Do People Really Understand?

 

Do People Really Understand?

Richard Hollerman

Many of you really want to love and serve God apart from denominational systems and institutional connections. You are tired of the religious machinery that obscures your view of God and twists His will for mankind.  You also want to have a simpler walk with the Lord as an individual or as a family, under the authority of His Word. But people don’t seem to understand!

You have probably tried to explain your views, but others just don’t seem to “get it” and look at you uncomprehendingly when you describe what you are seeking. Maybe your own family members consider you a “misfit,” a “radical,” or even you eccentric and a “cultist” since you don’t “fit in” with the religious establishment to which they belong. They may be offended that you have departed from your family’s church and the denomination of your forbears. As an extreme measure, they may even question your spiritual sanity since you simply can’t (or won’t) acquiesce to their religious leaders or your own past ecclesiastical hierarchy. Through a painful learning process, you have renounced your past and now want nothing to do with cold and traditional religious systems. You are finished with the false teaching and aberrant ways of your earlier religious convictions.

In some measure, the Lord Jesus Himself experienced the same misunderstandings. After He chose His twelve apostles (Mark 3:13-19), Jesus came home and people gathered around him, “to such an extent that they could not even eat a meal” (v. 20). Was this just a matter of being too busy and skipping an occasional meal? His family must have considered it more extreme than this.  The record that “his own people” heard about this involvement, and “they went out to take custody of Him; for they were saying, ‘He has lost His senses’” (v. 21).  This may be rendered, “He is out of His mind” (ESV, NET, NIV). These family members thought that Christ had taken His life and teaching too far!  He had left the conventional lifestyle of a carpenter, choosing to be immersed in incessant teaching and preaching. They just didn’t understand!

In what way do people misunderstand you? In what way do they make wrong conclusions regarding your beliefs and lifestyle?  How do they misconceive your Biblical convictions and understandings?

How Do They Misunderstand You?

            1.    People don’t understand when you say you are undenominational.

Although many Protestants have become members of independent churches or fellowships, still the majority of them continue to belong to traditional denominations. We are referring to Baptists, Presbyterians, Pentecostals, Methodists, Lutherans, and others. These are traditional religious organizations with national headquarters, yearly or biannual meetings, and officials beyond the local congregations. The technical definition of a denomination is revealing: “A large group of religious congregations united under a common faith and name and administratively organized” (The American Heritage College Dictionary).

This kind of super organization is foreign to the Scriptures, thus we would want to distance ourselves from participation in this kind of institutional arrangement. Since you find none of this on the pages of the Bible, you have launched out on your own, apart from denominational membership. Therefore, members and leaders of traditional denominations can’t understand your departure and new perspectives. It is beyond their grasp. They simply cannot endorse what they consider an “independent” spirit that you are manifesting in your refusal to participate.

            2.    People don’t understand when you say you are just a Christian.

Have you ever been asked, “John [Stan, Greg, or Bill], what are you religiously?” You may reply quite simply, “I’m a Christian.” But this is not sufficient. Your friend or inquirer may persist, “But what kind of Christian are you?” You then reply, “I’m simply a Christian, a follower of Christ, nothing more and nothing else.”

This still may not be enough to satisfy their inquisitiveness. They want to know what “brand” of Christian you are.  Sometimes I say, “I’m just a follower of the Lord Jesus, nothing more than Paul, Peter, Titus, James, Timothy, or Lydia.” This seems to help a little more, but people still think that you belong to a denomination but just don’t want to divulge which one.

When this happens, try to appeal to the early followers of Jesus.  Show that the early Christians were simply followers of the Way (Acts 9:2), brethren (v. 30), saints (vv. 13, 41), disciples (vv.1, 19, 26, 36), or believers (cf. v. 42). They weren’t Catholics, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Charismatics, Methodists, or any other member of an organized denomination or sect. Early Christians were even forbidden to call themselves after Paul, Peter, or Apollos (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:10-13). But they did call themselves after Jesus Christ (cf. Acts 11:26; James 2:7; 1 Peter 4:16).

            3.    People don’t understand when you object to worldliness.

We know that others can be quite confused when you refuse to adopt a worldly perspective or engage in worldly activities and relationships. Much is said in Scripture about not being conformed to the world (Romans 12:1-2), not being stained by the world (James 1:27), not loving the world (1 John 2:15-17), not being friends with the world (James 4:4), and not being part of the world (John 17:14-18). This is quite conclusive!

