Tag Archives: Religion

Beware the Religion of “I”

Paul recounts (Galatians 1:13-17) that he had been persecuting the church. He adds, “I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people” (v. 14). At that stage in Paul’s life, he was captivated by the religion of I.

1) The religion of I is a way of life (v. 13). It is a code, a series of rules. It is easily defined and quantified. It is something that I can feel good about having achieved. It is a series of boxes on my to-do list that I can check off. Particularly, the “former life” is likely to refer to the halakhah of rabbinic Judaism, the oral tradition of rules used to interpret the Bible; the word here is also used to translate the Hebrew halakh as “walk” or “conduct.” When Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said . . . but I say to you . . . ,” he was referring to the rabbinic interpretation of the Old Testament, through which they brought the rules down to an achievable standard in their human flesh. Actually, the law was intended to point to Christ, who alone could achieve the standard for us. The religion of I is a way of life,a conduct, a behavior. It is concerned with the external, not the internal, with good doing, not good being. There is a constant temptation to interpret the Bible that way. People view Bible-believing Christians as those who are for certain moral positions and against certain behavior, not as a people who proclaim a message of good news to all nations.

2) The religion of I has a nationalistic interpretation of the Bible. It was Paul’s way of life in Judaism (v. 13), and he was advancing in Judaism (v. 14). This is the only time “Judaism” is used by Paul to describe his former lifestyle, and here it is used twice. Judaism as a term was developed by the Maccabees in response to Jews who were beginning to live more like Greeks. Judaism then became a nationally defined movement with certain particular criteria (circumcision, sacrifice, the Sabbath) that defined a proper Jew living like a Jew.

The religion of I typically becomes nationalistic, for, in the corporate entity of the nation, we find a larger than life I. We become proud of our nation in a religious sense. Most vicious totalitarian regimes cultivate a religious feeling toward the nation. We tend to feel that God is on our side and that God speaks our language. I suppose Mormonism is the ultimate extension of this, where, despite all the archaeological evidence, Jesus is viewed as having walked the sacred turf of America.

When I did mission work in the Republic of Georgia, I noticed that the pictures of Jesus contained a good, handsome Georgian man, whereas, of course, the Western Jesus tends to look Western, when surely, if anything, he looked Jewish. The British Israelites movement believed that the British nation was one of the lost tribes of Israel. Every nation has this temptation. It is a religion of I, where we see projected onto the big screen our national characteristics and claim God as an Englishman, an American, or whatever nation it is from which we come.

3) The religion of I is opposed to the church of God (v. 13). Paul violently and vigorously persecuted the church like a good zealous fanatic who had been commissioned to seek the punishment of those thought to have blasphemed by calling Jesus “God.” Looking back, he realized that those he had persecuted were actually the church of God, not a blasphemous sect. Today, the religion of I tends to persecute the church too, for in the gathered community of God’s people there is a deep and prevailing threat to the religion of I. Church is not individualistic. It is a community, and a community requires commitment. To find community in a church, you need to make a commitment, get involved, take the initiative, and have time together. The religion of I tends to sit back and let it all flow by. “What’s in it for me?” is the great question, not “What I can give?” and, of course, this is opposed to the community of the church of God, even if only passively.

4) The religion of I is competitive. Paul was “advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people” (v. 14). That is the classic feeling of the religion of I. Who is the best theologian? Whose Greek is the best? Whose is the best and biggest church? Whose prayer is the best? All this is vanity, for what is best with regard to God is defined only by God. When we are captivated with the religion of I, what matters is what other I’s think, not what the Great I Am thinks. We strive for heaven in order to impress earth, and heaven is not impressed.

5) The religion of I is zeal without knowledge (v. 14). It is fine to be zealous, Paul will say again (Gal. 4:17–18), provided the purpose is good, but the agitators were trying to make the Galatians zealous for them. He knew all about that. Zeal was almost a technical word at the time, and later the zealots became a defined movement. Paul was not a zealot, we think, but a Pharisee of Pharisees, yet zeal was a technical defined word for being zealous for traditions, for codes of behavior. The Judaizing false teachers were trying to turn the Christians back to what they had interpreted the Scriptures as being about—zeal for the human traditions of their fathers—rather than zeal for Christ and his gospel, as the Scriptures purely and simply spoke.

