church founded universities, and hospitals, was the patron of the arts, and preached a Gospel that brought order and civilization to divided and barbarous time in the aftermath of the Roman Empire. Stereotyping will hear little of that, or, if it does, it will give the credit to anything or anyone but the Church and the faith.
3. Marginalizing the targeted group’s role in society – Having established the (untrue) premise that the Church and the faith is very bad and even harmful to human dignity and freedom, the next stage seeks to relegate the role of the Church to the margins.
To many in secularized culture, religion must go. They will perhaps let us have our hymns, etc., in the four walls of our churches, but the faith must be banished from the public square.
In this stage it becomes increasingly unacceptable and intolerable that anyone should mention God, pray publicly or in any way bring their Christian faith to bear on matters of public policy. Nativity sets must go, out with Christmas trees, even the colors green and red at “holiday time” are banished from many public schools.
4. Criminalizing the targeted group or its works – Can someone say HHS mandate?
But prior to this egregious attempt to violate our religious liberty there have been many other times we have had to go to court to fight for our rights to openly practice our faith. Increasing litigation is being directed against the Church and other Christians for daring to live out our faith.
Some jurisdictions have sought to compel Catholic hospitals and pro-life clinics to provide information or referrals for abortion, to provide “emergency contraception” (i.e. the abortifacient known as the morning after pill), Several branches of Catholic Charities have been de-certified from doing adoption work because they will not adopt children to gay couples. The State of Connecticut sought to regulate the structure, organization and running of Catholic parishes in 2009. And recently a number of Christian valedictorians in various states have suffered legal injunctions when it was discovered that they would dare to mention God, and Jesus in their talk. (More HERE)
5. Persecuting the targeted group outright – If current trends continue, Christians, especially religious leaders, may not be far from enduring heavy fines and jail.
The trajectory points to suffering, lawsuits, fines, desertification, and ultimately jail. (Article and quote source here.)
In this country there are greater provisions for free speech but, as we have seen, there is a steady erosion in religious liberty and many Catholic dioceses are well familiar with having to spend long periods in courts defending basic religious liberty. The trajectory points to suffering, lawsuits, fines, desertification, and ultimately jail.
The subject of persecution (the systematic destroying of others) involves “the suffering of all types of persecution and harassment short of death brought against a person or group on account of adherence to a cause and especially to one’s religious faith. This type of persecution usually takes the form of political, psychological, legal and financial harassment” (quote source here). And it occurs much more frequently in societies like America who wish to hide the outright persecution of its citizens who they see as being “unfit” in whatever category they choose to put them in (whether religious, racial, etc.) since it is not yet legal to persecute them “out in the open” (although what they do is pretty overt at times).
Persecution is alive and well right here in America. It isn’t as obvious as beheading anyone on beaches yet, or gassing them in ovens; or working people to death in death camps, but it is here. For example, how many millions in this country are in the “long-term unemployed” category and have given up ever hoping to find work again? Their lives have been decimated financially and in many other ways but does anybody care? The number of homeless has vastly increased while the number of laws against the homeless has increased, too. And you won’t find their numbers listed anywhere in the latest unemployment statistics. We hide persecution under the various cloaks of long-term unemployment, or calling into question the sanity or mental stability of those we can’t “control” (especially if they have strong religious beliefs that are not popular among the general population), not to mention the systematic targeting of specific individuals for all types of harassment. There is no shortage of examples from those being persecuted as stated above on the internet if one wants to go looking for them. Unfortunately, most people just don’t want to know, and it’s easier to call them crazy. In that way perhaps they don’t think it will ever affect them.
Let’s take a look at the early stages of persecution that took place in Nazi Germany between 1933-1939. An article titled, “1933-1939: Early Stages of Persecution,” on MyJewishLearning.com states the following:
On January 30, 1933, Adolph Hitler was named chancellor, the most powerful position in the German government, by the aged President Hindenburg, who hoped Hitler could lead the nation out of its grave political and economic crisis. Hitler was the leader of the right-wing National Socialist German Workers Party (called “the Nazi Party” for short). It was, by 1933, one of the strongest parties in Germany, even though–reflecting the country’s multiparty system–the Nazis had won only a plurality of 33 percent of the votes in the 1932 elections to the German parliament (Reichstag).