Since probably most of your friends, business associates, and neighbors are part of this world and its fallen system, it is hard for them to understand one who refuses to accept their worldly attitudes and participate in a worldly lifestyle. It is good to have the verses above in mind when you do try to explain your non-involvement so that they can see that you are following God’s Word in this matter and are not just trying to be a non-conformist (though God does call on us to be non-conformed to the world). They need to know that you aren’t rejecting them as people, but do reject the worldly way of life they know. Keep loving and kind in any response you may make.

            4.    People don’t understand when you say you are not part of a “church.”

Many religious people are church oriented.  This has been called churchianity. They assume that to be a Christian is to be a church member, and to be a church member (of a sectarian church) is to be a Christian. Thus, church membership is the crucial thing and if you don’t fit into their mold, something must be wrong with you.

Frequently people will quote Hebrews 10:25 to you and assume that this will settle the matter: “. . . not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” We can agree with our sincere questioners and say that we whole-heartedly concur that we should regularly meet with other devoted Christians (if they are available locally).

But after we say this, we should explain, “While it is important that we meet with other followers of Jesus—and this should be done frequently, even daily (Acts 2:42-47)—this is not the same as saying that we should belong to a local institutional church. These churches may be little more than religious organizations or “clubs.”  What the Hebrew writer means is a fellowship of brothers and sisters who come together to break bread (Acts 20:7), to sing and worship (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16), to pray (Acts 2:42), to give and receive teaching (2 Timothy 3:16-17), and to have deep and meaningful fellowship (Acts 2:42).

The early Christians (literally, followers of Christ, Messiah, or the Anointed One) had been “born” spiritually and thus belonged to the “household” or family of God (1 John 3:1-2; John 3:3-7; Ephesians 2:19; 1 Timothy 3:15). They were children of God and “brothers” and “sisters” with each other (James 2:15). This is true intimacy—loving, close, deep, and genuine. How different from the usual church membership. Try to share this distinction with your loved one or inquirer.

        5.   People don’t understand when you take the Bible alone as your guide.

We know that some people read a daily devotional or may read a Psalm each day. They may also use the Bible to answer questions in a Sunday School class or Bible study. But you, personally, are convinced that the Bible must be studied, examined, and followed as your guide or “road map” from earth to heaven. Besides reading the Scriptures devotionally (which is good in itself), you want answers and thus read your Bible carefully, regularly, expectantly, submissively, and faithfully (cf. Acts 17:11; James 1:22-25).

Nearly every religious person looks to a confession of faith, a church discipline, a denominational manual, or a statement of beliefs. Churches think that these extra-biblical documents are needed in addition to God’s Word. But someone said, “If what you have is more than the Bible, it is too much; if it is less than the Bible, it is too little; if it is the same as the Bible, it is not needed.”

We know that God’s Word can make us “adequate” and “equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). In other words, the Bible is sufficient to guide us into all truth and help us to know how to walk in the Lord. We are to “live” by every word of God (Matthew 4:4) and it is Christ’s words that will judge us on the Last Day (John 12:48). It is the way to order our lives (2 Timothy 3:15-17). Granted, there are many different views and interpretations of the Bible and this must be worked out by sincere, devoted, knowledgeable, and faithful brothers. But try to explain to people that we should take the Bible, the whole Bible, and nothing but the Bible as our guide in life. We are to treat it with respect, faith, and genuine love.

            6.    People don’t understand when you refuse to give allegiance to their religious leader.

We know that most people feel the need to have an official ecclesiastical leader as their guide, official interpreter, and authority. We know that elders (overseers, shepherds) are over the flock of God, protect the flock, and tend to the flock (cf. Acts 20:28; 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13; Hebrews 13: 7, 17). However, we must beware of those religious leaders today who have no divine authority over us or others.

Some look to a self-proclaimed charismatic prophet and assume that they are to obey his views in all things (Romans 16:17-18). Others look to a priest or bishop as their authority. Still others think that a local pastor or preacher is to be a God-appointed leader over them. Each church or denomination has its own hierarchy. Some of these leaders are far removed from occupying a Biblical position and fulfilling a Biblical work. It is not that you are opposed to rightful, Scriptural elders or shepherds (pastors), servants (deacons), or teachers (1 Timothy 3:1-13; Ephesians 4:11; Titus 1:5-9), but you refuse to recognize those leaders who fail to be genuinely saved or qualified according to God’s standards.

            7.    People don’t understand when you refuse to participate in the world’s entertainment.

As we noticed earlier, we are not to be worldly in perspective or lifestyle. This includes many different aspects that your family and friends may enjoy. We are not against pleasure, per se, but neither must we set our minds on “the things that are on earth,” but instead are to set our mind on “the things above” and must “keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Colossians 3:1-2).

