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Ten Reasons Good Christians Go Bad

One of the most discouraging (and blindsiding) things in life is to follow the Lord for some time, feel like you’re on the right track, be involved in the His work, and feel the definite guidance of the Holy Spirit…only to find yourself, as time passes, becoming a worse Christian. Sometimes we feel like we are going through sanctification in reverse. Our latter self seems more depraved and dispassionate than when we first picked up the Cross. Do you feel that way? Do you feel like you are a worse Christian now than you used to be?

Why do good Christians often go bad?

I write this post out of experience. So often I feel as if I am going backwards. So many times I have awoken, realizing I have less hope, faith, and love than I did the day before. It scares me. I know that “he who began a good work in me will perfect it” (Phil. 1:6), but why aren’t I being perfected? When I look back on my last twenty years as a believer, I don’t always see a progressive growth from worse to better, but a decline in the virtues that God is supposed to be developing within me. I remember John Piper once said, “When do I doubt God?  Not in tragedy, but when I see the slowness of my sanctification.” Not only is our sanctification often slow, but it sometimes goes the opposite direction.

Here is a list of ten issues that cause good Christians to go bad that are less obvious than the blatant sins we often blame for such a state.

1. Dried-up Passion

When we first begin to follow the Lord, life is new and exciting. We are going to do great things for the Lord. We can’t wait to see what is around the corner. Our passions are high and our commitment is unwavering. However, at some point down the road we find ourselves tiring and slowly replacing this passion for what we believe to be the new “reality.” The answers that we had at the beginning are not so simple. God’s hand is heavy and his movements at a crawl. We started the race sprinting, but now we are taking break after break – and we are not that far down the track! Our passion dries up and we begin to consider whether we need to run this race at all. We shuffle along, hands in our pockets, kicking up dust as we go.

Christ tells us that we can lose our first love: “But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place– unless you repent.” (Rev 2:4-5)

2. Entitlement for Sorrow

It is so easy to go through so many trials and troubles that we cut ourselves some slack. This is something I have done quite a bit over the last six years. Things have been so hard in my family (most of you know the stories). I held up great at the beginning, but at some point I began to feel sorry for myself. In doing so, I allowed myself to enter into self-destructive self-pity.

Unfortunately, this will often be the advice of others. “You’ve got to start thinking about yourself [insert your name]. After all, not many people have to go through what you have been through.” If we listen to this advice, we will quickly replace our spiritual life for one of paralyzing sorrow. And, even though this sorrow does not help anything, it is addictive and counter-productive to all we know.

The Lord tells us: “If you have run with footmen and they have tired you out, then how can you compete with horses?” (Jer 12:5). There is the ever present reality that our pains and sufferings may very well get worse. We must be weary of advice that may come our way which says we are entitled to sorrow. We are entitled to joyful suffering for the sake of Christ.

3. Wrong Companions

Don’t ever give up your kindness towards, love for, and friendship with those who are in desperate need of life change. But keep in mind that bad company does corrupt your morals (1 Cor. 15:33). The companion of fools suffers harm (Prov. 13:20). If your Christian life has gone in the wrong direction, take a look at those around you. With whom are you surrounding yourself? Are they people who inspire you to greatness or pull you down into the base hopes of this world?

4. Overly Critical

I see this so often with apologists. So many times we seek to present ourselves as those who are not naive. We want people to see us as seeking rational justification for everything we do and believe. This becomes unhealthy and destructive to the Christian life when we build a methodology which puts the Bible on the witness stand at every point. “I am not going to believe this verse until it is rationally justified on its own merits.” The idea here is that God is guilty of falsehood until proven innocent (although we would never put it that way). In doing so, we think we are doing God a favor.

However, after a while, this will tear our faith apart. We don’t need rational justification for everything we believe. Hang with me. Just think if you did this with your spouse. What if everything Kristie said to me needed to be questioned. “I am going to pick up the kids,” she says to me. “I don’t believe you unless you can prove it,” I respond. “Dinner is ready,” she says. “We will see about that,” I think to myself. At some point in our marriage, Kristie earned the right to be trusted. I don’t need to critically evaluate everything she says. If I did, our relationship would fall apart.

Some of you have quit believing the Lord and the Scriptures. You put everything in a queue of future belief. But there is a point when you decide that God and the Bible are trustworthy and you set aside the critiques. It is not a matter of “just believing” for no reason at all. It is a matter of “just believing” because God is trustworthy. Some of you need to get back to reading and believing the Scriptures.

5. Not Working Hard

Laziness is a companion of spiritual lethargy. God did not create us to be idle. One of the greatest gifts one can have is a job that is labor intensive. I have rediscovered this recently. I spend quite a bit of time every day doing hard labor in the sun in my backyard. I have three and a half acres of land. The lack of rain over the years has cause about forty trees to die. I have logged quite a few hours cutting down and burning these trees over the last few months. I don’t know if there has been anything else as spiritually satisfying as this.

