Self-effort is the foundation of a Performance-Based religions, and out of its root stems many fears, inadequacies, judgments, and vain repetitions of religious prayers and actions. The reality is too few Christians even recognize the difference between a Grace-Based and a Performance-Based mentality within church teachings. While in the human mind, the difference between a foundation in self-effort and a position of Grace-alone cannot be clearly distinguished in most people. It is only when "push comes to shove" (during times of trial) that the fruits of these different systems are finally exposed. The various responses to the demonic encounter in part 1 clearly demonstrated the difference between these two opposing systems of operation, with most believers offering advice unknowingly from a self-effort point of view.
Examining the physical actions resulting from a performance-based mentality in other religions, Christians often call these actions "witchcraft." Perhaps it's easier to look externally at a pagan ritual, reciting a magic incantations, or talisman and recognize the placement of faith as wrong. It's easy to see a "witchcraft" label when it isn't being disguised by Christian terminology or symbols. But, throw in the name of Jesus, His blood, a cross, holy water, or repeated scripture to ward off the enemy, and many Christians wrongly assume it's biblical to perform these Christian witchcraft rituals.
When we advise others to perform an action like "pleading the blood" or praying a specific verse repeatedly, we are in essence telling them to rely on self-effort for protection. Seriously, how much more blood can be pleaded for you than all Jesus' blood poured out on the cross? His blood has eternally pleaded for everyone who will believe, and He is at the Father's right hand making intercession for you right this very moment. You don't receive extra protection because you "pleaded the blood" over your home, and another Christian received less protection because he believed and rested in God's promise of protection. All Christians are eternally safe in Christ. The enemy has no power over Believers except what may be given to him in ignorance. Re-read James 4:7 or the Gospels for direction if you need the enemy to leave. You don't receive extra deliverance from evil because you said the right prayer, the right number of times. In fact, Jesus called this type of behavior "vain repetitions" and spoke against it. All Christians receive the same amount of deliverance from ALL evil via their new nature upon the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. God our loving Father never plays favorites with His children. All of His promises are "Yes and Amen" in Christ Jesus. You have equal access to all spiritual blessings by faith alone and not on your own merit or effort.
Believers don't need to wear a crucifix for protection; the symbol itself does nothing to ward off evil. A Bible under your bed or pillow won't do you any good if its words have not been sown into your heart by the Author. Believers don't get to command Heaven's angels to deal with vast spiritual problems, nor do they have the right to rebuke principalities and powers over entire continents or cities because they think they can. We never read of Peter, John, Paul or the other apostles performing such an actions. Neither did Jesus. If the servant is not greater than His master, what makes you believe you have more authority than they? A Performance-Based mentality is what is causing these misconceptions and false teachings. It lies and twists the scriptures to "empower" people falsely. It encourages Believers to depend upon the strength of their own arm instead of resting solely upon the Grace of God. Ultimately, it leaves them hanging and helpless to deal with real spiritual problems.
The only way out of a Performance-Based mentality is through Grace. Christians usually like to say they accept Grace, but many of them are literally working for their salvation or working to maintain it but just won't admit it that way. What we need is to cultivate a Grace-Based Mentality of the Gospel where Believers know they cannot add to Jesus' works by their efforts. Believers cannot help God's keep His promises. God is faithful all by Himself to keep His promises. Additionally, nothing Christians do can subtract from Jesus' work. Even when Believers are unfaithful, Jesus remains faithful (2Timothy 2:13) to perform the good work He began in them. (Philippians 1:6).
No matter how we color or label it, any time we are depending or relying upon ourselves, we are not relying on Grace. The Truth of the Gospel of Grace preached throughout the New Testament states simply, Jesus did it all. Jesus does it all, and Jesus will forever do it all.
When you rest in the finished works of Jesus and your new identity in Him, there is no need for any self-effort. You do not experience spiritual warfare in the sense of you being required to complete a "To-Do or Don't Do List" to avoid being attacked by the enemy or to obtain "protection." As you rest in the promises of God, you operate from a place of peace and strength that are supernaturally imparted to you. When necessary, you can speak or move knowing the all authority was given to Jesus, and He, dwelling inside of you, has your back. Unlike Sceva's sons, you are a Believer. The demons openly admitted to knowing Jesus and Paul. They know those who truly belong to the Lord because the Lord is in us and with us.