Once in power, Hitler moved quickly to end German democracy. He convinced his cabinet to invoke emergency clauses of the constitution that permitted the suspension of individual freedoms of press, speech, and assembly. Special security forces—the Gestapo, the Storm Troopers (SA), and the SS–murdered or arrested leaders of opposition political parties (Communists, socialists, and liberals). The Enabling Act of March 23, 1933–forced through the Reichstag already purged of many political opponents–gave dictatorial powers to Hitler.
Also in 1933, the Nazis began to put into practice their racial ideology. The Nazis believed that the Germans were “racially superior” and that there was a struggle for survival between them and inferior races. They saw Jews, Roma (Gypsies), and the handicapped as a serious biological threat to the purity of the “German (Aryan) Race,” what they called the master race.
Jews, who numbered about 525,000 in Germany (less than one percent of the total population in 1933) were the principal target of Nazi hatred. The Nazis identified Jews as a race and defined this race as “inferior.” They also spewed hate-mongering propaganda that unfairly blamed Jews for Germany’s economic depression and the country’s defeat in World War I (1914-1918).
In 1933, new German laws forced Jews out of their civil service jobs, university and law court positions, and other areas of public life. In April 1933, laws proclaimed at Nuremberg made Jews second-class citizens. These Nuremberg Laws defined Jews, not by their religion or by how they wanted to identify themselves, but by the religious affiliation of their grandparents. Between 1937 and 1939, new anti-Jewish regulations segregated Jews further and made daily life very difficult for them. Jews could not attend public schools; go to theaters, cinema, or vacation resorts; or reside or even walk in certain sections of German cities.
Also between 1937 and 1939, Jews increasingly were forced from Germany’s economic life. The Nazis either seized Jewish businesses and properties outright or forced Jews to sell them at bargain prices. In November 1938, the Nazis organized a riot (pogrom), known as Kristallnacht (the “Night of Broken Glass”). This attack against German and Austrian Jews included the physical destruction of synagogues and Jewish-owned stores, the arrest of Jewish men, the vandalizing of homes, and the murder of individuals.
Although Jews were the main target of Nazi hatred, the Nazis persecuted other groups they viewed as racially or genetically “inferior.” Nazi racial ideology was buttressed by scientists who advocated “selective breeding” (eugenics) to “improve” the human race. Laws passed between 1933 and 1935 aimed to reduce the future number of genetic “inferiors” through involuntary sterilization programs: 320,000 to 350,000 individuals judged physically or mentally handicapped were subjected to surgical or radiation procedures so they could not have children. Supporters of sterilization also argued that the handicapped burdened the community with the costs of their care. Many of Germany’s 30,000 Roma (Gypsies) were also eventually sterilized and prohibited, along with Blacks, from intermarrying with Germans. About 500 children of mixed African-German backgrounds were also sterilized. New laws combined traditional prejudices with the racism of the Nazis, which defined Roma by “race” and as “criminal and asocial.”
Another consequence of Hitler’s ruthless dictatorship in the 1930s was the arrest of political opponents and trade unionists and others whom the Nazis labeled “undesirables” and “enemies of the state.” Some 5,000 to 15,000 homosexuals were imprisoned in concentration camps; under the 1935 Nazi-revised criminal code, the mere denunciation of a man as “homosexual” could result in arrest, trial, and conviction. Jehovah’s Witnesses, who numbered at least 25,000 in Germany, were banned as an organization as early as April 1933, because the beliefs of this religious group prohibited them from swearing any oath to the state or serving in the German military. Their literature was confiscated, and they lost their jobs, unemployment benefits, pensions, and all social welfare benefits. Many Witnesses were sent to prisons and concentration camps in Nazi Germany, and their children were sent to juvenile detention homes and orphanages.
Between 1933 and 1936, thousand of people, mostly political prisoners, were imprisoned in concentrations camps, while several thousand German Roma were confined in special municipal camps. The first systematic round-up of German and Austrian Jews occurred after Kristallnacht, when approximately 30,000 Jewish men were deported to Dachau and other concentration camps, and several hundred Jewish women were sent to local jails. The wave of arrests in 1938 also included several thousand German and Austrian Roma.