Many of us need to fill our idle time with sweat. Don’t underestimate how spiritually invigorating this can be.

6. Other Christians

Other Christians can be such a drain. I often get this on this blog. I can be brought very low when I see how mean Christians can be to one another. It sometimes makes me think, “What is it all worth?” Some of you have had your worst experiences with those who profess Christ. Some of you don’t want to live the Christian life any longer because of other Christians.

As easy as it is to sympathize with this, realize that this is a counterproductive dead end. The answer for all of us is simple: Be everything that they are not. Every minute of every day, surprise people by your kind and gentle spirit. Be a force for good. You are only responsible for yourself. You can inspire and change people with one comment, one smile, one act of grace at a time. If other Christians are acting worse than heathens, you be Christ to them and be everything they are not.

7. Misreading God

It is so easy to misread God. We often interpret him one way when he is really going the other. This can disillusion our spirituality, causing us great hopelessness and a derailed Christian life. I have a friend who, a few months ago, was in serious trouble with the law. He had done something wrong and he got caught. He came to me in great sorrow and repentance, fearful of what was going to happen to him and his family if he went to jail. His repentance was sincere and heartfelt. He was broken beyond belief. We all entered into prayer for him. A few weeks later we got word that no charges were being filed. He came to me and talked about all the blessings this difficulty had brought about in his life. It restored his family and caused him to be closer than ever to God. When he found out that the charges were not being filed, he rejoiced with tears, praising the mercy of God. I have never seen someone so happy, and he stayed that way for weeks. However, last week,a bomb was dropped on him. They suddenly decided to press charges and it does not look good. His joy has been turned to the deepest sorrow. And it is not just that he is being punished for a crime, but that from his perspective, it seems that God toyed with him.

We must be careful about misreading God. We don’t really know which way he is going and he does not guarantee the type of deliverance we so often long for. When we go left and God goes right, it is important for us to quickly submit and adjust course. But the best is simply to wait to turn until we are certain that he has turned.

8. Liberty Leading to License

It is easy for those of us who believe so deeply in grace to fall into license. This can cause our faith to fall apart. We can sometimes keep from falling into serious sin, but it is the little liberties in which we indulge that can slowly erode our spirituality. When we give ourselves too much license, the resulting actions, though lawful, are not always profitable (1 Cor. 6:12). One of the liberties I started taking a few years ago was watching a few series on TV. Why not? There is nothing wrong with relaxing, taking a break to enjoy some entertainment. As well, much of it can be somewhat educational. But liberties are so easy to become addicted to. After a while, we don’t find any enjoyment outside of them.

The same could be said for Christians who enjoy alcohol, relief that comes by prescription meds, food addiction, sexual indulgence (even with one’s spouse), or rest. All of these, in and of themselves, can be good things and are gifts of God. However, it is so easy to give ourselves so much rope in these areas that we eventually find ourselves hanging by this rope. Addictions are among the hardest sins to break and can prove to be the most spiritually draining of all. Their danger comes by way of their subtlety.

Heb. 12:1
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.

9. Not Accepting God’s Grace

Just as dangerous as giving yourself too many grace allowances is not accepting God’s grace every day. There will rarely, if ever, be a day when you don’t sin. Many good Christians struggle with issues including pornography, homosexual attraction, food addiction, and so many others. Not only is the sin draining, but neglecting to accept our only hope—the unmerited mercy of God—is fatal to our spiritual life. I know how hard it is to accept God’s grace for the thousandth time a week for the same sin. But if you don’t, not only are you cutting yourself off from your only renewal, but you are saying that Christ’s sacrifice is only for those things that are not too difficult or addicting. Christ died for all your sins, no matter how many times you commit them. Learning to be a beggar for grace is learning to be a Christian.

10. Excessive Pampering

I have a little jewel of a book called A Knight’s Own Book of Chivalry, written by Geoffroi de Charny in 1356. In it he gives advice, knight to knight, about how to be a knight of virtue. One of his contentions is that a good knight needs to guard against “excessive pampering.” This, according to de Charny, leads to an inability to be effective in life. His advice is to make sure that one does not get used to nice beds and soft pillows. We need to learn to sleep out in the heat and cold. We need to make sure we don’t become too fond of pampering ourselves or we will find ourselves impotent in many opportunities the Lord may give us.

We can pamper ourselves in so many ways. The basic principle is to never get to the point where you think you must have something to survive. This can be something as small as giving up our morning coffee, to something much greater like giving up our savings account. The point is that when we structure our lives to take away all the stress that we need to engage, we can find ourselves slipping spiritually. This is why fasting and self-discipline are such important parts of the Christian life.

62 Responses to “Ten Reasons Good Christians Go Bad”

  1. Let’s also throw out “burnt over”. What happened to a region can also happen to individuals.

  2. I really dislike these psychobabble “foray’s”! But I guess we all get hit by the mood sometimes. When this happens, here I seek to read Augustine’s Confessions perhaps, or other more classic mystical writers. And here btw are a few Quakers, like Robert Barclay. I even have a copy of William Inge’s classic book: Christian Mysticism. Well worth the read too! But the so-called science of the Christian life of grace is always necessarily theological, but certainly mystical, as to the Body-life of Christ Mystical. And in reality experimental, concrete or practical knowledge tends to be subjective, so we must stay fast to a spiritual but real Biblicism, indeed! And today especially we need to emphasize at the same time the traditional objectivity of holiness (sanctification), “without which (as the Hebrew writer notes) no man shall see the Lord. Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God..” (Heb. 12: 14-15).

    Btw, another worth reading here is the great Englishman Walter Hilton (his “Scale”). Indeed an Objective Christian Spirituality is in some way a ‘God In Christ consciousness’! It is here too btw, that Calvin’s work: of the Offices of Christ, as ‘prophet, priest & king’ are simply profound, and actually ecumenical!

    But indeed our vision must be “above”, “where Christ sits on the right hand of God.” (Col. 3: 1-3, etc.)

    Rock on Michael! :)

  3. And too, just a bit of silence and time alone is always needed by every Christian man, and servant! Here for me anyway, is the secret of some aspect of Christian discipline and sanity. I just need to be alone before the Lord, and almost everyday!

  4. There are a couple of Scriptures that are running through my mind that I think we often don’t take nearly as seriously as we need to. The first one is: I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:1-2

    I think if we are not serious about that command given by Paul in Romans, we will likely be finding ourselves in this place: Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.

  5. Amen there Cherylu! And in reality, “good Christians really don’t go bad”, as much as they “miss the mark in God”! The essence of sin simply must be met and understood in the life of the Christian! And I see this loss, or work undone even in the life of some of the Reformed churches and people, they might know the “letter” of the doctrine here, but the experience of “sin” and its depth is usually only understood in some aspect of brokenness, and here God often allows and uses sin in the believer, to teach us this! This has been my experience anyway. My holiness is NOT me, but Christ in me the hope of glory!

  6. One of the great things about a theology of the Cross is that you don’t even have thoughts about being better…or worse.

    Our best is not good enough.

    But at the Cross and in our Baptism, the Lord Jesus has forgiven us and declared us to be righteous and holy…for His sake (not even our own sakes).

    So, in short, you’re never going to be a better Christian than at the moment you were Baptized.

    I don’t know about you guys, but for me that is great news. Great assurance. And great freedom.

    Thanks.

    • Christopher Rushlau October 23, 2014 at 1:52 pm

      “One of the great things about a theology of the Cross is that you don’t even have thoughts about being better…or worse.”
      That’s fine if it happens, but “putting a cork in it” is no solution. All that does is drive your meditation underground, and then who knows what kind of things you justify and rationalize? In the “dark shadows”?
      There is no surgical solution to conscience. Can you imagine such a thing?
      I notice today some hope in a long-standing popular dispute about the brain that I never took very seriously: left and right brain talk. It seems evident and possible (these two dimensions confirming each other) that when I tell myself something and hear myself tell myself that something, two different areas of the brain are at work, and I’m responsible for both. Conscience, then, is not just telling myself something, such as “Jesus died for my sins”, but it’s also listening to myself when I tell myself that. If I hear, say, a note of despair in my own voice, that tells me where I am at in this crisis.
      You might say, that approach opens the door to endless internal debate. Better endless debate than a party line that “puts a cork in it” if you want to get at the truth, which presumably is where you get right with God.
      The counsel of all traditions (I’ll go out on a limb and say) is that if you listen to yourself, eventually you find silence and peace: integrity: wholeness. If you hear yourself barking at yourself to shut up and toe the line, you may think you’re now silently obeying this voice of conscience, but check carefully. Somewhere in there you might be saying to yourself, “Fine, God can be unreasonable, it’s God’s world, but does God have to be stupid and cruel?” As someone said at a Catholic indoctrination class for converts before the era of “reason is bad” in the Catholic church which commenced about twenty years ago, after this someone had drawn a monster face on the chalkboard and written “God” under it, “If this is the God you don’t believe in, you’re doing fine.”
      I referred someone to Jonathan Edwards’ (1703-58) sermons published as “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” saying that being in the hands of God is right where you want to be: “like a child rests in its mother’s arms, so will I rest in You.” What’s God going to do, I said in making this reference to the sermons in light of their title: tear you to pieces?
      It’s we who tear ourselves into pieces and God who puts us back together.

  7. 1 Corinthians 10:12 comes to mind. No matter how mature of a believer someone is, we need to always continue being vigilant and pursue the Lord with our whole being.

  8. Don’t trip about it too much. For the Christian practitioner, the promises in Scripture are sufficient regardless of our feelings or moods. True we will experience all of these things akin to the sinful carnal fallen human condition, but Jesus Christ is the cure and the final physician of our souls. We don’t have to strive for perfection, we are perfected in Him. We don’t really need to seek the approval of others or let negativity tarnish our faith, we are forgiven. We don’t need to justify ourselves before God, we are justified in Him. It’s all good. Don’t trip. (I agree with Fr. Robert, seek daily quiet time with The Lord, it is a practice worth doing to rejuvenate ones soul.)

  9. not accepting God’s grace every day…

    #11 lack of gratitude, praise,thanksgiving for everything. God is always Faithful!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xflos9tff2A

    “let me ask a question? Did He wake us up this morning; did He let us see a brand new day dawning?”

    Many, O LORD my God, are the wonders which You have done, and Your thoughts toward us; There is none to compare with You. If I would declare and speak of them, they would be too numerous to count. Ps 40:5

  10. I can really identify with 7.

    It’s health problems, but the same type of thing.

    Over and over I seem to be better, but the problems keep coming back, worse than before. Each solution falls short.

    I have a lot of people praying for me, but I’m not always sure what the point is. We pray, I seem better, we all thank God. I get sick. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

    It’s easy to get depressed. Or doubt God cares.

    My pastor was preaching on the 23 Psalm recently, it was pretty timely. He was talking about how God’s with us in the valley of the shadow of death, He comforts us there…but it’s not like we don’t still walk through it. And sometimes I start thinking if God cared he wouldn’t make me walk through it…but He never promises that.

  11. I see that in my comment # 4 above, I forgot to say that I was making a direct connection between those verses and Michael’s point # 8, “Liberty Leading to License.”

  12. cherylu,

    We all find ourselves in that place from time to time. We are self-centered beings.

    We need to be kept in faith. The world, the flesh (ourselves), and the devil are after us.

    Things aren’t that bad. They are much worse than that.

    We need a Savior.

  13. theoldadam,

    Of course we need a Savior. We also need to be about doing what that Savior has told us to do. If we ignore His instructions, how can we expect life to go like it should?

  14. In regards to #6 one has to wonder what it was like for someone as holy as Jesus having to walk and interact on this earth with such common sinners of average human intellect.

  15. I just wanted to express my appreciation for this post. It is very thoughtful and discerning, giving expression to so many of the things that can be detrimental to a flourishing faith. For me, #1, #4, and #8 is where I live. For me, I have received a wealth of theological education. But it seems that along with that education has come more unsettling questions both theologically and historically. And so I often approach Scripture with both a deep love and a hermeneutic of suspicion. And during these times, it’s as if my faith is suspended in midair. It just can’t seem to lock down and rest on Jesus Christ. And I think this is at the bottom of my diminished passion and liberty leading to licentiousness. But anyways, thanks so much for the clarifying and thoughtful post! And may God bless your excellent ministry as you seek to help others!

  16. Since Jesus was God Incarnate, He knew what was in the heart of man (humanity), John 2: 24-25! And here merely “human intellect” has quite nothing to say, for ALL men-human beings are sinners!

  17. The hardest pill to swallow for all humanity is our sinful nature! Just bring this into any modern so-called discussion, and the sparks fly upward!

  18. cherlyu,

    That’s why things are so bad. WE DON’T want to do the things that Jesus told us to do. We don’t live on a thin margin of income and give the rest to the poor. We are not regularly visiting prisoners and going to nursing homes in our spare time. We are feeding the hungry and housing the homeless. We aren’t loving our enemies and inviting THEM to dinner. Are we?

    We do not love God and our neighbors as ourselves…except when it is convenient to do so and won’t cost too much.

    But the good news is. The really good news is, that He loves and forgives us, anyway. So we repent and try again. Knowing that what ‘we do’, or what ‘we don’t do’ , doesn’t have any affect upon how the Lord feels about us.

  19. I would add another reason….violation of Paul’s instruction to Timothy:

    When a Novice Becomes a Bishop (novice – newly planted, a young convert)

    A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behavior, given to hospitality, apt to teach, Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre, but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; . . . not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride, he fall into the condemnation of the devil.
    -I Tim 3:2,3,6

    Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples
    of the flock. . . Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour. -I Pet 5:2,3,8

    Some indeed preach Christ even of envy and strife; and some also of good will: The one preach Christ of contention, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my bonds. -Philp 1:15-17

    Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample.
    (For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the
    enemies of the cross of Christ: Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory
    is in their shame, who mind earthly things.)
    -Phillp 3:17-19

    (See also II Thess 3:7)

    Throughout the years, I have seen new Christians going into the ministry too soon…..sooner or later, the symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder appear.

    These are the wolves in sheep’s clothing who deceive and devour….

  20. Spiritual Abuse
    Based on my experience, there seems to be a strong connection between a novice, narcissistic personality disorder, and spiritual abuse.
    Spiritual abuse can occur when a leader uses his or her spiritual position to control or dominate another person. It often involves overriding the feelings and opinions of another, without regard to what will
    result in the other person’s state of living, emotions or spiritual well-being. Power is used to bolster the position or needs of a leader, over and above one who comes to them in need. The power abuser resents accountability and punishes people for noticing there is a problem. Religious power brokers control their kingdoms with power facades by raining Bible verses on people about authority and submission.
    -The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse, Johnson & VanVonderen – pg. , 20-21;117

    Woe be unto the pastors that destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! Saith the LORD.
    Therefore thus saith the LORD God of Israel against the pastors that feed my people;
    Ye have scattered my flock, and driven them away, and have not visited them: behold,
    I will visit upon you the evil of your doings, saith the LORD. -Jeremiah 23:1-2

    He that justifieth the wicked, and he that condemneth the just, even they both are abomination
    to the LORD. -Proverbs 17:15

    Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumbling block or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way. – Romans 14:13

    Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us. – II Thess 3:6

  21. THANK YOU! Thank you for this article. I have been so discouraged lately (and have friends that are as well), watching an almost adult child make very foolish, sinful choices. I have felt very disillusioned by all the years of hard work as a parent seemingly going to waste.
    This article is a perfect balance of practical theology! It was balm to my heart today.

  22. Rebekah

    Nothing we do can guarantee our children’s behavior. We are just called to obedience in how we raise them.

    Adam and Eve had the perfect Father with no family dysfunction to blame and they still messed up.

  23. Michael,
    ~”Other Christians can be such a drain. I often get this on this blog. I can be brought very low when I see how mean Christians can be to one another. It sometimes makes me think, “What is it all worth?”~

    Ironically, I read your parchment and pen blog in order to receive positive sound Christian thought. It is very refreshing to hear your honesty and commitment to the Lord. I too get discouraged by some of the regular responders on this blog and many Christians in my life that make everything an argument.

    Thank you for the time you put into this blog and for your leadership in Reclaiming the Mind Ministries. I am not trying to puff you up but you have been a huge benefit in my families life, my life and many others that I know and I have never even met you.

  24. So glad to read this!

    I’ve been going through so much lately. I leaned so heavily on prescription drugs by day and alcohol to rest at night that my faith and hope seemed to become somewhat elusive.

    Lately just trying to pray seems so dry and difficult.

    And because of all my licenses I’ve been blindsided by demonic attacks I seem to regularly endure most nights, often waking up wondering where i went wrong.

    I feel somewhat lost at the moment, but still have some direction from the Lord. I’m still confident that he will help me and lead me, but I fear there is probably so much that needs to be undone.

    I’m scared, but not without hope.

  25. I really dislike this post – as if our standing before God was entirely due to our own efforts. I hear echoes of Job’s counsellors who beat the man when he was down, all in the name of ‘encouragement’.

    • Andea,

      Interesting way to think about it. Do you not believe that there are ways which we can make sanctification go the wrong direction?

      Which ones did you disagree with? Or was it just the tone?

  26. Indeed being a pastor (one called by God btw) is not a popularity contest! The pastor-teacher is to feed the flock of God, and in this process if the sheep get put off by the shepherd, that’s just too bad! Personally I would rather be not liked, and faithful to God, than loved and popular in the church of God, if I am not seeking to teach discipleship and obedience to the Lordship of Christ! And surely the Man of God is nothing without his desire and obedience to God foremost, preaching truly is like firing God’s arrow, it only finds its way when it comes from God’s Word itself, in “spirit and truth”, and hits GOD’s mark! And even in 1 Cor. 13, true Christian love does not “rejoice over the wrong, but rejoices with the truth (note the articles).” (verse 6) May we be after God’s truth always! Indeed only the nature of the true God will ever change us! And GOD In Christ is always His own argument, both the “Logos” and the “Rhema”!

  27. It’s not about sanctification. It’s about being robbed of joy. It’s about being distracted by the world.

  28. Andrea, you make a good point about Job’s friends and their so-called “constructive criticism” motivated by their own self-righteousness.

    Maybe that’s what bothers me….when someone engages in spiritual abuse then they play the victim. Over the years, I have seen quite a few wolves in the pulpit engaging in that behavior–reminds me of King Saul, persecuting David, then saying “Nobody feels sorry for me” so King Saul pretends to be the victim of David.

  29. Melody I also see your point….spiritual abuse definitely robs us of joy.

    On the other hand, this situation is somewhat amusing…kind of reminds me of that REO Speedwagon song Tough Guys.

    The song opens with clip from the Little Rascals:

    Darla: Alfalfa, would you push me on the swing before lunch?
    Alfalfa: Sure, Darla!
    Spanky: Hey-what happened to your promise to the he-man woman-haters club?
    Alfalfa: I’m sorry Spanky. I have to live my own life.

    Then the REO Speedwagon song begins:
    She doesn’t like the tough guys
    She doesn’t like the rough guys
    So find someone your own size
    ‘Cause she’s not afraid of you

    She doesn’t like the tough guys
    She thinks that they’ve got brains all where they sit
    They think they’re full of fire
    She thinks they’re full of s**t

    ‘Cause she doesn’t like the tough guys
    She doesn’t like the rough guys
    She’s gonna call you’re bluff, guys
    And you better believe it’s true
    She don’t like you

    Does anyone else remember this insightful song?

  30. Actually sanctification really can be distracted by the world, around us, in us, when we are not daily involved and taking seriously the Lordship of Christ. This involves his Resurrection and Ascension, as His Mediatoral work and there really is a biblical & theological difference between the Christians “Standing” and “State”, i.e. both Justification & Sanctification, they are always related, but also really separate! And when the Christian looses this reality or knowledge, he can be subject to all kinds of “every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by the craftiness in deceitful scheming, etc.” (Eph. 4: 14) And here one can loose the Headship of Christ, which St. Paul so profoundly sets forth in the so-called Prison Epistles or Letters! (Ephesians, “Doctrine and Instruction.” The “mystery” of God, always hidden, never revealed (until being ‘In Christ’). Individual Jews and Gentiles gathered out and made “one new man” In Christ. Seated in the heavenlies with Christ. Philippians. “Reproof.” “Practical” failure to exhibit the teaching of Ephesians in manifesting “the mind of Christ” as members of the One Body. And Colossians. “Correction.” Doctrinal failure as to the teaching of Ephesians. Wrong doctrines which come from “not holding the Head” (2: 19) and not seeing their/our completeness and perfection In Christ (2:8-10).

  31. there really is a biblical & theological difference between the Christians “Standing” and “State”, i.e. both Justification & Sanctification, they are always related, but also really separate!

    Fr Robert, thank you for that comment. It seems that fact tends to get overlooked sometimes and the only thing that gets portrayed as being of any consequence is our justification.

  32. Excellent post Michael. I think the tenth point is worth a post on its own, since it deserves more development and clarification. Are you talking about mild asceticism?

  33. Thanks Cherylu! There are many good thoughts on this tread!

    I turned to this quote, by Luther: “No one can shoulder the Christian moral commitment without incessant recourse to the mystical surd behind the ordinary logic of things.” (LW 26; 171-172. / L 24; 79) And actually there is often little scrutiny of Luther’s whole spirituality in many portions of his interpretative work. Indeed between Imputation and experience, there is an integral tension in Martin Luther’s theology! He uses examples like: “the kingdom in us,” “the unio mystica” and “the mystical Christ.”

    Btw, later Lutheran orthodoxy was frequently arrived at from its dogmatic assertions in confutation of Calvinistic doctrine. And much of this was well after Luther’s life. Our Creeds are surely very important, they are guide-lines in seeking the Christian life, but often even we must somewhat (note “somewhat”) transcend them, in “spirit and truth”, as in that place of the “unio mystica” itself, with our “mystical Christ”!

  34. Justification is objective- our judicial standing before God, settled once and for all for those whose names are written in the Book of Life before the foundation of the world.
    Sanctification is subjective- working out our salvation with fear and trembling, thru the work of the Holy Spirit, pointing us to Jesus Christ, the author and finisher of our faith, our true Head and Source of everlasting life.

    God has given us His Word to renew our minds and His Spirit to comfort us- when we are feeling distant from the Lord, we can always review chapters 14,15, & 16 in the Gospel of John.

    Like Jesus told us – to be IN the world, not OF the world,

    But FOR the world, bringing all thoughts captive to Christ.

  35. Amen Lora! But, there is too that biblical place and connection between Justification & Sanctification, as Calvin wrote of, as too the later Reformed…Geerhardus Vos, etc. The one follows the other, in close connection, but still being separate. See, 1 Cor. 6: 11. Note too, there is the once for all place of being sanctified, 1 Cor. 1:1. As well as the place of our ongoing sanctification. The great John Murray wrote of both also. Note, it is here that the classic Calvinists and the Lutherans would somewhat disagree!

  36. Btw, my point about Luther, was that he himself could be rather mystical when he wanted, and needed to be. Sadly today, the corpus of Martin Luther’s writings are not being read enough, and when some Lutherans do, they kind of pick and choose with Luther. The same has happened with Calvin, and some modern Calvinists, or Calvinism. Both Luther and Calvin had their places of mystical thought. We sometimes forget they were both really Augustinians also.

