I write to you because there are matters of utmost concern that have come to my attention. You seem to not understand the importance of the mandates that have been prescribed.
I understand you have based your services on fellowship with one another, however, you seem to have neglected many of the other obligations that have been given to you. Fellowship is fine, but it has its place. You must focus on the aspects of the services. You can fellowship a few minutes before and after, and perhaps during an interlude, you can shake hands with a few people you haven’t spoken to yet, but you must keep the service in proper focus. Fellowship has its place, but you must strive to make the service of utmost importance.
Please remain attentive to the speaker and do not interrupt with questions. Doubts and questions are the foundations of sin. I know you have read of the apostles’ answers, but it is time you started to learn how to be reverent and respectful of the anointed ones in your meetings. Questions cause division, and you must remain in unity.
You must be in attendance every Sunday. There are no valid excuses for tardiness or absence. Do not underestimate the importance of being under the teaching of the word and correct doctrine. You will easily fall out of favor if you are not consistently sustained with the words of these leaders.
In addition, you must give your tithe to the proper authority figure for use in continued services in the future. There should be no more of this sharing among yourselves as the funding for future services is severely lacking. Submit to the leaders and they will do what is appropriate for you.
Also, remember to stick with the service format and do not allow variation. Change is always bad. If you advance pass the format presented here, you will alienate each other from consistency and familiarity. Remember how good it was in the past and always strive to uphold that ideal. Ensure everyone upholds those past traditions so you remain compliant to the faith.
I have noticed that while you are more than willing to sacrifice yourselves at the hands of the political authorities, you must consider the spreading of the gospel. How do you intend to spread the word if you’re dead? Do not throw your life away by such useless sacrifice. Instead, you must strive to become a force within the political arena. Christianity will die if you do not actively involve yourselves.
There are other ways in which you can sacrifice. You can sacrifice your time and assets to build the institution so it can become a force in the world for good. I know you are eager to place your efforts into a pursuit, and I can think of nothing better to spend your time and resources on than building the church in the world so there is a shining beacon of morality in which to base your lives around.
You must submit yourselves to the authorities. They know what is best for you. You can trust that they will not mislead you. They already know all that I am writing in this letter, so submit yourselves to them so they can direct you in the word. Without leadership, you will be lost and fall into error. These leaders have been strategically placed and trained so you can be comfortable in your salvation. They are masterful at pointing out sin and will guide and encourage you by specifying the rules you must live by in order to be a good Christian. There will be many examples of worldliness they will point out along the way to show you how righteous you are in comparison. Take note of these things and be confident in your salvation because you have done what is right.
You must perform the rituals as prescribed. Every born again believer must be baptized with water as has been mandated. I will leave the methodology of this to you, but all assemblies must come to an agreement and use water in these rituals. Baptism in the Holy Spirit is not enough. How else will you recognize each other as Christians if you don’t perform the prescribed mandates regularly?
No more disagreements. You need to come to a consensus on everything so that no one falls into error. Differing views will cause division. It is important that if anyone disagrees with the majority, they must be cut off from the congregation lest they confuse and distort the message. Unity in everything done is the most important aspect of keeping your congregation healthy and active. If you follow all of these mandates, unity should not be a problem. Remember, separate yourselves from any dissenters so they cannot distract you from the path laid before you.
Remember, also, to abstain from sin. Do not allow yourself to be exposed to others. In doing so, you will cause controversy and be shown as weak and unworthy. The focus is on the worship service and not you individually. It is shameful to bring up your short-comings in such a holy place.
Remember, you are at war so everything you experience outside of proper religion should be considered an attack. There are forces that will attack you financially, politically, and morally. When you suffer lose of these things, it is a spiritual attack. Remember, anything that causes you discomfort is bad and must be upheld as such.
Additionally, the errant dissenters have already been lost so you must separate yourselves and attack them with any weapon you can forge. Wielding scripture and prayer, you can do grievous harm to these aggressors. When all else fails, just ignore them and continually repeat what you have been mandated to believe.