Classically, the religion of I is this zeal without knowledge. It is passionate, but it is the kind of zeal that blows up buildings and causes wars and fights. The solution is not relativistic tolerance or a vague “anything goes” attitude. The solution is zeal for what is good and godly. No one can be too zealous for love or too zealous for the gospel, but the religion of I is zeal without knowledge; it is barking up the wrong tree.

6) The religion of I is tradition overwriting the Word (v. 14). One caught up in this religion is zealous for the traditions of his fathers, this oral law and way of life. He is not zealous for the Bible or the gospel. This is typically what happens. A movement gets more concerned with “how we have always done it” or “what we did before” and not with the truly radical thought of what the Bible actually teaches us to do.

So reject the religion of I, which means religion as a way of life, a nationalistic interpretation of the Bible, individualism opposing church commitment, fractious competition, zeal without knowledge, and tradition overwriting the Word. Paul, by means of his autobiography, is telling us that we need to reject the religion of I and receive the faith of God.

Josh Moody, No Other Gospel, 62-65.



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How to Mortify Sin (Repost)

Determine that you will, everyday and in every duty abolish and destroy this ruling principle of sin.  it will not die unless it is gradually and constantly weakened.  Spare it, and it heals its wounds and recovers its strength.  Negligence allows sin to regain such power that we may never recover our former state as long as we live.

We are continually to watch out for the rising up of this ruling principle of sin and immediately subdue it.  This is to be done in all that we are and do.  We are to be watchful in our behaviour to others, watchful when we are alone, watchful when in trouble or joy.  We are to be particularly watchful in the use of our pleasure times and in temptations.

Determine that you will no longer serve sin  (Rom. 6:6).  See it as the worst service of which a rational creature is capable.  If you serve sin it will bring you to a dreadful end.  Determine that though sin remains in you, yet you will not serve it.  Remember, if the ‘old ma’ is not crucified with Christ, you are still a servant of sin, whatever you might think of yourself.

Realise that it is no easy task to mortify sin.  Sin is a powerful and dreadful enemy.  There is no living thing that will not do everything in its power to save its life.  So sin also will fight to save its life.  If sin is not diligently hunted down and dealt with by holy violence, it will escape all our attempts at killing it.  It is a great mistake to think that we can at any time rest from this duty.  The ruling principle of sin to be slain is in us, and so has hold of all our faculties.  Sin cannot be killed without a sense of pain and trouble.  So Christ compared it to ‘cutting of the right hand’ and ‘plucking out the right eye’.  The battle is not against any particular lust but against all sinful lusts which war against the soul.

Mortification arising from convictions of the law leads only to dealing with particular sins, and always proves fruitless.  True mortifying of sin deals with the entire body of sin.  It goes tot the heart of the matter and lays the axe to the root of the tree.  This is the mortification which the Holy Spirit drives the believer to do.

Mortification of particular sins arises from a guilty conscience.  But mortification arising from gospel principles deals with the whole body of sin in its opposition to the renewing of the image of God in us.

John Owen (1616-83), The Holy Spirit, 167-69.

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Sovereignty and Reasons for Prayer

But some one will say, Does God not know without a monitor both what our difficulties are, and what is meet for our interest, so that it seems in some measure superfluous to solicit him by our prayers, as if he were winking, or even sleeping, until aroused by the sound of our voice? Those who argue thus attend not to the end for which the Lord taught us to pray. It was not so much for his sake as for ours. He wills indeed, as is just, that due honour be paid him by acknowledging that all which men desire or feel to be useful, and pray to obtain, is derived from him. But even the benefit of the homage which we thus pay him redounds to ourselves. Hence the holy patriarchs, the more confidently they proclaimed the mercies of God to themselves and others felt the stronger incitement to prayer. It will be sufficient to refer to the example of Elijah, who being assured of the purpose of God had good ground for the promise of rain which he gives to Ahab, and yet prays anxiously upon his knees, and sends his servant seven times to inquire (1 Kings 18:42); not that he discredits the oracle, but because he knows it to be his duty to lay his desires before God, lest his faith should become drowsy or torpid.

