What Would Jesus Do? And Should You Do It Too?…probably not

By: David Schwier—4/16/2019

 

‘I’m not a Christian, I’m a Jesus follower.’

Have you heard this?

I have.

A lot.

It serves as an attempt to distance oneself from the more negative aspects of ‘Christianity.’

Which is to say, all the killing, slavery justifications, crusades and inquisitions….’I don’t know about all that…I just follow Jesus.’

Even people from other religions are getting on board with this.

They don’t want to go with ‘Christianity,’ but they respect and follow the teachings of Jesus.

Not long ago, a Christian friend on Facebook wanted to make clear he wasn’t down with all the negative monkey business of Christianity, so he declared he wasn’t a Christian, but a ‘Jesus follower.’

I thought a moment and responded, “Well, if you try and follow Jesus, you’re actually Jewish.”

He threw a small FB fit.

But unfortunately, it’s true.

Because most of what Jesus taught people to ‘follow’ was the Law of Moses; the theocratic rules and rituals that governed the life and culture of ancient Israel.

Jesus was purely embedded in it. (Galatians 4:4).

But after the death and resurrection of Jesus, God’s mandate to follow and obey the Law of Moses ended for the Hebrew people (Romans 7:6, Book of Galatians, Book of Hebrews) and gentiles (everyone not Jewish) were never part of the Law of the Moses to begin with (Ephesians 2:11-12).

Yes, it’s true.

But in all fairness, Jesus did exhort people to “follow me” (Matthew 4:19; Matthew 16:24-26).

So what’s up with that?

Come with me as we take a short swim through Jesus’ life and ask: What would it actually look like to ‘follow Jesus’ or ‘be like Jesus?’

And can it be done?

And should it be done?

Let’s start with a biggy:

 

1. Jesus confronted, critiqued and yes—seemingly insulted—religious leaders (Matthew 23).

So we should too.

I hear Christians say this all the time.

“Jesus confronted religious leaders, so we should too.”

In order to see why this is something we should actually not do, let’s dig into some background about the specific situation of Jesus’ day:

There were two groups of so-called ‘religious leaders’ often in Jesus’ sights; Pharisees and Sadducees.

But here’s the problem: These men weren’t ‘religious leaders’ as we think of religious leaders today.

Huh?

There was no separation of church and state in theocratic ancient Israel.

These men weren’t simply ‘religious leaders.’ They were also the business and political leaders of their day.

What it meant to be a ‘religious leader’ in Jesus’ day doesn’t map to what it means to be a ‘religious leader’ in our day.

It doesn’t translate.

Most pastors or priests today are not also political and/or business leaders.

The pope doesn’t even qualify since he has no geographical political power over a specific ethnic group or groups.

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He has no theocracy.

Maybe Pat Robertson could apply, after all—he is a religious leader, a business owner (cable networks) and he tried to run for president.

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But still….no.

Pat Robertson has never been under the theocratic system of the Law of Moses. And if we’re going to critique ‘religious’ leaders as Jesus did, this is a necessary component.

Because Jesus was critiquing a specific system run by a specific group of people.

Jesus confronted the public leaders because they were proclaiming their piousness and righteousness in upholding the Law of Moses, while in their private lives and public monetary and business dealings, they were massively corrupt.

Even the Book of James later in the New Testament takes up the tirade against these men (James 5:1-6).

Jesus called them hypocrites.

Jesus did this.

You should not.

 

2. Jesus taught some new stuff for people to live and follow as Christians (entire Book of Matthew).

Actually, he did not.

Christians love the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), where Jesus supposedly tells us new rules to live by as distinguished from Old Testament rules and laws.

But no.

In a massive irony of Christian history, Jesus himself said, “No, I’m not actually teaching anything new. I’m actually teaching the Law of Moses that all of you (his direct audience) are trying to live and follow right now” (Matthew 5:17-20).

And so with the bulk of Jesus’ life’s teaching–including the Sermon and the Mount and nearly everything else he taught–Jesus was doing two things: Explaining the incredibly, impossibly high standard of what it meant to actually follow the Old Testament Law of Moses, while at the same time exposing the corruption and hypocrisy of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

Jesus did this.

You should not.

Because, again, according to most of the New Testament, the Law of Moses is no longer in play and gentiles (all non-Jews) were never under it to begin with (Romans 7:6; Book of Hebrews; Ephesians 2:12).

Which leads to this:

 

3. Jesus spoke of ‘plucking out eyeballs,’ ‘chopping off hands,’ and ‘pulling logs from your own eye before taking the splinter from another’s eye’ (Mark 9:42-47; Matthew 5:29; Matthew 7:3-5).

What?

Yes.

Again, Jesus was teaching the Law of Moses to his people, and indicting and critiquing a massively corrupt human power-structure in the process.

And as we see all throughout the Old Testament, there are dire consequences (judgment and exile) when the nation followed their leaders into mass corruption.

Jesus, being in the line of the OT prophets such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, etc., was warning against this. After all, the Law of Moses contract God had with Israel was “follow the Law and get blessings, don’t and get curses.”

This was about his specific time and cultural situation.

Jesus did this.

You should not.

At least, if you’re going to do it, do it for reasons that benefit your time and culture.

Plucking eyeballs, chopping hands and pulling logs were all part of the Law of Moses.

None of that is in play anymore according to the New Testament.

 

4. Jesus did miracles; healed people, cast out demons and even raised a guy from the dead (acts found all throughout the gospel books).

To be fair, I’ve heard stories of people in our modern day being healed, having demons cast out, and even being raised from the dead.

And also to be fair, most of this is fake and perpetrated by charlatans.

 

But maybe some of it is true.

I hope it is.

I’ve never seen or experienced it myself.

But hey, Jesus did miracles, and if you can do miracles and it’s real and credible, then that’s awesome!

Go for it!

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I can see only upside.

But most likely you can’t.

So very, very few of us should put our eggs in the miracle-making basket.

 

5.  Jesus didn’t own a home and had no material possessions (that we know of).

So how did Jesus physically live?

Two things:

First, in that part of the world, hospitality was everything. Doing everything you could to physically take care of others was the highest value.

In most places over there, it still is.

Second, Jesus was a respected Jewish Rabbi.

That was his day job.