I know the old system continually got these things wrong, but I believe you can do them right. Do not associate with those who will not conform to your corporate worship. In the future, you would do well to construct signs outside of your buildings to let the rest of society know how wrong they are through shrewd adages. There is no need to associate personally with those outside other than this unless it is to ask them their spiritual state. In this, you may cause them to come under conviction and persuade them that attending your congregation is the way to salvation.
The time is short as you can deduce from all the evil signs around you. You must get these things in proper order as quickly as possible lest you suffer the coming judgment. Just remember, hold on and one day everything will be okay.
I applaud you in advance for your devotion to these mandates. You can know that I will always be near when needed to help guide you back onto the appropriate path.
Luci F. Er
What is sin?
The answer can be varied depending on who is asked.
Mostly, what I was taught to believe is that sin is breaking a list of rules that God has established. Again, that list can vary.
When we get down to it, it seems we uphold the Ten Commandments as the basis of our sin dichotomy. However, if we go down that list, we quickly see that much of Western Christianity is not holding up those rules, especially when we look at Jesus’ definition of righteousness by law such as Matt 5. Another example: the Sabbath is from Friday at sundown until Saturday evening. If we aren’t remembering the Sabbath and keeping it holy, we’re already breaking one of the rules. And if we break one, we break them all.
In this, we get a rather subjective list that is easily open to interpretation based on other parts of the Bible. We toss aside or change/justify what we don’t care to uphold and weaponize the rest in an attempt to beat others into submission to our standards. If we take a step back and look at this process, it’s all just comparative righteousness. We have a scale by which we weight our righteousness against others’. This is also known as self-righteousness and is prevalent in the institution we call “church” today.
So if the list is so undefinable, what is sin? If we don’t know what sin is–if there is no list that won’t contain holes—how do we avoid it? Is this even the appropriate question we should ask? Perhaps what we’ve been asking is the wrong starting point.
So let’s look at “original sin.” What was Adam and Eve’s sin? Looking at Genesis 3, it seems they wanted to know what good and evil was by their definition instead of trusting in God. This is how the serpent deceived—trust in self instead of God. Again, righteousness by human means instead of relationship with Father.
Perhaps this is the root of all sin—our trust that our way is right because of our insistence that it is, even when we state the Bible backs our conclusion. This same methodology was used all throughout the Old Testament, yet, we see constant failure by man to avoid the sin condition. Interestingly enough, it seems that even if we’re “right” about our statements, we can still be in sin because of our self-righteous attitude about it.
So far it doesn’t seem quite clear what sin is and how we avoid it.
How I’ve come to see it is, sin is anything that separates us from being in relationship with Father. Jesus came to end that separation:
“The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”—Mark 1:15.
In effect, it seems Jesus was trying to get people to stop attempting a relationship with Father by rules.
If fear separates us from God, it is sin—even fear of hell.
If we believe that our rule-following justifies us, we no longer trust in Jesus as bridging that separation, or if we add addendum to Jesus’ completed work, we in turn nullify the effect of his accomplishment in our personal life.
If we try to force mandates, accountability, obligation, etc…on others, we are only propping up man made agenda and become separated from Father.
If we use intimidation, fear, guilt, shame, etc…to try to force others into a “love” relationship (what sense does that make?) we are separated from a relationship with Father.
If we’re trying to summon the Holy Spirit into our meetings by long-winded/extravagant prayer, rituals, speeches, music, etc…we deny that the Holy Spirit has been given to live in us and in turn are separated from Father.
If we trust in politics, power, finances, military might, etc…we in turn are separated from Father.
If we refuse to engage others because we consider ourselves “right” and consider them as “wrong,” we are separated from Father.
If we insist that our behavior justifies us/causes God to act—negatively or positively, we in turn are separate from Father. Example: I’m a good person so why is God punishing me with this?
None of this is Father separating us from him, but, like Adam and Eve, it is our insistence that our ways are right, and we remove ourselves from relationship with Father. Thereby, we justify ourselves because of our doings and not the completed work of Jesus. We trust in our own knowledge of good and evil and not in Life itself, which is Jesus.