In a practical way, we will want to avoid anything that pulls our heart away from God and His way of life. We will want to separate ourselves from that which others may consider desirable but place thoughts into our mind that caters to the flesh and Satan’s agenda (1 John 2:15-17).

We refer to such things as worldly TV and radio, worldly music, worldly computer games, worldly reading materials, worldly computer sites, and worldly sports.  While some may be “surprised that you do not run with them into the same excess of dissipation,” and “they malign you” (1 Peter 4:4), let this not deter us. Walk with the Lord alone, if need be, but refuse to get caught up in the deceptive ways of secular society that seek to squeeze you into their mold!

            8.    People don’t understand when your family lifestyle is different from theirs.

If you have been walking this way for some length of time, you have surely adopted a more Christ-entered, Godly, and conservative lifestyle. For example, you are seeking to dress modestly and discreetly instead of pursuing the world’s fashions that focus on immodesty, brevity, transparency, and wealth (1 Timothy 2:9-10; cf. Matthew 5:27-30).

We know that some have said that 50% to 90% of young people “fall away” from what their parents have taught them, and some of this is attributed to worldly and compromising secular education (elementary, middle, high school, and especially college). Thus, you have pulled your children out of the worldly and destructive public state school system, and have found some worthy alternative that acknowledges God and follows His Word. Since “Christian” schools are seldom to be found, a few million parents have chosen to teach and train their own children at home (cf. Ephesians 6:4; Deuteronomy 6:4-9; Psalm 1:1-3).

This requires a tremendous amount of sacrifice, work, and dedication. If your extended family members don’t understand or agree with your commitment here, they may complain to you, accuse you, or even report you to authorities, not knowing that parental “rights” surpass the state’s “rights” for your parental involvement is based on Scripture.

Although others may consider it extreme, you have rid your home of all aspects that would lead your children astray and away from God and His righteous ways. Maybe you also have had to change your employment since you found compromising aspects in it, and then you sought to find acceptable work that would please God and in which you could earn a living in a holy way. In other words, you are determined to work “what is good” rather than try to work something that is compromising and sinful (cf. Ephesians 4:28; 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12). You have probably had a number of detractors or opponents because of these changes. In all of this, the majority of people just won’t understand!

            9.    People don’t understand when you are committed to a repentant faith rather than “easy believism” and the traditional “sinner’s prayer.”

In the Evangelical, Fundamentalist, and Charismatic world, it would seem that “faith only” is a cardinal principle. This is not what Paul had in mind when he says that we are “justified by faith” (Romans 5:1) or saved by faith/belief (Acts 16:30-31), for in this case, one has a qualified faith, one that is related to genuine repentance of sin and amendment of life. The apostle taught “repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:31). In our emphasis on faith in God and Christ, we must never overlook repentance! As Paul put it, in Christ Jesus, what matters is “faith working through love” (Galatians 5:6).

This faith and repentance is expressed in terms of Acts 26:20: “. . . they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance.” Repentance is joined to faith and this faith-repentance response is demonstrated in a changed life, an obedient life, a life submissive to God. In the words of John the baptizer, “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8; cf. Luke 3:8). As Jesus declared, “He who does not obey the Son will not see [eternal] life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36). Repentance or “repentant faith” is to issue in a life of faithful obedience.

It is interesting that the emphasis of Scripture is on something other than a “sinner’s prayer” or the customary “inviting Jesus into one’s heart.” Opening the door of one’s heart was a teaching given to disobedient Christians (Revelation 3:20). Confessing one’s sins was given to sinful Christians (1 John 1:9). Yes, we are to “call” on the name of the Lord but little is said as to how this is carried out (Romans 10:13; Acts 2:21). See particularly Acts 22:16.

What is presented in Scripture? We are to believe in Christ and be baptized to be saved (Mark 16:16). We are to repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins and to receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). We are to arise and be baptized, “washing away your sins’ (Acts 22:16). We are to be baptized into the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:18-20). Further, we are to die to sin, be buried with Christ in baptism, and be raised with Him to “walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-6; cf. Colossians 2:11-13). We try to share all of this with others, but too often people seem to not understand.

People steeped in modern evangelistic methods and an “easy believe” perspective may persist in thinking that your ideas are novel or off base. They would rather perpetuate a “candy coated” gospel presentation than accept the radical Biblical truth. But Scripture says we must die to self, die to sin, crucify the flesh, and be crucified to the world in order to come to Christ (cf. Romans 6:1-3; Galatians 2:20; 5:24; 6:14). There is no other way.

            10. People don’t understand when they accuse you of “legalism.”

We know that a problem arises when we use terms that are not found in Scripture. This is the case with the non-Scriptural term, “legalism.” As someone said, we should “call Bible things by Bible names, and do Bible things in Bible ways”! This is often the best course.