And to host an itinerant rabbi in that culture was one of the highest possible honors you and your family could experience.

So if you fed, sheltered and probably even–clothed, respected Jewish leaders, it was the best thing that could happen to you.

It was an honor, pleasure and privilege.

Jesus did this.

You should not.

But…if you want to be a traveling religious teacher that relies on others for your material needs, I won’t stop you.

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But you can’t do it following Jesus’ example.

You are probably not a Jewish Rabbi and are probably not teaching the Law of Moses while critiquing a corrupt Law of Moses theocratic system.

But if you are, please find something else to do.

Thanks.

 

6. Jesus told a woman friend to stop working around the house (bothering with his hospitality) and simply hang out with him and her sister (Luke 10: 38-42).

Ok, so what’s up with this weirdness?

This was a physical example of what Jesus came to do.

The woman ‘working’ represented the Law system of that culture, and the woman ‘resting’ represented Jesus’ new God-ordained program for humanity.

Jesus was transitioning his culture from relating to God through their efforts, energy and work (following the Law of Moses), to one of rest, celebration and relying on God to take care of everything needed in the relationship between God and humanity (faith) (Galatians 3:23).

Jesus did this.

For a very specific reason.

You should not tell anyone to stop their work just to hang out with you, unless, again, it’s for reasons other than following Jesus’ example.

 

7. Jesus gathered disciples (Matthew 4:18-22).

Again, Jesus was a Jewish Rabbi.

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And that’s what Jewish Rabbis did.

They made disciples.

To learn the Law of Moses.

–(record scratch)–

What?

Yes. This ancient Hebrew practice of gathering and making disciples was to pass on to the next generation how to live and interpret the Law of Moses in the theocratic society in which they lived.

So Jesus gathered disciples to teach them to follow the Law of Moses…as he simultaneously indicted the corrupt power-structure, then set aside the entire Law of Moses for a ‘new command’ at the end of his life (more on that later).

This confused people massively.

And, again, all this was in the context of a covenant between God and Israel that gentiles (everyone not Jewish) weren’t included in anyway (Ephesians 2:11-12).

“But, hey,” you say. “Hold on a minute, mister…didn’t Jesus tell us to ‘make disciples of all nations’ (Matthew 28: 19-20)?”

Well, sort of…..that phrase only turns up in the Book of Matthew, a book largely directed toward a Jewish audience. They would have understood the word-play.

Other gospels, such as Luke, were targeted toward gentile audiences.

But even if we were to think the command in Matthew was for all of us, what would making disciples of Jesus mean?

During his lifetime, Jesus made disciples to follow the Law of Moses (Matthew 5:20) then he flipped everything around at the end of his life and simply told them to love all people as God loves them (John 13:34).

Paul put it this way for his gentile audiences: “All things are permissible, but not everything is beneficial” (1 Corinthians 6:12; 10:23).

Wow. That seems pretty simple.

‘All things are permissible’—because Jesus died to take away the sin of the world—‘but not all things are profitable’—because not everything is a loving thing to do.

So, anyway…

Jesus made disciples.

Should we?

Well, we should not make disciples to follow the Law of Moses as Jesus did.

But we can make ‘disciples’ of people to love people, as Jesus ‘commanded’ at the end of his life.

Loving people with the love of God.

We all can, and should, do that.

Most likely it can’t fail.

But it still might be messy.

Oh…and don’t use the word ‘disciples’….because no one talks that way anymore.

 

8. Jesus taught in the temple when he was 12-years-old (Luke 2:39-52).

Jesus did this.

So should you then teach in church when you’re 12-years-old?

You could.

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It’s possible.

But again, Jesus was teaching the Law of Moses, which he and his culture lived under.

You do not.

So don’t do that.

It’s not your culture and the Law has been made obsolete by the life and work of Christ (Romans 7:6; Entire book of Hebrews).

 

9. Jesus smashed things in the Temple because of—once again—power-structure corruption (Matthew 21:12; John 2:13-17).

Again, very specific to the time and situation.

Law of Moses vs. corrupt leaders.

Not for us today, never to be duplicated in history.

Jesus did this.

You should not.

Can you smash things in a church or mosque because people are misusing or corrupting the intention of the space?

Yes…and maybe you should.

But it will, by necessity, be for completely different reasons and motivations than Jesus.

You cannot ‘follow Jesus’ there.

 

10. Jesus hijacked a super-popular holiday and made it about himself (Matthew 26:17-30).

Imagine if all your family gathered on Christmas morning and you said, “Today we will celebrate my birthday instead of Jesus’,” even though it wasn’t even your birthday at all.

How well would that go down?

The Last Supper was actually a celebration of the Jewish Passover.

It was supposed to be about God rescuing the Hebrew nation from Egypt.

And Jesus made it about himself.

Jesus did this.

You should not.

 

11. Jesus asked people, in a culture looking for a ‘Messiah (a King, a Savior),’ who they thought he was (Mark 8:29).

Jesus did this.

You should not.

Unless you want a stint in lock-up.

 

12. Jesus told people he was God and then predicted his execution, resurrection and the destruction of the very fabric of his culture physically and spiritually (John 10:30; John 8:58; John 2: 19; Matthew 24: 1-35).

Jesus did this.

You should not.

And most likely you can’t anyway.

If you can, let me know.

I’d be interested.

 

13. Jesus took his best friends up on a hill and transformed himself into a giant glowing glow-worm while three long-dead ghosts of Israel’s past looked on (Matthew 17: 1-8).

Jesus did this.

I dare you to try.

 

14. Jesus rode into town on a donkey (John 12:12-19).

Yes, technically, you can do this, but Jesus did it with the expectation of the people that he would soon be crowned king.

You are probably not in that position, and never will be, so leave the donkey in the petting zoo and get a bicycle.

Thanks.

 

15. Jesus and his best friend walked on water (Matthew 14:22-33).

In this highly misunderstood picture of the meaning of faith, Peter wanted to walk on water with Jesus and does so for a few minutes until his ‘faith’ in Jesus gets weak and he begins to sink.

I’ve always heard this taught in the super damaging way that if things in your life are starting to ‘sink,’ it means you’re faith is waning and you need to believe harder.

No.

This is a picture of Jesus teaching his culture the transition from following the Law of Moses (in their own efforts and energy) to living with God in ‘faith’ (that God’s effort and energy is what matters, not ours).

