by Al Maxey
Issue #718 -------
April 13, 2017
The house of delusions is cheap
to build but drafty to live in.
A. E. Housman (1859-1936)
The great American poet, essayist and lecturer, Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), who led the mid-19th century movement known as Transcendentalism, made the following observation: "We swim, day by day, on a river of delusions. ... But life is a sincerity. In lucid intervals we say, 'Let there be an entrance for me into realities; I have worn the fool's cap too long.'" Another leading Transcendentalist, Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), a contemporary of Emerson, and who was perhaps best known for his book Walden, opined in that book, "Shams and delusions are esteemed for soundest truths. ... By closing the eyes and slumbering, and consenting to be deceived by shows, men establish and confirm their daily life of routine and habit everywhere, which still is built on purely illusory foundations." When speaking of delusions and the deluded, one cannot help but think of the statement by the apostle Paul to the church in Thessalonica, warning them never to turn away from Truth, for such a departure would inevitably lead to "a powerful delusion so that they will believe a lie and be condemned" (2 Thess. 2:10-12). It is hard to imagine anything more pitiful than disciples swayed by the power of a strong religious delusion. It can draw men away from Truth, and into the pit of destructive falsehoods; it can entice disciples away from grace, and lure them back to law and works. When Paul saw the brethren in Galatia succumbing to such teaching, he confronted them boldly: "You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?!" (Gal. 3:1).
Sadly, almost 2000 years later, the church is still feeling the effects of delusional discipleship. Christians are still being "bewitched" by teachers and teachings that lull them into a spiritual slumber and stupor, and thus into a deadly false hope. They are blinded to eternal realities, enticed instead to dwell within the realm of their deadly delusion. The Greek word Paul used in Gal. 3:1, which some versions have translated "bewitched," is "baskaino," a term that may also be translated "to delude" [The Analytical Greek Lexicon, p. 67]. The terrible outcome of such delusional discipleship is that many who profess to serve the Savior will be shocked to hear on that Day of Reckoning, "Depart from Me; I never knew you!" (Matt. 7:23). Jesus made it clear in His Sermon on the Mount that "many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord'" (Matt. 7:22), yet "not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 7:21). These deluded disciples will be stunned, for they were led to believe by those who deluded them that their human effort was sufficient unto salvation: "Did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name drive out demons, and perform many miracles?!" (Matt. 7:22). Jesus did not deny that these were good things to do; nor did Jesus suggest these people weren't performing these good works. What He affirms, however, is that these alone do not secure for one a place in the kingdom of heaven. It is not religion, or religious acts, that count -- it is relationship. Jesus was well aware of their deeds, but He didn't know them!! (Matt. 7:23). Perhaps we could also phrase it this way: these disciples worked for Him, but they never got around to truly knowing Him in an intimate, personal way. They nailed Religion, but failed Relationship. It is much the same scenario we find in our Lord's evaluation of the church in Ephesus (Rev. 2:1-7): on the outside, they were impressive; on the inside, however, they were woefully lacking, for all their good deeds were lacking in love! They had embraced a religious delusion that led them away from a saving relationship with their Lord. They professed "Lord, Lord," but it was under the delusion of law/works, rather than the reality of grace/faith. As a result, they had fallen far from where they had once been, and were now in danger of having their lampstand removed (vs. 5).
The ancient Jews made much the same mistake by assuming God was somehow pleased, and even appeased, by their countless sacrifices and religious offerings. Although these acts were indeed necessary under law, they were never intended to be salvific. God was interested in their hearts, and these outward acts were merely designed to reflect the reality of a loving heart. Too often, however, such religious acts were perceived to be the determining factor in one's acceptance by God, and they soon replaced the motivating force of a loving heart of the child for the Father. The people had become deluded. "Your love is like the morning mist, like the early dew that disappears. ... For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings" (Hosea 6:4, 6). "With what shall I come before the Lord?" (Micah 6:6). The answer of the deluded and the bewitched would be: "with my good works; with my religious offerings." But, "He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God" (Micah 6:8). The prophet Isaiah begins his lengthy prophecy by pointing out this deadly delusion: the people were trusting in religious acts rather than showing love in their relationships with both God and their fellow man. "The multitude of your sacrifices - what are they to Me?" (Isaiah 1:11). God goes on to tell the people, through the prophet, that He is sick of their religious show (vs. 11-15). Instead, "learn to do right. Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow" (vs. 17). James concurred: "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world" (James 1:27). In light of this, read carefully the words of Jesus in Matthew 25:31-46 as He describes the separating of the sheep from the goats on the Day of Judgment. Was His focus on religious acts? No; such are never mentioned. It was all about relational acts characterized by love, mercy, compassion, and kindness. I can't help but think of the priest and the Levite who hurried past the man in need so they could "get to church" in time to perform their religious duty (Luke 10:25-37, Parable of the Good Samaritan). This was the "Lord, Lord" bunch: religion without relationship (neither vertical nor horizontal); law without love.
