For I Am Not Ashamed Of The Gospel

By Brandon Galbreath

We all have character flaws. The funny thing is I just recently considered making a list of my own. I didn’t even know exactly what qualifies as character flaws. There are literally hundreds of them as I searched through all the listed flaws I came upon a useful three-category explanation. What is funny is that these character flaws are for writers creating characters for either literature, movies, or television. Again, I am a theologian not a thespian. However, I think we can apply them to real life. 

  • Minor character flaws are minor physical or mental quirks to a character’s personality. For example, you might have a someone that always seems to say the wrong thing or just makes for awkward conversation. 
  • Major character flaws usually come from life-changing events that affected that person. For example, Jane Doe has a fatal flaw of putting others before herself or putting herself before others. This major flaw in her character nearly gets her killed dozens of times.
  • Fatal character flaws are the ones that make or break a character. These are flaws they must overcome or die. As Christians, do think we have any spiritual character flaws? 

Today, I want to talk about spiritual character flaws. It is the fatal flaw of preaching a false gospel which we fine being proclaimed today. The reality of our situation is that true believers are becoming fewer and fewer. Meanwhile, false preachers, teachers, and apostates increase. The teachings that are being preached from pulpits today are conforming to the world. This means that Christians are turning their backs on God. Some do not realize they are doing so. Even worse many believe they are preaching the true gospel. But they are so distorted a misleading academia, a paranoid media, and brainwashed political ideologies that falsely proclaim Christ when in reality they are promoting a worldly agenda. 

A well-known professor and pastor in my area of South Texas said on social media, “that the gospel is not enough anymore.” This was his response to the growing pressure for pastors to acknowledge and preach social justice plus the gospel. Is the gospel message of Jesus Christ no longer enough? Let’s hold that thought and we will be back to answer this fundamental question.

I used to worry that all my sermons were exactly the same and my congregation would grow tired of hearing the same message. Then I thought about the topics that are repetitive in my sermons. I am always preaching about Christ and everything leading to Him. That is all that I preach. Just in case, I double checked to ensure there are no other topics that should be preached other than a Christ-Centered one. There are no reasons other than Christ Alone. I wish I could say that false teachers were few. Unfortunately a false gospel has spread across the world time and time again just like this pandemic. Scripture has much to say about false teachers, false gospels, and false prophets proclaiming the Will of God. It’s not a matter of whether we are living in the end times because we are always living in them. We need not concern ourselves with the exact timing of God. Instead we need only be prepared, to be centered on His Word, fixated on Christ, and do our due diligence by preaching and defending the Scriptures. Therefore, we must recognize and point out the errors in false teachings and present the true Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

“No Other Gospel”

Galatians 1:6-9 (KJV)

I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, if any man preaches any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.

Accursed is repeated twice in Galatians 1:6-9. That word appears only six times in the entire Bible, two of which in this passage. God’s Holy Word states that anyone who comes and preaches another gospel, whether it be a man or an angel, he or she will be accursed. That is a serious word in our English language and it a very strong word in the Greek language. 

 “ANATHEMA (ä-nä’-the-mä) ἀνάθεμα” literally means a man accursed devoted to the direst of woes set apart for complete destruction of the cursed. The accursed person is doomed because they become so separated from Christ. The Apostle Paul declares in the strongest manner that the Gospel he preached was the one and only way of salvation and to preach another was an attempt to invalidate the death and resurrection of Christ. Paul explains that he received the Gospel directly from God. He did not invent it himself nor did he learn it from someone else. It was a divine revelation from Jesus Christ. A person, who does not love Jesus, will not never see glory. He or she will be cursed forever. In the passage above the word anathema is used twice meaning doubly cursed. Scripture is telling us that if someone preaches a false gospel they are going to be absolutely and forever obliterated from His existence. That is why preachers and teachers of God’s Word need to take His Word so seriously because there is a judgment for teaching or preaching something that is in violation against the true Gospel. Those doomed preachers are the ones who say, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and, in your name, perform many miracles? Then the Lord will say, I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers” (Matthew 7:22-23).

The Apostle Paul is never one to beat around the bush when it comes to the church and the Lord’s work. Paul preaches clearly on these points. He opens his Epistle by stating his name, then who the audience is, and goes right for juggler by declaring to the Galatians that they are cursed for preaching a false gospel and allowing false teachings into the church.