It’s not about us bolstering our ‘belief,’ or attributing bad circumstances to not having enough belief in Jesus to get the job done.

Jesus and Peter enacted this picture of transition.

You should not.

If you’re in a boat, or next to a body of water and feel compelled to walk on the water, please make sure you can swim.

Thanks.

 

16. Jesus washed people’s feet (John 13: 1-17).

Ewwwwwww….!

Now, to be fair, I’ve taken part in Christian ‘foot-washing’ ceremonies.

Maybe you have too.

It’s super awkward and weird.

But it’s not all that smelly or gross.

Why?

Because today, people have fairly clean feet (Thank God).

The weirdest thing about touching other people’s feet is because…..feet are just plain weird to begin with.

But what was Jesus doing in his day that made this significant?

Because when people came over to visit, they had to walk through streets filled with trash, mud, and random mounds of poop.

And who wants to track that through the house?

So there was a servant, or slave, who washed people’s feet when they came in the door.

It was a lowly, disgusting and smelly job, relegated to those of the lowest status of society; the untouchables, the unclean class.

And Jesus, a very high status member of society by that time, put a servant’s cloth over his knee, bent down and performed the task, which was shocking and scandalous for someone of his stature.

But by doing this he downshifted the role of the most privileged while uplifting the status of the most lowly, all in one move.

It was brilliant.

And it taught us that all humans are the same and have the same value. He was killing class-ism where it lived. “If you want to be great, you should be the servant of all.”

This was revolutionary.

Jesus did it.

And so should you.

Just stay away from feet.

Feet is not the point.

And this brings us to the biggy:

 

17. Jesus hung on a cross, died, and rose from the dead as a sacrifice for the wrong-doing of the world (John 1:29).

Need we even go through this?

Yes, you can hang on a cross and die…if you want.

You probably won’t come back to life, nor will you be a sacrifice for the wrong-doing of humanity.

So you might want to re-think your plan.

Yes, Jesus said, “Take up your cross and follow me (Luke 9:23).”

And yes, Jesus said, “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13).”

But man, we really need to spend a lot of time discussing what this actually means in practice, because as I said, we can do two of the things Jesus did here, but not the other two.

And as far as Jesus was concerned, all four need to be in play for this to have been of benefit to anyone.

So Jesus did this.

You should not, nor could you.

And finally (something that seems a no-brainer that we all should do):

 

18. Jesus said to “Love your God with all your heart, soul and mind” and “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22: 36-40).

Should we follow Jesus in this?

No, we should not.

“What? Are you crazy?”

Well, let’s break it down:

First, again, Jesus was speaking with, under, and to, the Law of Moses theocratic power-structure of his day.

They were all discussing the Law of Moses a lot of the time, and certainly were in this instance.

They were discussing which of the 613 Law of Moses commands (which include the BIG 10) were most important.

We’ve already established that after Jesus died and rose, the Law of Moses was ‘set aside’ and not to be followed anymore. And more so, Gentiles (everyone not of the ethnic line of Israel) were never under the Law of Moses to begin with. They never were, never are, and never will be.

“But hey,” you say. “What if I want to follow what Jesus says here?

What could go wrong?

Well, first, being commanded to love God was a very old covenant thing to do.

Why?

Because we must ask ourselves: Why did God command the ancient nation of Israel to love him?

Isn’t that the height of egotistic hubris?

It would be…if it weren’t for the fact that Israel was constantly falling away to worship the fake gods of the neighboring people groups, which oftentimes carried the high price of those gods demanding child sacrifice and putting stamps of approval on religio-sexual prostitution and abuse.

Thus, God had to tell them, “Eyes up here guys. Not over there. Not over on that. Up here. This is the way to go” (Galatians 3:23-25).

After Jesus died and rose, no one has been ‘commanded’ to love God any longer.

We are invited into a love relationship with God in total freedom (Galatians 5:1). Free of rules, commands and rituals. This is what Jesus went to the cross to accomplish.

So to not take full advantage of that is to lessen the trouble God went through to make it happen.

“But,” you say. “Love your neighbor as yourself…How could you go wrong with that?”

Again, this was a discussion of the Law. Something Gentiles weren’t part of anyway.

It’s interesting that near the beginning of the first of the four gospel books, this exchange about the Law takes place, but near the end of the last Gospel, John’s gospel, Jesus says, “A new command I give you, to love each other as I have loved you.”

Whoa.

That’s big.

At the end of his life, Jesus gave a new command to ‘replace’ all of the 613 commands of the Law of Moses. The Jews (the only ones actually under the Law) would have understood the full shock and scandal of Jesus’ life and what he said here, pronouncing a ‘new command.’

Adding to Moses???

No, Paul makes clear, not adding to, but replacing Moses.

SAY IT ISN’T SO!

Anyway, what are we to do with Jesus’ new command?

Love each other.

Not merely as we think we’d want to be loved, but to love each other as we think God would love them.

Holy shit.

That’s big.

Jesus taught the Law of Moses. Then commanded everyone to love each other as God loves us.

But how exactly do we do this?

In freedom (not under compulsion), and with the help of the Holy Spirit.

But that’s a whole other blog post.

For now:

Ok, so…..

So far we’ve made  a pretty long list of things you couldn’t or shouldn’t do in your attempts to follow Jesus.

We can see that pretty much ninety-percent of what Jesus did and said, you shouldn’t, or couldn’t, do. Ninety-percent of what Jesus was recorded doing in the gospels in the Bible was teaching the Law of Moses, teaching parables about interpretation of that Law (and the coming inclusion of gentiles into God’s family), confronting the power-structure of his day, and doing miracles and healings.

None of that applies directly to us as something we can ‘follow’ in our own lives today.

So what about the remaining ten-percent?

You’ll be happy to know there are a few things Jesus did that you can follow and emulate:

 

1. Jesus often went off on his own and prayed (Luke 5:16).

You can do this!

And probably should.

He also went off on his own into the desert to be tempted by the devil (Matthew 4:1-11).

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That sounds like a huge downer.

You should skip that….and pray instead.

 

2. Jesus took some ribbing from his friends (John 1:46) and was abandoned and ‘cursed’ by his best friend (Matthew 26:74), then forgave them and kept them as major players in his program (John 21:17).