That's why we never read about a demon physically attacking Peter, John, or Paul. I'm not counting the thorn in the flesh given to Paul to keep him humble because he was walking in resurrection power daily. I'm talking about the the kind of attack the lady in part 1 reported. The apostles were major leaders of the church, big targets of the enemy, far more than most Christians today. Yet, they did not experience demonic attacks on this level, and neither should we, not because of who we are, but because of who Christ is in us. This is the knowledge that stems from the foundation of the Grace-Based mentality the apostles lived and taught. It's the knowledge many Christians need today: to know Christ, your identity in Christ, and trust in Christ's finished works alone.
Our strength and authority come solely from the Lord. Do not rely upon an religious ritual or work to deliver or save you. The enemy has no power over a Believer in Christ. Satan tries to get people to jump through hoops, use religious ways to deal with him, and seek comfort in acts we can do. Yet, in reality, when we focus on Satan or seek to defend or protect ourselves by our own strength, we only empower the enemy in our lives. Our attention should be 100% focused on Jesus. Believers need to know His word and promises. Only there we can find rest, knowing Jesus protects us from every evil. In fact, Jesus prayed specifically for God to deliver you from Satan in John chapter 17. A prayer that was fully affirmed by God, I might add.
Nothing can touch a Believer that God doesn't allow. If your Heavenly Father has allowed something to come into your life, then it is for your good and being used to refine your faith. Even if you don't understand it and especially when it's painful, trust in God's character and promises. Do not lean on your own strength or understanding to deal with the situation.
On Facebook, I joined a group many years ago about prophecy, where people shared about dreams and supernatural encounters. Ultimately, the group was designed to help people who have experienced a vision or encounter that has left them confused receive interpretation and guidance. Ideally, people responding were to provide Christian feedback to those posting a dream, vision, or encounter. Yesterday for the first time in ages, one of the posts from that page popped up on my news feed.
This particular post was about a demonic encounter a lady had while trying to nap. In her encounter, she reported being physically attacked and choked by two evil spirits. The episode left her shaken and her throat hurting. During the attack, she called out to God to help her and the spirits instantly stopped and left. With her throat hurting, she continued praying and fell asleep. When she awoke the second time, all the pain in her throat was gone, but she reported feeling physically sick and believed she was experiencing spiritual warfare complications.
Obviously, not every person experiences a demonic attack to the level this lady reported. What was disturbing about the entire posting wasn't what the lady experienced, but how fellow Christians responded to her. Five people replied to her post before I saw it. After me, another seven also commented. Sadly, with the exception of my comment, the majority of replies initiated from a Performance-Based Mentality instead of a Gospel-Based Mentality. It made me realize the degree to which Christians have become ingrained in the depths of wrong theology. Our human nature thrives on our ability to do works for salvation. Yet the finished works of Jesus are completely contrary to a performance based mentality.
Here are just a few examples of the comments/advice given to the lady seeking understanding or a word from the Lord on what happened to her and what it might all mean, as well as asking for prayer.
WOW! I sat and stared at the comment list and thought to myself, "there was a time when bad teaching like this was fed to me in at least two different churches." My heart broke for the countless Believers trapped in false dogmatic mindsets where their spiritual protection, deliverance, or salvation rests primarily upon their own shoulders and works. Jesus might have gotten them in Heaven's door, but now they have to work to stay there and keep the enemy from causing them to fall.
Read the above list again, only this time see where the focus or faith is really placed. Too many Christians believe they must do this or that, pray just right, close a doorway, break a curse, cut a soul-tie, call for an elder, use oil, use holy water, carry a physical cross, plead the blood, and even use Jesus' name in order to experience spiritual deliverance and freedom. Sadly, too many Believers honestly think there's this HUGE "To-Do/To-Don't Do List" to perform before they achieve their desired results. They look to everything and everyone but the Author and Perfecter of their faith. It's all so reminiscent of the Seven Sons of Sceva in Acts chapter 19.
For the record, I'm not dismissing the power of the blood of Jesus, for by it we are completely delivered from our sins and raised above all the enemy to sit with Christ in the Heavenlies (Ephesians 2), neither am I underestimating the power in the name of Jesus for Believers. But, there is little power in "Pleading the Blood" of Jesus over your home like it's some sort of talisman you can pour out to cover you to keep the enemy from seeing you. Scripture clearly teaches all who walk with the Lord will suffer persecution, trials, and tribulations. There is even less power in using Jesus' name without an intimate relationship with the Lord, as the sons of Sceva learned. There is only power when you abide (rest, live, and move) in Christ.
