Passage: James 1:19-26
“But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it.” James 22-25 (NLT)
Labor day 2011 – a much welcome day of rest for our household. We decided we would do nothing but rest and enjoy each other last Monday. Our children were playing, so I decided to turn on the television. “The View” was coming on with a very special guest – Lady Gaga! I saw it as an opportunity to, for the first time hear this very controversial character; the “Madonna of Generation Z.” So, as the liberal hosts in the show asked this New Yorker about her reaction to the passing of the law allowing same-sex marriage, the star had to gather herself. Emotions ran through her face as she talked about how proud and excited she was to be a New Yorker. No surprise there. But then… the camera focused on the live audience. People were beaming, clapping their hands and shouting in approval. In that split-second, the Lord spoke in my heart: “How many of these people do you think were sitting at church yesterday?” The answer came immediately: “More than you would think.”
There is a fast-growing movement in the Christian world that scares me. It compels me to pray for mercy, conviction and guidance for all Christians I know – friends, family, leaders, including myself. It is designed by the father of lies and deception and it is unfortunately sweeping over our churches, Christian organizations and families. The underlying objective is to defeat the effectiveness of the church, to make us lose the “salt and light” quality that we should live out in society and ultimately to make us become stumbling blocks for the lost. This movement, certainly led by satan himself and his army, uses very effective weapons, such as compromise and pride.
Compromise – The Blunt Deception
There are numerous issues that have become acceptable and even fashionable in the last decades. These would send our founding fathers into a permanent state of shock. I will take just the homosexuality issue as an example, but there are many others.
Do you think our grand-parents would imagine that one day a man would be able to actually marry a man? Or that some states would embrace a curriculum that teaches kindergartners that such diverse families are acceptable and appropriate? Do you think that they would ever imagine that a sector of a certain Christian denomination would actually embrace that lifestyle as normal and acceptable, when the Word of God is so clear regarding this issue. I’m confused as to which part of the verses below is not clear for some people:
“So God abandoned them to do whatever shameful things their hearts desired. As a result, they did vile and degrading things with each other’s bodies. They traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself, who is worthy of eternal praise! Amen. That is why God abandoned them to their shameful desires. Even the women turned against the natural way to have sex and instead indulged in sex with each other. And the men, instead of having normal sexual relations with women, burned with lust for each other. Men did shameful things with other men, and as a result of this sin, they suffered within themselves the penalty they deserved. Since they thought it foolish to acknowledge God, he abandoned them to their foolish thinking and let them do things that should never be done.” Romans 1:24-28 (NLT emphasis added)
But wait, NO!! You cannot say that without being labeled as “homophobic”, “hateful” and “judgmental.” And there, my sisters and brothers, is where our real problem lies. As this movement grows faster than kudzu under the Georgia sun, we, the church, for the most part, remain silent. We do talk about it amongst ourselves, but when one of our pastors or leaders dares to stand up for what is actually God’s Word, not their opinion, the world cries “Crucify him (or her!)” No surprise there either – the same cry was heard over 2,000 years ago.
So – Where is the church? How brave are we when the world claps their hands in approval of iniquity and unrighteousness? Are we showing the love of Christ by compromising? Absolutely not! God loves all sinners, but hates sin! We are absolutely not to ever hate the people who commit such sins – we must love them. After all, we are under the same condition, apart from Christ’s saving grace – we are all equally sinners. The only difference is the acceptance or rebuttal of God’s grace and forgiveness through Christ who cleans all iniquity. But we must, we absolutely must speak the truth in love and guide the lost into the truth. Only then we may say we are indeed Christ-like. Just think about it – we don’t find any passage in the Gospels where Jesus’ message to the sinners is “I understand your predicament, my dear. It must be hard for you. Just go and perform some good deeds and you will be fine. You don’t need to change a thing.” His message was clear – like in the passage of the adulterous woman after she tells Him that her accusers had left. He said: “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.” (John 8:11 NASB – emphasis added.) In other words: “I love you my dear, so much so that I am actually going to die for your sins that you may be accepted by the Father. But you must stop living in sin.” Period.
The issue of condoning sins such as abortion and homosexuality is such a clear erroneous behavior for the church of Christ that I must believe that most of the people who are reading this message probably don’t have any problems standing up against them. But there is an even greater danger that lurks in our churches today. It’s greater because many times it is invisible… it start in one’s heart and its manifestations may be confined to the secret of their home, when no one is watching. This issue is found in common folks who fill the pews every Sunday, as well as in the lives of men who preach the gospel, Christian music performers and Sunday school leaders.
Internal Religion – The Subtle Deception
“For you are not a true Jew just because you were born of Jewish parents or because you have gone through the ceremony of circumcision. No, a true Jew is one whose heart is right with God. And true circumcision is not merely obeying the letter of the law; rather, it is a change of heart produced by God’s Spirit. And a person with a changed heart seeks praise from God, not from people”. Romans 2:28-29 – NLT
Outward Expressions of Faith
There is nothing wrong with outward expressions of faith. A person who is right with God praises Him and naturally seeks to serve His kingdom with the gifts God gave him or her. However, outward expressions of faith should be the RESULT of a changed heart, much like the circumcision became the sign that God gave Abraham and his descendants BECAUSE he believed. The truth is that outward expressions of faith such as good deeds, church attendance, baptism, etc, should be a CONSEQUENCE of the condition of our hearts. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. Many people go to church and serve for personal gain, to be seen, to be accepted or to impress someone. This is what Jesus says about it:
“Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 6:1 (NASB)
In other words, “I hope you enjoyed the applause. That’s all you get.”
Really – who do we think we fool? Almighty God, the heart-reader, the One who knows exactly what our reasons are for doing what we do? If it is not to glorify Him and attract people to HIM, you might as well retire your gifts. They are useless in God’s eyes.
“Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you;
DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’” Matthew 7:20-23 (NLT)
What a sobering thought! “I never knew you”, He said. This passage shows us that some of us will be surprised before God. I know Jesus is talking about people who never had a true change of heart; however I believe God will also judge the true motives of Christians who perform many good things for God but whose hearts are full of pride and remain unchanged. God knows the truth behind our “religious deeds.” It does not matter that we are at church every time the door is open, if at home we disrespect our spouse or neglect our children. It does not matter that we serve in Sunday school or do anything “for God,” if we go home and turn our computers to view pornographic websites. It does not matter if we sing praises to the Lord with the same lips that curse our neighbor or “spread strife amongst the brethren.”
God HATES these things (Proverbs 6:16-19). That is when our “religion” becomes an abomination to the Lord: “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit.” Matt 12:33 (NASB)
If only the church were busier seeking to LIVE the Word, not just preach it! The world would be a much better place. We would have stronger churches, better marriages, and more God-honoring children. We would have a lost world that would look at us for direction, not judgment.
At the end of the day, the twelve inches that separate our heads (what we know) from our hearts (what we do with what we know) is what defines TRUE RELIGION. God is not impressed with how many verses of the Bible I memorize or how much I do in church. He’s not even impressed by what I say when I pray. He wants my heart. He wants to look into my life and see someone who bears much fruit BECAUSE she honors and loves Him … The consequence of such love and devotion will be a life that shines brightly for Christ – one whose testimony will attract the lost to the life-changing power of the cross.
Dearest Father! That we may learn that it is our heart, not our service that You want. Convict us, oh Lord. Give us courage to lovingly stand up for what is right, even if everyone else turns against us. Teach us to serve You with the only intent to help Your kingdom grow on earth, not for personal gain. Teach us to love and honor You when no one else is watching. In Jesus’ Name I Pray, Amen!