Last time, we saw that God is love. Wow! Imagine being in a relationship with someone who is not only loving and full of love, but is love itself! We never have to doubt whether something was for our good, or whether God cares about us, or whether He still loves us. God is love.
This can raise a multitude of questions, however. For example, if God loves us so much, and says that when we love one another, we put each other first, why does He tell us to put Him first and glorify Him? If He loved us, wouldn’t He seek to glorify us? Is he some sort of self-centered, narcissistic, arrogant god who only cares about what He can get out of His followers?
No way! Not at all! God wants us to glorify Him so that we understand His love. If we think that we are self-made people, we will fail to understand how much He loves us. When we recognize how much God has done for us, and how He is working in our everyday lives, we will better understand His love.
You see, God does an incredible amount for us. The Bible tells us that “It is of the LORD’S mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23) In His love, God does many things that we do not even know about.
Ironically, in fact, when we fail to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, God is not able to demonstrate His love to us by providing for our needs. When we try to do things on our own, God is not able to help us. In order to truly experience His love, grace, and power, we have to glorify Him! Just as we cannot help those who will not accept help, God is unable to fully demonstrate His love toward us until we allow Him to do so.
God tells us, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, that no one would boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared before that we would walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:8-10)
It is only because God loved us and sent His Son to die and rise again for us that we can follow Him and live for Him in the way that He wants us to. We cannot boast about how well we serve God, because we are only able to serve Him because He, in His love, gives us His grace to enable us to do what is pleasing to Him.
God didn’t have to send Jesus to die for us. He wasn’t duty-bound to rescue His creation. He could have just figured that if we were so rebellious, we could burn in Hell. See if He cared!
Don’t fall for Satan’s lie that God owes you something. God doesn’t owe anything to you. He’s done so much for you already. It is only because of His love that He continues giving His grace and power, helping us in our difficulties, seeking us when we go astray, leading us into an ever-closer relationship to Himself.
Returning to 1 John 4, we read:
We know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and he who remains in love remains in God, and God remains in him. In this love has been made perfect among us, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment, because as he is, even so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear has punishment. He who fears is not made perfect in love. We love him, because he first loved us. (1 John 4:16-19)
It’s very important to understand God’s love so that we do not live in fear of Him. If we live in fear of God—that is, that we are afraid of Him, afraid to die, afraid of His judgment, afraid that we’ll make a small misstep and be brutally disciplined—it shows that we do not understand God’s love and/or are not in a right relationship with Him. We need to seek to be made perfect in love.
How do we become perfect in love? Part of it, at least, comes from God dwelling in us, and us dwelling in God and His love. In His love, God works in our hearts, if we allow Him to do so, and fills us with His love. As He does so, two things happen: we know His love (in other words, we experience His love), and His power enables us to do what is righteous and loving so that we do not have to fear His judgment.
God loved us when we did not love Him. God does not ask us to love Him, and then if we love Him enough, He’ll love us in return. On the contrary, He loved us while we were still sinners, and He asks us to love Him in return.
God says that the reason that we love Him is because He loved us first. This is why Satan wants to deceive us about God’s love and distort God’s love in any way possible. If Satan can prevent us from knowing God’s love, we will not love God in return. This is why it is crucial that we understand God’s love and know what our Father is really like!
There is an incredible phrase in this passage: “As He is, so are we in this world.” In other words, with God dwelling in us, we become like Him! Whoa! Did God really say that? Yes, He did!
Talking about “understanding God’s love” makes it sound very academic and sterile. The reality is simply that we need to really know our Father. However, we sometimes struggle to understand or really accept the many incredible things He has revealed about Himself in His Word. So what’s the answer?
We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God remains in him, and he in God. We know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and he who remains in love remains in God, and God remains in him. (1 John 4:14-16)
The most important thing to understand about God’s love is this simple phrase:
God is love.
Love is not merely something that God does or feels. Rather, God is love, and true love is God. The two are not only inseparable, they are one and the same. Love is Who God is.