Wherefore, although it is true that while we are listless or insensible to our wretchedness, he wakes and watches for use and sometimes even assists us unasked; it is very much for our interest to be constantly supplicating him; first, that our heart may always be inflamed with a serious and ardent desire of seeking, loving and serving him, while we accustom ourselves to have recourse to him as a sacred anchor in every necessity; secondly, that no desires, no longing whatever, of which we are ashamed to make him the witness, may enter our minds, while we learn to place all our wishes in his sight, and thus pour out our heart before him; and, thirdly, that we may be prepared to receive all his benefits with true gratitude and thanksgiving, while our prayers remind us that they proceed from his hand. Fourthly, moreover, having obtained what we asked, being persuaded that he has answered our prayers, we are led to long more earnestly for his favour. And fifthly, at the same time have greater pleasure in welcoming the blessings which we perceive to have been obtained by our prayers. Lastly, use and experience confirm the thought of his providence in our minds in a manner adapted to our weakness, when we understand that he not only promises that he will never fail us, and spontaneously gives us access to approach him in every time of need, but has his hand always stretched out to assist his people, not amusing them with words, but proving himself to be a present aid.

For these reasons, though our most merciful Father never slumbers nor sleeps, he very often seems to do so, that thus he may exercise us, when we might otherwise be listless and slothful, in asking, entreating, and earnestly beseeching him to our great good.

It is very absurd, therefore, to dissuade men from prayer, by pretending that Divine Providence, which is always watching over the government of the universes is in vain importuned by our supplications, when, on the contrary, the Lord himself declares, that he is “nigh unto all that call upon him, to all that call upon him in truth” (Ps. 145:18). No better is the frivolous allegation of others, that it is superfluous to pray for things which the Lord is ready of his own accord to bestow; since it is his pleasure that those very things which flow from his spontaneous liberality should be acknowledged as conceded to our prayers. This is testified by that memorable sentence in the psalms to which many others corresponds: “The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears are open unto their cry,” (Ps. 34:15). This passage, while extolling the care which Divine Providence spontaneously exercises over the safety of believers, omits not the exercise of faith by which the mind is aroused from sloth. The eyes of God are awake to assist the blind in their necessity, but he is likewise pleased to listen to our groans, that he may give us the better proof of his love. And thus both things are true, “He that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep,” (Ps. 121:4); and yet whenever he sees us dumb and torpid, he withdraws as if he had forgotten us.

John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, III.20.3

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On the Eternity and Extremity of Hell


It is to be considered that the wicked in hell will forever continue sinning, exercising malice, and blaspheming, etc.; and ’tis surely therefore no wonder, that God should forever continue punishing. And if any think that ’tis incredible, that God should leave any to continue forever sinning as a punishment of their sins here, as a judicial consequence of their sins, let it be considered what have been the judicial consequences of that one sin of our first parents, their eating of the forbidden fruit: the corruption of the nature of all mankind, and all the actual sins that ever have been committed in the world of mankind, and all the temporal calamities that the world has suffered, the corruption and ruin the world has suffered, and all the punishments of sin in another world, whether they be eternal or no. If it be credible, that all these things should be the judicial consequences of that one sin, I don’t see why it should seem incredible, that God should eternally give a man up to sin for his own sin.


If it be just in God, in judgment for one sin to lead to another, and yet just for him to punish both, then is it just with him to leave men to continue in sin to all eternity? For as long as they continue sinning, they continue deserving to be punished; and therefore, by the hypothesis, it still continues to be just to leave ’em to commit other sins, and so in infinitum.


The wicked, when they are cast into hell, will continue sinning still. Yea, they will sin more than ever; their wickedness will be unrestrained. Such torments must needs be, to an unsanctified [mind], an occasion of a fearful exercise of enmity and rage against God. Therefore if it ben’t incredible that God should cast men into hell at all for the sins they have been guilty of in this life, then, seeing they continue sinning, ’tis not incredible that their misery there should be continued. For if we should suppose that the punishment that the sins of this life deserve is but finite, that it deserves only a temporary misery, yet while they are suffering that, they continue sinning still, and so contract a new debt; and again, while they are paying that, they contract another, and so on in infinitum.


This confirms it with me, that the misery is exceeding great, that God hath so every way contrived to glorify his Son as Savior, or hath so ordered in all respects that his salvation should be exceeding. Now a part of the gloriousness of his salvation consists in this, that ’tis salvation from so great misery; and the greater the misery, still the more glorious the salvation. Therefore I believe that God would so order it, that that misery should be very exceeding great.

