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Drinking the Kool-Aid

Sunday, June 09, 2024

“You shall not fall in with the many to do evil, nor shall you bear witness in a lawsuit, siding with the many, so as to pervert justice….”

(Exodus 23.2)

On November 18, 1978 a religious cult called the Peoples Temple committed one of the most heinous acts of the 20th century—a mass murder-suicide.  Since the cult was mostly about enacting communism, it had enjoyed about fifteen years of support from the political left.  But when the fake faith healings and former members’ accusations of horrible abuse started to garner attention, the cult leader, Jim Jones, decided it was time to flee the United States for Guyana in South America.  There they established a new commune, but unsurprisingly, conditions steadily declined over five years, culminating when the cult’s thugs murdered U.S. Congressman Leo Ryan, along with many of his associates, who had traveled to Guyana to check up on alarming reports concerning these American citizens.  Knowing that the jig was pretty much up after that, the leaders decided the best course of action was the “revolutionary suicide” they’d planned and dry-run many times over.

There were about a thousand people in the commune, more than a quarter of them children.  They were directed to ingest a Kool-Aid type drink, spiked with sedatives and cyanide, which Jones had been stockpiling for years.  If they refused, they’d face the guards’ guns.  Parents first gave a cup to their children, and then drank a cup themselves, and over the next few hours, more than 900 people died.

This event popularized an expression: “drinking the Kool-Aid.”  Peer pressure is so powerful that it can induce people to literally, even knowingly ingest poison, rather than being left out, or exchanging former friends for deadly enemies.  We pull out this expression when we see someone engaging in bad, and especially self-destructive behavior in order to fit in with some subculture.  We use it derisively, scornfully.

We also live in society that mirrors Jones’ cult, immersed in political ideology that champions greed and envy, and saturated with disordered sexual practices, including the abuse of children.  This is especially evident during “Pride Month,” in which every individual and every institution is encouraged, then commanded, to drink the Kool-Aid, or else face the wrath of society.  Christian denominations fall like flies, choosing to join with the atheists and the reprobates, rather than the Word of God.  Just recently, the United Methodist Church voted—692 to 51—to lift its ban on ordaining and appointing self-described and practicing homosexuals as ministers.  So-called “gay marriage,” an oxymoron if ever there was one, was an open discussion even in the political sphere, just in 2015.  Only nine years ago, the Supreme Court discovered that the 14th Amendment contains a right to marry a member of one’s own sex, and since then, one after another, religious institutions that profess to serve Christ decide to fall in with the many in rejecting Christ’s teaching on this matter, which is both concise, and thorough.

“Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

(Matthew 19.4-6)

It’s not a question of whether the gays are icky; standing firm on this point purely out of personal, prejudicial revulsion, as some do, is not standing with Christ.  Jesus was seen by the aloof Pharisees as “a friend of tax collectors and sinners,” and was not ashamed of that characterization (Lk 7.34).  On one occasion, a Pharisee observed “a woman of the city, who was a sinner,” washing and perfuming Jesus’ feet, and thought, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner” (vv37 & 39).  Seeing her obvious remorse and belief in him, Jesus responded to the Pharisee, “her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much” (v47).  We must follow Jesus’ example, standing against the tide, in full confidence that Jesus means what he says, knows better than we do, and is able to redeem the worst sinner and make him righteous.  Do we trust in Jesus, or not?

We have many more examples to encourage us.  Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah saw everyone around them bowing to the idol, but they refused, telling Nebuchadnezzar “we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (Da 3.18).  Job’s three friends relentlessly badgered him to admit he’d sinned, and he looked like an arrogant, obstinate fool for refusing!  Yet God eventually told them, “you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has” (Jb 42.7).  The prophet Micaiah stood alone among “about 400” prophets, all feeding the king the same lie he wanted to hear (1Ki 22.6).  The Apostle Paul stood for truth against other Christians, including elders and Apostles, who were unwilling to fully accept that God had called the Gentiles to Christ. 

None of these were enjoyable—in fact, all were miserable situations, with a strong likelihood of being put to death in some cases!  But we don’t honor the ones who caved in and drank the Kool-Aid.  The world offers a pathetic, synthetic, sickly-sweet alternative that appeals to our lusts, but leads to death; don’t drink the cup it offers!  Jesus offers something far more radical, that doesn’t seem as palatable, but leads to life:

“Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

(John 6.54)

Jeremy Nettles

Seven Deadly Sins

Sunday, June 02, 2024

If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life—to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death.