This is a powerful, incredible concept that I do not fully understand myself. Those three simple words communicate an immense concept that I could discuss for pages and pages, so I won’t even try to do justice to the subject. Here are some things that I do see, however:
In God’s view, the only real love is His love. We could talk about “true love”, but in reality, if it’s not real love, then it’s not love at all. There is real gold, and then there is fake gold jewelry that sparkles as much as the real thing. But no jeweler places signs in the windows advertising their “real gold rings”. As far as God is concerned, the same thing applies to love.
Since God is love, there can be no true love without Him, and where He dwells, there will be love. Where there is a lack of genuine love, there is a lack of God’s presence and blessing.
Love is not something that we can drum up on our own. We can do things that are loving and kind without God’s love, but without God, we cannot actually dwell in love. We cannot create love on our own strength any more than we can create God on our own strength.
Jesus said the world will know we are His disciples if we love one another, because where He is, there is love. Where He is not, there is not love. Period. Because God is love.
The only sort of love that we can create on our own is a poor imitation of the real thing. If we try to love others by doing loving deeds, we may be operating out of guilt, shame, or pity instead of love. 1 Corinthians 13:3 tells us that though we give our goods to the poor and our bodies to be burned, it is absolutely worthless to us if it does not come from love.
When we find that we lack love for God and/or others, we need to ask God if there is something that is preventing His love from working within us.
This passage explains the importance of knowing, experiencing and understanding God’s love. We see here that our belief in God and our relationship with God comes, in part, from knowing God’s love.
Since God is love, it is very important not to ignore the subject of love, even though some have misused God’s love to come to some very wrong conclusions. The real solution is to understand what God’s love is really like. If we react to the false teaching and minimize God’s love, we will cause ourselves and others to have a false view of God.
Everything that God does comes out of love. This means that 1) everything that God has ever done is loving; 2) “Love” does not mean letting people do whatever feels good; 3) Loving actions will not always be perceived as loving.
See how great a love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God! For this cause the world doesn’t know us, because it didn’t know him. Beloved, now we are children of God, and it is not yet revealed what we will be. But we know that when he is revealed, we will be like him; for we will see him just as he is. (1 John 3:1-2)
Do you live in fear of God? Are you are afraid of Him—afraid to die, afraid of His judgment, afraid that you’ll make a small mis-step and be brutally disciplined?
Let me assure you: God specifically says that He does not want you to live in fear of Him. There is no need for you to live in fear and turmoil, uncertain if you can trust Him!
In this love has been made perfect among us, that we may have boldness in the Day of Judgment, because as he is, even so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear has punishment. He who fears is not made perfect in love. (1 John 4:17-18)
If you are born again through Jesus Christ, you are now a child of God. So what is your Father really like? Do you know? Are you sure that you know?
Our culture is a self-centered, narcissistic culture. The mantra is, “You are important! You are special! You can do anything you like!” Some churches have picked up on this attitude and emphasized certain attributes of God that can be made self-serving, such as love, grace and mercy.
This has resulted in a backlash from those who (rightfully) recognize that there is more to God than His love, grace and mercy. (This, by the way, is the camp that I grew up in.) Unfortunately, however, in my experience, God’s love, grace, and mercy are downplayed and ignored, and His anger, wrath, justice, and hatred of sin are emphasized.
In order to understand who God truly is, we must understand His entire nature, lest we fall into the trap of the Pharisees. The Pharisees failed to understand what God was really like. Because they recognized the side of His nature that hates sin and punishes those who disobey Him, they wanted to make sure that no one disobeyed Him. So they made many rules to prevent people from disobeying God, but this resulted in them rejecting God when He came in the flesh. Jesus had to sternly rebuke them:
“But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, but you bypass justice and God’s love. You ought to have done these, and not to have left the other undone.” (Luke 11:42)
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cumin, and have left undone the weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy, and faith. But you ought to have done these, and not to have left the other undone.” (Matthew 23:23)
In the next several posts, we will examine the love of God and seek to learn what He is truly like. If you want a jumpstart, read 1 John 4, especially this passage:
We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God remains in him, and he in God. We know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and he who remains in love remains in God, and God remains in him. (1 John 4:14-16)
Then conquer we must
When our cause it is just.
And this be our motto:
“In God is our trust.”