Paul knew the lure of placing one's trust in one's deeds. He had been an expert in the letter of the law, but it took getting to know the Lord for him to realize that it was the spirit of the law that was truly transformational. "If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing" (1 Cor. 13:1-3). Paul even understood the danger that we could become so self-absorbed with our own service and success that we become self-serving and self-deluded and, in the end, self-condemned. How tragic, Paul reflected, that "after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified" (1 Cor. 9:27). Those who are called to spiritual leadership and public service in the kingdom of God must ever be vigilant that they not lose sight of what is truly vital: a personal relationship with the Lord reflected in their daily lives, rather than a hollow public profession, accompanied by a host of religious works, devoid of that inner character our Lord truly seeks. Saying "Lord, Lord," and engaging in good works, does indeed seem outwardly impressive (just ask those who were in the church at Ephesus -- Revelation 2:1-7), but when religion trumps relationship ... all is lost! I really like the way Dr. Paul Kretzmann expressed this truth: "Mouth-Christianity can never be a valid substitute for Heart-Christianity" [Popular Commentary of the Bible: The NT, vol. 1, p. 40].
I think H. Leo Boles (1874-1946), a leader in our own Stone-Campbell Movement, yet one who promoted a strong sectarianism (see my article on "The Boles Manifesto: A Reflective Review of a Sectarian Speech Delivered by H. Leo Boles on May 3, 1939" - Reflections #247), nevertheless made the following insightful comment about our Lord's intent in Matthew 7:21-23, "His warning here is against formal and mere external worship" [A Commentary on the Gospel According to Matthew, p. 181]. Far too many disciples are deluded into believing that if they can perform the so-called "five acts of worship" correctly ("according to the pattern") during the Sunday "worship service," then they are approved and accepted by God. "Getting it right" is critical to one's standing with God, for salvation is perceived to be knowledge-based and performance-based. This is a religious delusion, however, and it blinds one to what is truly salvific: relationship. It is not enough to repeat His name in public; we must reflect His nature in public! "But not everyone who speaks in a spirit is a prophet, except he have the behavior of the Lord" [Didache 11:8]. Anyone can say they have faith, declares James (James 2), but the proof is in the demonstration of that profession by one's actions and attitudes. Or, as Jesus said in that same passage from the Sermon on the Mount, "So then, you will know them by their fruits" (Matt. 7:20). In Luke's version of this teaching, he focuses on the fruit of one's heart as the validating evidence of one's profession (Luke 6:43-46). We may say we are His disciples, but are we showing it by our lives. The Expositor's Greek Testament, in a note on Christ's statement, observes that those who say, "Lord, Lord" commit to Him in "everything short of carrying out His teaching in life" [vol. 1, p. 134]. Yet, it is the latter (relationship reflected in life) He seeks, not the hollow professions and practices of those devoted to religion. Dr. Alfred Edersheim, in his classic work The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, got it right when he stated that on that final day of judgment one's "fate would be decided not merely by professed discipleship, but by their real relation to Him" [book 3, chapter 18, p. 541].
"Success, as the world counts it, is not a criterion of one's knowledge of Christ and relation to Him" [Dr. A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, e-Sword]. Yet, these disciples of whom Jesus spoke had failed to perceive this fact. "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?" (Matt. 7:22). Yes, they apparently did all of these things; after all, Jesus doesn't deny their assertion of works performed. What He denies is having any kind of abiding personal relationship with them! "The gift of prophecy is worth nothing without the grace of love; there have been great preachers gifted with the mighty power of spiritual eloquence who yet knew not the Lord themselves, whose hearts were cold while they kindled the love of others. ... It is possible to be doing great things for Him, yet in their hearts loving Him not" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 15, p. 292]. Yes, there is biblical precedent (both OT and NT) for people prophesying and doing great works, and even performing miracles, yet not being in a saving relationship with the Lord. Jesus said, "False Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect. Behold, I have told you in advance" (Matt. 24:24). Paul spoke of those who would come "with all power and signs and false wonders" (2 Thess. 2:9). The "Lord, Lord" group may very well have been performing great deeds, and may well have been doing them using His name; Jesus doesn't suggest they weren't. The problem was with their hearts; their motivation; their lack of spiritual connection with Him. St. Augustine suggested that when Jesus said to these people, "I never knew you," this was just another way of stating, "You never knew Me." Let us each take warning from this judgment scene presented by Jesus in His Sermon on the Mount. May we never place (or may we cease placing) our trust in religious practices and professions, and instead place our faith and trust in the Lord Himself, reflecting the beauty of His character in our own daily lives as we live in visible relationship with Him!