What is legalism? One definition is “strict adherence to law or prescription, esp. to the letter rather than the spirit” (Random House Webster’s College Dictionary). Although God wants us to give “strict adherence” to His Word, He wants us to do it with a good, worthy, faithful, kind, and loving “spirit.” The Pharisees were meticulous about the minutia of the Law, but had “neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness” (Matthew 23:23-24). At the same time, the Lord Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter” (Matthew 7:21). As John puts it, “The one who does the will of God lives forever” (1 John 2:17; cf. Hebrews 10:36). We must obey God but must do so with an attitude of love and trust.

Another definition of “legalism” would be: “The theological doctrine that salvation is gained through good works” (Ibid.). We know that this is false for Paul wrote, “By grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). We are not saved by a “righteousness” of our own, derived from Law (Philippians 3:9). We are not saved “according to our works, but according to His [God’s] own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity” (2 Timothy 1:9). God “saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness” (Titus 3:5). We don’t promote an external “righteousness” but a sincere inner righteousness emphasized by our Lord (Matthew 5:20).

Thus, we need to somehow explain to others that we don’t believe in a cold, heartless, and faithless obedience to God, nor do we believe that one can be acceptable to God through our bare personal righteousness, especially divorced from an inner attitude of faith, repentance, and love. We must have a Scriptural balance here or we will go astray!

            11. People don’t understand when we say that we don’t believe in “unconditional eternal security.”

Why is it that we would object to the popular “once saved, always saved” teaching that says one may be saved through a mere momentary faith, then live in known, deliberate, willful, and unrepentant sin? This isn’t the faith that saves! Scripture encourages us to trust in God through Christ and find a delightful sense of peace and assurance in Him (Romans 5:1-2).

We must acknowledge that the Lord gives “eternal life” to His sheep and no one is able to snatch us out of His or the Father’s hand (John 10:27-30). We also remember that one who comes to Christ, He will “certainly not cast out” (John 6:37). The one who believes in Christ Jesus will be given “eternal life”—an eternal and spiritual quality of life (John 3:14-18). These are all precious teachings and promises of a loving God (cf. 1 John 2:25)!

At the same time, Scripture teaches that deliberate and known sin is dreadfully dangerous and fatal! One who goes on “sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries” (Hebrews 10:26-27, vv. 28-31; 2:3-4; 6:4-8). Those who “turn away from the holy commandment handed on to them” will be rejected (2 Peter 2:20-22). If we don’t abide in the Vine (Christ Jesus), we will be cut off and cast aside (John 15:4-7). Note also Hebrews 3:12-14 and 4:1, 11.

This means that we need to question someone who objects to the Biblical teaching of “conditional eternal security” and contends for “unconditional eternal security.” Our security is in Christ alone for He is our Savior and Lord, our only means of salvation (Acts 4:12). Our security is eternally secure, but this spiritual security is contingent on our continued faith in Christ (Revelation 2:10-11) and our continued dying to sin, evil, the deeds of the flesh, and apostasy (Galatians 5:19-21; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Romans 6:12-23; 8:17-18, 37-39). While unpopular in some theological circles today, we must tenaciously hold to the truth of Scripture!

Do People Really Understand?

We know that some people just won’t understand what we believe and why we live the way we do. Some misunderstood the Lord Jesus and His intentions (Mark 3:20-21). We remember that the religious leaders greatly misunderstood the Lord and His teachings. Some of this comes from the defective, insensitive hearts of others.  Jesus declared, “Why do you not understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot hear My word” (John 8:43). Some have cut themselves off from the Lord’s pure and simple words, thus they just don’t understand spiritual truth or the radical life that we have in Jesus.

Don’t fear the questions and comments of others. Just be glad that interested people have a desire to learn more and are willing to engage you in conversation. Although they may misunderstand, we can try to lead them aright, according to truth, that they may see the will of the Lord more completely, just as Apollos did (cf. Acts 18:26).

Let’s determine not to erect an unnecessary impediment to other’s understanding spiritual truth. The Word of God is powerful (Hebrews 4:12) and when we use this as a sword (Ephesians 6:17), we can penetrate the hearts of our friends, neighbors, fellow-workers, family, and relatives (cf. Romans 1:16). If we are living sincere, devoted, and consistent lives of holiness and love, we can make a spiritual impact on others. Let us speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) and encourage others to have a sincere “love of the truth so as to be saved” (2 Thessalonians 2:10, 12). This is the only way of salvation. It is the only way of spiritual blessing!

 


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