(1 John 5.16-17)

There is considerable confusion about what this passage means, but rest assured, John is not giving you license to freely commit some sins.  Even “sin not leading to death” carries a mortal peril with it—otherwise, why should you pray on behalf of the sinning brother, for God to “give him life”?  Nevertheless, some sins are more imperiling than others, and over the last two millennia several of these have been generally recognized as what we might call “capital” sins—that is to say, most other sins fall into one or another of these categories.  This list appears nowhere in the Bible, of course, and so we should be careful not to assign it that kind of prominence.  But it is still worthwhile to examine this list of sins, and consider how to avoid them.

Lust

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

(Matthew 5.27-28)

Jesus tells us that sexual sins aren’t merely the misuse of the body, but begin with a misuse of our natural desires.  The virtue that stands opposite this sin is chastity—which does not mean abstinence from all sexual relations, but from those that would be immoral.  God designed us with sexual desires; fulfill them within the union he instituted, between husband and wife.

Gluttony

If you have found honey, eat only enough for you, lest you have your fill of it and vomit it.

(Proverbs 25.16)

The point of the proverb is clearly not that one should abstain from any and all pleasing food!  As with sexual desire, there is a way to fulfill the natural and wholesome urge to eat, and even to “enjoy” such material blessings (1Ti 6.17).  The opposite of gluttony is temperance—which does not mean total abstinence, but self-restraint.  We must keep this desire, too, in its proper place, not indulging it to our own and others’ harm.

Greed

The evil here is not wealth, nor pursuit of gain.  The problem is a love of wealth or gain!  The most obvious expression of greed is to take something you do not own.  What does God prescribe in such a case? 

Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.

(Ephesians 4.28)

The opposite of greed is what we often call charity—the kind of love that gives freely to the needy and undeserving.

Sloth

If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.

(2 Thessalonians 3.10)

It may be expressed through laziness, but in keeping with the theme, sloth is a matter of the heart!  Why don’t you care to fulfill your obligations?  Why aren’t you interested in doing what God has directed you to do?  The opposite of sloth is diligence—an active care to accomplish what is needed.

“You shall diligently keep the commandments of the Lord your God, and his testimonies and his statutes, which he has commanded you.”

(Deuteronomy 6.17)

Wrath

God does not prohibit you from getting angry—rather, he says to refuse to let anger rule you!  “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger” (Ep 4.26).  The person who becomes angry over things that do not matter, or allows that anger to spark ill-will toward others, is not just experiencing a natural emotion.  He is surrendering to wrath!  The opposing virtue is patience, which God displays in abundance for all of us!

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.

(Ephesians 4.31)

Envy

Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

(Galatians 5.26)

Envy has much in common with greed, but whereas greed is self-centered to the point of apathy toward others, envy specifically wishes to harm the person toward whom it is directed.  It starts with resentment of someone who has possessions or status you desire, and if left unchecked soon grows into active hatred.  In a sense, it is admiration turned toward evil.  Avoiding this, what should you cultivate instead?  Kindness—the pursuit of others’ well-being, whether they need your help, or not! 

Pride

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.

(Romans 12.3)

This pride is not a healthy sense of self- worth; rather, it is an excessive and unreasonable estimation of one’s own importance!  This attitude leads us to elevate ourselves to the detriment of others, and before long we presume even to encroach upon God’s role!  As with the other sins on this list, it is self-evident that this is wicked; but with what should we replace it?  Humility.

Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

(1 Peter 5.5)

Jeremy Nettles

"Therefore God Gave Them Up"

Sunday, May 26, 2024

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.

(Romans 1.22-23)

The first chapter of Romans lays out the bad news that precedes the good news of the gospel—that those who practice unrighteousness face God’s righteous wrath.  Paul first observes that even the creation itself silently testifies to the power and divinity of its creator, and that humanity, consequently, is obligated to order itself after God’s instructions in keeping with the pattern of obedience.  However, this is not what mankind has done.  Rather than honoring God, he has lifted up imposters and imitations.  He has worshipped idols.  That was bad enough—but did it stop there?

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

(Romans 1.24-25)

Their sin was not confined to the apparently external failure to worship God properly.  It swiftly grew to personal degradation and enslavement to various fleshly passions.  That’s not good for anyone!  But did it stop there?

For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

(Romans 1.26-27)

They continued down the path of debasement, going even beyond the sinful desires that are common to all, and venturing into behaviors that were even more disordered than before—especially self-defeating and purposeless sexual perversion.  But did it stop there?

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.

(Romans 1.28-31)

This is now the third time Paul has said that “God gave them up” to the next degree of depravity.  It’s important to temper this with the understanding that God “is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2Pe 3.9).  It’s not that God has signed the death warrants, so to speak, of those who sink this far from moral purity.  As long as life continues, he’s ready to accept them back whenever they choose, as the good father in Jesus’ parable of the lost son.

“I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.’” And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” But the father said to his servants, “Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet.”

(Luke 15.18-22)

Not only was he willing to take his son back into his house, but he had been anxiously waiting and watching for him to return, so that he could celebrate his salvation!  But you’ll notice that the father sent no delegation to find and implore his son to return—let alone compel him to do so!

Returning to the depraved and rejected souls, immersed in all kinds of sin, we see, at last, the endpoint approached by those who travel down this road, which began when they replaced God with an idol.  Paul listed so many categories of sin that they blend together and it’s unclear where one ends and the next begins!  For example, what distinguishes “evil” (Ro 1.29) from “inventors of evil” (v30)?  How is “malice” (v29) different from “maliciousness” (v30)?  In part, we could dissect the language and attempt to carve out territory for each word in this tapestry of sin; but in fact the wording in Greek makes use of so many literary devices (rhyme, alliteration, consonance, and asyndeton) that it’s clear the jumbled nature of the list is part of the point!  Once a person reaches this stage, it’s incredibly difficult to tackle the now multi-faceted problem!  We know this intuitively.  We don’t expect the murderer to draw the line at lying, we don’t expect the sexual predator to be a peacemaker, and we don’t expect the despairing heroin addict to show proper respect to his parents.  One type of sin tends toward more types of sin. 

Where did this all start?  The sin that set them on this path was idolatry.  This seems odd to us, because we rarely see people bowing before images of fake gods.  But Paul elsewhere tells us that “covetousness…is idolatry” (Co 3.5)!  And it’s certainly not the only narrowly defined sin that is simply a form of idolatry.  Anything that replaces God in your heart is an idol!  Do not think that this progression of depravity is beyond your capacity for sin.  Do not gloat over the fate of the wicked who have made it farther down the path of depravity than you yourself have gone, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Ro 3.23).  Instead, soften your heart, and thank God for his mercy.

Jeremy Nettles

"He That Committeth Sin"

Sunday, May 19, 2024

Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.

(1 John 3.4-10)

This passage is characteristic of John’s writing.  He often makes an assertion, and then repeats it several times, with slight tweaks or additions, and especially shifts of perspective.  It’s as if he’s trying to make sure this point won't be misinterpreted, by covering it from every angle.  In this case, he’s even covered the upshot—sin is bad and you shouldn’t do it—several times earlier in this same letter.  This time, his particular focus is on equipping his audience to see through the lies of those who claim to be their brothers, but are really “of the devil.”  Yet there’s sometimes controversy over what John says here, for a different reason.

Occasionally someone misconstrues this passage to say that God’s children never, ever sin.  This is, of course, rather silly—we see examples in the New Testament of even apostles sinning and repenting (e.g. Ga 2.11ff), and no one with any sense would say that they therefore were not “children of God.”  Rather, as the ESV rendered it, “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning” (v9).  So, the next step is attack that whole translation.

The faultfinder usually then upholds another translation, often the King James Version, as containing the true meaning of John’s words.

He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil. Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.

(1 John 3.8-9, KJV)

It’s not that one of these got it wrong and the other got it right.  Both got it right!  The problem is that most modern English speakers don’t really understand 400-year-old English as well as they think they do, and mentally translate phrases like “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin” into something like “whoever is a child of God never sins.”  But that’s not what it said!

It may seem like a tiny difference, but it’s certainly one that matters!  The details in Greek have to do with definite articles, participles, and verb tense vs. verb aspect, but most people aren’t going to get much out of that discussion.  In the English translations, the KJV’s rendering of these phrases means precisely the same thing as the ESV’s—that “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning” (v9), and so on.  John’s point is obviously not that it’s good for a Christian to sin once in a while—he wrote, earlier in the same letter, “I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin” (1Jn 2.1a).  But it’s also important to recognize that he’s not saying a Christian who commits a single transgression is actually a child of the devil, and you can justly condemn him to hell for eternity.  Instead he writes, “But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (v1b).

We’re not the judges, anyway!  But, as in all things, we must exercise limited judgment, which just means recognizing the judgments God has already issued.  The point here is that, if someone claims to be a child of God, and yet unrepentantly engages in behavior God has prohibited, then you don’t need to treat that person as a brother.  Instead, you should be wary of him and any teaching he promotes.

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.

