Human Religion Leads to Sin: Jude, verses 8-11

Love in Four Directions. Part 1: Love God's Creation. Genesis, chapter 1

And Cain turned homicidal

After the devastating deception, God promised Eve that although the accuser, satan, would continue to strike at the heel, her offspring, her seed, would crush the serpent’s head. (Genesis 3:15) She quite understandably assumed that when she gave birth to her son Cain, that prophecy would be fulfilled through him. She exalted joyously. (Genesis 4:1) Later, when Abel was born, the scripture simply states the fact. No big deal. 

Subsequently, Cain must have grown up feeling pretty special. He was the one who would set this mess straight. So, as an adult, he seems to have reasoned that since his parents offended the Creator by stealing fruit, he would set things to rights by returning fruit to YHWH. Hence, his offering.

Religion was born – not the true religion of spreading God’s shalom to others because we love God, but human religion that substitutes pride for worship. Cain seeking to make things right between people and God by way of ritual, by way of doing something “religious.” That’s what human religion is all about – human effort through good works and ritual to get God on our side.

Abel, on the other hand, wasn’t trying to get God to do anything. Abel was simply expressing love to God with a freewill offering. It had nothing to do with blood. God never asked for blood; in fact, throughout the Bible, God makes it clear He wants nothing to do with blood sacrifices. (See Psalm 40:6; 51:16; Hosea 6:6; Hebrews 10:8, and Jesus’ words in Matthew 9:13 & 12:7.) People are perpetually misquoting Hebrews 9:22, which is talking about the Law of Moses, which has been done away with. Read the entire verse: According to the law, in fact, nearly everything must be purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.Blood sacrifices were the stuff of the pagans. God accommodated it when His people set the system up, but it was never God’s plan. Later, God in Jesus entered into that blood-sacrifice system and offered Himself, the Lamb of God, in order to once and for all do away with both the system and the sin it represented. That’s the major theme of the New Testament book of Hebrews. Abel’s act was one of pure worship. Cain’s was one of religious manipulation.

God accepted the former and rejected the latter.

And Cain turned homicidal.

Religion seeks to appease an angry god. Religion seeks to coerce humankind. Human religion is all about our efforts and knows nothing of grace. Human religion tries to align lives and societies the way we think they should be. When it doesn’t work, when it doesn’t get its way, human religion always turns violent. Witness the Crusades, Inquisition, slaughter of the radical reformer Anabaptists, genocide of Native Americans, chattel slavery, Third Reich, and wholehearted championing of politicians whose character and policies are diametrically opposite the teachings of Christ. All perpetrated by very religious “Christians.” 

The understanding of the atonement that portrays God as filled with wrath towards humankind that can only be appeased by being vented on an innocent Being, His Son, misrepresents the cross and misunderstands the heart of the Triune God who so loved the world He sent His son. Jesus is God. God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, are one. Jesus is exactly like the Father. God the Father is exactly like Jesus. There is nothing unchristlike in God. Jesus said God doesn’t want blood sacrifice. God wants us to spread justice and mercy, kindness and forgiveness, towards others. We need do nothing to appease God. God is not angry. God’s wrath, properly understood, is the outworking of the consequences of the misuse of freedom, both human and angelic. Jesus’ death on the cross removed sin. Sin is off the table. As far as east is from west. Cast into the deepest sea. Forgiven, forgotten, gone forever, never to be even remembered by God. 

God desires justice and mercy towards others. What does God desire toward Self?

Love. Simply love. Freely given. Expressed from a grateful heart.  That is worship. That’s what Abel brought.

A Few Things I Am Trying to Learn

The path to divinity is through our humanity, not around it.

Satan is the enemy of human nature. Satan seeks to dehumanize and devalue us.

The more we express our humanity through healing, forgiving, serving, and rejoicing, the more God’s holiness shines through us. 

Sermonette

Let nothing disturb you, 

Nothing frighten you; 

All things are passing; 

God never changes; 

Patient endurance attains all things; 

Whoever possesses God is wanting in nothing; 

God alone suffices.

            — Saint Theresa of Ávila

Subversive Faith

The original Christians entered a revolutionary counterculture diametrically opposed to both religion and empire that cost them everything. Modern occidentals become “Christian“ without effort, adopting the acceptable standards of the zeitgeist and particular nationality. Relying on “Christianity“ to produce a steady stream of positive emotions, or accepting doctrines only because they are rationally logical, produces a partial and anemic faith. God becoming man is by definition irrational. God is eternal; humans are finite. Although following Jesus brings emotional joy and peace, and although Christian doctrine is highly rational, true Christianity is not fully discovered by feelings or philosophy, but revealed by God in Christ. It is counterintuitive, subversive, radical, and costly.

