Christian Maturity: Speaking the Truth in Love

I certainly understand the difficulty you may have had in your particular Christian upbringing or background. However, the objective truth of God and His Word must take precedence over our personal experiences. We need to know what God says in His Word if we want to know the truth about life, reality, and what it means to be a Christian. We either trust our subjective moral autonomy or God’s objective authority. There is no neutral ground.

Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Proverbs 30:5

God is not a man who lies, or a son of man who changes His mind. Does He speak and not act, or promise and not fulfill? Numbers 23:19

 But you have followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, and endurance, along with the persecutions and sufferings that came to me in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra. What persecutions I endured—and yet the Lord rescued me from them all. In fact, all who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. Evil people and impostors will become worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed. You know those who taught you, and you know that from infancy you have known the sacred Scriptures, which are able to give you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:10-17

For we did not follow cleverly contrived myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ; instead, we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased!” We ourselves heard this voice when it came from heaven while we were with him on the holy mountain. We also have the prophetic word strongly confirmed, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. Above all, you know this: No prophecy of Scripture comes from the prophet’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by the will of man; instead, men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. 2 Peter 1:16-21

Therefore, dear friends, while you wait for these things, make every effort to be found without spot or blemish in his sight, at peace. Also, regard the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our dear brother Paul has written to you according to the wisdom given to him. He speaks about these things in all his letters. There are some matters that are hard to understand. The untaught and unstable will twist them to their own destruction, as they also do with the rest of the Scriptures. 

Therefore, dear friends, since you know this in advance, be on your guard, so that you are not led away by the error of lawless people and fall from your own stable position. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. 2 Peter 3:14-18

And he himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, equipping the saints for the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, growing into maturity with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness. Then we will no longer be little children, tossed by the waves and blown around by every wind of teaching, by human cunning with cleverness in the techniques of deceit. But speaking the truth in love, let us grow in every way into him who is the head—Christ. From him the whole body, fitted and knit together by every supporting ligament, promotes the growth of the body for building up itself in love by the proper working of each individual part. Ephesians 4:11-16

Christian Maturity

Christianity is not just praying a prayer so that you don’t go to hell. It’s an ongoing process of sanctification and growth in the knowledge of Christ. Being a Christian is not getting saved so you can live life for yourself and your dreams. The Christian life is about mortifying sin, denying ourselves, and serving others. Being a Christian is not about comfortably believing what you are taught without ever checking to see if it lines up with Scripture. Rather, maturity should be the desire of every Christian. Our Christian leaders are to equip us for the work of ministry. We are not to be carried about by every wind of teaching, by human cunning, or by craftiness in deceitful schemes. We are not to be led away by the error of lawless people. Instead, we are to be on guard and to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. We speak truth (alétheuó) in love and grow up in every way into Christ. Notice that we are to speak God’s truth in love. If we are to speak God’s truth in love we need to know what He actually says in His Word and we need to be able to teach it correctly:

Be diligent to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who doesn’t need to be ashamed, correctly teaching the word of truth. 2 Timothy 2:15

If it doesn’t matter what we believe as long as we believe in “Jesus” then how do we ascertain human cunning and deceitful schemes? Paul clearly says that there are doctrines and teachings out there that are false and deceptive. There must true and knowable sound doctrines and teachings if we are to be on guard against false teachings.

But know this: Hard times will come in the last days. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, proud, demeaning, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, without love for what is good, traitors, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to the form of godliness but denying its power. Avoid these people.

For among them are those who worm their way into households and deceive gullible women overwhelmed by sins and led astray by a variety of passions, always learning and never able to come to a knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres resisted Moses, so these also resist the truth. They are men who are corrupt in mind and worthless in regard to the faith. But they will not make further progress, for their foolishness will be clear to all, as was the foolishness of Jannes and Jambres. 2 Timothy 3:1-9

I am amazed that you are so quickly turning away from him who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are troubling you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, a curse be on him! As we have said before, I now say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, a curse be on him!