I used to work in insurance and financials where I had to pass a test to earn a certification. After that there was more testing and assessments. It was constant throughout the year. People needed trustworthiness, integrity, and due diligence from the people handling another person’s finances. Now consider handling and performing God’s Word, His ministry, and caring for His flock? There is more at stake as souls lay in the balance. No one has the right to tamper with the Gospel. When a pastor alters the Gospel, they have done a horrendous thing. They are robbing people of faith. Of hope. This is not the first time Paul had to address the church and call out a false gospel.  Before telling the Galatian church, he told the Church of Corinth as 2 Corinthians 11:4 states,

For if one comes and preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted, you bear this beautifully.

Paul’s warning remains clear. 

It was a problem in the church back then and it remains so today. Christians must stand up and take bold action against false teachings. There is more to this than losing your job or your friends or family members. Eternity is at stake. We must confront falsity not matter the circumstances or cost for their is no cost greater.

So what is the true Gospel?

The word “gospel” means “good news,” and the good news is that Jesus Christ came to this Earth born of a virgin. He was both fully God and fully human. Even though tempted and tried in every way He lived a sinless life. While all of humanity is absolutely guilty of sin. We are dead in our trespasses. No hope, but one. Jesus bore the punishment for our sins and offered His life as a living sacrifice on the Cross. A penal substitution; an ultimate scapegoat that relinquished the Judaic sacrificial system forever. Jesus Christ died, resurrected on third day, appeared before hundreds, then later ascended into heaven where he will return from heaven to earth one final day. Jesus promised that if you place your trust in Him alone, confess and repent your sins to Him alone, then you will be saved by His Grace Alone. Christ will prepare a room in His Father’s house for you that is His promise. Until His return Christ commanded us to make ourselves ready for whenever the hour comes by living sacrificially and sharing the Gospel with everyone no matter their creed or background in life. That’s the real Good News. Is the gospel message of Jesus Christ enough? Not just the Message, but the Messenger who gave us the Good News physically? Yes, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is enough because He is alive!

I want us to look at a few false gospels that are relevant because they are prevalent today. However, I must stress that we need only to be aware of false teachings and not indulge ourselves in a life of complete study of these false teachings and religions. 

1st False Teaching: The Knowledge Gospel (Gnostic)

This would be the occultist, theosophy, esoteric and mysticism religions. Most of them basically have been adapted and come from Buddhism (also a false teaching). Just to name a few; the Wiccans, Nazi occultism, scientologist, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the Nation of Islam. 

2nd False Teaching— The Racial Identity Gospel

These are the preachers and teachers that believe only a certain race is chosen for salvation and the battle between good and evil comes down to racial divisions. Christian Identity, Black Theology, Pan-Africanism, Ku Klux Klan, White or black power it’s all the same false gospel. They preach a false white Jesus or black Jesus. 

 3rd False Teaching—The Quick-Fix Gospel- the Christian life is not a quick fix. It is a discipline, an art, a science.

 4th False Teaching—Social Justice

Social Justice today has a political agenda and puts Christ secondary if not nonexistent. It tends to be more popular among clergy than laity and its leaders are predominantly associated with radical leftist ideologies. 

5th False Teaching— The Politically Correct Gospel

Our contemporary culture expects us to tolerate, accept, and affirm all their radical beliefs and ideologies.  Not only are we expected to affirm people, but we are expected to affirm their ideas and philosophies and, in some cases, apologize for having not done all of this in the first place. And in that spirit, it seems that a great many believers in our time have come to embrace the ideas and philosophies of the world. Remember what happened to that generation of people right before the flood? Christ said in Luke 17:26-27, Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man. They were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all.” Jesus was saying that whenever the philosophy of life becomes carnal and worldly (like in the days of Noah), He would return. The gospel is not politically correct. Now this doesn’t give us an excuse to be insensitive jerks. We ought to be marked by compassion and grace. We ought to love and respect people unconditionally regardless of their lifestyle or beliefs. But Christians have a duty and a work to perform through the Great Commission. We must declare the good news faithfully with due diligence and Christ-like integrity regardless of whether it is popular or not.

Conclusion

We must never forget that the Christian life is a living relationship with God through Jesus Christ. A man does not become a Christian merely by agreeing to a set of doctrines. He becomes a Christian by submitting to Christ and trusting Him forever. You cannot mix grace and works because the one excludes the other. Salvation is the gift of God’s grace purchased for us by Jesus Christ on the cross. To turn from Grace to Law is to desert the God who saved us.

(This article originated from a sermon preached Sunday Nov. 15th, 2020 by Brandon Galbreath and was formatted for reading purposes).

Fasting

Prayer and fasting are central to the Christian faith; you will find often in fact that is all we have in the fight but we should find peace in it because that means it’s all up to God. I’m fasting this week. Not going to say how long or why except that I want to point to Christ no matter the outcome.

There are a few things I want to do different this week as well. And you will see that in a few days. Til then I ask you to keep me in your prayers.

Blessings.

Principles Over Politics: Integrity

(Special Series)

(Part 5: Final)

Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but he who makes his ways crooked will be found out. – Proverbs 10:9

The truth is, wrote Kent Hughes, “American culture is in big trouble. The colossal slide of integrity (especially masculine ethics) has grim spiritual, domestic, and political implications which threaten the survival of life as we know it” (Hughes 2001, p. 125, Discipline of a Godly Man). Integrity is an issue of structure, a consistency that holds the entire weight of the framework or the system or the person in question. Corruption is not integral. Lying and cheating are not integral. Threats, injustice, harm, and murder are not integral. All are corrosive elements to the whole of nature. Inwardly Christians acknowledge original sin—that inner corrupted nature which the Enlightenment set out to deny. However, Christ is the Soul Changer. And under true conviction we do not ignore the faulty broken nature, our purest impure identity as humans. Rather we embrace the healer that condemned the sin that dooms us all. We seek to rise to each occasion though flawed. None are flawless. Integrity is always battling erosion. Maintaining institutions and ourselves are paramount practices to keep falsity and brokenness at bay. To walk securely means to bind one self to ideals outside the self and toward God and surrounding ourselves with people of integrity. Nothing lasts forever but we can build lasting impressions into the imprint of time. Preserving life by preventing evil. Speaking against divorce and sexual immorality. Helping the poor. Creating equal opportunity especially for the downtrodden. Standing up as truth-sayers when our own lie, cheat, steal, and abuse others. In the end, our actions will be judged along with our faith. The Gospel must always come first. Yet we can never ignore the least amongst us. Stand TALL. Stand for TRUTH. Build on the rock, not the sand.

Truth eternal, wise Creator, Fallen man’s illuminator! Light of reason, hope, ambition, Fire of love and true contrition… – W.S. Vale 1935, Cowley (Hymn)

Principles Over Politics: Moral Courage

(Special Series)

(Part 4)

Then David said to Solomon his son, “Be strong and courageous and do it. Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed, for the Lord God, even my God, is with you. He will not leave you or forsake you, until all the work for the service of the house of the Lord is finished” (1 Chronicles 28:20).

Aristotles’ mean for courage was between fear and recklessness. American author Henry van Dyke argued that there was a “sharp distinction between courage and recklessness” (Dyke, Courage Is the Standing Army of the Soul). Ignorance versus intelligence, according to Dyke, is that fine distinction that thrusts the drunkard into battle or equips the well-trained, studious solider who knows all that awaits them. Courage can come in several forms as well. Physical courage and intellectual courage both demand a surrendering of safety and peace. Leroy E. Mosher observed it was “easier to drift with the current than to oppose it” (Mosher, The Courage of His Convictions). While all of these are true statements, the highest form of truth manifests itself from the Christian pursuit of God as A.W. Tozer informed his readers that, “Our pursuit of God is successful just because He is forever seeking to manifest Himself to us” (Tozer 2006, p. 71, The Pursuit of God). Modern academia tells its students to cite their sources. Christians must acknowledge their source by which the God of David and Solomon gain their strength of moral courage.

Courage is the opposite of fear and no one can be courageous unless he first has fear. A courageous person acts despite being afraid; there is nothing special about doing that which he does not fear. Stimulating courage in one another is therefore a vital ministry.R.C. Sproul

Fear and Courage

Principles Over Politics: Fidelity

(Special Series)

(Part 3)

[T]here are moral as well as practical consequences to intertemporal commitments. Gratitude, as well as loyalty and patriotism, for example, are all essentially commitments to behave differently in the future, toward individuals or societies, than one would behave on an impartial assessment of circumstances as they might exist at some future time, if those individuals and societies were encountered for the first time – Thomas Sowell

A Conflict of Visions

Fidelity is commitment; a place of assurance; bindings of loyalty; and a practice of faithfulness to a spouse, a friend, a job, or to God. It is the absolute expectation of those who profess, an oath, to their wives and husbands; God and Church; community and county; and resolute to helping their fellow man. Fidelity is the bonding of the soul to something greater than yourself.

What you have inherited from your forefathers, earn it, that you might own it. – Sir Roger Scruton

England and the Need for Nations

Principles Over Politics: Industry

(Special Series)

(Part 2)

A rich old farmer, who felt that he had not many more days to live, called his sons to his bedside.

“My sons,” he said, “heed what I have to say to you. Do not on any account part with the estate that has belonged to our family for so many generations. Somewhere on it is hidden a rich treasure. I do not know the exact spot, but it is there, and you will surely find it. Spare no energy and leave no spot unturned in your search.”

The father died, and no sooner was he in his grave than the sons set to work digging with all their might, turning up every foot of ground with their spades, and going over the whole farm two or three times.

No hidden gold did they find; but at harvest time when they had settled their accounts and had pocketed a rich profit far greater than that of any of their neighbors, they understood that the treasure their father had told them about was the wealth of a bountiful crop, and that in their industry had they found the treasure.

Industry is itself a treasure.

The Farmer And His Sons, Aseop Fable

Industriousness isn’t merely hard-work, it is proactive and driven with a purpose beyond greed, lust, and revenge. True work leaves eternal value for friends, family, church, and the community at large. Ken Harrison, chairmen of Promise Keepers, tells us that real men see the needs and seek to accomplish them, “He doesn’t look around for someone else to accomplish the task. He doesn’t make excuses. He doesn’t complain, slander, or gossip. He chooses to make a difference where he is” (Harrison 2019, p. 116, Rise of the Servant Kings). Whether manhood or womanhood, single or a family, young or old we are called to be a people who work for the good, the true, and the beautiful. Enterprise, merit, honesty, and empathy are positive externalities from industry derived from a people whose actions carry forth goodness and faithfulness rooted in Jesus Christ and Scripture. True Conservatives accept that their stances may be refuted and even result in death, but set on being industriousness because of its lasting benefits.

After all the very highest and most fundamental work of good citizenship is to leave the next generation in right shape… – Theodore Roosevelt

Principles Over Politics: Virtuous Individualism

(Special Series)

(Part 1)

But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side.  So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” (Luke 10: 29-37).

Hyper-individuality has spread infectiously throughout the world producing a toxic malaise over the minds, hearts, and souls of mankind. In reaction to it a dangerous collective desire of Identity and Identity Politics now stands to shatter any real sense of the individual beyond the group.

The term hyper-individualism can be described as a state of an individual acting in such a way that completely disregards the community. An attitude that carries over into the belief that an individuals identity of race, gender, sex, or personal background is the end all, be all position. Nothing another person has to say or do matters beyond the self. This attitude follows into their daily actions as the individual can do no wrong, demand a life to be lived without any form of judgement, and expect little in consequences to their actions. Rising tensions within harmful political environments make respect for differences of opinion a place of distain, yes, but that is only one part of a larger problem. Rather increasing tensions cause differences of opinion to intensify to the point of extremes, blinding individuals from seeing the faults in one or more positions.

Neither the radical beliefs of neoliberal individualism i.e. hyper-individuality nor the radical movements of collective solidarity (e.g. Marxism or Fascism) can suffice without calamity. Truthfully no system is perfect nor ideal, however, at the heart of the Christian faith and a philosophy of Primitive Conservatism is the individual who demonstrates mercy; whose actions are sacrificial not for their own vain glories but with the sole purpose to do right and to help others in-spite of differences.

“Justice without mercy is cruelty. Mercy without justice is the mother of all dissolution.” — Thomas Aquinas

Principles Over Politics: Exordium

(Special Series)

What then is a Christian to make of conservatism? The danger, it would seem, is not in conserving, for anyone may have a vocation to care for precious things, but in conservative ideology, which sets forth a picture of these things at variance with the faith. The same is true of liberalism. From time to time Christians may find themselves in tactical alliance with conservatives, just as with liberals, over particular policies, precepts, and laws. But they cannot be in strategic alliance, because their reasons for these stands are different; they are living in a different vision. For our allies’ sake as well as our own, it behooves us to remember the difference. We do not need another Social Gospel—just the Gospel. – J. Budziszewski

The Problem With Conservatism (1996)

Conservatism at its purest form is philosophical though it inevitably holds political weight in decisions of property, rights, laws, war, and nearly every other area of socioeconomic and political consequence. Richard M. Weaver reminded us in 1948 that Ideas Have Consequences, what we believe and follow, can reverberate throughout all of human history. “The modern position,” wrote Weaver, “seems only another manifestation of egotism, which develops when man has reached a point at which he will no longer admit the right to existence of things not of his own contriving” (Weaver, p. 154). Faith is more than tradition. Christ is beyond any philosophy. Historic Christianity is rooted in truth and reality that centers on the wholeness of Jesus Christ. Conservative philosophy at best recognizes the need for God and the institutions of the Christian faith, but it is not a practice of faith. As Professor Budziszewski of government and philosophy at the University of Texas in Austin and author of the blog, UndergroundThomist, distinctly makes clear: there is the Christian Faith and there is Conservatism and Liberalism and every other philosophical, ideological, and political system. At the end of the 1996 article (the article can be read in full at First Things website) he notes the essential truth of Christ and His Kingdom:

Christians can no more be others on the right than others on the left. Citizenship is an obligation of the faith, therefore the Christian will not abstain from the politics of the nation-state. But his primary mode of politics must always be witness. It is a good and necessary thing to change the welfare laws, but better yet to go out and feed the poor. It is a good and necessary thing to ban abortion, but better yet to sustain young women and their babies by taking them into the fellowship of faith. This is the way the kingdom of God is built.

The Problem With Conservatism (1996)

Therefore what comes first in terms of principles must be through and by the means of Christ, the Scriptures, and the Church. Christendom can be the only root source of a Primitive Conservative. Politics is secondary. Our identity is tertiary. Philosophy a helpmate. Surrender is strength not a weakness. Intersection is inevitable in the world of questions concerning morality, law, justice, or economics.

The Common Good

Tom Nelson, President of Made to Flourish, a network that works with churches in helping people flourish for the common good, argues that one of the best ways to achieve an act of common good is through our daily work (Nelson 2017, pp. 78-79, The Economics of Neighborly Love). By no means against the Free Market, Nelson seeks to make the case for a “triple bottom-line approaches that take into account not only profit but also promoting the flourishing of people as well as the planet” (pp. 79-80). One of several approaches to economic revitalization, the real father of economics can be found in the ideas of Thomas Aquinas whose central doctrines and dogmas remain as a central, though controversial, voice within Catholicism and broader Christianity.

Gloria L. Zúñiga at Acton Institute explains that “Thomistic economic thought… is grounded on private property and voluntary exchange as the principle for determining licit contracts.” Mary L. Hirschfeld, professor of economics and theology, wrote the book Aquinas and the Market: Toward a Humane Economy (2018), arguing that there are intrinsic values modern society can learn from Aquinas for the sake of redeeming a neoliberal society from its moral shortcomings.

Alternatives and reforms to a capitalistic society are nothing new to conservative thought as the late Sir Roger Scruton explains that “to be a conservative at best is to be a reluctant Capitalist you have to acknowledge the free-market… but it has to be tempered.” Our source for the “good life” derives from a similar stream but diverges from its source as to the ultimate purpose over ones life. Economics is simply one example for indeed Jesus Christ did not come to establish an economic doctrine or political order on the Earth. He came to die for the sins of the world and to redeem all that is His. Yet he tells believers not to be anxious or to worry but to build up for the Kingdom of Heaven:

Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also (Luke 12: 32-34).

Giving, charity, helpfulness are virtues to be practiced for they are goodness in of themselves; eternal values of immense worth as conservatives understand them to be. However the Christian does not simply do good, he does it at the service of God who commands them to do good. A distinct difference not because of a total lack of will to do any good but that Christians acknowledge the source by which goodness is bequeathed. For none do good, not even one (Psalm 14:3; Rom. 3:11). A secular reader shall fail in their attempt to decipher its meaning without close inspection as much as new Christian in the faith who fails to study the scriptures. Acts of “good” can be accomplished by all men but their heart remains corrupted. Christ is the redeemer of the heart—that is the Gospel. Secondly, all life comes from God the creator. He is worthy of acknowledgement. And lastly Christians source their life around the Gospel. Good works follow after it but virtue is not their source or it is simply vanity. Harry Blamires succinctly summarizes this truth in his book, The Christian Mind (1963), between the Modern mind and the mind of the Christian:

If Christians think carefully and prayerfully, they will come to understand what the Incarnation means for them in terms of their twentieth-century vocation… They will learn what are the proper twentieth-century modes of judging the world, of identifying the self with its sins, of being in and yet of being out of this world which our Lord inhabited and yet was not of. But these vital insights will be achieved only if there is among us a Christian mind sharp enough as an instrument of discrimination to cut cleanly through the befuddling mental jungle which constitutes the practical ethic of our secular society (pp. 104-105).