The overall theme of the Seven Sons was they had head-knowledge of Jesus (knew who He was). They had even seen the power of Jesus operating through the Apostle Paul. They knew and believed Jesus' name held power, but their understanding was extremely limited by one major problem. Sceva's sons were not genuine Believers. They had never been reborn and indwelt by the Holy Spirit. The Seven Sons had no true faith in Jesus in spite of their knowledge of Him, His name, or His power. Thus, the Sons of Sceva had no authority backing up their words or actions when they used the name of Jesus to cast out demons. The results were disastrous for them and should be taken as a warning to all who would advise anyone dealing with demonic activity to invoke the name or power of Jesus without first making ensuring the person using Jesus' name had been born again and indwelt by the Holy Spirit.
Without the Lord as one's personal savior and indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, no amount of using Jesus' name, pleading His blood, or anything else will deliver you from evil. Often times, such actions without salvation result in evil spirits physically harming people, which happened to Sceva's sons. Other times, evil gives an illusion to acquiesce to human behavior, words, or rituals to reinforce the false belief in self: one's ability to do something to rid himself/herself of evil's presence. This is often seen in pagan rituals, but can happen to anyone at any time not operating from genuine salvation in harmony with the Holy Spirit's leading. The enemy's goal is to convince Believers to put their faith in their own actions, words, and ability to "spiritually" fight. Unfortunately, the moment anyone falls for the lie there is strength in self or self-efforts, that is the moment he/she is defeated.
To be continued in part 2.
We cannot live in Christian community without transparency. Yet, too many of us go to Sunday church or meet with other Christians with a mask on. We come smiling, ready to put forth a positive face and attitude. Unfortunately, entering a world of smiling faces may not be an honest reflection of our walk with Christ.
Sinners entering into such an atmosphere may feel rejected, like we cannot understand their pain and struggles. If we fake joy or happiness to appear what we are not, we build barriers between us and those needing Jesus. Saints may also feel insecure about admitting their failures or struggles to other Christians. This insecurity leads many to put on a mask to appear that Jesus has completely fixed their life. Sometimes, all these masks look like everyone else has their act together and you're the only one failing. As a result, you might fear judgement should the truth be known you don't feel much joy right now or you are struggling with a sin. If we create an environment where everyone is allowed to wear masks, we undermine the power of the Gospel.
The Gospel is for our darkest hours, our trials and temptations, and even our complete and utter failures. Christians must be able to safely express the darker side of life with each other without fear and rejection. In order to grow in our walk with God, we must be free to express the not-so-nice things of life without condemnation, in a safe environment where we are protected by love. Fear of not wearing a mask prevents many from experiencing the freedom that comes in true Christian community. Freedom where we can ask and receive help at any time, for any thing.
Every person has faults. We who are spiritual should be in the process of edification and restoration for everyone around us, especially the household of God. And we must be willing to work from a humble place of remembrance that our own sins have been forgiven. Operating from love and humility, we will avoid the temptations of gossip and pride and fulfill the Love of Christ. When we create a culture of love, humility, and acceptance each other's areas of strength and weakness, the family of God will pray for each other and experience unimagined victory together!
Masks may be comfortable, but the rewards of living mask free are SUPERIOR.
A mask free life can:
Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.
Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.
This Sunday I had the pleasure of worshiping together with my friend, Scott. Scott was saved by the Lord a few years ago in a miraculous way. He literally met Jesus after dying on the side of the road in Alaska and was brought back to life by Him. As a result, Scott is so full of the joy of the Lord that he is contagious! You can't help but smile and feel the genuine love of God in Scott's presence. He radiates it.
While at church, we experienced a technical difficulty when the speaker system fell over and became unplugged in the middle of worship. The song, "Ever Be" by Aaron Shust, was playing when the speaker disconnected. Scott caught up in worship never noticed at first and continued to sing. When he did notice the music had stopped, he continued to encourage the congregation to keep praising Jesus. It was an interesting experience to witness. Most of the congregation remained silent, unsure what to do next without the official music playing. Many seemed reserved or perhaps even embarrassed by Scott's continual praise. Me? I was completely jealous. I envied the way Scott was totally unashamed of Jesus, and his joy of the Lord spilled over in uninhibited praise. I asked the Lord right then and there to give me such a love and passion for Him. I want to praise Jesus uninhibited in the middle of a silent congregation. I want to praise Jesus without fear or reservation at any and all times.
This past Sunday was a great lesson for my soul. I finally understand the deeper meaning of Romans 11:11. When God said salvation came to the gentiles to make Israel jealous, I believe Scott's exuberant worship of Yahweh was exactly what Paul had in mind. Let us all live and worship Jesus in such a manner that we make others jealous of our love for God and His love for us.