In conclusion, my view of sin is anything that inhibits our relationship with Father—whether we label these things as secular or sacred. In addition, what inhibits my relationship may not inhibit another’s. Attempting to force a standardized list of religious mandates and obligations can in turn separate us from relationship with Father because of our insistence in our own righteousness by what we achieve. Jesus never forced—he invited any who would come, into a relationship with Father. This, too, is our calling as Christians—not obligation, fear, shame, hatred, accountability, religion, manipulation, mandates, etc….but just a simple invitation for others to come to know our Father through Jesus and by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
There’s something that’s always bothered me about the traditional view of the cross. I could never quite wrap my head around why Father had to punish us, or Jesus in our stead, for sin we were born to commit. How could our sinfulness ever effect the most holy God?
I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately but there was one piece I couldn’t see. I reasonably accepted that, in the old ways, there were many rules to maintain to be pure enough to reside in God’s presence. If the rules worked, what was Jesus’ purpose?
Often, we consider Jesus’ sacrifice a payment for our sins—all of humanity’s sin. This, too, is a reasonable conclusion, but I still felt there was something I was missing. It seemed God kept prompting me to dig deeper.
It is reasonable to conclude that Jesus took Father’s wrath at the cross, that he completely drank of that cup. This led me to conclude, based on concepts I’ve learned from others, that Father’s wrath is the antidote for our sin. While that antidote did the job of cleansing people, it also destroyed them, as can be seen throughout the Old Testament.
So what happened at the cross?
Our older brother, Jesus, the only one truly righteous enough, indeed took our punishment for us. Not only that, he created within his spirit the “antibodies” we needed, that we can handle without being destroyed, and sent them back to us in the Holy Spirit.
And that’s not all—Father was with him every step of the way!
At first glance, we may not accept this conclusion. One of the most popular scriptures that upholds the idea that Father would turn his back on Jesus is Matt 27:46:
About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). (NIV)
However, we also have the contention of verses like John 16:32:
“A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me.
So which is it? Did Father abandon Jesus? Did Jesus expect Father to be there but he wasn’t? Had Jesus became so blinded by our sin that he could no longer feel Father’s presence? Even if this was the case, would the Messiah so easily have mistook what he felt over what he knew to be true—that Father would never abandon him or any of his children?
Yet, Jesus seems to ask why Father had forsaken him.
Here we see something that we can easily miss. Jesus was stating a snippet of an entire book—the first verse of Psalm 22! This would be similar to how we often hear quoted, or may even quote ourselves, “Yea though I walk through the shadow of the valley of death…” (the very next Psalm – 23). When we hear this phrase, we know a greater meaning is intimated, but not the meaning that the speaker has been abandoned to death. Likewise, when we read through Psalm 22, we see a much larger picture of what Jesus was intimating, including the prophetic undertones:
v15 – they pierce my hands and my feet.
v18 – They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.
v24 – For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help. (emphasis mine)
In the final verses of Psalm 22, we see the culmination of Jesus’ accomplishment:
All the rich of the earth will feast and worship; all who go down to the dust will kneel before him—those who cannot keep themselves alive. Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord. They will proclaim his righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn: He has done it! (v29-31 emphasis mine).
We see throughout this Psalm that Jesus wasn’t abandoned, that Father did not hide his face!
Father and Son faced the cross together. They felt the pain of the antidote of wrath and the burden of sin. Father stood with the Son in his affliction as any loving Father would in the midst of their child’s suffering.
And we all know what happened then—sin lost!
Wrath did not consume Jesus as it had destroyed so many previously. Jesus lived long enough to create the spiritual antidote we needed and on that great Pentecost, Father began to get his family back! No longer were his children estranged because of the Father’s holiness, man’s sinfulness, and the volatile fate of any such human who hadn’t gone through the most prolific, though temporary, forms of rituals to maintain cleanliness so they could draw close. It was finished at the cross, and now we have the gift of the Holy Spirit so we can forever live in the Father’s presence!
And yet, there was still another most exquisite gift. Not only was separation abolished forever, but Jesus rose from the grave to prove that it no longer had the power to contain Father’s children! The mighty plan of Father, Son, and Spirit, to restore the family, has forevermore succeeded!
