Rethinking Religion, Part 6: Confessing Our Sins

This is Part 6 of a multi-part series I’ve called Rethinking Religion. Here’s a look at the entire series thus far:

I urge you to read these in order because each post assumes a reading of the previous posts.

The Apostle John, in his first letter, makes the statement: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9). It would be an understatement to say that this verse has been misunderstood and misapplied throughout much of the church’s history. Those in top-down religious positions of authority have wrongly used this verse to insist we must continually be on high alert and constantly confess their sins in order to receive forgiveness up to that point in time. John MacArthur explains 1 John 1:9 this way,

“It is a subjective, relational kind of forgiveness. It is the restoration to a place of blessing in the eyes of a displeased father. …it is a spiritual washing to rid you of the defilement caused by sin in your daily walk. The verse is speaking of an ongoing pardon and purification from sin, not the cleansing and forgiveness of salvation.” If We Confess Our Sins, Emphasis Mine

He continues by adding,

“The pardon of justification and the washing of regeneration do not eliminate the need for you to deal with the subjective reality of sin in your life.” If We Confess Our Sins, Emphasis Mine

MacArthur insists that 1 John 1:9 is referencing an accumulation of sin caused by my daily walk. In other words, as I live my life, sin accumulates and requires periodic confession in order to be restored to a Father who has become displeased with me in between my confessions because of accumulated sins. For him, it is a “subjective, relational kind of forgiveness” that depends on my faithfulness to repeatedly and continually confess all of my sins in order to receive “ongoing pardon and purification.” In his own words, I become defiled and unclean just be living my life every day, apart from continual confession of sins. For MacArthur, the forgiveness and pardon you received at conversion doesn’t “eliminate the need for you to deal with the subjective reality of sin in your life.” In short, you’re forgiven but not really.

Desiring God Ministries adds a new layer of confusion by insisting:

“You’re not saved through faith alone. Be killing your sin.” Twitter 10/14/2017

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Who Are The Leaders and What Is Leadership?

“I define a leader as anyone who takes responsibility for finding the potential in people and processes, and who has the courage to develop that potential.” – Brene Brown

Institutional religion has successfully redefined and recreated leadership in its own image. 2,000 years of institutional religion has given us the CEO version of leaders and leadership where a leader is someone in charge who is to be submitted to and obeyed and failure to submit and obey is met with punishments in various forms such as public shaming, shunning, and excommunication, etc. In this type of institutional top-down authority structure, power flows down while money flows up and conformity to the pre-set rules is met with rewards while non-conformity is met with punishments. The institution must survive regardless of who gets hurt along the way. We’ve come to call this good and acceptable leadership. We’re wrong.

There are a couple of passages in Hebrews 13 that those within institutional settings often quote to us as proof texts for submitting to leaders and obeying leaders because (it is reasoned) the leader is in a power position and the one(s) in charge who must be submitted to. The passages in question are Hebrews 13:7.

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What Does “Deny Yourself and Take Up Your Cross” Mean?

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me…” (Matthew 16:24)

This verse has gotten us into trouble over the years. Not because there’s something wrong with the verse or with Jesus’ amazing statement, but because we’re doers and we’re always looking for something to do in order to be more pleasing to God. We’ll insert ourselves into any Bible verse that looks like it needs us to do something. We’re doers. We’ve convinced ourselves that our own labor and effort are necessary contributions that earn extra credit or additional merit. Even though Jesus answered the question 2,000+ years ago, we’re still asking “What must we do to be doing the works of God?” (John 6:28-29). What’s our contribution? We’re ready at a moment’s notice to strap on the spiritual tool belt and get busy because we’re doers.

Because we’re such doers, we’ve interpreted this verse as marching orders for the Christian life. We’ve been told it’s a call to spiritual progress and maturity. You’ve heard it as much as I have. When hard times hit, we remind each other that we all have our cross to bear and bearing the weight of that burden is key to denying ourselves because after all, that’s what Jesus said to do. We’ve made this beautiful passage all about us and our ability to endure and press on when life gets hard.

But it has nothing to do with that. Let’s take a second glance at the context. First, Jesus is talking about his own pending crucifixion (Matthew 16:21). Second, failure on our part to take up our cross and follow him has eternal, not temporal consequences. Things like losing our life and losing our soul are at stake (Matthew 16:25-26). Eternity is on the line, not spiritual maturity. In other words, failure to take up my cross and follow him, leads to death, not disappointment at being an undisciplined Christian. Third, where did Jesus’ cross take him? It took him to Calvary to die. If I take up my cross and follow him, to where am I following him? To Calvary to die (John 12:24-26). This is why Paul could say, “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God”(Colossians 3:3) and “Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God” (Romans 7:4).

This is the meaning of denying ourselves, taking up our cross, and following him. It’s an invitation to believe. It’s an invitation to die. It’s an invitation to identify with him in his death. It’s an invitation to die with him and in so doing, to find life. It has nothing to do with endurance under trials but everything to do with dying with him in order to reign with him.


Photo by Jesse Orrico on Unsplash

Should I Be Dying Daily?

I spent years confused by Paul’s statement, “I die every day!” (1 Cor. 15:31). The confusion came because when I became a Christian the message I heard was salvation is a free gift, with no strings attached. The forgiveness of sins was free, apart from merit, works, or duty. I can’t earn it. It’s a free gift that will never be taken away. That was good news! No strings attached? I’m in! Where do I sign up?

But what happens to most of us (probably all of us) is that once we’re in, the message changes. It morphs into something else. It morphs into my own ability to keep God happy with me by the things I do, think, and say. I was no longer free, but weighed down with “Christian duty.” The message changed from Jesus plus nothing to I’m now responsible to be doing A-Z, whatever A-Z was determined to be, and my failure to do A-Z consistently resulted in feelings of guilt and remorse for being such a failure. Failure to have a consistent quiet time resulted in feelings of shame and guilt. Failure to read the Bible through in a year resulted in feelings of shame and guilt. Failure to pray every day with my wife and children brought feelings of shame and guilt. Failure to be the husband and father I was told I needed to be by Continue reading

Can Grace Be Balanced?

“For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”  (John 1:17)

This verse from John is a watershed verse because in a few simple words, it delineates the Old Covenant from the New; Jesus from Moses. In a very clear way, it summarizes the flow of redemptive history by reminding us that there is a difference between Moses and Jesus and the two were never intended to be mixed together.

Unfortunately, mixing them together is what many of us like to do. Grace scares us so we read this verse as though it’s a subtle warning and reminder that truth is meant to balance out grace. We read it as though truth polices grace and keeps it manageable. And of course by “truth,” we mean some sort of law or rule-keeping that somehow tames grace down a bit so it isn’t quite so free and threatening. It can be something we pull over from Moses or some rule or principle we find in the New Testament or in our religious environment. Either way, we read this as though grace needs balanced out by Continue reading

What Does “Doers of the Word” Mean?

“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.” (James 1:22-24)

What do you suppose James meant when he said “be doers of the word?” The most common answer is that he meant obedience to the Bible. This common view states that what James meant was do what the Bible says to do, put the moral commands of Scripture into practice. Ligonier Ministries suggests this is the proper interpretation by saying,

“We read in verse 22 that we are to ‘be doers of the word and not hearers only.’ When we look at the Word of God we must look at it with an eye to putting the Word into practice in our lives. Listening to the Word and knowing what it says is not enough if our lives are not changed as a result. For if we only hear the Word of God and never put it into practice, we have deceived ourselves (v. 22).”

This raises a couple of questions in my mind. First, James was probably one of the earliest New Testament letters written which means that the canon of Scripture that we often refer to as the Word of God didn’t exist yet. If James’ letter was among the earliest of the New Testament letters, his was one of the first of many more to follow. Did James mean “be doers of the Bible” before there was a Bible? I doubt it. Or because there was no Bible yet, maybe he meant “be doers of the Old Covenant Law.” I doubt that too. The recipients of his letter were Jewish and a mixture of believers and unbelievers who were familiar with the Old Covenant law of Moses and its requirements for perfect obedience. They had lived under that empty obligation all their lives. They didn’t need to be told something they already knew so well. I doubt James would say “be doers of the Law” to a group of people who already knew that requirement and were hearing the good news that they were no longer under the law.

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