Jonathan Edwards (1703-58), The Miscellanies: 501-832 or here.

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Of First Importance – Part 2

Originally posted here.

In the first post we looked at the supreme importance of the death and resurrection of Christ.  We saw that it is of first importance for living the Christian life.  Without Christ’s death and resurrection and saving faith in it, we are not able to live out God’s calling to holiness and love nor would we desire to do so if our living is not based on the foundation of what God has done in Christ and our gratitude for it.  Secondly, we looked at how the death and resurrection of Christ is of first importance for studying and understanding other biblical truths.  We began by looking at forgiveness.  If we neglect or diminish the accomplishment made by Christ in His work we will not truly understand the forgiveness of God and all that was required before He could forgive.

Of First Importance for Understanding All Biblical Truth continued…

Another example where the death and resurrection of Christ is of first importance for understanding biblical truth is our sinfulness.  Rather than elevating our sinfulness, as some do to God’s forgiveness when they neglect the necessity of Christ’s death and resurrection, some seek to eliminate the pervasive effects of sin on mankind.  When this is done, man is elevated to be able to do much more than the Bible says he can do without the aid of God’s grace and it diminishes the power and necessity of the death and resurrection.  But this is not how the Bible portrays man or the work of Christ.  When we look at how the Scriptures speak of what Christ did for sinners, we get a clearer picture of how radically we have been affected by sin and how much we needed the Savior and His work.  God’s Word says that Christ died and was raised that we might be given new life (1 Peter 1:3-5; Ephesians 2:1-10; 2 Corinthians 5:17-21), be freed from slavery to sin (Romans 6; John 8:31-36), be saved from God’s wrath (Romans 5:6-9), be reconciled to God (Romans 5:10-11; Ephesians 2:11-22; 2 Corinthians 5:18-20), be delivered from the law (Acts 13:34-39; Galatians 3:10-14; Romans 7:4-6, 8:1-8), be delivered from our sin debt (Colossians 2:13-15; Acts 3:18-19), and much more.  The Bible is clear in showing that apart from Christ the entire human race is dead in sin, enslaved to sin, under and awaiting God’s wrath, separated and enemies of God, bound to obeying the law perfectly, and owners of a debt we cannot pay.  All of this and more, Christ came in the likeness of man, live a perfect life, died in our place and was raised from the dead, showing the acceptance and finality of His work.  If we neglect the death and resurrection of Christ for the sake of elevating or softening another biblical truth we will loose the glory of the work of Christ done on our behalf.  Let us not “neglect such a great salvation!” Christ’s death and resurrection is of first importance for the right understanding of all biblical truth.

Of First Importance for Everyday Life

Lastly, the third aspect of the importance of the death and resurrection of Christ is its relevance for everyday of every year.  Easter, just as Christmas, is not to just be celebrated once a year, but it is to be the focus of our hearts all year long.  This is essentially what it means for Christ’s work to be of first importance.  We are not to only praise God for the death and resurrection of Christ on Resurrection Sunday, but it is to be our heart’s song everyday.  It is the reason we can sing and glory in God.  It will be the theme of our singing for eternity.  Revelation 5:9-10 proclaims:

“And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.”

The work of Christ is not only to be the foundation from which we sing every song but also the foundation by which we live everyday.  It radically changes the way in which we experience life.  Because of the death and resurrection of Christ we have hope not just for the future but even today.  In Christ we now have victory over death, for it is no longer our enemy.  1 Corinthians 15:54-57 declares, “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

We also have hope for the future, for just as Jesus was raised from the dead we know that all who are in Christ will be made like Him.  1 John 3:2-3 says, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.”  And lastly we have hope in the midst of suffering in this world.  2 Corinthians 4:8-11, 14, 16-18 proclaims:

“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh…knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence…. So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.  For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

All of our worship and all of our hope finds its source in the death and resurrection of Christ.  Let it ring true in your heart everyday of the year.

May we always be mindful of that which is of first importance: Christ’s death and resurrection.

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Of First Importance – Part 1

Originally posted here.

With Easter over a month gone, it’s not too early for our minds to begin to wander from our focus on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  For example, as believers, we have the Christian life to live.  We are to be pursuing holiness and reflecting godliness in all that we do, which can be quite consuming for the mind, allowing the foundations of our faith to suffer neglect.  On the other hand, we can get so engrossed in the study of other doctrines of the Christian faith that we neglect these essentials.

