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Wednesday, April 06, 2016

12-Step Christianity

In the current world of Do It Yourself (DIY) and self-help books and 12-step programs for just about anything you can think of, the temptation is the see Christianity as a DIY, self-help, 12-step program. Oh, no, not 12 steps, to be sure, but we're pretty sure that if we find the right hooks, the right techniques, the correct sequences and methods, we can be pretty good Christians. I'd like to tell you it just isn't so. I'd like to tell you it's much easier than that ... and much more difficult.

Easy -- One Thing

How could it be easier than a 12-step program? Because the Bible narrows it down to one. See? Much easier. Jesus said, "By this all people will know that you are My disciples ..." Okay, it's one thing. You should be paying close attention. If this was a class, this would be on your final test. What one thing? "... if you have love for one another." (John 13:35) Jesus said, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself." He wasn't done. He finished with "On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets." (Matt 22:37-40) Perhaps Paul said it just as clearly. "Love is the fulfillment of the law." (Rom 13:10) See? Easy. One thing. Love. Love God; love your neighbor. Next!

And, of course, this is where it gets more difficult. Because we tend to nod and say, "Yeah, we get it" and then move on demonstrating that we don't. In fact, these days we're not even sure what love looks like. Is it a warm feeling? Sex? Being nice to people? These are common ideas ... they're just not biblical ideas. So, remembering that love is the aim, let's look at some examples.


Now, remember, the aim here is not to "do what you're told" in marriage. The aim here is to love. Remember, "Let us love one another, for love is from God." (1 John 4:7) "We love, because He first loved us." (1 John 4:19) So what does that look like? It looks like submission (Eph 5:22-24) just as Christ submitted to His Father (John 6:38). Love. It looks like sacrificial love (Eph 5:25) as Christ did with the Father (Mark 14:36). Love. It looks like a wife who respects her husband (Eph 5:33) and a husband who lives to understand his wife (1 Peter 3:7). It does not look like keeping an account of wrongs or seeking your own way (1 Cor 13:5). In terms of biblical love, marriage looks a lot different than what we tend to see in the world today -- outwardly focused.


If love is seeking the very best for the loved one, then parents seeking to love God and love others will be disciplining their children. "He who withholds the rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him diligently." (Prov 13:24) "Loving your children" means "discipline". Even "the Lord disciplines the one He loves, and chastises every son whom He receives." (Heb 12:6) The goal, however, is not to make them behave, but to "save his soul" (Prov 23:13-15). Love. The Bible says, "Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it." (Prov 22:6) Love. Parents are to "bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord." (Eph 6:4) Love. The parent who loves, then, will diligently teach his children (Deut 6:7). Biblical parenthood is strikingly different than what we commonly see today, and it's based on love -- outwardly focused.


If the command is "Love God" and "Love your neighbor" (which includes Jesus's specific command for Christians to "love one another" (John 13:34)), how does that shape the church? More to the point, how does it shape your interaction with the people of God? Well, clearly it is not possible to "love God" and "love your neighbor" while avoiding both. Makes no sense. Avoiding either cannot be seen as loving the avoided one. Thus, if love is the command (and, remember, love comes from God), people of God would, out of love, be involved with the people of God. They would exercise their gifts to minister to the people of God (1 Cor 12:7). They would not forsake gathering for fellowship (Heb 10:25), but instead focus on stirring up love and encouragement among fellow believers (Heb 10:24-25). They would bear one another's burdens, pray for one another, encourage, build up, forgive, and restore one another. Love. That's what it's about. Funny thing. This, too, appears to be quite different from the common "go to church" perspective seen in most church groups today. They're based mostly on "What can I get out of it?" rather than love.


Look, here's the point. We are commanded two things: Love God and love your neighbor. Everything else is wrapped up in these two. Further, love is from God, and we love because He first loved us. That is, we are not the source; we are the conduit. Remember, also, that this is not the "feel warm" love, but the desire for the very best for the loved one, either God or those around us. This precludes "doing good works" in a 12-step, mechanical way. It's not "good works" in view; it's love. On the other hand, it prescribes the vast majority of interactions with family, friends, neighbors, and fellow believers. Oh, and you may have noticed, "What about me??" doesn't enter the picture. That should be significant. I think you'll find it is vastly different than the current views on a lot of things.

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