Spiritual Warfare

Some suffering is caused by our own foolishness. 

Some of it is caused by other people. 

And some of it comes on those who are innocent.

I know a man – one of the godliest people I’ve ever met – who is going through a Job-like trial that at this point feels unrelenting and endless. 

In some enlightened circles, the idea of satanic forces is dismissed as a superstition that belongs to medieval times, something only illiterate peasants could have believed. Satan and demonic hosts have become a joke – red cartoon characters with horns and tridents. Others relegate evil to inner psychological persuasions. “She’s fighting her personal demons.” Still others equate satanic principalities and powers with political or economic power. 

But Satan is real. 

We want desperately to believe that the recipients of bad things deserve them. Sometimes they do. Some injuries, illnesses, losses, and setbacks are clearly our own fault. People sometimes get fired for good reason. If you eat five-dozen donuts a day, you can hardly blame fate, much less God, for your diabetes. 

Our fears drive us to find a rational justification for evil because if there is none, we too are vulnerable. We don’t want to believe that people are poor, suffering, or broken through no fault of their own. We blame the victim. It makes us feel better.

But the truth is that innocent, blameless, people do suffer through no fault of their own. Bad things happen to good people. 

Job was blameless. The man I mentioned in the opening of this essay is blameless.

Someone is quick to say, “No one is sinless except Christ.” Granted. But that doesn’t mean that people like these did anything at all to cause the situation they are in. blameless and sinless are two different things. Job’s friends tried desperately to find a rational explanation for the devastation that had fallen him. They reasoned, coerced, blamed, and accused. And God told them they were completely wrong. Their “we get what we deserve” theology was entirely mistaken. 

Job was blameless, and yet he lost everything – his health, his livestock, all of his employees/servants, all of his children, all of his friends. Even his wife told him to curse God and die. He cried out, “God, where are you?” 

And God was silent. Job concluded that life was not worth living if it was this painful and irrational. He cursed the day he was born. 

The person I mentioned in the opening of this essay is blameless, yet he, like Job, is suffering the devastating loss of family, income, vocation, purpose, livelihood, and friends. And God is mostly silent. 

Jesus was entirely innocent, blameless, and sinless. Jesus suffered the loss of all things. And God was silent.

Jesus calls us to follow Him. Twisted theology imagines two different Jesus people. The first is the suffering servant of the Gospels; the second is the triumphant king who is coming with the armies of heaven. But Messiah Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. 

The same Jesus who called Mary Magdalene, Matthew, Bartholomew, Paul, and John to follow Him, is calling us to follow Him. The same Jesus who taught and practiced cruciform, enemy forgiving, servant-like, unconditional love and nonviolence, teaches His apprentices to do the same today.

When Jesus called the original devotees, they could have had no expectation of anything other than suffering. They didn’t sign up to follow Jesus expecting to thereby become wealthy or be elected to the Roman senate. They knew full well that following the Messiah meant rejection, ostracism, economic loss, ridicule, and often imprisonment or death. They embraced the prospect both fearlessly and gladly. They were following Jesus as He really is.

Today, some claim to follow Jesus, but are in reality following a Jesus of their own (or someone else’s) imagination. They expect that by following this Jesus, they will be efficacious in business, popular, successful in marriage, healthy of body and soul, wield political power, and enjoy material fruits. They picture Jesus as a conquering king, triumphant, victorious. 

Jesus is King. Jesus is making all things new. Jesus is coming again. All evil and suffering will be conquered and defeated. Even death itself will be banished. And Jesus is here with us now, ready, willing, and able to be a very present help in times of need. He heals. He guides. He encourages. He inundates us with unconditional love. He fills our hearts with indescribable joy and peace that surpasses understanding. 

Jesus is simultaneously both the suffering servant who confronts evil with cruciform love, turns the other cheek, goes the second mile, freely gives, and takes the lowest place, and the coming King of Glory. 

Jesus invites us to Himself. He invites us to come to Him as He really is. When we dare to do so, we are united with Him, we join with Him as He makes all things new. Collectively, we become His body, and, as members of His body, we are never without His love, protection, peace, joy, guidance, and Lamb-like power. We are also never without experiencing His rejection by the world, His suffering at the hands of evil, and the satanic opposition He and His Kingdom always face. 