For am I now trying to persuade people, or God? Or am I striving to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ. Galatians 1:6-10

I wish you would put up with a little foolishness from me. Yes, do put up with me! For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy, because I have promised you in marriage to one husband—to present a pure virgin to Christ. But I fear that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your minds may be seduced from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if a person comes and preaches another Jesus, whom we did not preach, or you receive a different spirit, which you had not received, or a different gospel, which you had not accepted, you put up with it splendidly! 2 Corinthians 11:1-4

Notice here that Paul says that people can preach a distorted gospel and another (a false) “Jesus”. He also warns of those who hold to the form of godliness but deny its power. We need to know the accurate interpretation of Scripture if we are to know the true gospel and Jesus from a false gospel and a false Jesus. If there are people who hold to the form of godliness but deny its power then we need to know our Bible so we can discern and spot when people subtly twist the truth. They hold to the form of godliness; they look like Christians and what they say sounds Christian but what they say is not based on Scripture. It’s very important to study biblical hermeneutics but that means hard work and many in our day do not like the idea of taking time to do hard work. We all live busy lives lined up with activities. Many do not have time to read the Bible let alone partake in an in-depth study of the Bible. Don Closson has some wise words regarding the importance of Biblical hermeneutics:

Once we appreciate what God has done to communicate with us, we may begin to apply the principals of interpretation, or hermeneutics, to the text. To be successful this process must take into account the cultural, historical, and language barriers that limit our understanding of the original writings. There are no shortcuts to the hard work necessary to accomplish this task.

Some have wrongly argued that knowledge of the culture and languages of biblical times is not necessary, that the Holy Spirit will interpret the text for us. The role of the Holy Spirit is to illumine the believer in order to accept and apply what is found in Scripture. The Bible says that the natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit (1 Cor 2:14). The Greek word for “accept” means “to take something willingly and with pleasure.” The key role of the Spirit is not to add information to the text, or to give us special translating abilities, but to soften our hearts in order to receive what is there.

The goal of this process is to be mature in Christ. The Bible is not an end, it is a means to becoming conformed to the image or likeness of Christ. (1)

The Importance of Gentleness

Flee from youthful passions, and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. But reject foolish and ignorant disputes, because you know that they breed quarrels. The Lord’s servant must not quarrel, but must be gentle to everyone, able to teach, and patient, instructing his opponents with gentleness. Perhaps God will grant them repentance leading them to the knowledge of the truth. Then they may come to their senses and escape the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will. 2 Timothy 2:22-26

Remind them to submit to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work, to slander no one, to avoid fighting, and to be kind, always showing gentleness to all people. For we too were once foolish, disobedient, deceived, enslaved by various passions and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, detesting one another. Titus 3:1-3

We need to both speak the truth and speak it in love. If there is one thing that has been missing from the church, and especially from the reformed/calvinist community, it’s gentleness. We need to rebuke error. We need to expose false teachings. I am not suggesting that we go soft on the truth or set aside the importance of sound doctrine but we desperately need to be speaking the truth in humility. It’s simply understanding that we were dead in sin just like everyone.

The next four verses of the Titus 3 passage are so important:

But when the kindness of God our Savior and his love for mankind appeared, he saved us—not by works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy—through the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit. He poured out his Spirit on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior so that, having been justified by his grace, we may become heirs with the hope of eternal life. This saying is trustworthy. I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed God might be careful to devote themselves to good works. These are good and profitable for everyone. Titus 3:4-8

This passage speaks for itself. We are not saved by our works of righteousness but according to HIS mercy through the regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit. We should, therefore, speak with humility and gentleness towards all people. We should contend for the faith but I believe we should be gentle and calm. I can grant that there may be times that call for the blunt declaration of truth but we should not be condescending or arrogant.

Emergents & Exvangelicals (Does What we Believe Really Matter?)

The amount of bible illiteracy in the church today is shocking. We have access to almost infinite biblical and theological resources on our phones. We have the bible on our phones and yet many don’t have time to read a chapter a day. We have access to Greek lexicons on our phones by which we can check to better understand the meanings of the words of Scripture as they were written in the original language. How many laypeople (or pastors/leaders) do you think take the time to do that? We have access to articles and works of theologians from the past to the present yet many go to Relevant or Sojourners and believe what they read without any discernment. Many sit through a sermon and don’t double check to make sure what is being said about God is actually what God says about Himself in His Word.

If you are at all familiar with the emergent/emerging movement then the following from Rachel Held Evans’ book “Searching for Sunday” should put a red flag up in your mind:

It seemed fitting to arrange the book around the sacraments because it was the sacraments that drew me back to the church after I’d given up on it. When my faith had become little more than an abstraction, a set of propositions to be affirmed or denied, the tangible, tactile nature of the sacraments invited me to touch, smell, taste, hear, and see God in the stuff of everyday life again. They got God out of my head and into my hands. They reminded me that Christianity isn’t meant to simply be believed; it’s meant to be lived, shared, eaten, spoken, and enacted in the presence of other people. They reminded me that, try as I may, I can’t be a Christian on my own. I need a community. I need the church.

As Barbara Brown Taylor puts it, “in an age of information overload . . . the last thing any of us needs is more information about God. We need the practice of the incarnation, by which God saves the lives of those whose intellectual assent has turned them dry as dust, who run frighteningly low on the bread of life, who are dying to know more about God in their bodies. Not more about God. More God. (2)

I believe the Ex-Evangelical movement/community is simply the newest form of the emergent movement (and I will go into more detail about this in forthcoming articles). Similarly to emergents, Ex-Evangelicals question/deny human certainty and the inerrancy of Scripture. They would say that what we experience in community is more important that what we believe. They would say we rely on our subjective experiences rather than objective truth.

What we believe is very important. I agree fully with the following excerpt from “Ready to Return“:

Faith Not Feelings

We live in a culture that teaches us to rely on subjective experience rather than objective truth. Our studies have shown that “millenials” (those born anywhere from the 1980s to the early 2000s) are not as interested in Christ or Christianity as the the previous generation. Further, those who are in the Church have major biblical literacy issues. With the cultural surge of pluralism and an obsession of serving self, even many churches have slid into “worship-tainment” for its members instead of equipping them with the Word of God, Thus, there is a whole lot more of entertaining the goats than tending the sheep.

The result is that these millenials in the Church end up with only a thin veneer of biblical understanding (they’re familiar with the “stories” in the Bible). However, some appear to be content with this level of knowledge. They cry, “What difference does it make? As long as millenials understand the gospel, who cares if they believe in a literal Adam and Eve or a six-day creation? God’s not going to base entrance into heaven based on someone’s view of Genesis creation.”

True. I would wholeheartedly agree with that statement. Believing in a literal Genesis account is not a salvation issue. The Bible is crystal clear that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13), and that “For by grace you have been saved through faith, And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Eph. 2:8-9). Therefore there is no religious work, good deed, or additional belief attached to saving faith that God requires. It’s faith alone. Grace alone. Christ alone. Period.

However, having settled the issue of salvation, it does not logically follow that nothing else matters from that point on. As critical as they are to Christian doctrine, understanding the complexity of the Trinity or believing in the Second Coming is also not essential in order to be saved — but no respectable believer would deny their fundamental importance to Christian doctrine. Additionally, just because a person is saved doesn’t give them the option of now believing whatever they choose about other biblical doctrines and theology which don’t speak directly to the issue of salvation. It certainly doesn’t give them the freedom to reinterpret a fundamental Christian belief or to suggest an abstract understanding about key passages in Scripture.

Growth Follows Birth

By saying that saving faith in Christ is not ALL that matters, we are saying that there are other important things God would also have us believe and do. Granted, they have nothing to do with salvation, but by definition, Christianity is more than just “becoming a Christian.” To say otherwise would be equivalent to saying that being born is all that matters. Food, growth, development, and everything else that follows birth is now optional. What an absurd approach to life?

But this is effectively what some say when they downplay the importance of Scriptures that are fundamental to our understanding of God, His work, creation, the Fall, and the nature of man. It cuts at the very heart of God’s ability to accurately reveal and record His own history! And the previously cited research shows that many in our churches have a problem when it comes to how they view the Word of God.

Of course, all genuine Christians would agree that obedience to God is the important thing, that how we live after receiving the gospel actually matters.

But let’s examine this a bit further. Exactly why is our “Ticket to Heaven” not the only thing we should care about as Christians?

First of all God never says that.

Second, He is clear about many, many other very important truths He wants us to believe and embrace. Otherwise the Bible would contain just one verse about believing in Jesus instead of 66 books of doctrine and truth!

Third, embedded in true, saving faith is the guarantee of spiritual fruit, particularly the fruit of ongoing faith, obedience, and growth (Matt. 7:15-20, 21-19); Rom. 1:17; Col. 1:20-23; James 2:14-26; Phil. 1:6).

Fourth, it’s the whole of Scripture that gives us hope, perseverance, and encouragement after we come to faith in Christ (Rom. 15:4).

Fifth, ALL of the Bible is inspired and is meant to fuel our faith with nourishment (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 1 Peter. 2:2).

Sixth, God saves individuals so that they might fulfill a greater purpose here on earth. Part of that purpose involves “always being prepared to make a defense against anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15).

Seventh, there are many important Scriptures that support the truth about Christ and the gospel. To ignore, discount, or demean them is to undercut the foundation of the gospel message itself.

Eighth, you cannot deny one biblical truth without effectually denying many others. For example, you cannot deny the deity of Jesus Chris and then believe in Him as Savior. You cannot deny the Resurrection and then still believe in the Cross and its accomplishments. These truths are inseparably linked. Mutually inclusive and bonded with the glue of God’s unbroken revelation.

Of course, I know some people would say we should simply avoid controversy and conflict in the world and within certain Christian circles by only focusing on the gospel message itself, and like Paul, “decided to know nothing among you except the gospel of Jesus Christ and Him crucified’ (1 Cor. 2:2).

But there are several flaws in this oversimplification of Paul’s words, First, no one denies that the gospel message of Jesus Christ is what leads sinners to salvation. However, not even Paul limited his evangelistic approach to “Jesus saves,” but rather utilized the rest of the Word of God as foundational evidence for his apologetic regarding Jesus. In Acts 17:1-4, Paul reasoned with the Jews using the Old Testament Scriptures. By doing so, he built a solid apologetic case for Jesus being the Messiah. It was the Apostle’s “custom” to reason with both religious leaders and pagans, using the truth of God contained in the Old Testament Scripture (Acts 17:2). He also took the opportunity when encountering secular, pagan religious sites to demonstrate to unbelievers that God was Creator, Judge, and Savior (Acts 17:16-34). He even quoted pagan poets to support his argument (Acts 17:28-29). For Paul, establishing God as common Creator of all mankind was foundational to his argument and gospel presentation. Therefore, if God is not Creator, Jesus cannot be Savior. But you’ve probably never heard a preacher say that.

All Scripture Matters

This of course is not to say that every time we share the gospel we must survey the entire redemption story from Genesis to Revelation. It is, however, to say that the whole of Scripture is true and has direct bearing on the truth about Jesus Christ and what He accomplished on the Cross. Therefore, to only focus on the gospel as our sole beginning and ending point in evangelism is not only without support in Scripture, but also isn’t smart missionary work. And make no mistake about it — we are all missionaries to the pagan culture in which we live.

   So, in short, yes, it really does matter what you believe after you become a Christian. Theology matters. Sound doctrine matters. All biblical truth — from Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21 is inseparably linked, connected from truth to truth. You can’t merely cut out a particular portion of Scripture or deny 4,000 years of belief and interpretation and then replace it with a pagan understanding of that portion of Scripture. We don’t have that option with God’s Word. Otherwise we become judges of the Word, exalting ourselves above it. And by doing this, we are consumed with arrogance and fall into the same condemnation incurred by the devil (1 Tim. 3:6).

…Being of infinite intelligence, God is totally logical and rational — much more so than man. And throughout Scripture, He clearly indicates when accounts are to be understood as illustrations, parables, or metaphors, such as found in Luke 15:1-32 and John 10:1-17.

Consequently there is nothing in all of Scripture that gives the slightest hint of the flood or creation accounts found in Genesis as being anything other than literal, actual, and historical events. (3)

What we believe matters. What we do matters. Our theology will determine what we do. It is important that we believe sound doctrine and that we obey God. We know and we do. Not solely one or the other.

Sources:

  1. Hermeneutics, http://www.leaderu.com/orgs/probe/docs/hermen.html.
  2. Evans, Rachel Held. Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church. Thomas Nelson Inc, 2015
  3. Ham, Ken, et al. Ready to Return: Bringing Back the Church’s Lost Generation. Master Books, 2015.

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