The Star-Spangled Banner, verse 3
Here in the USA, we have the motto “In God We Trust”. It’s splashed across our money, part of our national anthem, and a host of people stand ready to fight tooth and nail should anyone dare to try removing it.
But here’s the question: for those of us as Christians, do WE really trust in God?
God says, “Be anxious for nothing” and tells us to cast all our cares on Him, yet we typically fret about our problems and only turn to Him as a last resort.
God says to “love your enemies” and “resist not evil”, yet we load up on guns and ammo so that, if someone attacks us, we can send him to Hell and prevent him from sending us to Heaven.
God says, “Owe no man anything” (Rom 13:8), yet we get home mortgages, student loans, car financing, and credit cards, fueling a debt crisis that threatens our nation.
God says that all world rulers are put in place by Him (Rom. 13:1), yet on the morning after Election Day, we wring our hands and fret about how the “best candidate” lost the election.
Jesus tells us to seek first His Kingdom and righteousness, and our needs will be supplied, yet we seek first to supply our needs and then to do something for God if there’s any time left.
Jesus tells us, “In praying, don’t use vain repetitions, as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their much speaking. Therefore don’t be like them, for your Father knows what things you need, before you ask him” (Matt. 6:7-8)–yet, when we have a pressing need, we rally as much “prayer support” as possible, and if God does what we want, we talk about all the people who were praying.
There are many more things that could be added to this list, but suffice it to say that in the church as a whole, we have a real lack of trust in God. This is serious. God tells us, “Without faith it is impossible to be well pleasing to him, for he who comes to God must believe that he exists, and that he is a rewarder of those who seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6)
In its simplest form, faith is belief in God. When we fail to trust God, we indicate that we don’t believe Him.
Before we point fingers at the world for all the evil that they are doing, let’s take God at His word and start trusting Him in everything.
If My people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14)
As we begin our study on how to identify false prophets, it’s important to revisit what Jesus said:
Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.
Many times, our impression of a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” is something like the picture on the right. We expect to be able to identify the wolf by something that “just doesn’t quite line up” or “just doesn’t look right”. But it doesn’t work that way. Jesus said, “Inwardly they are ravening wolves”. In other words, the false prophet is a wolf on the inside, not the outside.
So what should we look for?
Jesus told us how to identify false teachers in the very next verses:
By their fruits you will know them. Do you gather grapes from thorns, or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree produces good fruit; but the corrupt tree produces evil fruit. A good tree can’t produce evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree produce good fruit. Every tree that doesn’t grow good fruit is cut down, and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them.
Jesus tells us to look, not at the tree, but what it produces. In other words, look at the results of the teacher’s teaching, and look at their own life. Are they Godly people who are truly following Jesus, or are they ministers of Satan who are pretending to be ministers of righteousness?
Jesus is using two analogies in this passage: wolves in sheep’s clothing, and fruit trees. It’s important to remember that we need to find the point that He is making and not merely make extrapolations from the analogies. Those extrapolations may or may not be accurate.
So here’s Jesus’ points:
Beware of false prophets.
False prophets conceal their true nature. They appear to be true Christians, but on the inside, they are the Devil’s agents.
We need to look at their fruits. Are they acting in the way that God has said that His children will behave?
A false prophet cannot follow God and fully obey Him. He will not bring forth truly good fruit in his life.
A Godly person will not live in sin.
Therefore, when we find a teacher who appears to be Godly, yet is disobedient to God and/or exhibits signs of hypocrisy, we need to beware. They could simply be deceived and ignorant of the truth, but there is a good possibility that they are false prophets.
A false prophet is rotten to the core.
Here is an extremely important point to remember: a false prophet’s problems are internal, not external. As Jesus said:
“Either make the tree good, and its fruit good, or make the tree corrupt, and its fruit corrupt; for the tree is known by its fruit. You offspring of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. The good man out of his good treasure brings out good things, and the evil man out of his evil treasure brings out evil things.”
The bad fruit of a false prophet only reveals that he is a false prophet; it does not make him a false prophet. This may seem like splitting hairs, but it makes all the difference in the world when we go to correct the problem. It’s not a matter of getting the false prophet to “clean up his act” and do the right thing. He needs to be changed on the inside so that he brings forth good fruit.