"...salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke Israel to jealousy."
While it's simple to notice a lack of quality teaching from most pulpits, it's also too easy to place blame on any particular pastor or leader in a local church when the fact is the entire Body must bare the guilt as well. Seriously, we (the people of Christ) are the Church. The Church is not a place or building; it is fluid and living according to the Bible. Every person in the Body of Christ is supposed to study the Scriptures to be able to rightly divide the Word of Truth (2Timothy 2:15). We are also to be able to give a reason for our faith at any time (1Peter 3:15) to anyone. Not only should pastors leading the congregations be able to explain the validity of God's word and the teachings within it, but every mature Christian should be able to do the same... which brings us back to Joe.
Joe has been surrounded by Christians in the church over the past 10 years. Many of those Christians I know personally, and several are considered leaders and mature Christians within that particular local church. I truly wonder why they would feel it was wise to not speak to Joe about God in order to help make him feel comfortable. I understand the concept of "relationship evangelism," but after 10 years, enough opportunity for relationship had been given. What was lacking greatly was the actual sharing of the Gospel message with Joe from those he considered his brothers in the Church.
The Holy Spirit inside a Christian is an enemy of the Spirit of the flesh inside a nonbeliever. The two are at war spiritually, and the conflict is felt in the physical plane. Most people are either repulsed or attracted to the Spirit of God after spending time in the presence of God's people. I'd never met anyone like Joe, who had spent 10 years around the family of God as a nonbeliever and came away believing he was part of the family. Obviously, the Church has failed Joe!
The Truth of Scripture was never been spoken clearly, because Joe had never been told Light has no fellowship with darkness. Joe cannot be in darkness retaining a hostile spirit of anti-Christ and think for a moment he is our brother, an equal heir in Christ. Why we would even allow him to do so is absurd! Unfortunately, Joe was deceived by the Church as a whole in a most grievous way. We allowed Joe to believe the delusion that another commonality in life was a foundation for fellowship with us and God. Each Sunday, we encouraged him to believe he was safe with God, welcomed to be one with us through our ideal social chit-cat and talk of subjects that had nothing to do with God. It was only natural Joe would think he had a "home church," even though Joe never was part of THE Church and never a member of the Body of Christ.
Joe's rational was logical. He should not be blamed for coming to his conclusions about the Church or his position in it. After all, we treated him as a brother, as an equal, and had no real relationship or deep conversation with him to understand his spiritual deprivation and need. We gave Joe the appearance of fellowship and the lingo of Jesus without ever truly knowing Joe or trying to help Joe grow in Christ. We expected if Joe was interested, he would save himself, feed himself milk from the Word, and grow up.... all without a mentor, without a guide to help him.
So the next time you greet someone at the church door, in the foyer, or are directed to greet your neighbor in the pew beside you, don't be satisfied to simply shake their hands or say hello. Ask yourself these questions:
The Church is called for more than silent witnesses to those on the Highway to Hell. We are called to boldly proclaim from every aspect of our lives the Love of God, the Truth of God's Word, and salvation from sin. Never be content to withhold the gospel, because you don't want to make someone uncomfortable. I guarantee you, there is no comfort in Hell!
While ultimately the decision of whether to reject God in Jesus rests squarely upon Joe's shoulders, the Church as a whole plays a big part in how Joe experiences God. The bible is clear... "How then can they call on Him (God) in whom they have not believed, and how can they believe in Him (God) whom they have not heard, and how will they hear without a preacher?" (Romans 10:14) I challenge Believers everywhere to understand that "preaching" is more than a Sunday sermon, falling solely on the shoulders of one man in a congregation. Preaching the Gospel includes your living example. It includes your discipleship of unbelievers into the family of God and mentoring of new Believers. It's your life: your actions as well as the words you speak from the Bible. We are the living love letters of God (2Cor 3:2) for Joe and the world to read as a witness. What's your letter really saying?
Wondering how to improve your witness?
Here's a good book to learning how to witness.
As you read Joe's story in part one, you might be thinking isn't it nice that Joe feels so comfortable going to Church as a non-believer? Isn't it wonderful that the Church is a safe haven, where anyone can come, fit in, and feel like they are part of the family of God? Maybe you are happy Joe found a niche within the Church that spoke to him, in this case it was a Christian biker group. If Joe hadn't found a group he felt comfortable with, he might have left and never come back.