Following Jesus (which is the only legitimate definition of a Christian) means identifying with Jesus – thinking, acting, and speaking like Jesus, and living by the teachings of Jesus in the four Gospels (the heart of which is the Sermon on the Mount). 

Following Jesus invariably brings divine love, comfort, mercy, grace. 

Following Jesus invariably brings rejection, suffering, and persecution.

You can’t have one without the other.

All who would live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. (2 Timothy 3:12)

In the world you will have tribulation. (John 16:33)

The servant is not greater than his lord. (John 13:16; 15:20)

For whom we have suffered the loss of all things (Philippians 3:8)

Dare we imagine that the shame and suffering were only for the original followers? Dare we relegate Satan and his cohorts to the dustbin of superstition, or redefine the satanic armies as political or psychological entities? 

We suffer as followers of Jesus for the same reason Jesus suffered and for the same reason His original followers suffered. We suffer for the same reason Job suffered. We suffer because Satan is real.

God did not create the devil. God created angels with freewill who used their freewill to rebel and become the demons, devils, principalities, powers, and spiritual wickedness of the kingdom of darkness. Evil is real. Satan is real. Satan prows about looking for people he can destroy. (John 10:10) 

Satan killed Job’s children and servants, robbed him of his health, wealth and friends. Satan attacks the blameless.

We are in a spiritual warfare that is very real. It rages unseen in the heavenlies. 

We do not fight against people. People, no matter how mean, sinful, greedy, cruel, violent, or narcissistic they may be, are never the enemy. People may be pawns of the enemy, but the enemy is Satan. 

Our fight is not with people. It is against the leaders and the powers and the spirits of darkness in this world. It is against the demon world that works in the heavens.(Ephesians 6:12, NLT)

When Job suffered his losses, his friends came and sat in silence with him for a week. That was commendable. The best thing we can do for those who are suffering is to simply be with them. No explanations. No solutions. No glib Bible verses. Just presence. 

Would that Job’s friends had stayed silent. They apparently couldn’t resist expressing their errant theological belief that evil is punishment for sin. They pleaded for Job to confess; then, when he did not, they conjoled, argued, judged, and condemned. God makes it clear in the closing chapters that nothing they said was accurate.

Before God shows up in the whirlwind, a young know-it-all appears out of nowhere with the deep wisdom he thinks he’s learned over his 25 years of life. He insists that God causes everything for good reasons. Everybody rightly ignores him.

Then God comes. God grants Job an audience, but gives no explanation as to why the bad things happened. There is no theodicy, no explanation of the problem of evil. Instead, God describes the magnificent beauty of His creation, as if to underscore that the Creator is not finished creating. He is making all things new. Things as they are are not as they will be.

The only way to forget something is to focus on something else. In the deepest time of sorrow thus far in my life, a friend exhorted me: “When you’re confronted with that which you do not understand, fall back on that which you do understand.” Rather than focus on the unanswerable questions, I chose to focus on the things I do know – God is love; God will never leave us. Similarly, if you focus on your sin, you will wind up depressed, but if you focus on God’s forgiveness of your sin, you’ll experience peace. Job understood and focused on the beauty of God’s creation rather than on his devastating losses. 

As he does so, Job realizes that, contrary to what he thought, life really is worth living. Even with all the loss and suffering, there is beauty and grace. Yes, there is a devil, but the Lord our God, YHWH, is high and lifted up.

From on high, God is calling us. Just as He called Junias and Mark, He is calling you and me.

To what is He calling us? 

To follow Him. To join Him as He makes all things new. To be so identified with Him that we will act, speak and think like Jesus. To be so identified with Him that we will experience His rejections, sufferings, and satanic attacks, as well as His peace, love and joy. He is calling us to be contemporaneous with Jesus, to receive and follow Him as did His original apprentices. 

God is not calling us to follow some imaginary nationalistic warlord into worldly triumphalism and creation destroying exploitation. He is not calling us to legislate His agenda or take up arms in His defense. 

We are in a spiritualwarfare. How do we fight?

Not with carnal weapons. Not with guns or missiles. Not by getting out the vote, beneficial as that may be. Not by filing lawsuits, nor by argument. Never by manipulation or coercion.

For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.(2 Corinthians 10:4, ESV) 

We are fighting Satan and Satan’s demonic forces, not people. 