If we try to help the false prophet “do better” and stop sinning without correcting the internal problem, we are actually helping him to be a better “wolf in sheep’s clothing”. The real problem is not his sin. The sin is only revealing that this person is not a Godly person. The real problem is that he is following Satan instead of God. The real problem is that he needs to be changed on the inside.
So what do we look for?
The following is not an exhaustive list. It contains some things that God has taught me about signs of a false teacher. If you have more to contribute, please share them with me!
1. Godly-sounding teachings that make the teacher look good.
For example, saying things like:
“If you think about something other than God, more than you think about God, that thing has become your idol.”
“Never miss an opportunity to witness.”
“When the world sees you, it should immediately know that you are a Christian.”
Many of these things sound very spiritual, but they’re not taught by God. They can simply be guilt trips. You may have no way of knowing whether the teacher actually implements them in his or her own life, but it sure makes the teacher look spiritual.
2. Emphasizing “spiritual disciplines” that are actually not spiritual.
This can go along with the previous point. Some examples:
Teaching that you need to spend a lot of time alone in prayer with God. This might include recommendations for spending an hour per day in prayer, for example. (Prayer is vital for the Christian, but anyone can pray a lot, regardless of their relationship with God.)
Fasting. (Again, there’s nothing wrong with fasting, but you can starve yourself without the power of the Holy Spirit–it’s called a hunger strike.)
The thing that all of these have in common is that they sound really spiritual and look like ways to get closer to God. And, in fact, they can draw you closer to God. However, because they do not require the Holy Spirit’s power to do them, anyone can do them. There are some atheists who know the Bible better than some Christians.
3. Telling you about their spiritual discipline.
Jesus tells us:
“Be careful that you don’t do your charitable giving before men, to be seen by them, or else you have no reward from your Father who is in heaven…
“When you pray, you shall not be as the hypocrites, for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men…
“In praying, don’t use vain repetitions, as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their much speaking…
“Moreover when you fast, don’t be like the hypocrites, with sad faces. For they disfigure their faces, that they may be seen by men to be fasting. Most certainly I tell you, they have received their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head, and wash your face; so that you are not seen by men to be fasting, but by your Father who is in secret, and your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.”
One of the early warning signs about Bill Gothard was that he behaved as a hypocrite. Every January, he would spend a month at his retreat at “Northwoods” in Minnesota, fasting and praying. We all knew about this because he told us. He also told us about how he got up at 4:00 AM and “spent time with God”. (We now know that he also was spending time with teenage girls in the very early morning, but that’s another matter.) Unfortunately, we took this as a sign of his spirituality, instead of a warning sign that he was a hypocrite.
Another example: in their November 2015 “Mom’s Corner”, Steve and Teri Maxwell shared the following:
November 9th we will have another ladies’ prayer and fasting day. Teri is committing that day to fast and pray with others who have burdens on their hearts…
When you join the fast, you will briefly share your prayer focus so that Teri can pray alongside you…
For men who are interested in prayer and fasting with Steve, they have the option of one or more days starting Saturday, November 7th, and ending Monday morning, November 16th. Choose a day(s) that works for you. Steve is fasting and praying that whole time.
Hmm, is it really necessary to advertise that “Steve is fasting and praying that whole time”?
And how many times have you heard somebody talk about how “we had so many people praying, and God acted” as though God had heard them for their much speaking?
4. Teaching rules and standards that sound “spiritual” but are really just self-improvement.
This can also go along with the last two points, but I want to bring out a specific aspect. False teachers will make up rules of men that sound very spiritual, but are not commanded by God. As God says:
If you died with Christ from the elements of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to ordinances, “Don’t handle, nor taste, nor touch” (all of which perish with use), according to the precepts and doctrines of men? Which things indeed appear like wisdom in self-imposed worship, and humility, and severity to the body; but aren’t of any value against the indulgence of the flesh.
Note that last verse. These rules and standards appear to be wise, humble, and denying oneself, but they don’t actually help us to be more Godly.
For example, having a “hands-off” courtship, supervised by the parents, sounds like a great way to prevent premarital sex. Unfortunately, it also prevents a couple from having the sort of conversations that they need to have in order to really get to know one another. I have read stories of women who ended up marrying abusive husbands because they felt pressure to do so and/or they didn’t know their boyfriend’s true nature until after they married.
And guess who came up with modern courtship? Bill Gothard–a false prophet.
5. Requiring obedience to the Law.
The Law of Moses is, on one hand, a spiritual law.
For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am fleshly, sold under sin. (Romans 7:14)
However, God tells us that when we try to keep it after we become Christians, we are attempting to gain perfection through the flesh.
I just want to learn this from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by hearing of faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now completed in the flesh? (Galatians 3:2-3)
A false prophet is not walking in the Spirit. If he was, he wouldn’t be a false prophet, but a follower of Christ. Therefore, he will cherry-pick commands from the Old Testament and tell you that you should follow them. This is very wrong.
For more on the Law of Moses, watch the video below.
6. Living in sin.
When we see bad fruit, it means that the tree is bad. When we see a supposedly Godly person who is living in outright sin, it means that they are not Godly. Period. God tells us:
Little children, let no one lead you astray. He who does righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous. He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. To this end the Son of God was revealed: that he might destroy the works of the devil. Whoever is born of God doesn’t commit sin, because his seed remains in him; and he can’t sin, because he is born of God. In this the children of God are revealed, and the children of the devil. Whoever doesn’t do righteousness is not of God, neither is he who doesn’t love his brother. (1 John 3:7-10)
Both the Greek and the context would indicate that what God is saying here is that those who are born again do not live in sin (as opposed to believing that one small sin means that the person is not born again). Jesus came to set us free from sin. Those who are truly born again will have a hatred toward sin and no desire to live in it. Those who live in sin do not have the Holy Spirit living within them.
Unfortunately, many people want you to believe that you can lie, commit adultery, commit murder, be a drunkard, etc., and still go to Heaven. Sorry. Whether you want to say that the person became a Christian and backslid, or whether you want to say that they never truly became a Christian at all, the bottom line is this: when someone is living in sin, and knows they are living in sin, they are not children of God. They are children of the Devil.
This is a key to detecting wolves. Do not give people a pass because you can’t bear to call them unbelievers. It doesn’t matter if they’re doing “many wonderful works in Jesus’ name” (Matthew 7:22). If they are living in sin, they are not the children of God and will not go to Heaven unless they repent.
7. Bad results from their teachings.
When you see that the fruit of a teacher’s teaching is not good, you know that they are a false teacher. If they try to “disciple” people, and those “disciples” end up living for the Devil, they did not make true disciples of Christ. Something is wrong with their teaching.
It’s important to evaluate the overall picture. Don’t pick out one or two good results and use them to ignore a whole bunch of bad results. At the same time, don’t use one or two cases of bad results to disqualify a whole bunch of good results.
To use a specific example, if one teacher’s teaching on parenting results in a bunch of wayward young people, don’t pick out a few examples of Godly young people whose parents followed that teaching and say that everyone else is an exception. Conversely, if most of the young people are turning out to be Godly, zealous adults, but a few families end up with wayward children, it may be a problem with those specific parents or children, and not the teacher’s fault.
Also, not all that looks good is good. I speak from personal experience. I looked, to some people, like a very Godly, wise, committed Christian at age 20. I know because they told me so. Under the surface, though, I was not as good as they thought I was. I had a lot of problems, and I wasn’t nearly as wise as they thought. Had it not been for the grace of God, I don’t know where I might be today.
Don’t Be Afraid to Look for Wolves
Jesus has told us to beware of false prophets. Don’t listen to the people that tell you that you should give others the benefit of the doubt, when there are clear indications that things are not right.
Because the consequences of ignoring a wolf can be deadly.
Growing up in ATI, I was taught to be very careful about “wolves”. Not that the word “wolves” came up that often, but the teaching was still there: Beware of anyone who doesn’t have our standards. Beware of the world. Don’t let your children get deceived and defiled. Hunker in the bunker.
Who should we be concerned about? What kind of wolves are most dangerous? Who is most likely to destroy us spiritually?
Jesus told us what kind of wolves to look out for:
Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravening wolves.
When a wolf shows up with no disguise, the sheep immediately recognize it as a wolf and run. He can’t trick them into thinking that he’s there peaceably, or that he’s a friend.
But when the wolf is disguised and looks like a sheep, he can sneak into the midst of the flock, become a trusted friend, and slyly attack when it works best.
Unfortunately, today, many people tell us not to identify wolves. People who call out someone as a wolf are told not to judge the other person—they are born again, washed in the blood of Jesus, and a brother in Christ. We must overlook the signs that they are not true believers.
Granted, it’s not a good idea to call everybody who disagrees with you a wolf. In fact, I would be suspicious of someone who did so. But when you see someone who claims to be Christian (follower of Jesus) but doesn’t walk like a Christian, it’s time to beware.
When Jesus sent His apostles out to preach, He warned them:
Behold, I send you out as sheep among wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.
As sheep, we are not big, fearsome animals like bears or lions. In and of ourselves, we do not have the ability to overcome a wolf. Therefore, we must be wise, realize that there will be wolves among us, and look out for them.
It’s significant to look at who these wolves were:
Jesus sent these twelve out, and commanded them, saying, “Don’t go among the Gentiles, and don’t enter into any city of the Samaritans. Rather, go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
These wolves that Jesus was warning his apostles about were not Gentiles. They were Jews! They were people like the Pharisees who claimed to be following God but were, in reality, children of the devil.
God warns us that Satan’s workers may appear to be righteous, and teachers of righteousness:
For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works.
(2 Corinthians 11:13-15)
The danger of being attacked by a wolf is serious. You could be killed spiritually. Your very eternal destiny could be changed.
However, do not think that somehow, a wolf will overcome you and kill you, and there will be nothing you or God can do about it. Jesus has promised us that no one can pluck us out of His Father’s hand (John 10:28-29). Jesus is the Good Shepherd Who gives His life for the sheep.
All I’m trying to say is that the Good Shepherd has warned us to beware of hidden wolves, and the consequences of being overcome by a wolf are severe. And it is something that we must take personal responsibility to look out for. Otherwise, if Jesus automatically kept all wolves from attacking us, there would be no need for Him to have warned us.
To ignore the signs of a wolf is a perilous choice.
But what are the signs of a wolf? That’s what we’ll look at in the next post.
Recently, I came across a blog post by a lady who helped start an outreach—to strip clubs. She and four other ladies began visiting strip clubs once a month to give the dancers a meal and gift baskets. Due to other events in her life, she is no longer directly involved, but the ministry has continued.
I was raised to believe that no good comes from places like that. Which is probably true on many levels. (I wouldn’t suggest making it your go-to for date nights)
I was filled (as were many Christian kids) with fear about “places like that”. That “those people” were heathens and doing all kinds of sinful, shameful things.
Which, again, is true of strip clubs.
And many other places.
But, these girls – these lovely, girls – were so…..normal…
…people – that could have been me.
It could have been any of us.
Had my journey taken a few different turns, I very well could have been on the receiving end of that encounter…
“[One of the strippers] said that she was so glad we come to visit them because we’re not like the other churches”
I said, “what did she mean by that?”
She said, “Apparently other churches send them hate mail. ALL THE TIME”
Now, this isn’t about how you ought to go out and start your own ministry at a strip club. This is about seeing people the way that Jesus sees them—the precious individuals that they are.
I grew up with an elitist attitude. A person’s outside, I thought, was an excellent gauge of their inside. Good people were clean, neat, and modestly dressed. Anybody who didn’t “look right” was suspicious. And the women who had half of their boobs hanging out on display—well, they were really wicked. In fact, they were to be ignored if at all possible so that I could keep my eyes pure.
Is this really how Jesus wants us to see others? As objects instead of people?
No. Jesus spent time with those who the Pharisees (whose name essentially means “Separatists”) had cast off—to the point that the Pharisees called Him “a gluttonous man, and a drunkard; a friend of tax collectors and sinners!” (Luke 7:34)
We have no record of Jesus attacking the sinners who He ate with. They already knew that they were bad people and needed help. He knew that they were actually the ones who would receive His message, not the “religious” Pharisees who should have recognized God when He stood in front of them:
… Jesus said to them, “Most certainly I tell you that the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering into God’s Kingdom before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you didn’t believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. When you saw it, you didn’t even repent afterward, that you might believe him.”(Matthew 21:31-32)
As he sat in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Jesus and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw it, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” When Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are healthy have no need for a physician, but those who are sick do. But you go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ for I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Matthew 9:10-13)
The sad part was that the Pharisees were just as “sick” as the “sinners and tax collectors”. But they did such a good job of hiding their disease that nobody besides Jesus knew it. And so they refused to come to the Great Physician and be healed. Many of them are in Hell today because of their stubbornness.
God warns us strongly about treating some people differently than others:
My brothers, don’t hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ of glory with partiality. For if a man with a gold ring, in fine clothing, comes into your synagogue, and a poor man in filthy clothing also comes in; and you pay special attention to him who wears the fine clothing, and say, “Sit here in a good place;” and you tell the poor man, “Stand there,” or “Sit by my footstool;” haven’t you shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? (James 2:1-4)
In other words, everybody is precious in the sight of God. And that is why Jesus spent time with the sinners: because they needed Him just as much as everybody else.
How can we ever reach the world if we refuse to associate and befriend those who aren’t “our type”? That woman with her boobs half-way out of her shirt needs Jesus just as much as the lady who has everything neatly under wraps. That guy with the long hair, tattoos, and tongue piercing has an eternal soul just as much as the guy in the business suit.
It’s time that we change our perspectives—and our hearts.
Recently, I came across the Facebook profile of a young lady (let’s call her Cindy). Her cover photo showed her in a skimpy bikini. Her profile picture showed plenty of cleavage. Most of her photos on her public profile showed her in tight, very revealing outfits. I was disgusted. Remember, as I said back at the beginning, “…the women who had half of their boobs hanging out on display—well, they were really wicked.”
As I thought about it afterwards, though, God began showing me His perspective on the matter. The truth is, God sees every woman for who they really are. He looks past their clothing and sees what they are really like inside.
Some people (as I have) look at a woman like Cindy and toss her off as a slut and a wicked woman—just because of her clothing. They look at a woman who is dressed “modestly” and judge her as righteous, or at least more righteous than Cindy.
But not God. He looks at the heart and understands what is behind the outside. He knows when the “modest” women are unholy on the inside. He knows what’s inside the woman whose boobs are spilling out of her shirt, and it could possibly be holier than the “modestly” dressed woman.
The next day on Facebook, I read a post that a friend had shared. The lady who had written the original post said something to the effect of, “If you’re one of those ladies with half-naked profile pictures, I will unfriend you because I don’t want your photos showing up when you comment on my posts or when people browse my profile and see my friends list.”
On the one hand, I could understand this woman’s desire to protect the eyes of her friends from immodest women. But after what God had showed me about Cindy, I saw the other, semi-subconscious side: “If you don’t dress right, I don’t want to have anything to do with you.” At least, that was the end result of this lady’s actions.
Maybe that woman with the low neckline is actually desperate for God, desperate for someone to love her, and doesn’t know how to find what she is looking for—and the Modesty People won’t tell her about God because they can’t see anything but boobs. Or maybe—just maybe—she’s closer to God than you are.
It’s time that we stop judging people by the outside and begin treating everybody the same—as people who are precious to God. You know what, guys? Instead of placing so much emphasis on guarding your eyes that you end up being rude to some women, ask God to give you a pure heart that doesn’t lust. “To the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their mind and their conscience are defiled.” (Titus 1:15)
Anna McCarthy, who wrote the post that I quoted at the beginning, closes with these words:
[Jesus] loved then.
He loves now.
But, he can only reach as far as you and I are willing to go.
P.S. As we turn from judging people by their looks, we need to do a better job of looking for the real threat: wolves. Next time, we’ll look at who is the most dangerous type of wolf.