Between 1933 and 1939, about half of the German-Jewish population and more than two-thirds of Austrian Jews (1938-1939) fled Nazi persecution. They emigrated mainly to the United States, Palestine, elsewhere in Europe (where many would be later trapped by Nazi conquests during the war), Latin America, and Japanese-occupied Shanghai (which required no visas for entry). Jews who remained under Nazi rule were either unwilling to uproot themselves or unable to obtain visas, sponsors in host countries, or funds for emigration. Most foreign countries, including the United States, Canada, Britain, and France, were unwilling to admit very large numbers of refugees. (Quote source here.)
Nazi Germany didn’t happen in a vacuum. The whole world watched and turned a blind eye to the horror and atrocities that took place until the world found itself engulfed in the Second World War.
Regarding persecution in America, I ran into an article published on March 6, 2015 by Yes, There Is Christian Persecution in America And Here’s What it Looks Like.” His take is a bit different regarding where the source of the persecution is coming from. He opens by stating what most people believe about persecution in America:
I’ve often written about the American persecution complex that tends to see anti-Christian persecution under every rock, and have long been a proponent that such claims of persecution are often simply a loss of privilege or the ability to persecute others. Each time I say something along these lines, I usually get a flood of comments and messages/e-mails telling me how wrong I am and that Christianity in America is under attack. One commenter even said recently that “Jesus” is the only name you’re not allowed to speak at work without getting fired.
Secretly I’ve had some misgivings about my position and these doubts have now given way to a change in position. So, this post is a capitulation to my critics and a public admission about how wrong I’ve been. Yes, Christians are bullied for their faith in America– and it happens on a daily basis. Yes, Christians can lose their jobs simply because they believe in the teachings of Jesus. Yes, some Christians in America are hated on account of their association with Jesus. Real persecution just happens to look differently than what is often claimed as persecution. Case in point:
A few weeks ago, MidAmerica Nazarene University chaplain and Vice President of Community Formation Dr. Randy Beckum spoke at the student chapel services. Dr. Beckum gave a short sermon during the chapel service that is being billed as “controversial” and something that really upset the student and faculty population at MidAmerica Nazarene (see/read full text here). What was so controversial and offensive you ask? Well, let’s take a look…. (You can read the entire article at this link).
You might be surprised (or maybe not) at where Corey sees the persecution of Christians in America coming from (hint: other Christians). And if you read the article, you will find out that the President relieved Dr. Beckum of his duties as Vice President of Community Formation. The topic of Dr. Beckum’s sermon during a chapel service that started the whole controversy was on Jesus’ admonition to his followers that we are to “love our enemies.” (The article is available at this link). There is something so antithetical about Christians persecuting other Christians when Jesus clearly commanded his followers to “love our enemies.” Christians persecuting anyone should not exist.
With that being said, persecution can come from anyone or anywhere, and no one particular group has a niche on it. It is all about the motives of those who are doing the persecuting (whether persecuting an individual or an entire group of people). The persecution of others is done for a variety of reasons, often of a religious nature but not always (e.g., money and control are huge motivators for persecution, too), goes on everywhere. As I mentioned above, just because we aren’t beheading people on beaches here in America doesn’t mean we aren’t stealth in other ways of persecuting others we want to try to control (or destroy) for whatever reasons. Those involved in the persecution are adept at making others look stupid or crazy and ruining their lives if there is personal gain in it for them. Persecution in America is alive and well hidden, but it is very much “out there.”
America is changing and it is changing at a very rapid pace. What will it look like in ten years? Who knows? Just look at the upheaval in our political system during this election year. By the way, as a disclaimer, the articles I have mentioned are for information only on the subject of persecution and I do not personally endorse some of the statements in them. I have used them because they cite specific situations of how the persecution progressed in Nazi Germany, and how one high ranking administrator lost his job here in America by giving a sermon in chapel at a Christian university on Jesus’ topic of “loving our enemies.”
The irony of it all. . . .
While persecution is a sobering topic, I want to end this post on a more positive note. An article published on August 10, 2015 written by Thomas Christianson in Relevant Magazine gives us some food for thought, and it is aptly titled, “What It Actually Means to Love Your Enemies.” You can read his article at this link.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
So let us go . . .
And do likewise . . . .
YouTube Video: “Testify to Love” by Avalon:
For those of us who live in America, we bask in a freedom unparalleled in other parts of the world. While we may not often think about our freedom because it is so much a part of our existence, as we all know our freedom isn’t free. It has come at a great cost of innumerable American lives over the past two plus centuries that America has existed to keep us a free nation, and for that we owe our military personnel–living and dead–a huge debt of gratitude.