Christ is the source of our Common Good; He is the Principle; the Rule of Thumb; and the Sole Being Worthy of Adoration. A.W. Tozer tells us that to be a follower of God means to be “other-worldly” (Tozer 2006, The Pursuit of God, p. 63). Or as Dietrich Bonhoeffer hammered it out straight for his readers in The Cost of Discipleship (1995), “Faith can no longer mean sitting still and waiting—they must rise and follow him. The call frees them from all earthly ties, and binds them to Jesus Christ alone” (pp. 62-63).

This week will be a week of explanation of what it means to hold to principles over politics; truth over lies; reality over irreality. A foundation that built from faith in Christ and Christ Alone. Sourced from Christian Doctrines and Dogmas in the face of a world that fails to love; fails to do justice; and fails in establishing dignity for all.

A Word To The Wise

(Theology/Scripture)

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight (Proverbs 9:10, ESV).

Ancient Greece had a maxim, “Know Thyself” most famously attributed to the philosopher Socrates. This aphorism serves a great and worthy purpose of encouraging self-examination. How often do we stop and reflect on our own nature? Not just asking, who and what we are, but truly trying to know ones personal faults and then seeking to improve, learn, and grow. Philosophy, philo meaning love and sophos meaning wisdom, is the love of wisdom and the seeking of truth. I attribute a great deal to philosophy and would defend her ideals as much as liberty and freedom, but I submit to you that as Christians we are called to first submit to God and His wisdom.

More Than Self-Care

Fearing the Lord in an age of fear and distrust of authority is not an easy sale for Millennials (my generation), Gen Z, and Gen Alpha who are sincerely seeking to make a difference; “our” maxim being “Change the World.” Our youthfulness and wishful thinking is far too often excused as merely laziness, naiveness, and narcissism; a fair criticism but hardly the whole picture of several generations being swept under a complex globalized world that has rapidly materialized more wealth, more goods, and more services than all of human history combined while simultaneously fragmenting “old” methods, standards, traditions, and opportunities. But let’s step away from the cultural and the political towards the Scriptural and Christ Centeredness.

Within the context of fearing the Lord, yir’ah, is a form of piety, respect, or reverence for God. John Gill’s, English pastor and theologian, explains that the converted state is a state of wisdom, a place of recognition of the Most High God and the active working of grace. Christ says, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.  I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:4-5). Abiding, menō , a place in which the person is to be kept or to remain. That place is a place of salvation by which only though faith and grace can one be saved (Ephesians 2:8-9), but also that place is a place of wisdom that arises from that saving grace and faith. A working grace, a working faith that continues past the state of salvation. Our works matter in the eyes of God, for faith is active (James 2:14-26). Grace never ceases once salvation is accomplished (Romans 5:20-21) meaning a true believer seeks God and seeks to obey His command over their lives even when the Christian will falter, run, and even fall away for a time. Yet those of the vine will remain on the vine and Christ the Shepherd always brings His sheep back to the flock.

Today the term “self care” i.e. a place of spiritual, mental, and physical health focused entirely on ones well-being, is a central tenet of the age. Granted a great deal of narcissism can quickly overtake a person who focuses so much on themselves and never others; a place of complete aversion to hardship or sacrifice or pain is the roots of hedonism. However, ignoring your wellbeing is equally problematic when taken to the extreme of Asceticism which is also unbiblical. God cares about all of His creation. He desires goodness and wellness over them. Christianity needs to refrain from going to extremes when God condones a time for work and a time for rest. One of my favorite examples comes from the Prophet Elijah in Chapter 19 of 1 Kings verses 1-8:

Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So may the gods do to me and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.” Then he was afraid, and he arose and ran for his life and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there.  But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” And he lay down and slept under a broom tree. And behold, an angel touched him and said to him, “Arise and eat.”  And he looked, and behold, there was at his head a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water. And he ate and drank and lay down again. And the angel of the Lord came again a second time and touched him and said, “Arise and eat, for the journey is too great for you.” And he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mount of God.

Over and over again in the Bible the people of the Lord in the Old and New Testament are sinners and saints who fail completely on their own, yet find success in their complete reliance on God. Saint Paul states clearly concerning “a thorn in his flesh” that:

Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:8-10).

Do not ever feel “bad” when you need to rest and to take some time to “decompress” from the world and life’s situations. Know the difference between laziness and weakness, purposely forgoing for selfish reasons and a needed time to sleep or focus in preparation. Death is always with us from the moment of conception til the moment we die. The human body is eventually weakened to the point of death. There is no escaping our weakened estate. While the world ignores reality, Christians must learn to find joy in their weakness and eventual death.

Everything I have explained to you is a place of God’s wisdom, not my own. God’s word is a place of refuge, of hope, and of ultimate good. It is the responsibility of the Church to help all “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matthew 6: 33) or to say it differently, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever” which the Church is equipped to do. All of which is not “up to us” that is to say Christian’s are not capable of doing the work without the grace of God by which wisdom is birthed.

If Christ is not seeking sinners, humanity is doomed. And if the Church is not speaking to sinners then it has failed the Great Commission. There will always be issues that the Church must uphold and push back against, but no person is without sin nor should go without the hope of Christ and that means having a church full of saints and sinners. And having them over for dinner or going to them whenever and wherever in need. Love, Christ said, love God and love your neighbor as yourself are the two greatest commandments (Matthew 22:36-40).

Knowing thy self will never be accomplished to its fullest extent without first knowing God. He will take you to the deepest and hardest of places but for your good and for His glory.

To my generation and the generations after me, if you want to change the world, then seek after God, His wisdom, and His kingdom first and foremost. Never allow differences to get in between you and that person at the sake of forgoing the Gospel which includes loving your neighbor. Christ died so that we may live! Do not mistake His sacrifice for a life without a true cause. Seek Him, Fear Him, and See Him work in your life and the lives of others. But also know, the God loves you and takes you wherever you are at in life. No person in all of human history has ever been “too dirty” or “too unclean” to be made anew. To be forgiven. To be loved. To be recognized as worthy. Christ can redeem all souls. Lastly, you can go forth in life sick and tired and broken and even get lost on your way, but like Elijah, Christ will find you and feed you and care for you without chastisement. Never fear your weakness. Know that your weakness was never the problem. All are weak, none are strong. The problem was and remains the placement of our weakness in relation to our reliance for the strength we seek. Placed properly in God first and you will be in the highest of strong towers. Seek His refuge, Know His Wisdom, and have His love pour over you like the finest oils and perfumes.

May God Bless You and Keep You Now and Forever. Amen.

Virtue By Decree

(Insight Series)

A Preliminary

Virtue may not seem an obvious topic to discuss in our post-American, post-Christian, post-Liberal, and post-Western state; virtue might even appear meaningless or useless to a people preparing for whatever wave of turmoil comes next or welcoming the awaited changes. But it is my hope to convince readers that virtue is of societal value (legally, politically, and economically) for those who desire goodness and faithfulness; honor and truth; respect and justice; law and peace. Virtue does not provide eternal salvation, only through Christ is that achieved (John 14:4; Romans 10:9; Matthew 28:16-20), but virtue is a valuable means and end for Christians and non-Christians, Conservatives and non-Conservatives alike.

Pastor and theologian Timothy Keller wrote an article promoting his recent book, How to Reach the West Again (2020), and in that article from The Gospel Coalition Keller wrote in his introduction:

We are entering a new era in which there is not only no social benefit to being Christian, but an actual social cost. In many places, culture is becoming increasingly hostile toward faith, and beliefs in God, truth, sin, and the afterlife are disappearing in more and more people. Now, culture is producing people for whom Christianity is not only offensive, but incomprehensible.

– Keller (2020), How to Reach the West (Again)

As the world turns from material hopes and dreams toward material promises to escape the harshness of the world, the material world increasingly becomes the only means of escape for even the so-called spiritual. Unless pre-modern traditions and institutions of faith from the Monotheistic to the Polytheistic are central to a society, the DNA of its people, overtime societies forgo their “old ways” or their “old gods” for a new set of ways and a new set of gods. The gods never disappear as Christians understand that we are what we worship:

No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money (Luke 16:13).

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things (Rom. 1: 21-23).

It is here where Christian’s receive the term, “Virtuous Pagan,” the claim of moral similarities found between cultures. Aquinas for example understood the distinction between charity for the sake of charity and the Christian distinction to be charitable as Christ was giving and kind and gracious. This is why even Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox can work with entirely different faiths on causes that are set on a common good. Our actions speak of our character, just as our words speak of our heart’s truest desires (Luke 6:45). What then does Modernity (1500-Present) have to say? How has late modernity (1945-Present) particularly spoken of human culture and society?

Judaeo-Christianity “never did defeat paganism,” said feminist scholar Camille Paglia to The Harvard Crimson. Strong words that are completely true. Paganism has never left and is likely the strongest and oldest human root of belief that pervades to this day after the departure from Eden. From God to gods whether pagan or secular, Islam or Hinduism; the faith and beliefs of humanity intertwine between myth and reality in the story of human life including in the moral quest of right and wrong; good and evil; virtuous and unvirtuous.

As I had written once before:

Christians nor Conservatives are strangers to cultural critique including of liberal society (e.g. Capitalism or Free Speech) and upholding standards beyond the relative values of the day. As the conservative thinker Russell Kirk explained, “The pure democrat is the practical atheist; ignoring the divine nature of law and the divine establishment of spiritual hierarchy” (The Conservative Mind, p. 137). A synergy exists between the two over their respect for God and a moral law.

– Get Woke or Get Broke: When Reason Fails to Stand

That “synergy” comes together in the form of an understanding that God created the heavens and the earth; establishing a universal natural law, a set of moral laws that all mankind are to follow regardless of belief.

Virtue by Decree means a set of obligations weighted upon and against all institutions that hold power and authority over a people. And it represents a set of values expected from those institutions. Whether a society upholds any values is dependent upon the willing responsibility of that people. Christians and Conservatives understand that humanity is wholly incapable of always doing good and remaining good. Human nature is corrupt and fallible. Even enforced “common good” principles can quickly turn to evil. Nothing lasts forever. Nevertheless we are called to be a people of virtue and must strive for it.

Why then Virtue? Why this topic now?

As the dividing lines between private and public increasingly ceases due to immense political shifts caused by economic, technological and ecological influences, the Christian faith and Conservative institutions are forced again to reconsider what is true, beautiful, and just beyond the present times. This is a good things for us, though it poses serious consequences and sincere fears.

Neo-liberalism, beyond classical liberal theory of private property and free-markets, is a merging of Corporate and Government, Private and Public powers that have blurred the lines of authority and extinguished the human capacity to live beyond what I call, the Economic Gaze. Now the world worships the god of the Global Economy, a system entirely Too Big To Fail. Make no mistake, companies and governments are turning toward illiberal policies for their own survival. Those beliefs are antithetical to not only Christianity but nearly every conservative thinking or premodern believing faith, ideology, or philosophy; while classical liberalism has morphed beyond its original intent into the present neoliberal order making classical liberal ideology obsolete.

All of the known world is presently in a paradigm shift. From the jungles of the Amazon to the mountains of Nepal. Late Modernity is transforming the world and imprisoning it under an authoritarian mindset. Conflicts rise between countries striving for hegemony as citizens across the seven continents are under the weight of upholding a global economy and the unending, vastly scaling advancement of technology. Planet earth faces ecological consequences of water and food shortages, climate change, disease, and an alarming number of endangered species. Cultures are disappearing at a rapid pace losing whatever identity left. Nation-states are turning into relics as super-national unions continue forward despite setbacks such as Brexit. Although not over, 2020 marks the clear decay on the walls of crony capitalism, broken systems of government, fear politics, fake news, mass conspiracies, dangerous ideologies, and identity politics.

Therefore, I propose that Christendom and Conservative Thinkers must now begin to prepare for a better and brighter future should that future come. To begin a process of structuring what mankind has learned over the centuries, successes and failures, so as to reform or rebuild the crumbling globe before us.

Virtue by Decree is that vision.

Next Time: What Is Virtue?

Art References

Seven Virtues by Francesco Pesellino and Workshop

Circe Offering the Cup to Ulysses by John William Waterhouse