Saturday, August 12, 2006

# 162: The Mark of Authenticity

There exists a large variety of Christian religions in America; each has its very own beliefs as to what Christianity is and is not. For that reason, when a person has a desire to become serious about his/her Christianity, which one should he/she choose? That has been—and still is—a dilemma for many would-be Christians. This post, by design, is a bit repetitive, but it will attempt to cut through the peripheral verbiage of the most popular and well known denominations, religious organizations, and cults, so that a person will be able to spot the real McCoy.

For you who are familiar with the New Testament or have read through some of this blog site, you are aware that the Christian life is not ‘a walk in the park.’ For that reason, the more prolific or popular a church is, the greater chance it is nothing more than a money-making, man-made religious entertainment center.

The greatest and most wonderful aspect of the Christian religion is that we have a God of love. Yes, He loves genuine Christians as well as the atheists. Of course, the love God has for His own has eternal value, while the love He has for the unbelievers is temporal; however, He would love to change it into eternal love through our active support. 1st Timothy 2:4. “This is good and pleasing to our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.” Matthew 5:45. “. . . He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends the rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”

Ephesians 5:1. “Be imitators of God . . . ” That verse, by itself, tells the whole story of what Christianity is or should be. Also, Luke 10:25. “‘. . . what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ . . . He answered: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’ ‘You have answered correctly,’ Jesus replied. ‘Do this and you will live.’” Wow! To paraphrase Jesus’ reply, this is what He implied: If you don’t have an active desire to love the Lord Jesus Christ and neighbor as My Father requires, you cannot live with Me in eternity.

Similar verses with more punch are Matthew 22:36-40. “‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?’ Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the prophets [the biggest part of the Old Testament] hang on these two commandments.” There are several other verses that basically say the same thing.

Enough scripture. Now to get down to where the rubber meets the road. How do the above verses apply to the modern Christian life? Said another way, how do we give them a practical everyday application? The first question I must ask is this: What is so difficult about loving our God with our all—the word “all” implies much effort—and loving our neighbor as ourselves? Answer: just about everything, although it may not be burdensome. Like the song goes, “He’s not heavy, he’s my brother.” It is fair to say that exerting genuine effort in the art of Christian love is the most necessary ingredient in the Christian life, and the most absent.

There is a minimum of half a dozen verses which use the phrase “Make every effort.” I will give just one, since I have already written extensively on this topic. Luke 13:24. “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you will try to enter and not be able to.”

How many people do you know who claim to be Christians, possibly yourself, who are making every effort to love God with their all? Be truthful with yourself. Some may ask, “How does one love God in the first place?” The answer can be found in 1st John 5:3. “This is love for God: to obey his commands.” It couldn’t be more descriptive than that. That implies that those who are not making every effort to obey all that is commanded do not love God as He requires.

However, The Apostle is not talking only about the 10 commandments in the Old Testament; he means obedience to all that is required in the Old as well as the New Testament. Of course, the Apostle John didn’t mean the Levitical laws; those laws were done away with by the coming of Christ. Remember this: The New Testament is not a book of friendly suggestions, as some may secretly believe, but the narrow roadmap to real life.

Let’s modify the above paragraph by changing the words “every effort” to “great effort.” Only those who are making a great effort to be obedient to what God requires are the ones who love God. I pray God doesn’t penalize me too severely for making that small change, although even that is still a lofty goal. The aforementioned tells me that people can yell from the rooftops or from every pulpit in America, saying, “They love God,” but those words alone aren’t worth a hoot or a holler unless that acclamation is accompanied with love for God and neighbor by an active obedience to His commands. PERIOD! With no ifs, ands, or buts.

If you think it is difficult loving God with one’s all, and it is, loving others in need (your neighbors) is even more difficult. The only thing is, one’s love for God is invalid without love for neighbor, and one’s love for neighbor is also worthless without love for God. They are intertwined in such a way that their combined result displays the authenticity of Christianity. In fact, one’s fervent belief in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, or any other religious endeavors, is less than worthless without obedience to God’s imperative ordinances.

Loving those in need will always cost us something of value—material, financial or otherwise; and many times those who need our help are those we may not particularly care for. That is the difficult part of this love for neighbor. Of course, when giving to the needy, we must make sure our gifts are not spent on anything that is harmful to the ones we desire to help: things like alcohol, drugs, tobacco, etc. We must always be as “wise as serpents and harmless as doves” when giving, so that God can be glorified. It is God’s way of using us to show His love for the lost, the poor or the downtrodden. There is nothing easy about this all-important command. And there is no way a genuine Christian can avoid it. All we have to do is look around; the needy are everywhere.

Then the question comes up: How do Christians that are in some desperate need, disabled, handicapped or distraught, etc. love their neighbor as themselves? To my knowledge, that answer is not in the New Testament—correct me if I am wrong. Although, it is mentioned in the Old Testament in the last six commandments: 5) Honor your father and mother, etc. 6) You shall not murder. 7) You shall not commit adultery. 8) You shall not steal. 9) You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor. 10) You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, etc. Every Christian, even the handicapped, can and must obey the above directives. Also, they can love their neighbor, as themselves by letting it be known to genuine Christian/s of their need. In that way, they are allowing others to be obedient to that second part of the two greatest commandments. Their needs facilitate other Christians that are able to help, in order to obey and play their part of the Christian life. Repeating, those six Old Testament commandments are for all Christians, even though they are only a fraction of what Holy Scripture requires.

Here is a sly way of circumventing the difficult, time-consuming, and expensive work of personally loving one’s neighbor: The clergy, often in a roundabout way, preach, “You should give generously to our church, and we will help those in need.” That is a ploy many, if not most, churches use to line their pockets and keep from going in the red. However, there is no way to avoid love of neighbor simply by putting money in a church coffer. And besides, just being obedient to the second part of the two greatest commands is of no value if love for God is ignored, which is obedience to the hard-edged verses in the New Testament, and there are many—Click on # 127: “Silently Forbidden New Testament Verses.” This post tells of the multitude of the New Testament verses that are seldom, if ever, mentioned behind the pulpit. And if they are mentioned, they only water them down so as to make them non-effective.

There are those who may call themselves Christians just because they belong to a certain church, whereas every genuine Christian has a mark that distinguishes them from all others. These real Christians display an active love for God by obedience to what the New Testament commands, and make every effort to be generous to all who are in need (that is the mark). That mark is plainly visible to God and Jesus Christ, and in many cases, others will take notice. That obedience is the one quality that authenticates our faith in Jesus Christ. The remainder of Scripture, as important as it may be, is trivial in comparison to love. Check out, 1st Corinthians, Chapter 13, the love chapter.

In conclusion, not every Tom, Dick or Mary, to say the least, will go along with this Biblical hard-nosed Christian teaching. If what the New Testament requires sounds absurd to you, and most certainly it will, either pray earnestly to God that He will give you the need and desire to believe and obey what He commands, or forget about Christianity, eternity and Jesus Christ.

Run-of-the-mill religious organizations that do not emphatically preach the most imperative part of the Christian life, an active love for God and neighbor, and require the same of everyone, are only taking your time, devotion and money; when they are done with you, they will send you on a slippery slope, and who knows where it will take you. Of course, there is one welcome aspect about the dark world for its constituents: They may see lot of familiar faces, and do lot of reminiscing, if that is any consolation.

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