I can assure you, while talking to Joe, my heart was anything but happy or at peace. There was a great grieving within my spirit for Joe who had been going to church for 10 years and never learned anything about God. Joe honestly believed he as a nonbeliever had the same eternal blessings in Heaven as those who are in Christ. Joe's false security in the Church is actually leading him strait to hell. Hell is a real place, with real people suffering in it.
Perhaps you are thinking the Church did everything they could do to tell Joe the gospel message. After all, 10 years of Sunday sermons should have made an impact right? Some church leaders would say it's Joe's hard heart and refusal that is solely responsible for his path to destruction. I'm sure there are many who would quote Scriptures to back up their positions that it's all Joe's fault for where he currently is in his walk of faith or lack there of.
But, after talking to Joe for less than 45 minutes, I can tell you honestly, it's not all Joe's fault. Joe truly doesn't understand the Scriptures or the history behind the Bible. He has no knowledge to base a foundation of faith upon. He has no understanding that the Scripture can be trusted to be the Words of God and that they are not the words of men trying to control others. Unfortunately, biblical teachings on the firm foundations of the validity of Scripture are not the typical Sunday sermons preached. Most sermons are preached from the basis that those in the pews already believe the Bible is the word of God. Therefore, the pastors rarely seek to educate the congregation on this simple fact, assuming they already know it.
Most sermons, at this church like so many others, provide superficial Scripture in a theatrical performance with a little personal anecdote added to connect the listener to the topic in a "relevant way." The entire Sunday service lasts for approximately 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes. The first 30 minutes is usually worship music, announcements/videos, and a short prayer. The second half hour is the sermon with the common notation among Churches being most people in the congregation cannot stay focused beyond 30 minutes. Meanwhile, these are the same people who will spend 3 to 4 hours diligently watching the Super Bowl or other sports event. Many in a congregation will play a video game for hours on end or watch a 2 hour movie without hesitation. What's the difference? Is it truly our limited attention span or ability to focus for 30 minutes, or is it our passion and love for what we are focusing on?
There is no way 1 hour a week in a highly structured Sunday service environment is enough to know God, understand His word, and build a relationship with him. The responsibility for Joe's ignorance does not fall solely upon the failures of a traditional Sunday sermon or any pastor of the church.
... to be continued in Part 3
Wondering how to improve your witness?
Here's a good book to learning how to witness.
I spoke with a man last month while at a friend's house. I'm going to call him, Joe (not his real name). Joe was definitely NOT a Christian, a fact he was very proud of. Ironically, Joe asked me where I went to church. This was a question, which led to Joe telling me how he and his wife had been going to a specific church for 10 years. Apparently, his wife was a woman of faith, but he had no belief or faith in Jesus or the Bible. Yet, he called this specific church, "his home church." While I can not fully articulate the animosity Joe had against Jesus in this article, I can tell you, he recoiled from any mention of God and was very hostile to the concept of anyone quoting or using of the Bible. He stated the Bible was a tool written by men to manipulate and control others... obviously not the inspired Word of God viewpoint many Christians hold. Surprised, I asked Joe what he liked about that particular church since he didn't believe in Jesus, the Bible, or the "other nonsense" being spoken from the pulpit as he put it. He response was mind-blowing.
Over the lyrics to Highway to Hell by AC/DC playing on his stereo, Joe explained, "I like the biker group at the church and the music. The music is usually fast and good." He went on to say that he really enjoyed hanging out with his "Biker Brothers" before or after church service. Joe really liked the fact he could dress like a biker to go to church. He was so glad to have biker brothers to watch his back while he was out on the road after church too. Joe explained the Christian biker group were really good guys who took care of his bike after he was in an accident last year, and it flipped. When I asked him about whether or not the Christian biker group focused on Jesus, his response indicated a negative. Apparently, being "biker brothers" was by far more of a mutual bond than being "Christian brothers," at least in his mind. Joe's view had been reinforced by the fact none of his church biker brothers had really tried to talk to him about God. He stated they knew he wasn't into God and left the topic alone. Joe said he was very glad he could hang with the church's biker group and no one bothered him about God while he was with them. That made him comfortable to be at that church.
The notion of God was real to Joe, but God was a vague concept that existed somewhere in the great beyond. Joe's God had no real tangible connection to his daily life. To him, God was "the man upstairs" that he would meet one day after Joe died. Additionally, Joe was convinced there was a test on Earth that he had to pass to please God. Once he had passed the test, Joe could "move on" to be with all his deceased family members and live happily ever after in Heaven. When I asked Joe, what was the test he had to pass, he replied, "I don't know, but as soon as it's done, I'm outta here."
to be continued...
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