What is the remedy? 

Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, declares:

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.”

The remedy for neglecting the death and resurrection of Christ for the sake of living out the Christian life, studying other doctrines or because Easter has now past is to remember that Christ’s death and resurrection are of first importance.

What does it mean for the death and resurrection of Christ to be of first importance?

Of First Importance for Christian Living

While there are many aspects of the supreme importance of the Christ’s death and resurrection that could be mentioned here, we will only focus on three.  The first is that Christ’s death and resurrection are of first importance for our living out the Christian life.  This may sound strange, but it is essential.  Without the death and resurrection of Christ we could not live the Christian life.  Romans 6:4 states, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”  It is because of Christ’s death and resurrection that all who repent and believe may die to sin and have new life.  Paul continues in the passage, saying in verses 10-11, “For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God.  So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”  Before Christ, sin (our fleshly desires, demonic temptation, and worldly influence) was our master.  Once in Christ, through salvation, we have died with Him to sin, and have been made alive to God.  This means that we no longer have to sin.  We can now, in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, obey God, turning from sin to righteousness and holiness.  Without the actual death and resurrection of Christ this would be impossible.  Not only that, without continual remembrance of the death and resurrection of Christ our obedience becomes lifeless, loveless, and legalistic.  It is not that we have to live out the Christian life to be saved, it is that we now can and will  live out the life we were meant to have because we have been given life and we want to do so out of gratitude and worship of our Lord and Savior.

Of First Importance for Understanding All Biblical Truth

The second aspect for which the death and resurrection is of utmost importance is the study or learning of other biblical truths.  It is easy to get caught up studying many of the glorious essentials of the Christian faith that we neglect the death and resurrection of Christ, but to do so is to neglect the very foundation on which much of Christianity stands.  We must be careful in our learning and love for God’s truth that we never leave behind that which is of first importance.  To leave behind the truths of the death and resurrection of Christ for the study of other essentials of the faith is to strip the very foundation on which those other truths are secured.  For example, the forgiveness of sin can be focused on so much that the necessity of death and resurrection of Christ is neglected if not forgotten.  Much of mainstream and liberal “Christianity” has fallen into this error.  They have separated God’s forgiveness from that which made it possible for God to forgive, the death and resurrection of Christ.  Colossians 2:13-15 declares, “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.” And as 1 Corinthians 15:17 states, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” The Bible is clear; it was absolutely necessary that Christ die and be raised for us to be forgiven and so much more.  Praise God for His wisdom and might.

– Part 2

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What is Your Functional Savior?

Sadly we’re all prone to embrace functional saviors…. We must identify and reject them.  But it’s not always easy.  Our deceitful hearts clutch, cloak, and protect them.  And functional saviors take many forms.  For some, it takes the form of a self-destructive addiction.  For others it could be something that otherwise would be good or harmless if they weren’t dependent on it – activities or things.  It could be television, family, friends, sleep, caffeine, partying, not partying, eating, not eating.  It could be career, fashion, investment accounts, approval of others, material possessions, peer status, good looks, recreation, spectator sports, having a clean house, or working out at the gym.  It could be just about anything, including moderate living, asceticism, philanthropic giving, or even ministry.

If you haven’t already figured out what your functional saviors are, try filling in these blanks:

I am preoccupied with ____________.

If only __________, then I would be happy.

I get my sense of significance from _________.

I would protect and preserve _________ at any cost.

I fear losing __________.

The thing that gives me the greatest pleasure is ___________.

When I lose ________ I get angry, resentful, frustrated, anxious, or depressed.

For me, life depends on _________.

The thing that makes me want to get out of bed in the morning is _________.

Through the prophet Jeremiah, God issued a strong warning against functional saviors, calling them broken cisterns:

Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods? But my people have changed their glory for that which does not profit. Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the LORD, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water. (2:11-13)

God’s warning is abundantly clear.  Functional saviors cannot be depended on.  They leak.  They leave us empty and thirsty.  To depend on them requires us to forsake God.  He declares this to be unprofitable, appalling, shocking, and evil.  The flip-side of this is that when we identify and remove our functional saviors, our dependence is free to shift to the true and living God, the fountain of living waters.”

Jerry Bridges, The Bookends of the Christian Life, 72-74.  Read the whole book here.

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