From a Reader in Texas:
I just put $40 in your PayPal account for two additional signed copies of your book "From Ruin To Resurrection," as others are joining this class at our congregation where your book is being discussed (a chapter per week). An interesting side note came to my mind when we were discussing the nature of man in our last class. A couple of the members had trouble with your concept of the "soul" due to the dualism they had already come to accept. When I was trying to restate your B + B = B (breath + body = being) equation, I used colors: blue + yellow = green (green being the resultant state of a living, breathing body). Man doesn't have a soul/being within him, man is a living being/soul. On another note, I don't know if you have discussed this in relation to legalism, but a popular word in our Christian vocabulary is "reward" when speaking of eternal life. However, this word continues to force our minds into legalistic thinking, for a "reward" is seen as being the result of our "doing everything right." Our own effort (work) is being rewarded. A gift, on the other hand (i.e.: The Gift of Life), is purely reflective of the heart/mind of the Giver, and it has only to do with His desire to give, and His reason for doing so, which in God's case is LOVE. "For God so loved the world that He GAVE..." Eternal life is not a reward, it is a gift (Rom. 6:23), as you point out in your teaching! Back to the class I am leading in which we discuss your book: I ask that you pray for me that I will not only represent well what you have written, but that I will also represent well our God. I used to think there was no benefit either way in discussing the teaching of what happens to people on that great day. But now I believe it has everything to do with the character of God, and how we represent Him to our world. Last week I heard N.T. Wright speak, and he said that what we (Christians) have done to the message of God (our focus on rules and regulations) has done more to turn people against God than anything writers like Voltaire have done through their works. Teaching that God forever tortures the lost makes God into someone in whom we cannot place our hope. Al, thank you for all you have done in researching this topic and sharing those findings in your book, and I appreciate God opening a window for the discussion of this book/topic in my own congregation!
From a Reader in Georgia:
I agree with your conclusion in Reflections #717 ("Pondering Peter's Pentecost Promise") that the Holy Spirit Himself was the promised gift, and not the various spiritual gifts given by the Holy Spirit. However, it's sort of like grandma and her cookies -- no grandma, no cookies! I think it is interesting to ponder your suggestion that perhaps Peter didn't fully grasp what all he was saying at that time. I also wonder if John fully grasped the entirety of what he wrote down in the Revelation! Further, I can't imagine that Caiaphas, the high priest, knew what he was saying when it is recorded that he "prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one" (John 11:51-52). In fact, many look to the writings of Peter, and they suggest from those writings that Peter "grew" in his understanding as time went by. I take comfort in the fact that what was written is true, whether or not Peter or Joel fully understood their proclamations at the time. Not even Spirit-filled apostles understood everything, which is perhaps a reminder to us all to be humble!
From an Elder in Missouri:
Once again, Al, you have presented a point of view with good evidence and reasoning! I, too, have studied this question often and long over the years. No matter how I have approached the topic, I continue to reach the same conclusion: the gift of the Holy Spirit is the Holy Spirit Himself dwelling in and with the Christian. Thank you for this study!
From a Reader in Texas:
Greetings from lovely Houston! I just returned from a group tour of Israel (Calvary Chapel group, actually), and what a fantastic trip it was! Extremely faith affirming! Everywhere we went was filled with historical sites. One of the interesting facts we learned regards who owns land in Israel. Guess who the top four are? (1) Roman Catholic Church, (2) Greek Orthodox Church, (3) Southern Baptist Church, and (4) Russian Orthodox Church. This got me to thinking that Al Maxey might be just the person to write a column (or more) on the history of the splits among these Catholic churches through the centuries. I would do it myself, but that would entail lots of research, and then I would have to try and emulate your outstanding presentation ... so I shall pass!! Thanks so much, and all the best to you during this wonderful Easter week.
From a Minister in Texas:
Brother Al, thank you for your CD set: Revelation: A Reflective Study. I have just started listening to the classes you taught, and thus far the content is quite edifying! Also, the PowerPoint slides you did of all the visions of Revelation, which you used to accompany your class, are beautifully done! I have only been studying Revelation deeply for about three years. It was mostly avoided at the school of preaching I went to, and congregations I attended in the past discussed it very little. Separately, I have a question, and I would appreciate if you would briefly respond. A lot of discussion has recently come up here about "prosperity preachers" like Joel Osteen. Would you classify this well-known preacher as a "false teacher" or a "false prophet"? Do you believe souls are being led astray by him (or others like him)? Thanks. Be blessed, beloved brother!