  37. Btw here is a link, about the Mystical aspect of Luther’s Theology. I don’t agree of course with all of it, especially the disconnection with the theology of Philip Melanchthon. Surely Melanchthon and Luther were on the same page theologically, and certainly Luther’s view of Justification, etc. But this should help us realize the great mystical side of Martin Luther! Also, if we would look closer at Luther’s Augustinian positions, we would see his connection with the depth of his idea of Augustinian mysticism, per se. Finally, Luther’s Theology is perhaps best seen in his: The Schmalkald Articles, published in December 1536. Btw, the great time and difference between Augsburg (1530)…perhaps Lutheranism in the dock? (Waiting then, on Rome to some degree) and Schmalkald, (1536-37), the theological lines had become much more sharp and divided between Rome and the Lutherans. And at or in the Schmalkald Articles, we see both the continuity of Luther and Melanchthon, especially their shared Trinitarian emphasis. We must always keep this in mind when we are looking at the real mystical side of Luther!

    http://www.pubtheo.com/page.asp?pid=1436

    I hope this is not too much to handle or grapple with? But we really must get Martin Luther back into Biblical & Theological Evangelicalism, which is somewhat outside of modern Lutheranism! I love my Lutherans friends, but we must challenge them to share and understand Luther anew once again! My thoughts at least.

    Forgive me if I have once again stepped outside the pure blog lines here! But the subject seems to be central, to helping Christians understand their biblical-theological spirituality, ‘In Christ’!

  38. Thank you for the link Robert. I reviewed it…..

    Over the past few years, several friends have mentioned mysticism to me…but some of them lack spiritual discernment and seem to be dabbling in a Buddhist direction. Nevertheless, I’m open to learning more about mysticism as long as it lines up with Scripture and isn’t Buddhist….

    Considering the theological term ‘anthropomorphism’ we see how Scripture describes God as seeing us with His eyes, saving us with His arm of salvation,… Yet we understand that God is Spirit and these expressions are symbols of how God relates to us.
    Since Jesus is the only Way to the Father, there is a common faith and repentance within justification that is objectively true for all of us. However, sanctification is so personal and the Holy Spirit moves in each of our lives, guiding us, teaching us, comforting us, in a language that only we as individuals can understand…similar to concept of anthropomorphism….

    It’s possible that I could be wrong about this….
    Robert, can you tell me more?

  39. @Lora: Indeed the key to any real mysticism is always ‘In Christ’! And certainly to be ‘elect at all is to be elect in Christ’! It is certainly from here that any Christ-mysticism must live, of course with ‘faith, hope and love’! And the decree of election is so intimately connected to the historical work of Christ in and for the faithful that it is impossible to talk about them in isolation from each other. And not even a formal distinction can be drawn between them, much less a real one! THIS is the reality of Luther’s doctrine of Christ, from the elect being united to Christ in justification and conformed to Christ by a lengthy-lifetime process of sanctification. Both Staupitz and Luther knew that there are no good works outside of Christ, and no true mysticism either without Christ! Our total Union is always with and in Christ!

    “sanctification is so personal and the Holy Spirit moves in each of our lives, guiding us, teaching us, comforting us, in a language that only we as individuals can understand…similar to concept of anthropomorphism….” Great statement here! “We” (you and I) are tracking, as God In Christ is tracking us! And this will always be a true biblical-mysticism: ‘In Christ’! Again, here is so much of St. Paul’s Pauline doctrine and theology, as Luther taught both a “theologia crucis” (doctrine of the cross), with a “simul iustus et peccator” … both saved and a sinner, at the same time (in this life).

    “For in my heart there rules this one doctrine, namely faith in Christ [fides Christi]. From it, through it, and to all my theological thought flows and returns day and night; yet I am aware that all I have grasped of this wisdom in its height, width, and depth are a poor and insignificant first fruits and fragments.” (Luther, WA 40, I)

    Now here indeed is faith in-with the ‘mystical-Christ’! The One who is Risen & Ascended, who died “once” for sin & sinners! :)

  40. Fr Robert,

    I think the concern here about mysticism has to do with the current emphasis in parts of the church on contemplative prayer and similar practices which can often closely resemble if not be the same thing as the occultic eastern practices of emptying your mind of all conscious thought. Essentially entering an altered state of consciousness which many folks, myself included, believe can leave you susceptible to demonic influence.

    In light of that, can you further clarify what you mean by the term “mysticism?”

  41. @Lora: Well certainly we, as Luther.. and all of the Reformers, Calvin included, are not looking into the abyss of the occult or any paganism. Note St. Paul uses the Greek word “Musterion”. (Col. 1:26) The whole reality of God’s transcendence was certainly Judeo and thus Christian in the time of Paul. In the NT sense, mystery, is that which is simply outside the range of natural apprehension, but in the NT it is also that which is only known by Divine revelation. So what God has revealed we can approach and understand, but is still that which is beyond us, and only God given, i.e. “spirit and truth”! This is the essence of the Pauline and even the Johannine Mystery of God!