Huge . . .
As Christians, there is another type of freedom even more precious than the freedom we enjoy living here in America, and that freedom is found in a living, breathing, and vital relationship with Jesus Christ. Jesus stated in John 8:36, “So if the Son [Jesus Christ] sets you free, you will be free indeed.” And that freedom knows no geographical or political or any other type of physical boundaries. It is also a freedom accessible to every human being on the planet who chooses to believe in Jesus Christ as the one and only true Son of God (see I John 5) who offers salvation to all who believe in Him. As Jesus stated in John 3:16-20 states:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son [Jesus Christ], that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.
As I was sitting in the balcony of the church I attend this past Sunday morning singing along with the worship team who was singing on the stage below, there was (and usually is during worship singing) a “Presence” unlike in any other setting that is so inspiring, so magnificent, yet so humbling that it fills the auditorium and often I find tears rolling down my cheeks. For some reason, I find that to be a bit awkward (the tears, I mean) in a public setting, yet the power of the words and the music while worshiping the only true God there is can be overwhelming (in a very good sense). God is “Holy, holy, holy” and so often during the week we don’t give Him much thought as we rush around with our busy schedules checking items off of our “to do” list.
Holy, holy, holy . . .
God’s holiness, much like our freedom here in America, often goes unnoticed as we live out our days and weeks and months and years, except in seemingly appropriate settings, like church for example (e.g., worshiping God’s holiness) or holiday settings like Memorial Day and the 4th of July (e.g., celebrating our freedom as Americans). Yet both are an intricate part of who we are–all the time–as Christians here in America (of course, for those who consider themselves to be Christian as we do live in a pluralistic society). And, our ultimate freedom–freedom in Jesus Christ–goes far beyond any physical boundaries.
Since the 4th of July holiday here in America just passed a few days ago, now is a good time to be reminded about our freedom in Jesus Christ. One of the key passages in the New Testament regarding our freedom in Christ is Galatians 5. The Apostle Paul reminds us that our freedom in Christ is not a thing we should take for granted. Let’s read what he had to say to the believers in his time (and for our time, too):
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.
You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth? That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view. The one who is throwing you into confusion, whoever that may be, will have to pay the penalty. Brothers and sisters, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished. As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!
You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
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. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.
(Note: A previous blog post, “Freedom in Christ,” on the same topic hits on what Paul was getting at when he addresses the issue of circumcision at the beginning of this passage. Legalism still had a crippling hold on them and it was alienating them from Jesus Christ.)
Just as the freedom we enjoy living in America comes at a great price as I mentioned at the beginning of this post, so our freedom in Jesus Christ comes at a great price, too. It was the price Jesus Christ paid when He died to set us free–free from the shackles that bind sin to us (as noted in the above passage in Galatians). Often it’s our misunderstanding of that freedom that keeps us chained to those very sins as we don’t want to let them go.
Jesus Christ didn’t set us free to keep on living the way we did before we knew Him. Not at all . . . . And that freedom noted in the passage above isn’t about making sure we cross every “T” and dot every “i” while walking a religious tightrope, either. I sometimes feel that way when I’m at church–like I have to look, dress, and talk a certain way to be accepted by many of the “others.” And that is just as confining as the “sin that so easily entangles us” (see Hebrews 12:1-2). It’s not about pleasing others, no matter who those “others” might be. It’s about pleasing Jesus, and that’s the bottom line. Let’s read that passage in Hebrews:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses [see previous chapter in Hebrews 11], let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
“Fixing our eyes on Jesus” . . . and not the crowd!!! And that’s not easy to do at times, either, as we all want to be accepted. However, as Galatians 5:1 reminds us:
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
And that includes any “yoke of slavery” put on us by others to conform us to their ways. While our freedom in Christ is not a license to keep on sinning (as Galatians 5 clearly points out), it is the key to the freedom that we crave and that Jesus is so willing to give us if we turn to Him and “fix our eyes” on Him. Period. Just ask Him for His help and His wisdom, and He will give it to you. And that’s a promise, too (see James 1:2-8).
And remember that our freedom . . .
Is not found in the approval of others . . .
It is only found in Jesus Christ . . . .
