The profiles of Christians are as diverse as an eclectic person’s iTunes playlist. From soccer moms to reformed thugs, the message of the cross has impacted the lives of millions worldwide—transforming them from sinners to saints. Who knew that the life of a Jewish carpenter would make tsunami-like waves through the annals of time? Phillip Yancey put it best in his work, The Jesus I Never Knew: “You can gauge the size of a ship that has passed out of sight by the huge wake it leaves behind.” And boy has Jesus left a wake. Our calendar reflects that wake. The whole of history is split into two parts based on his life. I’d say he was pretty important.
The thing that always amazes me is that he entrusted his precious message to messed up people like you and me—a fact that should lead us all to Christ-centered lives. But there are times when we aren’t so Christ-centered, aren’t there? There are times when our old self crops up. And others recognize it.
This isn’t anything new to the human condition. Jesus dealt with four group of people in Scripture that had flaws in their faith practice. He checked them and challenged them to balance their approaches to ministry. This reminds us that living our faith is a continuous practice of checks and balances. So let’s explore four types of Christian practices you want to avoid.
The Pharisees were THAT KID in Sunday School. They knew all the memory verses by heart. They remembered the original meaning, the context, and the Greek and Hebrew meaning of the words. So what was their problem?
The Word was in their head, but it had not yet reached their hearts. They were more concerned with letter than with Spirit. So much so that they missed God in their midst—in the person of Jesus Christ—every day for 33 years.
They were were consumed with following the law, even down to its smallest detail. Even worse, they required others to strictly adhere to the law, something they weren’t able to do themselves. Like a hand grenade, they threw the law at people, but soon discovered that it turned around and condemned them.
So are you a grenade launcher? Setting requirements for others that you don’t keep? A law keeper who doesn’t realize that God wants your heart too? If so, let the love of God explode in your heart and transform your thinking.
The Sadducces were the political opportunist in Jewish culture in Jesus’ day. Their religious practice was coldly ethical and literal. Anything supernatural was unbelievable. Goodbye resurrection, angels, and spirits. Once you die, you die. Rewards and penalties after death? Rubbish.
They were also responsible for maintaining the temple—the place of worship. This was their domain. This made them wealthy and powerful. They were focused on retaining that wealth and power—and good favor with the Roman Empire. The sect was priest or preacher-driven. Authority was found in a chosen minority—the priestly class.
You don’t have to look far to recognize modern-day Sadducees. If you hear “My pastor says…” more than “Scripture says…” then you may have found a Sadducees-driven ministry. You have to imagine that their baptisms look something like this—a cross between Deebo from Friday and a WWE Superstar body slam.
This is tough, right? People are always attracted to personalities in preaching. I would suggest that it’s the responsibility of pastors today to do everything within their power to avoid—and even eschew—this kind of man worship. Are you part of a Sadducee-driven ministry? Is the place you worship more important than the God you worship? Then it might be time to move on—for your heart’s sake.
Peter was a Zealot. Which explains why he decide to pull out a knife to cut off one of Jesus’ arrestors ears. Zealots were militant. They hated Rome—or any government authority—with a passion. They were fanatical nationalists. Though grounded in Jewish religious practice, being a Jew, ethnically, was one of the most important things for them.
This might get me in trouble, but you don’t have to look far to find Zealots in today’s culture. If it aint white, it aint right (but I’m a Christian). I’m black and proud (Oh yeah, I’m a Christian too). Some people won’t flat out say this, but you find it in their practices—in where they choose to worship or who they choose to associate with. For a Zealot, ethnic identity becomes more important than their identity in Christ. Invite them to a culturally diverse church if you want to. They might just show up and grind their feet in your pews…
Is your ethnic identity more important than you than your identity in Christ? Do the words reconciliation make you squirm? Just do it now. Start self-identifying as a Zealot. At least others will know where you stand.
There was a group of Jews that hated Rome so much that they decided to go live in caves to avoid dealing with the Roman authorities. These were the holy rollers. They didn’t want to be tainted by the culture around them. You could only join if you agreed to their rigorous anti cultural practices. If you broke the rules, you were kicked out of the community. This was the life of the Essenes. Holiness was key.
Do I need to make the connection here? As many of you know, I edit a magazine that attempts to engage a culture that avoids the church. In one issue we had an article that contrasted the lyrics and lifestyle of Lil’ Wayne and Lecrae. We included a picture of both artists as a visual representation of that contrast. I got letters from churches. Why would you “feature” a secular artist like Lil’ Wayne in your magazine? We are called to be set apart from culture. We don’t want this in our material.
I was confused. We were holding up a Christian artist against someone who is not God glorifying in their practice. We were giving believers a better model than what the culture threw at them every day. Given the person’s denominational background, I could see why she took issue with the publication. She was Essenes-like in her approach to cultural engagement.
My problem is that avoiding culture causes us to miss out on Jesus’ Great Commission. Jesus asked the disciples to preach the gospel to the world, not hide ourselves in secluded caves.
Do you use your holiness to excuse evangelism? How have you tried to reach out to anyone outside of your church with the gospel lately? Don’t seclude yourselves from culture. Engage it and change lives.
There you have it. Four groups who missed Jesus’ message. I pray that we continue to check our own hearts, making sure we avoid becoming part of these communities. Though they each have their pros, the cons should always make us pause and consider faithful, God-centered living. We all need to continue to live in the wake of Christ’s tsunami—washing over a culture desperately in need of a savior.