I actually dealt with this a couple of years ago, and I sent that link to this minister in Texas. That article is Reflections #665 ("Pondering Prosperity Theology: Profiting Materially by Living Spiritually"). I pray this study will help answer this brother's question. -- Al Maxey
From an Elder in Illinois:
Al, I hope and pray that your life is good and that God continues to bless you and yours. On Sunday night we were having a Small Group discussion, and the baptism issue came up. I asked the group if they thought the apostles were baptized. Everyone seemed to agree that they may have been baptized by John the Baptizer, but there is nothing about a baptism, even on the day of Pentecost. That got me to thinking about the CENI issues that most legalists use to rebuff those of us who have moved past the instrumental music issue so that we may hopefully deal with more weighty issues such as maturing in Christ, etc. If we use the same "law of silence" argument that is used by those who vehemently oppose instrumental music in worship, we would necessarily have to "assume" that the apostles were not baptized, since the Scriptures are silent on this matter. Am I wrong on this, and can you give me your thoughts on this? Love you, Al, for who you are and Whose you are!
The legalists vigorously affirm that "biblical silence is prohibitive." Thus, if the Bible is silent about some practice, then that practice is prohibited. This is one of the keys in their "reasoning" for prohibiting the use of musical instruments in a "worship service." Of course, the phrase "worship service" never appears in Scripture, but that doesn't deter them! They always find convenient "exceptions" to such legal regulations and restrictions when it suits them. But, you are correct, brother: the NT writings are totally silent about the apostles being baptized. It is never mentioned. If silence prohibits, then one could make a case that no such baptism occurred. Frankly, I reject such a notion, but, then, I also reject the whole "silence prohibits" nonsense! I would refer the reader to my Topical Index web site where I have 28 Reflections articles dealing with this topic, all of which may be found under the heading "Law of Silence." As for the matter of whether or not the apostles were baptized in water, and various issues associated with that, I would suggest a reading of my following studies: "Already You Are Clean: A Reflective Study of John 15:3" (Reflections #580), "The 'Dirty Dozen' of Ephesus: Pondering the Purpose of their Baptism" (Reflections #585), and "Grandfathered Status Theology: Did the Baptism of John 'Carry Over' for Expectant Pre-Pentecost Disciples, Precluding their Need for Rebaptism?" (Reflections #586). I hope these studies prove helpful. -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in Scotland:
So, Al, last night I decided to visit the local -------- church for their Bible study. I know their preacher is very well-read, and so I decided that since I've never felt that I fit into any denomination since leaving the Church of Christ, I would give the -------- church a go. Well, the study was excellent, and I was pleased with my decision to visit. At the closing, I was sitting there thinking this could be my new church home. However, as soon as the meeting ended, one of the men came up to me to speak to me "in private." He immediately brought to my attention the fact that I needed to wear a head covering. I was gob smacked, to say the least. Flooding back came all those "soul destroying" Church of Christ dogmas (although hat wearing was never one of them where I attended). I hate hats! I don't suit them, they are uncomfortable, they spoil my hair, and, most of all, I feel like second best to men with a head covering. I got into a discussion with this man, and although I kept my cool, I came home feeling bedraggled and weepy. Men just seem to think they know everything better than women, and they sure do look down on us at times. Yet, now I'm back to worrying if I do need to wear a hat. Och, Al, it all wears me down so much! I just wish God would accept us females as He does males! Can you shed any light on this subject for me?!
Sister, you ARE just as fully accepted as any male! "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:28). Sexism is just as disgusting in the Lord's sight as racism. It is NOT necessary for you to wear a hat or veil or any other kind of "head covering" to be accepted by God. There are some groups of rigid religionists who may try to force such a "law" upon you, but when you find them ... head the other direction!! They are making far more of a cultural expression than is currently necessary. I would encourage you to go to my above referenced Topical Index page and read the 20 Reflections articles listed there under the heading "Role of Women." I would especially encourage a study of the following: "Head Coverings for Women: Local Custom or Universal Command?" (Reflections #216) and "Trim Not Thy Tresses: The Snipped Hair Hairesy" (Reflections #276). You are free, my sister; you are a daughter of the King Himself. Don't ever let anyone force you back into religious bondage, especially when their sole reason for doing so is your gender!! -- Al Maxey
If you would like to be added to or removed from this
mailing list, contact me and I will immediately comply.
If you are challenged by these Reflections, then feel
free to send them on to others and encourage them
to write for a free subscription. These articles may all
be purchased on CD. Check the ARCHIVES for
details and past issues of these weekly Reflections: