It’s been weighing on my heart these days to start a “series” of sorts called “Misinterpreting Scripture” (I know, clever). My goal is to take a look into various passages of the Bible that are often misinterpreted and/or mocked in order to gain more clarity on what God is actually telling us.
When people misinterpret scripture, it’s usually due to one or more of the following reasons:
– taking verses out of biblical context without knowing the big picture
– reading on the surface, rather than thinking things through and using some basic logic and common sense
– not taking into account pertinent historical or cultural information
– distorting the message by infusing the Word with our own expectations
– not knowing what the original Hebrew or Greek says (i.e., the inherent weaknesses of translation)
Motives for these failures range from simple ignorance to deliberately seeking out passages that seem outdated and outlandish today to mock the Christian faith.
The more I learn about the Bible—and there are always more layers to uncover—the more I am amazed at its depth and complexity. I know I say this a lot, but it strikes me as sheer arrogance and stupidity whenever someone thinks they’ve found some gaping theological hole through their own brilliance or “reason.” If you’re not willing to take faith in what the Bible says, at least give centuries of serious scholars some credit. People have been poring over the pages of the Bible more intensely than any other work in history. You are not so special that you’ve found something that others have not (and have already solved for the most part).
And for those who have faith in the Bible, please know that it is not as simple or straightforward as a history book or instruction manual. You must stay engaged intellectually—you cannot check your brain at the door! We are to love the Lord our God not with just our hearts but also with our minds. But most of all, we must be in tune spiritually. Without the voice of the Holy Spirit, we cannot hope to understand what God is actually trying to tell us.
“The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” 1 Corinthians 2:14. How true these words are!
[Seems I’ve found a way to get into my blog while at work…instead of going directly to my site, I need to go through WordPress.com first. Hopefully, this will lead to more frequent updating. Previously, I could no longer access my blog because websites that are “uncategorized” (or in forbidden categories) would get blocked.]
Finally, another update! I think this will be the end of this topic for now, but I just wanted to address a couple more areas. Some of it overlaps with what I’ve already said, but I think more emphasis couldn’t hurt.
Worked-Based Salvation vs. “Grace”
This is a biggie. Often in churches, you will find Christians on both extremes of the spectrum. On one end, you’ll find a lot of well-meaning believers exhorting you to read your Bible every day, diligently attend bible study, pray x number of times per day, pay some percentage of your income as offering, smile, do charity work…etc. The list goes on and on. Without these things, you cannot be a true Christian.
On the other end, you’ll find people emphasizing God’s grace—as if that is His only predominant trait—and living however they want. They look like the world, act like the world, but because they “accepted Christ into their hearts” at some point in their lives, they think they’re set. In their minds, they have been vaccinated from the virus of damnation, and they’re free to wallow in whatever filth they please. Of course, not everyone is this blatant in their abuse, but the general sense is that absolute freedom has been attained. There’s no need to strive and give your full effort anymore. “It is finished,” right? Lukewarm living, while not ideal, is “OK”…except it’s really not.
So what’s the truth? Well, it’s a lot more nuanced than either of these extreme views. People love easy-to-digest absolutes, so some don’t like learning the finer points. But you could say it falls somewhere in between.
Is God’s grace and Jesus’ death on the cross sufficient for any person, any circumstance? Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. It can save and sanctify the serial felon just as much as the nice, “wholesome” American person you work with. Christ’s blood covers anything.
But can a person be saved and live however he wants? Not really. The Bible tells us that true believers in Christ “have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness” (Romans 6:18). Colossians 3:10 tells us that as believers, we “have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.” In other words, when we become Christians, we are indwelt with the Holy Spirit who begins a new work in us, transforming us from the inside-out. We are on a new path toward sanctification, and while we will never quite get there in the sinful flesh, we will continually progress in our walk.
Bottom line: If we are truly saved as Christians, our lives will begin to resemble Christ more and more. We will not read the Bible simply out of duty, but with genuine eagerness to draw closer to our Lord and learn more about Him. Just as we want to learn about people we love, we want to understand God and His character on a deeper level, so we are drawn toward Scripture. We will want to fellowship with genuine brothers and sisters in Christ, eager to edify each other and grow together. We will grow in diligence with prayer—again, out of a closeness and reliance we’re developing with God—while also becoming more compassionate and kind toward others.
The first step is becoming truly saved and being indwelt with the Holy Spirit. Let’s call that Step A. The next step that will continue to happen until we die is growing closer to God and becoming more like Christ. That’s Step B. Of course, there will be setbacks along the way and slips, but the general momentum is forward and upward.
A –> B. Simple, ain’t it?
The problem with works-based salvation is that it can be misconstrued as this: B –> A. This is impossible. We as humans cannot attain salvation through works any more than a dog can clip its own toenails and brush its own teeth. Stupid analogy, but we just got a puppy, OK? 😉
On the flip side, a person cannot be a true Christian and live, look, and think just like the rest of the world (see Romans 12:2). If a person is living like this, then you have to wonder if “Step A” ever really took place. Do we see “B” happening? If not, then chances are the Holy Spirit is nowhere to be found in that person. “A” must ALWAYS lead to B at some point (though admittedly, in varying degrees). So we all need to test ourselves as 2 Corinthians 13:5 exhorts us to do.
Now, here comes a BIG disclaimer. A lot of what I’ve said is pretty common knowledge, at least in good churches. But what often gets overlooked is that diligence and acts can increase our chances of having an encounter with God. We are not always going to “feel like” talking to God, reading the Word, or loving our neighbor. Sometimes, it takes conscious effort and discipline. And you know what? That’s fine. Sometimes, people are pumped and excited to go to the gym. Other times, they have to drag themselves to go. Either way, it’s better than not going.
How do you expect to encounter God or have a spiritual epiphany if you are never learning anything new from the Bible? How do you expect to hear God’s voice leading you in a beneficial way if you never pray? When are you ever going to feel compelled to open up your wallet and give to the Lord or help the needy if you don’t ever make the plunge? It has to become less of a leap for you. Churches would all go under if offering came only from those who were completely “on fire” each week. If you never learn how to give, don’t expect to become generous miraculously without any conscious effort on your part. (Sure, it can happen if God bestows you with that gift, but don’t count on it.)
Do your best and let God take care of the rest. Don’t sit on your couch and make God drag you everywhere.
Uninformed and Extreme Bible Interpretation: Finding the Fine Lines
Throughout our history, numerous Christians—genuine or not—have embarrassed the faith through immoral behavior that they supposedly learned from the Bible.
You’ve heard the stories. A father physically assaults his child and blames Proverbs for telling him not to “spare the rod.” Men read that wives should submit to their husbands, so they go on a chauvinistic power trip. A friend points out the wrong behavior of a fellow believer, and someone will instinctively recite: “Do not judge!”
One of Satan’s favorite tricks is to blur the fine lines between good truth and destructive evil. To our human minds, it may be hard to distinguish the real differences. Spanking and disciplining a child in love can correct behavior and lead them toward a better future with moral character. Striking a child in a temper-induced rage can escalate very quickly to abuse, which is sinful and repulsive. Discipline builds up; abuse tears down.
Wives should submit to their husbands as the head of the household, but that doesn’t mean she is less valuable or some kind of servant. In fact, if people would go beyond biblical sound bites and actually learn something, they would also come across the next few verses in Ephesians 5 where it tells husbands to love their wives as themselves—that alone should get rid of any selfish expectations from a marriage relationship. But just in case we didn’t get the message, Paul further states to care for her and give oneself up for her protection, just as Christ did. We’re talking about a savior who washed his disciples’ feet and ultimately suffered and died for us. Does this sound chauvinistic to you? If wives would respect their husbands and husbands cherished their wives, we wouldn’t be seeing the rampant unhappiness and divorce we see today.
And yes, we are not to judge others insofar as we puff ourselves up with pride and look down on them. We are also not to judge hypocritically. As Jesus humorously illustrated, it’s ridiculous to point out the speck in someone else’s eye while ignoring the plank in our own eyes.
But this is different from faithfully rebuking someone in love. People in the church today seem to think that fellowship is all about hanging out, eating together, sharing some laughs…but it’s really not. It’s supposed to be about building each other up in faith, and sometimes that means pointing out potential pitfalls for their brothers and sisters in Christ. Is it “loving” to not point out that someone is developing a drinking problem? Or that their moral compass seems to be getting off kilter, possibly because of surrounding worldly influences?
Again, there’s a fine line, and as flawed prideful humans, we are prone to step over that line. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try, though.
Rebuking out of love is good. Judging and looking down on another person is wrong and pride-building.
Follow the Spirit’s Lead
There sure seem to be a lot of “fine lines” to walk in the Christian faith, huh? How are we ever supposed to get it all right? Well, as mentioned before, we can’t. We are destined to fail over and over again—hopefully less and less as we grow, though. In our own wisdom and flesh, it’s very hit-or-miss.
God knew this, and that’s why He sent the Holy Spirit on Pentecost to indwell true believers and guide them. Without relying on the Holy Spirit every single day, what eventually happens is that we start slipping. In my own life, I’ve seen complacency set in alarmingly fast! Whereas we might have once stood firm on some moral issue, without leaning on the Holy Spirit for long enough, we might become lax. “Maybe homosexuality isn’t so bad after all. Who are they hurting really?” “Maybe it is a woman’s ‘choice’ to abort her baby. After all, doesn’t it statistically lead to less crime?”
Human wisdom and rationalizing can get out of hand very, very quickly. We cannot trust ourselves. Left unchecked, we may look back in a few years (or even months) and find we’re so far off the path that we don’t know how to get back on. That’s why it is important to keep equipping ourselves for spiritual battle. If people would read their Bibles more, there wouldn’t be such mass confusion over simple issues. If they would pray more, they would stay more in tune with God’s wishes for their lives, rather than getting engulfed in the tides of the world.
Christianity isn’t supposed to be “easy.” The Bible tells us we are foreigners in this world, and as such, we are never going to feel completely at ease here. If we do, then something is wrong. Our citizenship is in heaven, you guys, so inform yourselves and don’t let Satan fool you. It’s so much easier for him to trick the ignorant believer than it is someone whose mind is filled with scripture. It might start out with little things, small deviations, and before you know it, you’re far gone. And I guarantee, when we see God one day, we’re going to wish with all of our might that we tried a lot harder in this life. We’re going to wish so badly that He will say to us, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Keep up your guard, and don’t let Satan fool you so easily. May God help us all to be good soldiers in the fight!