Half right, totally wrong: Shallow things religious people believe

But as for you, speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine.  –Titus 2:1 

We hear them all the time.  Something about these oft-repeated claims just does not seem right, we think.  Here are a few that have occurred to me. You’ll know others….

One. “Christianity is not a religion;  it’s a relationship.”

Sounds right, but it’s wrong.  Ask yourself one question:  As a follower of Jesus–by which I mean in a relationship with Him–would it be all right if I joined a religion and became a Buddhist or Taoist or a Jew or a Muslim? After all, as a Christian I’m not in a religion as such (according to this thinking) and there would be no reason not to.   Of course, those religions are incompatible with the way of Jesus Christ and that’s why we counsel believers to avoid them.

“The way of Jesus Christ”?  We call that The Christian Religion.

Friend, if it looks like a duck and walks like a duck, well….

A religion may be defined as a systemized practice of worship involving a God, a place or places of worship, a system of beliefs, and in most cases exclusivity (that is, it claims to hold The Truth).

Sure sounds like the Christian faith to me.

Two: “All sin is equal in the sight of God.” 

This is not only wrong, it is unreasonable to the human mind, contrary to Holy Scripture, an insult to the Living God, and mind-boggling to those who know their Bibles.

Where did this originate?  Perhaps from texts such as I Samuel 15:23, “Rebellion is as the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry.”  Or, perhaps when our Lord said, “He who lusts after a woman hath already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28).  Each statement was to prevent people from minimizing their rebellion/arrogance or lustful thoughts by saying, “Well, at least I didn’t act on that.” God says we should know the severity of such wrong thoughts and harsh attitude.

The heart matters. Thoughts count.  Everything we do originates in the heart (that is, the mind) (see Matthew 15:19).

But let no one think that to covet or lust is the same in the sight of God as acting on that. Hatred is bad and is indeed the root of murder, but the murderer is not on the same footing before Almighty God as one harboring ill will toward his brother.

On this subject, Billy Graham said, “It seems obvious that some sins are worse than others, both in motivation and effects, and should be judged accordingly.  Stealing a loaf of bread is vastly different (from) exterminating a million people.  Sins may also differ at the root.”

Stealing is stealing, some would say.  Not necessarily.  In Scripture times, the poor of the land would come behind reapers taking what fell off the wagon, would gather around the edges of the fields, and would be granted the right for a second harvest (after the owners gathered the first one).  When I was growing up on the farm, I can tell you that anyone doing such a thing would have been accused of outright thievery.  Yet, it was acceptable in Israel.

Scripture teaches degrees of punishment at Judgment.  Some people will have it easier than others.  Sodom’s punishment will be lighter than Capernaum’s since Sodom’s opportunities were so few and Capernaum rejected the greatest Teacher ever (Matthew 11:23-24).  Jesus said some who deserved punishment would receive “many blows” and others “few blows” (Luke 12:47-48), depending on what they did with the opportunities they were given.  He pronounced a more severe condemnation on religious leaders for their pride and unbelief than on those in darkness who were sexually immoral (Matthew 23:13ff).

Make no mistake, sin is unbelief and an affront to the Living God.  But all sin is not equal.

Three: “All we need is love.” 

We do need love.  It’s the mark of a believer (John 13:34-35).  Loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves are the two greatest commandments (Matthew 22:37-39).

“All we need is love” is a loophole in search of a lazy pilgrim.  It appears to be the credo of those wishing to bypass Scripture’s instructions to forsake not the assembling of ourselves to worship, our responsibilities toward one another and the lost of the world, as well as our obligations to give, to pray, to serve, to teach, evangelize, and forgive.

Again, it’s a half-truth since great works without love renders them useless (see I Corinthians 13:1ff).  The church at Ephesus was in danger of losing their franchise because they had “left their first love” (Revelation 2:1ff.).  So, while love is the very heart of our relationship to Christ, and love is the motivating factor behind all we do for Christ and His church, we must not opt for oversimplification and say “love is enough.”  Loving obedience is the correct way.

Four: “Scripture says judge not.”

Matthew 7:1 says, “Judge not, that you be not judged.”  The passage continues, “For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.”  The point seems clear enough on the surface, but unthinking people have cited this to rebuke anyone trying his/her best to use discernment in decision-making.

–This guy is arrested for child abuse and goes to prison.  Upon his release, someone suggests that he should not be allowed to work in the church preschool.  The shallow believer replies, “Scripture says we’re not to judge. After all, they paid for their crime.”

–A church secretary is arrested for embezzling.  She goes to prison for ten years. When she comes out, someone suggests that she should be church treasurer. “After all, she knows what to watch for now.  She was always a whiz about finances.”  But no, the leadership says.  “That would not be wise.”  The shallow believer rebukes them and says, “We are not to judge.”

–A pastor I know had a man arrested for abusing his (the pastor’s) child.  A church member resisted the pastor and paid the man’s bail, insisting the pastor was judging the man too harshly.  The molester promptly bought a gun and killed the pastor’s son and his wife, then took his own life.

Beloved, let us not be stupid and blame it on Jesus.

Still in Matthew 7, verse 20. “Therefore, by their fruits you shall know them.”  The Lord is warning against false teachers who appear in sheep’s clothing (v. 15).  Inside, “they are ravenous wolves.”  So, He says, His people are to pay attention to the product of such teachers and make knowledgeable decisions based on “their fruits.”

The point of Matthew 7:1 is not to condemn.  However, nowhere does Scripture encourage God’s people to be blind toward false teachers and wicked con men who would deceive them.  We are to be “wise as serpents and as harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16).

As a prospective employer, I will try to make sound judgments concerning your suitability for employment in my firm.  You may feel I am judging you harshly.  That is your prerogative.  But my job is to make the soundest decisions for this business I possibly can.

Those are four shallow oversimplifications we hear God’s people spouting from time to time.  These are not all, of course.  The enemy is creating new half-truths even as we speak.  Whether to hold the one speaking accountable for what they have said is a question best put to the Holy Spirit.  In all things, we should use discernment, act in love, and not sin. 

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