“God, no matter the cost, I want a deeper relationship with you!”
“Jesus, help me love others like you do!”
These have been the most dangerous prayers I’ve prayed. They’ve completely turned my life upside down.
The first one I prayed sitting in a pew in the summer of 2013. I was spiritually stagnant and no matter how much I did within the congregation, I wasn’t growing much. Once I pleaded this prayer to God from the depths of my spirit, it was like the rug was pulled out from under me. Everything looked different. I lost my bearings and everything religious I had been taught came into question. Some I still agree with. Some I had to put away as they didn’t represent Jesus as I’ve come to know him in the Bible and through my personal walk.
The second one I prayed for about two years. It wasn’t until recently that I was brought to a place that I could actually start living it in some way. God had to clean my heart of all the bigotry and hatred first.
I don’t regret either prayer as an amazing relationship with God has been developing. I wouldn’t have guessed that this would be the way it would unfold, and I can now see how this type of relationship can’t be taught. It can only be received, embraced, and lived in Jesus.
The unfortunate side effects of this is that many religious people I’ve known withdraw from me when I attempt to share the love I’ve found with them. Others say a lot of religiously loaded words that are just hollow now. They try to win me back over to “their side” by justifying their hatred and attempts at guilt and shame. More and more, I feel sad for them because they are continuing to try to mandate God on others through law rather than embrace God and others by love.
Lately, God has been calling me to stand up for some of the people that I use to hate though at the time, I would’ve explained it more like, “love the sinner, hate the sin.” While this is a nice little ditty to recite for us Christians, now I see the effect it has on those we’ve categorized by our human judgments. When this is our approach, we end up dehumanizing people into a faceless, heartless category that we can push to the margins. The truth is, it wasn’t this way with Jesus. He loved the sinner in the midst of their sin. When we focus on a person’s sin foremost, instead of focusing on the person, we define them by our view of sin, thereby judging that they aren’t worthy of Christ until they can somehow overcome their sin.
I could write about this stuff until Jesus returns, but it won’t make a bit of difference unless people allow Jesus to truly invade their hearts. In the end, our empty religious words will be forgotten and the only thing that will have made a difference to someone is how we loved them without reservation.
If you feel spiritually stuck, ask God for that deeper relationship. If you find it hard to truly love, in a very up close and personal way, those stuffed into a sin category, ask Jesus to show you to his kind of love. However, know that if you’re really sincere, your entire life will change.
When I was around 8 years old, I was sitting in a Sunday morning service just like all the Sundays before. As a young kid, I was typically bored. I’m not sure what led to my train of thought at that time as I honestly wasn’t paying any attention to the sermon. However, God asked me a question that has stuck with me. This question has gnawed at me from the back of my mind for over 25 years now.
“Do you think it’s possible to be so lost is Jesus’ love that you don’t sin anymore?”
I had a thought of being literally lost with no way out, surrounded by Jesus and his love.
As I think about it now, this was quite a deep bit of theology to lay on an 8 year old.
At that time, I really had no reference to know yea or nae, however, it did make me pay a little more attention during services from that point on. According to the pastors and teachers, the answer was a resounding “no!” In some way this depressed me as I felt God was teasing me with an impossibility. I felt as though a lifelong devotion of rule following was the path that would lead me to conquer my sin and just maybe catch a glimpse of that type of relationship.
This, however, did not work.
As I grew older, I figured it was possible, just not in this life. To that God seemed to reply “really?”
This sent me on another path of deep spiritual questioning. In a way, it’s almost funny now how God could turn my entire world upside down with a simple question or even with a one word reply.
What if Jesus really did what the Bible says? What if he really removed sin by paying the price in full for it? What if we’re the ones who insist that we have to overcome our sin on our terms. What if it really is that simple (yet oh so hard) to just stand with Jesus, to be lost in Jesus, forever away from sin? What if the Kingdom he brought is already here, in this life, (John 4:23-24, Matthew 4:17, Mark 1:15) and we are free to enter and live in it—not free to sin, but free from sin. Could we, would we, dare to…..hope……that grace is really that powerful? Are there some who would try to stand in the way of those trying to enter (Matthew 23:14)?
