It is easy to prioritize our experiences over Scripture, especially in theology.  We tend to adopt as a belief whatever fits our experiences.  We also tend to adopt as a belief whatever we want to be true.  Both of those belief-forming mechanisms are helpful in discerning truth claims; however, there is something more sure than personal experience, testimonies of others’ experiences, and personal desires–Scripture.

“For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty…And we have something more sure, the prophetic word…no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”  2 Peter 1:16, 19-21

First off, Peter was an eyewitness to Jesus’ transfiguration and God’s confirmation saying “This is my beloved Son”.  Only two other people can claim to being an eyewitness of that.  No one today can claim to being an eyewitness in the sense that Peter can.  We may have experiences that testify to his majesty, but be weary of those who make up or testify only to experiences; Peter calls that “cleverly devised myths”.  When people go on about their experiences without employing Scripture to testify to their experience, be weary.

How to discern if a spiritual experience is from God

– Does it lead you to believe something contrary to what Scripture teaches? If so, it is not from God, but satan.

– Are people encouraged when they hear you talk about it? Or do they feel discouraged and “unspiritual”?

– Does it bring you to repentance of sin? Or does it make you think that you are “further along” and need less repentance?

– Does it cause you to worship Jesus in spirit and in truth?  Or do you use your experience to impress others?

Remember, the apostle Peter had more experiences than most that could be relied on; however, he knew that Scripture was “more sure”.  Submit your experiences to Scripture, and not the other way around.

“We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.” 2 Corinthians 4:2

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Warning: This post goes against much of what many evangelical church programs are built upon. Thereby potentially causing severe discomfort in defending all of the superfluous “programs” that make up your church.

Nevertheless, I have to say it.

Accountability groups focussed on a particular sin, or a particular category of sin (eg. lust), drastically miss the point of the gospel.  Allow me to first add two qualifiers and then a defense.

First qualifier: Not all accountability groups are bad.  Accountability is important, even sin-specific accountability.  It can be done well, it can also be done poorly.  This post is a reaction to the latter.

Second qualifier:  As Christians, we do need to be killing sin.  This post is geared toward the motivation for killing sin, not whether or not we need to.

The fact of the matter is that sin is not defeated with a try-harder-do-better ethic.  Sin is only defeated when we die to sin.  We die to sin when we are united with Christ in his death on the cross.  Now you are more than likely thinking, “I need to do better at being united with Christ in his death”.  Unfortunately, that thought is the outflow of the deeply ingrained try-harder ethic cultivated by “sin groups”.

I am more and more convinced that though sin groups may help in stopping a particular sin, a new sin always arises in its place, usually pride.  What we need is to concentrate on the preeminence of Jesus Christ.

There are two motivations that Christians tend to have in regard to fighting personal sin: anti-gospel and gospel.

Anti-gospel sin-fighting: you think that your justification lies in your performance, ie. your ability to not sin.  This person loves accountability groups and may even be very outspoken about their sin, yet, the motivation for defeating sin remains misguided. Fighting sin with an anti-gospel motivation may pass as “disciplined” or “spiritual”; all the while, “having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power” (2 Tim. 3:5).  see also Gal. 3:3

Gospel sin-fighting: This person understands that Matthew 4:1-11 is not just a text to teach Christians how to fight sin, but that it is primarily a text that shows that Jesus performed perfectly, and that his performance is now regarded as my own perfect performance because of His substitutionary work on our behalf.  This fighter is trained by the words in Romans 6:14, “sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.”

The one focuses on the sin, the other focuses on Jesus’ victory over sin.

“What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace?”  By no means! Go read your Bibles.

Here’s the setting: Jesus has gathered some disciples, has turned 30 gallons of water into delicious wine at a wedding reception, and has flipped some tables in a raging frenzy against commercializing worship in the Temple at Jerusalem in order to fulfill what was written of him in Psalm 69:9, “Zeal for your house will consume me”.

Needless to say, some loved him and some hated him.  But there is a middle group, too.  In John 3:23 we read, “many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing.”  Sounds decent enough, right?  Well, for some reason “Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them”.

Why did Jesus not entrust himself to people who supposedly “believed in his name”?  Answer: “because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man” (3:25).

Fact of the matter is that what is in man is sin.  Jesus knows this; it is this problem that Jesus came to die for.  But, didn’t these people “believe in his name”? Answer: They did so far as being impressed by his miracles.  Perhaps they just wanted to be a part of a revolution, something different, something fresh.  They were Jesus’ groupies with no real desire for him, apart from the miracle shows.

Jesus is not looking for mere fans.  Jesus is looking for worshipers, for disciples who know exactly who he is.

Profile of a Jesus fan:

– Never confesses personal sin

– Always offers advice, but never asks for it

– says, “I’ll pray for ya!”  in the place of “goodbye” whenever he leaves.  Then never prays.

– Thinks not swearing, no secular music, and a wardrobe of “sanctified” T-shirts is what makes him righteous

– Will not hang out with non Christians

Profile of a worshiper of Jesus:

– continual repentance

– Faithful and diligent study of the Word

– seeks counsel from wise Christians

– Prays for others, and is honest with prayer requests

– Intentionally hangs out with non Christians for the sake of speaking/showing the gospel

– knows that his vocabulary, music choice, and wardrobe does NOT recommend him to God; but boasts only in Jesus’ death and resurrection

By now you probably have a list of people who you think are just “fans” of Jesus as opposed to true worshipers.  Stop right there.  Repent.  Jesus alone knows all people and what is in them.  So, repent of your own stuff.

Here is a funny Madtv clip that has been floating around and causing laughs for a while (my mom loves this).  However, there is value in what this psychologist says, though lacking gospel-love.  We tend to go over board in psychologizing our sin, when, all we need to do is stop it.  We are not sinners because we have been mistreated in the past, we are not stuck in our sin because we have been doing it since we were young; rather, sin is sin and you are guilty.  However, we have been bought with a very high price and set free from the power of the law to condemn.  Paul puts it this way, “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies” (Rom. 6:12)…in other words, “STOP IT!”

The second word in the gracious law given to the Israelites at Mt. Sinai during their wilderness wanderings is found in Exodus 20:7,

“You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.”

If you have gone through the American church system, this commandment is solely restricted to the infamous “OMG”; so conditioned have we become, we blush when we read King David’s words in Psalm 25:2, “O my God…”.  No, King David is not using God’s name in vain.

If it is acceptable for David to say “Oh my God”, then perhaps we need a reorientation around what this commandment is saying.  The Jews understood the commandment, but were somewhat misguided in their understanding.  They understood that we are never to speak, carry, or bear the Lord’s name irreverently or without consideration of His glory.  Their solution? Never say His name!

This is tragic because God had graciously revealed His name to the Israelites, intending for them to know their God.  Exodus 3:13-15 tells this story, basically God says, “I AM WHO I AM…this is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.”  Essentially, there is a big and persuasive justification that isn’t really fit for a blog post that shows that this self-disclosure in Exodus 3:13-15 says, “my name is Yahweh”.

Then, we start seeing manuscripts from the Jews that substitute YHWH with a different word, adonai, which means lord or master.  Our translations indicate that this is a special substitution for YHWH by putting it in all capital letters, LORD.  God’s name was considered too holy to pronounce, so when Scripture was read, adonai was substituted for Yahweh.  Now, if that totally bores you and seems irrelevant–bear with me.

The goal behind the commandment, and the motivation behind the Jews’ substitution, is that Yahweh does not want His name to lose its weightiness to the world.  Unfortunately, we often misuse it–even if you never drop the OMG.  Fact is, we bear His name just by being Christians.  When we tarnish our witness through judgmentalism or hypocrisy, we wrongly bear God’s name.  When we sing worship songs without worshiping, we make God’s name common and without weight.

God graciously revealed Himself to us– his name, his character, his standards.  Even more so by becoming flesh and dwelling with us in the person of Jesus, by whom “there is no other name under heaven…by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). When we are in view of the character and standards of Jesus Christ, we bring honor to his name.

Different traditions attribute different numbering to the Ten Words; however, the Catholic/Lutheran numbering of the Ten Words is what makes the most sense from the text.  According to that tradition, the first commandment is Exodus 20:2-5,

“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for youself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God”

This commandment being given to the Israelites who, for the past couple hundred years had been in slavery to one of the most idolatrous nations to have ever existed.  The Egyptians were no strangers to worshiping various images or creatures or creations.  They routinely made statues or paintings of people or things they worshiped.  This commandment is something quite out of the ordinary for the Israelite people.

For us, it may seem a bit less explicit.  We don’t tend to build statues and bow down before it.  So, to see the relevance of this gracious word, an explanation of what an idol is might be helpful.  Here is a quote from Pastor Mark Driscoll from an interview on Nightline,

” An idol is someone or something that occupies the place of God in your life–preeminent, prominent, the center of your life, most important person/thing, gives you identity, meaning, value, purpose, love, significance, security–when the Bible uses the word ‘idol’ that’s what its getting at.”

John Calvin says, “the human mind is a perpetual factory of idols”.  Idolatry did not end when the commandment came.  It did not cease when America was born.  And it certainly is not a foreign practice to us today.  If a 1st century Jew was teleported to a 21st century basketball game, political rally, concert, mall, it would appear to him to be some sort of worship ceremony.

Our trust is in how big of a hard drive we have; our identity lies in our grades, skills, careers; our affections and thoughts center around boyfriends/girlfriends; the most valuable thing to us is our ipod; the most consistent activity in our days is prime time television.  We are idolaters.  Do not be fooled.  This commandment may be one of the most relevant for us today.

Why is this gracious?

“I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments” (Exod. 20:5-6).

God’s character is to be incredibly jealous for his worship.  When we worship him alone, he shows steadfast love to us for thousands of generations.  This commandment is for our supreme enjoyment of a gracious God.

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).  There is no right worship of God without a rightful worship of his Son, Jesus.  Perhaps this is why the apostle John concludes his first epistle with this statement, “[Jesus Christ] is the true God and eternal life. Little children, keep yourselves from idols.”

 I never realized that the law was actually an incredibly gracious act on God’s part until I studied the religious climate of Ancient Near East.  Here is a quote from a prayer that was found on a tablet dated to the mid-seventh century B.C.  It is called “a prayer to every god”

May the wrath of the heart of my god be pacified!
May the god who is unknown to me be pacified!
May the goddess who is unknown to me be pacified!
May the known and unknown god be pacified!
May the known and unknown goddess be pacified!
The sin which I have committed I know not.
The misdeed which I have committed I know not.

This dude had no idea what to pray so he prayed to every god, he knew he had made something or someone upset, but didn’t know what he had done or why it was angry.  Whoever wrote this prayer had no relationship or knowledge of his god, had no clue how to enjoy his god, had no clue what angered his god, or even who his god was.  He just knew that he had done something wrong. 

It is in this religious context that Yahweh, the God of Israel says, “if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among the peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:5-6). 

 It is the fact that Yahweh graciously revealed Himself and his holiness to Israel through the law that makes Israel say among the nations, “what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today?” (Deuteronomy 4:7-8).  The relationship between Israel and God was something unheard of in the Ancient Near East, and it remains the distinguishing mark of God today–He loves his people, he lived with his people, and he suffered for his people.