  42. Fr Robert,

    I think that in this day and age when there are so many practices that have crept into the church that do so strongly resemble paganism we have to be very careful to define our terms carefullly. Otherwise we are likely to leave people confused at best and at worst thinking we are endorsing something that we perhaps do not agree with in any way whatsoever.

    I have been wondering for quite a while now just exactly what you were referring to in your rather frequent references to mysticism. I just hadn’t gotten around to asking about it like Lora did.

  43. cherylu

    Thank you for mentioning my concerns with paganism and eastern mysticism….

    Considering cultural influences, I think many of us have ignored mysticism due to modern emphasis upon empiricism and science.

    After the counter-reformation, Lutherans tried to justify their faith with a brief return to medieval scholasticism. Then, pietism and its distrust of “sound doctrine” and theology became popular, preparing the ground for Methodism and its reflection of the scientific method.

    New age and eastern mysticism seems to be appealing to the pietism of our post-modern culture and its disdain for objective truth.

  44. Btw, just a question, but is there a Judeo-Christian contemplative prayer or prayer life? Sometimes the Christian prayer can be a mere supplication, here it is a wanting or a need, desire. And here it can be but a groan! (Roman 8: 23 ; 26-27). We can see that true prayer must come from the spirit of the man or person, moved and pressed by God himself!

  45. Recognizing the Holy Spirit as our True Source of wisdom shows the depth of God’s grace in our lives.

    Why DO good Christians go bad?
    In His Word, the Lord tells us that at times, He places a stumbling block before the rebellious….If that person is tuned in to the trust and guidance of the Holy Spirit, they will recognize the stumbling block and walk away.

    The important thing is that each one of us who profess to be Christians need to walk circumspectly so that we do not become a stumbling block to others.
    The supreme and universal idol is pride….pride and foolishness are red flags that warn us of false teachers and wolves in sheep’s clothing.

    Discernment is a gift from the Holy Spirit.

  46. Yes and no.

    The Lord guides each one of us in mysterious ways….

    In Judges 13 we read that the angel of the Lord appeared to a woman, instructing her concerning her son (to soon be conceived).
    Yet her husband did not believe her-he wanted to hear from the angel of the Lord for himself.
    Once the angel had spoken to Manoah- he did not recognize the person as the angel of the Lord. The angel of the Lord upbraided Manoah for demanding to know his secret name. Manoah was afraid of death-but the woman trusted in the goodness of the Lord.

    When our personal experience confirms the goodness of the Lord to remove us from temptation and from snares of the enemy, we must have discernment, ignoring those who would turn us away from praising the Lord for His providence and protection.

    When Samson asked his parents to get him a Philistine wife, his parents objected. They did not know that Samson’s request was of the Lord. (Judges 14:4)

    Faith according to reason:
    God’s moral law / will of approbation is foundational…..

    Faith contrary to reason:
    His permissive will is revealed in all shades of gray…..

    Faith above reason:
    His Will of decree is above our understanding, for His ways are higher than our ways.

  47. I discovered an old hymn that expressed some powerful concepts using poor logic- so I corrected the logic and rewrote the hymn into my own words:

    There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,
    That is wider than the sea;
    There’s a kindness in His justice,
    Which is more than liberty.

    There is mercy with the Savior,
    There is healing in His blood;
    There is welcome for the sinner,
    First grace then wisdom understood

    If we make His grace seem so narrow,
    With crude limits of our own;
    Then we prove our lack of wisdom,
    With a zeal He will not own.

    For the grace of God is broader,
    Than the measure of man’s mind;
    And the wisdom of the Eternal,
    Is most merciful and kind.

  48. Michael,
    Thank you for this post. At this very moment I needed these words.

  49. Awesome piece! A blessing to me, and I would think to all readers in the body of Christ. I’m not sure how I missed it in 2013.

    Lora’s hymn re-wording is very good, too. I’m just not sure why the hymn words are here. It seems as though they should be their own blog post.

  50. Mike, I have a question along these lines. I’m enough of a Calvinist still to believe in eternal security. I think that the weight of biblical evidence is in favor of that doctrine.

    But the more I think about it I realize the less it matters in practical terms. During our seminary days, theology profs always made a big deal about how eternal security gave assurance for the believer of his eternal destiny (unlike them Arminians :) ). The problem is, we all know people who at one point in their lives had all the marks of faith, believed in the gospel of Jesus Christ, and put their hope in it; but who subsequently fell away from the faith, and not just for a season. From a Calvinist theology we have two options to understand their situation: (a) they are still saved and their faith will eventually be restored in God’s timing, or (b) they were never saved in the first place, and were merely deceiving themselves and those around them. But I am quite capable of that same self- and other-deception. So who is to say that I, who at this point has every reason for believing that I am a truly redeemed son of God, will not at some point in the future apostatize and thus demonstrate that I was never really saved? From a reassurance standpoint, Calvinism really doesn’t have any advantage over Arminianism.

    Your thoughts?

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