Never people. 

We fight by fasting, praying, and standing on scripture.

We put on the armor of God:

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6:10-17, ESV)

Our only offensive weapon is the word of God. Jesus is the Word of God. Holy Scripture reveals Jesus to us. Jesus quoted scripture to the devil in the wilderness. We do the same.

As I have been entering the spiritual battle on behalf of the godly man I mentioned, I am discovering a few things.

First, Satan is a bully. The best way to fight a bully is to stand up to him.

“Submit yourself to God; resist the devil and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7)

Like Gandalf the Grey, we take a stand and shout, “You shall not pass!”

The Lord rebuke you devils, in Jesus’ name!

You shall not have this life, this person, this victory!

We quote appropriate scripture. “God has not given me the sprit of fear…” “The Lord is my light and my salvation, of whom shall I be afraid?”

Second, Satan hates light. We fight him by living, walking, in the light, by being open and honest about our sins, our fears, our weaknesses, and our vulnerabilities with at least one trusted human confessor. Satan hates it when we’re honest and open.

Third, Satan always attacks at our weakest point. It might be our children, or our marriage, or our self-identity, or our health or career. We fight by identifying in prayer our weak points and asking God to repair the breaches. Lord, put your banner of love over me (or, over whoever you are praying for), your everlasting arms under me, a hedge around me, surrounding me with an angel army in chariots of fire. Hide me in the shadow of your love. Keep me in the secret place of the Most High. 

Finally, Satan never gives up, so when a battle is won in prayer, regroup, stand firm. “Having done all, to stand.” Pursue after the enemy. Use the momentum of victory to press for more victory. Had George McClellan been neither traitor nor coward, he would have pursued the Confederate Army to its defeat in 1863. Instead, the Civil War dragged on for two more years.

Every Job-like trial eventually ends in victory for Jesus and restoration for us. 

Job got back twice the livestock and servants he had previously. He got back his health. He got back the same number of children he started with. 

Wait a minute. His children, the ones we met in chapter one, were still dead. You can’t replace a dead child. I don’t know, but it has been suggested that maybe the ending of Job was the author’s way of expressing resurrection as best he or she could seventeen centuries before Christ. Maybe the author is saying Job got back all his children in the final resurrection when all things are new.

The original followers of Jesus left everything to follow Him. My guess is they were willing to do so without getting anything back because the essence of life and joy is being with Jesus. If we have Jesus, we have enough. Still, Peter piped up:

28 Then Peter began to speak up. “We’ve given up everything to follow you,” he said.29 “Yes,” Jesus replied, “and I assure you that everyone who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or property, for my sake and for the Good News, 30 will receive now in return a hundred times as many houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and property—along with persecution. And in the world to come that person will have eternal life. 31 But many who are the greatest now will be least important then, and those who seem least important now will be the greatest then. (Mark 10:26-31 NLT)

Did Peter and company inherit a hundred houses? Yes and no. No, they didn’t own anything. But they were welcomed in hundreds of homes of fellow believers, fellow sisters and brothers in the Kingdom. 

Their ultimate reward, like Job’s, like ours, will come when Jesus makes all things new. 

The ultimate reward is Jesus Himself. 

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding
and my entire will.

All I have and call my own,
You have given all to me,
to you, Lord, I return it.

Everything is yours; do with it what you will.
Give me only your love and your grace,
that is enough for me. Amen
.

(St. Ignatius of Loyola)

A Prayer

Oh LORD JESUS CHRIST, there is so much to drag us back: empty pursuits, trivial pleasures, unworthy cares. There is so much to frighten us away: a pride too cowardly to submit to being helped, cowardly apprehensiveness which evades danger to its own destruction, anguish for sin which shuns holy cleansing as disease shuns medicine. But THOU art stronger than these, so draw THOU us now more strongly to THEE. We call THEE our SAVIOR and REDEEMER, since THOU didst come to earth to redeem us from the servitude under which we were bound or had bound ourselves, and to save the lost. This is THY work, which THOU didst complete, and which THOU wilt continue to complete unto the end of the world; for since THOU THYSELF has said it, therefore THOU wilt do it — lifted up from the earth THOU wilt draw all unto THEE. — Søren Kierkegaard

You’re Not a Follower of Jesus if You Don’t Do This One Essential Thing: Matthew 6:9-15 & 18:15-35

Contend for the Truth Without Judging: Jude, verses 1-7

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