~~And don’t ever forget that fact!~~
YouTube Video: “Shackles (I Just Want to Praise You)” by Mary Mary:
“You long to be free, but you have remained shackled to this world” (quote from reblogged post below). Sound familiar? Are we willing to give up everything (money, possessions, fame, power, whatever is holding us back) to follow Him? He knows our heart. He knows the truth. But we have to let go of whatever it is that we love more than Him.
Are we willing to do that?
Photo credit here
More than likely, when Paul was a young man he had a dream to know God fully. His quest for knowledge led him to study under one of the greatest rabbis of his day.
As he grew in knowledge, he became a Pharisee and then was elected to the Sanhedrin. Only the most noted of Jewish scholars held these positions. Paul was one of them. His heart, though charged with the wrong motivation, longed to worship God. Then one day, God revealed Himself to Paul through the life of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
There is only one way to interpret what happened to Paul on the Damascus Road and that is to say it was life-changing (Acts 9:1-9). Christ did not just appear to Paul; He embraced him. Only the Lord knows what rested deep in Paul’s heart—but like Moses, once he turned aside to study the things…
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What does freedom in Christ mean? The Apostle Paul had to deal with the whole issue of circumcision (clearly indicating a fallback to legalism) when he wrote to the Christians in Galatia. Legalism had a crippling hold on them and he clearly stated that if they went back to being justified through circumcision (e.g., works) that they would have to obey the entire law, clearly alienating them from Christ (Galatians 5:2-6). Let’s read that passage: “Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” [emphasis mine].
Okay, I can hear some of you saying, “What has that got to do with me?” Many times we as Christians practice our own form of circumcision (legalism) without even realizing it. When we try by our outward actions and appearances to make a “show” of following after Christ, we are trying to be justified by those actions (perhaps a list of “rules” we follow or keeping a laundry list of “sins” we haven’t committed to show our “goodness” as opposed to others we perceive as being more “sinful” then us). And, as Paul clearly stated, that has absolutely no value and that “the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (Gal. 5:6).
Let me ask a question to get us thinking about this topic (e.g., legalism). If we attend church every Sunday, does that make us feel somewhat superior to those who don’t or justified that we have fulfilled our weekly obligation to God and can now spend the rest of the week doing whatever we want? The issue is not about actually attending church on Sunday morning. No–the real issue is our heart attitude and our motive for going in the first place. Our only real motive for going should be to worship God for who He is, and Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, with others who are there to worship God and Jesus Christ, too. Any other reason is peripheral “stuff.” And if we are going in an effort to try to earn points with God or with others, we might as well stay home.
I’m not trying to come down on anyone by asking that question. I’m trying to get us to think about our relationship with Jesus Christ and what He really means to us and how it affects how we live our own life and how we treat others. Are we self-focused, or are we other-focused? Because we are human we can’t be perfect at this but we can’t use that as an excuse either for continuing to live our lives self-consumed and in any manner that we see fit to live.
Paul continues in his classic chapter (Galatians 5) on what freedom in Christ really means with the following, “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other” (Gal. 5:13-14).
It is our own sinful nature that seeks to attain a status of “goodness” in the eyes of God and others through our own “works” while continuing to live life on our own terms. And whenever our sinful nature is in control we look out for ourselves first and foremost, instead of looking out for others. So let me ask a second question. Is what others think of us (e.g., being accepted, being respected, being elevated to a prominent status in the eyes of others, and looking good by all outward appearances to the rest of the world, etc.) more important to us then what God desires for our life and how He wants to use us in this world to bring others to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and helping others grow (including ourselves) in their relationship with Him?
Our sinful nature is in direct conflict with the life in the Spirit of God that comes through our relationship with Jesus Christ. If we allow ourselves to be lead by God’s Spirit we will not be self-consumed. Paul clearly states that “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal. 5:19-21). Is there anything in this list that is a regular, ongoing part of our life?
Do we want to know what life in the Spirit really looks like? Paul tells us that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other” (Gal. 5:22-26). Yes, those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with it’s passions and desires.
In closing, I want to go back to what Paul stated in Galatians 5:14-15: “The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself ‘ [emphasis mine]. If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.” If we clearly understand what those two verses are saying, the consequences of living a selfish, self-consumed lifestyle and NOT loving our neighbors as we love ourselves are staggering, not only to us as individuals but spreading out to our nation as a whole. After all, it is individuals who make up a nation.
The choice is pretty clear . . .
Will we make the right one?
YouTube Video: “Change Me” by Shannon Wexelberg on her CD “Faithful God” (2007):