(1 John 4.1)

The “quarrel about words,” as Paul wrote, “does no good, but only ruins the hearers” (2Ti 2.14).  It’s always a mistake to make snap judgments about what God’s word must mean, then treat one’s own interpretation as infallible (cf. 2Pe 1.20-21).  In the first place, it’s the equivalent of attacking windmills like the insane novel character Don Quixote, since the animating concern is that modern translators are trying to go soft on sin, even though the translation of the rest of the letter makes it clear this is not the case.  In the second place, this silly dispute serves mostly to distract from the point John was making—that we must be on guard against wolves in sheep’s clothing (Mt 7.15), and you can be sure that someone who professes to be a Christian, yet continually refuses to obey God’s plain instructions, is actually a child of the devil.  Stay away from him!

“You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit.”

(Matthew 7.16-17)

If we cut down, dissected, and examined each tree meticulously and with the proper knowledge, we’d be able to tell definitively whether or not it was diseased.  But then we’d have destroyed all the trees, and what good would that be?  Instead, look at the fruit—and start with yourself.  What sort of fruit do you bear?

Jeremy Nettles

Examine Yourselves

Sunday, May 12, 2024

For even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it—though I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a while. As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us.

For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter.

(2 Corinthians 7.8-11)

Paul wrote these words to a church carrying lots of baggage.  The letter to which he refers is, of course, 1 Corinthians, and a quick skim shows why it “grieved” the Christians there.  Paul tore into them for creating divisions, behaving as fleshly people, having a bad attitude toward Paul himself, tolerating a grotesque form of sexual immorality, taking each other to court over petty grievances, creating sexual confusion, offending each other’s consciences through their interactions with idol-worshippers, twisting the Lord’s Supper and their use of spiritual gifts in the assembly into opportunities for climbing up the social ladder, and even denying the resurrection of Jesus.  Paul had worried how it would go over, and wasn’t entirely sure they would respond well.

Amazingly, they accepted his rebuke and attacked the problems with zeal!  As Paul noted in the passage above, they had been  “grieved into repenting,” and worked hard to remove these many black marks on their record!  Now, it’s worth mentioning that this second letter isn’t just a long list of praises for the Corinthian church—they still needed to make improvements, particularly in their general attitude toward Paul.  But even he was quite impressed with their turnaround!

Corinth was not the only place where something like this happened in the early church.  The earliest of Paul’s letters, Galatians, addresses Christians who had, for all intents and purposes, fully abandoned Christ, in favor of a Jewish conception of justification through adherence to the Law of Moses.  We don’t have a follow-up letter in this case, but we do see Paul continuing to visit these churches on subsequent journeys (Ac 16.6, 18.23), and referring to them in passing in subsequent letters, in favorable terms (1Co 16.1, 2Ti 4.10).  This makes it clear that they, too, repented of their sin and pressed forward in fellowship with Christ.  For that matter, we could include the church at Jerusalem, where the leadership was on the wrong side of the same issue and took several flareups to learn the lesson (e.g. Ac 10-11, 15); and the church at Thessalonica, where a contingent were “walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that [they] received from” Paul and his helpers (2Th 3.6), and required two letters addressing this problem before they sorted it out.

What’s notable about these instances is not that these churches had problems.  Every church has problems, because all Christians are human beings, and we have a strong tendency to mess things up, even while we strive to follow Jesus.  No, what is notable is that, in the cases were we have a good deal of information to tell us their stories, we see these churches accepting the rebuke and, in short order, joining together in repentance.

What about today?  There are probably more churches in existence today than there were individual Christians at any point in the first century AD, and every one of them still has problems.  Some—most—of them are as bad as, or even worse than the Corinthian or Galatian churches, and it’s easy for anyone with eyes and a New Testament to diagnose areas where the whole church needs to repent.  Does it happen?  Yes, occasionally it does; but as a rule these churches get worse and worse, falling farther and farther short of the ideal Jesus established, and becoming more and more a reflection of the spirit of the age, rather than the Spirit of God.  It’s disheartening to watch.  Yet it shouldn’t be surprising.  Paul told the elders of the church in Ephesus,

I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.

(Acts 20.29-30)

He told Timothy,

Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.

(1 Timothy 4.1-3)

Peter also predicted, “there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies” (2Pe 2.1), and the letters of Jude and John indicate that these predictions were already coming true.  The church enjoyed a brief period in which it was led by Apostles, and there hadn’t been much opportunity yet for heresies to breed.  Two thousand years later, the situation should not surprise us.  It’s exactly what God said was coming, and while we rarely see entire congregations changing for the better, we regularly see them letting in all kinds of sin, which “leavens the whole lump” (Ga 5.9).  This is discouraging, but there is hope.  We don’t have the authority or power of Paul or Peter; but we can have an impact, by starting at home.  “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith” (2Co 13.5).

Jeremy Nettles

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