This is huge.

And difficult to do.

Maintaining friendships is something Jesus was good at. And a necessary ingredient was tons of forgiveness. Probably more than 490 times (extreme theology nerds will get that).

Jesus did this.

He maintained friendships with people from all walks of life, and forgave those closest to him…often.

You can do this.

And probably should.

 

3. Jesus had super-cool Bon Jovi hair.

It’s true.

Actually it’s not.

Maybe.

We don’t really know for sure.

There are no photographs of Baby J and most European portrayals of him are a white man with beard and long hair.

Jesus was Palestinian.

He wasn’t white.

He may have had long hair and a beard.

Possibly.

Most likely.

So yes, you can have cool Bon-Jovi Jesus hair, too.

I did, many years ago:

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I’m sure God was proud.

 

4. Jesus hung out with the immoral and scum of society, loved them and called them his friends (Matthew 9:11; Matthew 11:19).

Jesus did this.

AND YOU SHOULD TOO!

Holy shit, yes, you should do this.

Why? Because EVERYONE in society is immoral and scum.

That was Jesus’ whole point with the Pharisees.

All that ‘last will be first, and first will be last’ stuff…..the Pharisees didn’t see themselves as ‘sinners’…..they thought were above all that. Above the common ‘rabble;’ the people Jesus was friends with.

So yes, by all means, make friends with and love everyone.

Because we’re all in the same boat.

We really are.

Just don’t do what Jesus did and accuse those who are self-righteous as being ‘hypocrites.’

Jesus did this.

You should not.

Because if you do, you will be revealed to be a self-righteous hypocrite yourself.

Weird how that works, isn’t it?

So anyway……

Final question and a massively important one: Why is the list of things we can’t or shouldn’t do way longer than things we can/should do?

Because for centuries Christians have missed the point.

The point for us today (and everyone after the resurrection of Jesus) has not been to follow Jesus’ life and words.

Say what?

Jesus told us this himself in the Book of John right before his execution, “I am going away. But I will send you a helper…” (John 14-16)

Then the book of Acts tells how the actual living spirit of God came back to the people and amazed them, comforted them, and led them into all manner of new and exciting adventures.

Jesus himself told us, “I don’t need to be here with you anymore in my physical person. My spirit, the spirit of God, is coming to be with you always” (John 14-16).

The Bible teaches that we have the opportunity to live with and interact with the very living Spirit of God that exists and interacts with us…today.

Ask yourself: How did people who liked Jesus get by for 300 years with no book or words to follow after he left earth?

How did the movement grow and sustain itself with no book?

The book is fine and helpful, for sure.

But have we really missed the entire point?

It’s a good question to ask.

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What do  you think? Have we missed the point of Jesus and what the Bible intended to communicate about God?

What would our lives look like if we embraced living with the living God today?

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Can We Get Past This?

By David Schwier–4/4/2018

 

Here is a distillation of current race relations in America:

Black people: ‘Racism is still a huge issue in America.’

White people: ‘No, it’s not. We’re past this.’

Hmmmm.

Why the disconnect?

Black people: ‘White people don’t listen to us.’

White people: ‘Black people are whiners.’

So which is it?

Is there still a huge problem, or are we past this?

Here’s one reason white people say we’re past this:

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So why are African-Americans still criticizing?

Well, because of this:

Because quite often well-meaning white people don’t understand how their words and actions still perpetuate racism in ways they don’t even realize is happening.

“What, Dave? You’re crazy…”

No, I’m not.

Here’s a great example:

In 1999 I remember watching Serena Williams being interviewed by Mary Carillo after Serena won her first US Open tennis title.

I dreaded what was coming. I was already cringing.

The question. The question.

The question that would belittle Serena; and Mary was completely clueless.

Mary asked Serena: “How does it feel to be the first African-American woman to win the US Open since (the last African American woman many years ago)?”

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I felt horrible for Serena.

Absolutely horrible.

Because I knew Serena didn’t care how it felt to be the first African American to win since blah, blah, blah.

She only cared about what’s like to be the first Serena Williams to win.

And rightly so.

Because no white player is ever asked what it’s like to be the umpteenth hundredth white person to win the US Open.

Nor is any white basketball player in the African-American dominated NBA ever asked what it’s like to be the 158th white person to win an NBA title.

That would be ridiculous.

Now….

In Mary’s defense, she was probably trying to be helpful.

Mary might have legitimately thought, Serena’s gone against the odds. She’s had to work harder to overcome obstacles white people don’t face.

What Mary didn’t know, however, was that this is exactly how white people trying to be helpful can actually make things worse.

Because she should have known Serena Williams only wanted to be the first Serena Williams to win the US Open.

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And again, rightly so.

Sloane Stephens only wanted to be the first Sloane Stephens to win the US Open, just as Steffi Graf only ever wanted to be the first Steffi Graf to win the US Open.

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Steffi Graf never wanted, or asked, to represent the entire white race.

Why should Serena, or Sloane, want to represent their entire race?

Bringing up race in every situation is not progress.

When we stop bringing up race in every situation…that is progress.

So this gets to the heart of the current racial disconnect in America:

Because White culture needs to understand that when these types of situations occur, and the black community says “that’s racist,” that’s what they mean.

They are not calling Mary Carillo a racist.

They are not saying she’s a card-carrying member of the KKK intent on burning crosses and hanging people from trees.

No.

And it’s not helpful when white people push back with that kind of ridiculousness.

What they are saying is that you can have racist actions and words, and not even realize it.

That’s what they’re saying.

So what would success look like?

Success would mean not necessarily being color blind, but being color affirming.

That means all people are created, and treated, equal: Dark skin, pale skin, cream skin, blue skin if you like.

Because who cares?

It’s just frickin’ skin.

No more of a biological function than pooping or growing hair.

It’s your body’s genetic pre-programming to best help you survive in your environment.

And the environment of pale Europeans was not North America. (Pale skin is best suited for Northern European climes.)

And the environment of African people was not North America. (Dark skin is best suited for African climes.)

Both came later.

So what is the best genetic pre-programmed skin hue for North America?

We know exactly what it is, because those people are still here living on the worst land in the worst physical and cultural conditions.

Europeans used to call them ‘Indians,’ but they’re really Native Americans.

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And their skin is smack in the middle of pale and dark. A really nice tan, exactly what millions of white people flock to the beach each year to achieve.

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So….

What is needed is understanding.

Learning.

Listening to each other.

Fixing what is broken in certain systems.

Then, and only then, will we get closer to a society that is more equal, and just, for all.

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What Does It Mean To ‘Live Biblically?’

By: David Schwier—3/13/18

 

Have you seen the show “Living Biblically?”

The show is loosely, and I mean loosely, based on the awesome book by AJ Jacobs entitled “The Year of Living Biblically.”

I highly recommend the book.

It was awesome.

But I’m not sure why someone decided to make it a sitcom, other than to reinforce the fact that Sara Gilbert is once again the best comedic actor in the room.

Her part is dang near worth suffering through the rest…….buuuutttttt not quite.

Suffering, you say?

Yes.

Because the Bible never intended for anyone (after the time of Jesus) to live the Bible, which in this sitcom scenario means trying to follow a smattering of the 613 Laws of Moses as encountered in the Old Testament.

………not mixing fabrics (Leviticus 19, Deuteronomy 22)

……….not lying (thou shalt not)

………not committing adultery (thou shalt also not)

……….Etc, etc.

And it seems the strict following of these particular Laws are the only fodder for humor in the show (besides Sarah Gilbert’s character, which I already mentioned kicks total ass!)

But here’s the rub—

If it weren’t bad enough that all of humanity seems to have misunderstood the fact that no one past Jesus was ever required to follow these 613 laws, Gentiles (everyone not in the ethnic line of Israel) were never required by God to follow them to begin with.

God only ever required Israel to follow the Law.

That’s right.

We’re talking the 10 commandments.

We’re talking most of the teachings of Jesus…

WHOA! WHOA! WHOA!

We’re not required to live out and follow most of the teachings of Jesus?

Are you on Crack?!

No. Not today.

But yes, we are not required by God to follow and live out most of the teachings of Jesus.

Why?

Because no Gentiles were ever required to follow the Law of Moses. And Jesus spent the bulk of his time clearly expositing to Israel the commandments (laws) of the Old Testament—as evidenced by people asking him, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment” and ‘which commandments must I follow to inherit eternal life?’ etc, etc.

The book of Hebrews is clear that the death and resurrection of Jesus signaled the end of the Law of Moses for the people of Israel (Hebrews 8:13). Therefore no one after Jesus has been required by God to follow the Law of Moses.

Being required to follow the Law (even and especially when Jesus was teaching it*) has been replaced by a better way of relating to God. This “new way” is what Paul and the other New Testaments writers were trying to communicate throughout the NT (Romans 6:7, Book of Galatians, Book of Hebrews).

You can read it for yourself, and I encourage you to do so.

“Ok, so…Dave, that was a lot. A lot to take in. But I’m thinking what you’ve said so far makes sense….”

Thanks.

“But what I want to know is, if what you’ve critiqued so far is not the message of the Bible, then what is—in your humble opinion—the message the Bible is actually trying to communicate?”

Well, I’m glad you asked.

Here is the message of the Bible in a nutshell:

First, at its core, the Bible isn’t mainly about people.

That’s right.

It’s not.

It’s about this character named ‘God.’

And this character has a dilemma, from the first page all the way through the book of John.

Which is:

How can a God of love live intimately with and among the humans God loves—humans that are seemingly hopelessly and forever prone to wronging each other.

You needn’t go further than Cain and Abel to starkly see the dilemma:

Let’s say I have two brothers that I love.

But one wrongs the other.

In my love for the one wronged, retribution (justice) must be meted out toward the one responsible for the wrong, or it could hardly be said that I love the victimized brother.

But I love the brother who did the wrong as much as the brother who was wronged. I desperately want to show mercy and forgiveness to this beloved brother.

But it would be unfair (unloving) to the one wronged that the perpetrator walk away scot-free….

So…..

What to do?

In the case of Cain and Abel, this is what happens: Spare the killer, but send him outside the tribe, and mark him as a child of God.

Interesting solution, but now…he’s outside the tribe.

Not inside the tribe in loving communion and community.

So God’s ultimate solution?

God takes the retribution for all of humanity’s wrongdoing on Godself, in an enormous, pretty damn-near unbelievable act of grace, mercy and forgiveness, by absorbing into Godself the full violence of the humanity that God loves.

And now, in Acts chapter 1 of the Bible, with the tension between God’s love and justice resolved, the spirit of God is finally free to live among humans—who still do wrong, but are fully forgiven—in a cosmic reboot of humanity echoed throughout the Biblical ages in story after story of evil being met with grace, mercy, forgiveness and salvation.

From the Garden of Eden to Cain and Abel, Noah’s Ark, the Tower of Babel, Abraham leaving his home to start a new tribe, the Exodus, Judges, David’s fallible humanity but promise that the ultimate redeemer would come through his ancestral line, the recovery of God’s Law during the successive reign of evil kings, and Israel’s ultimate exile to Babylon and God restoring them to the land…

Each story a story of God moving in and through a horrible situation to bring about goodness, redemption and renewal.

Each story a foreshadowing of the cross of Christ, and ultimately God living in and among God’s newly rebooted creation where the Spirit of love, peace and joy, the very Kingdom of God on earth, is lived in by the very Spirit of God Godself—who doesn’t coerce in a nuclear blast of mandatory subjugation, but instead grows and expands this kingdom, this love, like a tiny mustard seed, like yeast in dough, like each and every time we choose to love and forgive our fellow humans when they commit a wrong against us.

We can experience and participate with this God of Love when we decide we have no enemies, because no one is any longer outside the tribe.

Everyone’s inside.

With all of us and with God.

There’s only people to love.

People we have the opportunity and privilege to love with the love of God (who showed us how to love by first loving us).

That is the message of the Bible summed up.

And it’s frickin’ awesome.

 

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*This from the Wikipedia page entitled, ‘Great Commandment’:

“In Mark, when asked ‘which is the great commandment in the law?’ the Greek New Testament reports that Jesus answered, ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God, The Lord is One; Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind’, before also referring to a second commandment, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.’ Most Christian denominations consider these two commandments the core of the Christian religion.”

In the quoted biblical passage, who is Jesus specifically addressing?

Israel.

It’s right there in the text.

Israel was the only people under the mandate of the Law of Moses.

So let’s look at the last sentence of that Wikipedia quotation and ask ourselves:  How in the world did two commandments from the Law of Moses become the ‘core of the Christian religion?’

It’s a good question to ask.

This Is The New Reformation

By: David Schwier–2/13/2018

 

I am hearby tacking this to the door.

Any door.

Wherever you may find one.

Let the new Reformation begin!

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Churches have been guilt-factories for centuries.

We all know this.

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Why?

Because it’s been taught for 2,000 years that people need to live and follow the teachings of Jesus.

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WHAT?

Yes.

I said it.

Holy crap!

But hear me out.

It’s simple:

Jesus was teaching the Law of Moses to his culture, who were under the Law of Moses with him (Galatians 4:4).

It’s right there in the text: “I have not come to abolish the Law of Moses, but to fulfill it.” (Matthew 5:17)

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He then goes on to challenge his culture to live and follow the Law of Moses properly, something no one but the ancestral line of the Hebrew people were ever supposed to do.

(Important note: Everyone not in the line of Hebrew people in the Bible are referred to as “Gentiles.” That’s pretty much all of us….except ethnic Jewish people.)

Christianity has pretty much gotten this massively, massively wrong.

No gentile was ever supposed to strive to follow the Sermon on the Mount. (see why here)

No gentile was ever supposed to live by nearly all the parables of Jesus. (see why here)

A ton of Jesus’ teaching does not apply to gentiles nor tell them how to live (that comes later with Paul, who, interestingly, did not reiterate the teachings of Jesus or tell people to live by them….huh….that’s curious).

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Whoever put the diving line between the Old and New Testaments at Micah and Matthew has caused untold amounts of harm and damage to the human psyche…for centuries.

The diving line should’ve always been between John and Acts.

Jesus exposes the guilt of all humanity by teaching the Law of Moses to his people, then forgives IT ALL on the cross.

New life begins in Acts, not in Matthew.

We need to get this right.

All we have to do is question any sermon, book or pastor who tells us we need to follow the teachings of Jesus when Jesus was clearly teaching the Law of Moses, such as the Sermon on the Mount, and many of his parables.

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I am hearby tacking this to the door.

Any door, wherever you may find one.

Let the new Reformation begin!

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———————————————

What do you think?

Was Jesus teaching the Law of Moses to those under the Law of Moses with him….and only them?

If so, what does that mean for us today?

Have we been understanding the New Testament properly?

Should this be the start of a New Reformation? 

The Book of Hebrews: You Are Already Liberated!

A review of Dennis McCallum’s book “Liberation: Follow the Book of Hebrews into a Life of Radical Grace” (Available on Amazon)

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by: David Schwier—8/6/2017

 

Wow.

Where do I start?

I guess at the beginning.

I know Mr. McCallum personally because I began attending his church in Columbus, Ohio in 1983 and continued for upwards of 20 years.

I’m super grateful for the church. It was a great experience.

So this review is not about being disgruntled or disillusioned with Mr. McCallum, or his church.

Far from it.

What I’m going to do here is use Mr. McCallum’s book for a much broader purpose.

To critique ‘mainstream’ protestant theology, the lens through which Mr. McCallum wrote his book.

The same theology nearly all Christian theologians, pastors and books espouse today, which I find to be less than Biblically accurate.

So enough of the introduction—Let’s dive straight into “Liberation: Follow the Book of Hebrews into a Life of Radical Grace.”

Here’s the Amazon teaser (which will become important later):

“The early Hebrew Christians were in big trouble! Beginning with little steps of unbelief, they were now hardened in their hearts and dull of hearing. To escape persecution and fit in with the neighbors, they had accommodated and domesticated radical following. This is what happens when people abandon raw grace for a watered down legalism. Modern readers should be able to recognize the Hebrews’ condition because much of the modern western church has the same problem.”

Ok, so.

Cracking open a copy of the book, Mr. McCallum begins with a discussion of who wrote the Book of Hebrews and why.

But from the word go, we’re already off track.

Because it’s assumed by Mr. McCallum that the writer of the Book of Hebrews was meaning to tell ‘Christians’ something about God and how they should live.

Mr. McCallum has already assumed the recipients of the Letter to the Hebrews were Hebrew ‘Christians.’ (People from the former Jewish/Hebrew way of life who had converted to Christianity.)

Well, duh, Dave.

Of course that’s right.

Of course what is said in the letter to the Hebrews was written to Christians and should be directly applied to our Christian lives.

It’s in the New Testament isn’t it?

Well, yes, it is.

But, no.

That’s not what the Book of Hebrews is about, for reasons not initially obvious to our 21st century ‘Christian’ mindsets.

Because this letter was not written to ‘Christians’ as we think of ‘Christianity’ today.

In actuality, this letter was specifically written to any and all of the Jewish-Israeli-Hebrew ethnic line of people at a time when there was essentially no such thing as ‘Christianity.’

It’s a letter to the HEBREWS. Wherever they may be found.

The Hebrews were an ethnic line of people who had been charged by God for thousands of years to keep a covenant called ‘The Law of Moses.’

And if they followed these 613 laws, God blessed them.

If they disobeyed, they got curses.

That was the contract God had between himself and the Hebrew people. And only them. No one else was involved.

That is the story of ‘The Old Testament.’

So at the time of the writing of the Book of Hebrews, the ethnic Judaic/Hebrew people had two choices before them: Continuing to follow the Law of Moses, or being freed from it.

Let’s be clear: Paul and the disciples were NOT trying to convert people out of Judaism into something called ‘Christianity.’

Paul, Peter and the disciples believed the exact same God of Judaism—the God of Israel, the God of the Old Testament, the God of the Hebrew people—had now, after the death and resurrection of Jesus, ENDED the theocratic Old Testament covenant of the Law of Moses forever in favor of a NEW covenant (Hebrews 8:6-13); a covenant Paul called ‘Freedom’ (Galatians 5:1) and ‘Living by the Spirit’ (Romans 7:6).

And what signified the new covenant?

The fact that Jesus was the end of the Law, which included him being the last (THE final) temple sacrifice for the sins of all humanity.

It had all been finished.

Nothing more needed to be done.

That is what the Book of Hebrews is actually about.

It’s one big argument for how the ethnic/cultural/religious line of Hebrew people were now ‘liberated’ (freed) from the Law of Moses to enter into God’s rest (Hebrews 3-4).

And that’s the only point.

It has nothing to do with Gentiles (all non-Hebrew people) or anything we know today as ‘Christianity.’

Again: Paul and the gang were not trying to create a new religion, and certainly not trying to create what we think of today as ‘Christianity.’

That came later with Rome and Constantine.

But I digress…

So 2,000 years ago (in this theocratic ‘Law of Moses’ setting) when Peter and his buddies came along, most Hebrew people couldn’t stomach the idea of a ‘new covenant’ having to do with some guy named Jesus. So they chose instead to think nothing had changed; that God still wanted them to follow the 613 Laws of Moses.

So they persecuted those opting for this new covenant ‘freedom’ idea.

This was the historical context of the audience of the Book of Hebrews.

So let’s look real quick at the last sentence from the Amazon teaser for Mr. McCallum’s book:

“…Modern readers should be able to recognize the Hebrews’ condition because much of the modern western church has the same problem.”

What?

Really?

Does the Western church really have the same problem as the Hebrew people as discussed in the Book of Hebrews?

How could that even be possible?

Because ask yourself: Does the modern western church have a problem with feeling under pressure to follow the 613 laws of Moses?

Have you recently heard of a church board discussing who, and who isn’t, making sure everyone builds fences around their rooftops so that anyone who goes up there won’t fall off (Deuteronomy 22:8)?

And is anyone preparing to stone anyone who disobeys that edict?

Ask yourself: Is your church discussing the best way to put menstruating women ‘outside the camp’ during their period of uncleanliness (Leviticus 15)?

No? Then you are, in fact, not experiencing the situation the audience of the Book of Hebrews faced, nor their ‘problem.’

At all.

You’re simply not.

And even more so, is any church today being persecuted by the dominant culture to fall back into following the 613 Laws of Moses?

Do we see that happening anywhere?

No, we do not.

It simply doesn’t exist today.

Anywhere.

So what you get with the Book of Hebrews is NO information about how to live, or not live, your life today as a 21st century Gentile.

What you do get with the Book of Hebrews is a well-reasoned and carefully constructed theological argument for why—2,000 years ago—a small band of Jews (Hebrews) declared that the life and death of Jesus changed their cultural and religious way of life (as well as the rest of the world) forever—as mandated by God.

A cultural and religious heritage put aside 2,000 years ago that I’m pretty sure no western church struggles with falling back into today.

I think it’s time we get this right.

It’s time to stop using the Book of Hebrews incorrectly, much less using it to guilt people with Biblical passages that have nothing to do with the life of a Gentile today, or the life of a Gentile ever.

So in conclusion:

If you are of Jewish/Hebrew descent today, and you truly struggle with thinking God still wants you to follow the 613 Laws of Moses, then please, by all means, read and digest the New Testament Book of Hebrews.

You will certainly find your way to liberation.

I guarantee it.

As for everyone else, as Gentiles you never needed ‘liberated’ from the Law of Moses because you were never under it to begin with.

And that’s great news.

So sadly for Mr. McCallum’s book, I hope it’s now clear how his book should be of no consequence to anyone today—Jew or Gentile—since it’s been interpreted through the lens of a modern ‘Christianity’ theology that we’ve inherited 1,500 years+ after Jesus; a theology Paul and the other NT writers never intended.

You are already ‘liberated.’

Nothing else needs to be done.

Contrary to Mr. McCallum’s book, The New Testament does not define a religious way of life you need to live in order to make, or keep, God happy.

The New Testament is a statement of good news that we’ve ALL been liberated into freedom with God no matter our ethnicity or background, with no restraints or restrictions.

And as long as none of us choose to fall back into shackling ourselves with the Law of Moses (which would be super weird for a Gentile to do), we will continue to live in that freedom.

Forever.

With no God-mandated rules or laws to keep, and no strings attached.

Just living with the Spirit of God in freedom.

And that’s good news indeed.

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Please See Me

By: David Schwier—5/5/2017

 

I can’t recommend this series highly enough:

Stephen Hawking’s GENIUS.

It’s…well….genius.

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It came out last summer on PBS and seems to have slipped under our collective radar.

Because the most mind-blowing thing I’ve ever seen was at the end of an episode called, ‘Where Did the Universe Come From?’

Near the end of the episode, the question is asked, “Where is the actual point in space where the Big Bang occurred?”

A good question.

A really good question.

And Stephen Hawking proves, rather ingeniously, that the very point at which the universe was created, the very center of the universe…

Is…

Right at the tip of each person’s nose.

That’s right.

No joke.

Each observer of the universe is the exact center of the universe.

Not metaphorically….but actually….scientifically.

It’s crazy.

You have to see it. (you can watch it here)

So……

Interestingly—and dishearteningly—the church and science have had this ongoing hugely wasteful battle for centuries over whether humans, or the earth, or our solar system, or our galaxy, and so on and on….was, or was not, the center of the universe.

And as it turns out—in a massive, massive irony—we’ve looped all the way back ‘round to where Stephen Hawking and other modern scientists have proved that not only is our galaxy, solar system, sun, earth and the human species directly at the center of the universe…but that indeed, in actuality…in stone-cold scientific terms…each individual human, IS, by dispassionate scientific fact…the center of the universe.

Holy shit.

And not only that, but…..

This is exactly what every human from age 2 on has always known.

That they are, in fact, the center of the universe.

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But for some strange reason, by some odd mis-firing of our brains, or maybe just out of pure evolutionary necessity, I don’t know…at the very core of our beings we tell ourselves a serious non-truth.

A falsity.

A lie that goes like this:

“You are the center of the universe…and no one else is.”

And we’re committed to that till our dying days.

Believing that untruth is bad for societies, and super unhealthy for individuals…And could land you in jail….or make you President of the United States (but that’s another story…)

So who will help us?

Who will come to our rescue?

Who will save us?

Again, in another massive irony—science and the Bible will.

Science and the Bible will save us.

Because both science and the Bible tell us this actual truth:

You are the center of the universe, and so is everyone else.”

That’s the truth.

Stephen Hawking proved it.

Jesus said it this way, by summing up the Law of Moses, “Treat everyone as you’d want to be treated.” (Sam Harris says this too, for those of you keeping score.)

Unfortunately, when you decide you’re going to live by the words of Sam Harris…and Jesus… you’ll find out that it’s impossible.

Dammit.

If you try to always treat others as you want to be treated, you’ll find out exactly how impossible it is to overcome the persistent, bizarre, down-in-your-core drive to want everything to be for you, to be about you, to serve…..you.

We don’t want to share our toys.

We don’t want all people and races to equally benefit from social and societal institutions.

We just……don’t.

And just exactly how committed to that are we?

Russell Brand put it this way: “Even if we were to figure out the perfect system for a perfect world; the perfect economics, the perfect philosophy, the perfect everything…there’d still be that one asshole in the room who’d want to fuck it up.”

It’s true.

We want to tear things down.

We want to win at all costs.

We want to gain every advantage for ourselves no matter the effect on others.

And individuals and societies stay a mess…

A big, fat, ugly mess…as cycles of selfishness, revenge and violence that will never get us where we want to go keep going and going and going….

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Whew….!

Ok.

So…

Now that we know each one of us is the center of the universe…let’s go even deeper and discover this truth:

That in our core—deep down inside each one of us—we have a demand.

A demand that is not evil…but quite legitimate.

Which is this:

I want to be seen.

From the playground to the retirement home—

Do you see me?

Can you see me?

Please see me.

Please validate me.

Please…love me.

These are natural and good impulses.

But here’s the brutal question:

Where do we seek their fulfillment?

If we say, ‘From other people, of course….’, then yes…that’s true…humans can and do provide a measure of love from friends, family and societal accomplishments.

But we also might want to consider that we might be looking for love in all the wrong places.

Because if everyone on earth is legitimately seeking this love and attention from each other all at the same time, all the time, always…What happens when things break down?…as they ultimately do—or have already done—when people reject us, abandon us, put us down, belittle us, abuse us, or simply don’t…love us.

What happens then?

This is why the Bible interjects two mechanisms to help us move from the constant rat-wheel of demanding insatiability to a place of productive contentment, successful relationships, and fluidly running societies.

The first of these mechanisms is forgiveness….practiced individually and corporately.

An absolute necessity.

And the second is a God who sees you and loves you–individually and corporately…all the time….for all time.

Even if you were the last—or only—person on earth.

God sees you…and loves you.

All the time.

Always.

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The Problem of ‘Christianity’

By: David Schwier–12/28/2016

 

I’m currently reading a book called “Why I Became An Atheist” by John W. Loftus, a former Christian pastor.

Lamenting the struggle of his former life, he states on page 35:

“I tried the best I could to be a faithful Christian and a good minister. Even though I believed it was by grace that I had been saved, I almost always felt guilty that I wasn’t doing enough in response to God’s purported love.

“Whether it was spending time in prayer, evangelizing, reading the Bible, tithing, forgiving, or struggling with temptations of lust, pride, selfishness, and laziness, as I look back, I almost always felt guilty.”

That was my experience, too.

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Because churches, sermons and Christian books all drive this machine of never being good enough and never doing enough for God.

Mix that with the American hyper-work ethic….and you have ‘Christianity’ as we know it today.

And people are rejecting it.

Left and right.

Ok. So. Do this as an experiment: Go to your local church and listen to the sermon.

Is the speaker telling you what the Bible actually teaches?

That you are a New Creation, that the old things have passed away and the new has come? (super positive)

That Jesus Christ took away the sin of the world, the sin of the whole world, and there is no longer any guilt before God? (super positive)

That there is no treadmill of constantly striving to be ‘better’ for fear of displeasing God? (super positive)

Can you see that the ‘treadmill of constantly striving’ is just a false theological construction developed over centuries to force people to be ‘good,’ but it has, in fact, no basis in the Bible at all.

It’s unfortunate things have gone this far.

Because according to the Bible, and especially the writings of Paul, it was never meant to be this way.

What Loftus describes above is far from the freedom the New Testament writers were so excited about.

The freedom God went to the cross to give us freely (Galatians 5:1).

The problem throughout history has always been the pesky worry that if we teach freedom the way the Bible teaches it, it will result in widespread immorality and the certain destruction of the human race as everyone follows their basest impulses to the nth degree until all is destroyed.

Gone.

But the crazy thing is, the Bible, and God, has entrusted that this won’t happen.

God is more positive in his view and trust of us than that.

Because just as atheists are quick to point out today, if you were convinced God didn’t exist, does that mean you’d immediately go out and rape and murder everything you saw?

Probably not.

Now, that doesn’t mean the existence or non-existence of God has no bearing at all on how we make choices or live our lives.

I believe it does. Hugely.

But I think we can all agree that taking away the idea of God as ‘policeman’ wouldn’t result in the immediate disintegration of humanity.

But if God exists–and we decide we want to respect God–then what matters most is our starting point.

Should we start with rules and laws, as Loftus did above?…Or should we start with freedom, love and ‘living by the Spirit’? (Galatians 5:1; Book of James; I Corinthians 13; Romans 7:6; Book of Galatians)

Because according to Paul in the New Testament, the Biblical life is not about–as Loftus thought–having a list of behaviors you’re constantly trying, or trying not, to do.

That is a recipe for failure, as Paul clearly states in the New Testament (Romans 7). Paul said putting ourselves up against rules and laws only INCREASES guilt.

Look again at Loftus’s list above of how he felt he ‘fell short’ time and time again.

Those are all RULES.

Rules that exist to increase guilt. That’s what they do.

And that’s all they do.

They are not the solution.

The solution to rules, laws and guilt, the Bible says, was Jesus taking away all guilt on the cross.

Taking it away.

Forever.

“It is finished.”

Paul says life now is about God, love and freedom…..not sin, rules and laws.

We are to live by the Spirit. Live in relation to a Spirit; the spirit of God.

So what does ‘living by the Spirit’ look like?

We don’t know.

Because when Rome invented ‘Christianity,’ the Bible and theology became domesticated and living by the Spirit got shelved.

So except for a few years between Acts 1 and Constantine, the world has been waiting to see what ‘living by the Spirit’ looks like.

It’s still waiting to see.

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