As I strive to know Jesus more, as I hear his voice more clearly, as I learn about the words he spoke that religion often ignores, circumvents, or manipulates, and as I start to hope to believe he really did pay the price, I look to that 8 year old kid and begin to humbly, hesitantly consider that…..maybe…..just maybe…..the answer could be…..
As I’ve grown closer to God, I’ve realized I’ve had a distorted view of who he is, though my vision is becoming more clear little by little.
I’ve always seen him as being disappointed at my continued failure to overcome sin. This has been taught in both subtle and outright ways all my life. Such a viewpoint causes some to act as though they have somehow gained control over their sin, promoting an external self-righteousness. Otherwise, it drives those away that realize they can’t overcome their sin or manage it to appear righteous enough to others.
In both cases, the sin is still there.
I’ve come to a realization that I’m now starting to be able to believe and apply, though it takes time to fully sink in—Jesus became sin and took the consequences at the cross.
Yeah, I know we’ve heard this all our lives and say we believe it. However, we’re still led to think that we have to somehow overcome our sin.
God, while he loves us, doesn’t seem to like us much until we do.
This leads to all kinds of systems of sin management that have existed for centuries. However, these systems have never been successful at overcoming sin but only attempt to redirect it elsewhere while driving it deeper within ourselves.
“We are not the problem, it’s them.” This is a phrase that is stated in many forms. This view attempts to undo all that Jesus suffered to destroy our sin on the cross. We impose our twisted view of God onto the rest of the world—“God loves you but doesn’t like you until you clean up your act.”
Jesus isn’t standing opposed to us when we fail. He is standing right beside us. When we only see him as distant, we have no power to overcome our sin. When we realize that he is in us and we are in him, we begin to realize we have his power within us and can overcome our sin with him.
What we may also fail to realize is that Jesus became sin in every way that sin is sin. He didn’t just symbolically become sin. He literally took all of our sin into himself and paid the consequences for it. Though I can admit this, I have a hard time truly believing it—for myself or for others. I still tend to insist there is something I have to do to overcome my sin. However, just as Jesus literally became sin, we literally became his righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21). We have been made saints!
This is probably one of the most significant realizations in Christianity but yet the least accepted.
We continue to try to please God by our own methods when he is already pleased with us. We fail to just trust him and let him stand with us against our sin. We seem to think we are going to embarrass God if our vulnerabilities are exposed, so we act as though everything is okay on the surface.
However, Jesus overcame all of our shame at the cross!
We continue to see ourselves as an old, shameful sinner who has to do enough lifelong sin management to get through the gates of heaven. This causes us to live in a perpetually unfulfilled state.
When we accept that we have become a new creation, we focus on God’s grace and love and receive that fulfillment now, in this lifetime! Jesus is then able to help us overcome our sin as we are ready. This isn’t through force, willpower, programs, or management systems. It is through Jesus. We are also able to stand with others in their vulnerabilities and share Jesus’ love and acceptance with them. Instead, though, we tend to heap shame on others to justify ourselves or manipulate them to do things our way.
It’s not “Us vs Them.” It’s us standing with Jesus and with “them.” God is not on “our” side or against “them.” He sent Jesus to show that he is on everyone’s side.
All my life I’ve been taught to love the part a person plays as though their outward actions always accurately reflect who they really are. An actor on a stage, that’s who I’ve been all my life. Taught to only love those who had the same political views, who looked the same, who acted the same, and who “loved” me back. But when the act is over, who truly loves others for who they are instead of who they’ve been trained to be? When a person’s darkest secrets are revealed, who truly loves them for who they are and who they’ve always been?
Jesus loved those even when their darkest moments were exposed. Yet he hated the facade that some upheld (though he didn’t hate the person).
Most of my life I’ve been told not to sin (as defined by religion) in order not to be condemned. However, Jesus turns this process upside down by saying we are not condemned, therefore we can stop sinning; that’s the freedom he gave us at the cross by outbidding sin and death and paying the ultimate price.