It’s futile to be the authority instead of God
As liberalism involves taking away from the Bible it, it is a mindset that comes from the sinful nature; not from the Bible or the divine nature.
Jesus Christ brought liberty and freedom into our world. In particular, His followers have been freed from being slaves to sin and from needing to obey the laws of the Old Testament (Jn. 8:32-36; 2 Cor. 3:17; Gal. 5:1).
Liberalism interprets the bible and Christianity in terms of current ideas and reasoning. This means viewing life through the glasses of humanism where “reason and science” replace “faith” and “licence” replaces “grace”. From this viewpoint, as there is no such thing as sin, there is no need for God’s grace, no need for a Savior and you have licence to live as you wish.
According to this philosophy, you are the authority instead of God. It began when Satan told Eve: “you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:5). This means that we decide what is right and wrong instead of depending on some authority like the Bible. When there is no authority, people do whatever they feel like, there is no restraint (Jud. 21:25).
The main philosophy behind modern thinking is humanism, which is a world view based on atheism. As there is no deity to follow and trust, humanists can only follow and trust fellow human beings. Humanism believes that human beings possess the power or potentiality of solving their own problems through reason and scientific method. This is an optimistic view that humanity has the ability to progress toward its highest ideals. For those who believe it to be true, it is in effect their religion.
The major assumption of humanism is that we live in naturalistic world; they see no evidence of the divine or the supernatural. Therefore they deny the God of the Bible and do not believe that the Bible is credible. Consequently, humanism rejects the notions of sin and guilt. They see no evidence of consciousness after death and so reject the possibility of immortal salvation and eternal damnation.
Humanism places trust in human intelligence rather than in divine guidance. This intelligence is exercised through reason and science. They have a strong belief in the theory of the evolution, which is used to explain the origin of life.
Humanism traces its history back to the Greek philosophers such as the Stoics and Epicurians who looked to humans rather than gods to solve problems. This powerful idea is one of the gods of our society.
When humanism is applied to the Bible and Christianity, it destroys the Christian faith. This is not surprising as Christianity is based on God’s revelation to mankind, whereas atheism denies that God exists.
Paul warned, “the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths” (2 Tim. 4:3-4TNIV). Liberalists are an example of such people because they replace the truths of Scripture with myths. In particular, liberalism attacks the fundamentals of the Christian faith, as shown below.
The Bible: Liberalists use modern social and natural sciences to interpret the bible. Therefore, they believe it was written by fallible human authors and that it contains many errors. They reject a “literal”, historical view of the bible and don’t believe that it is the word of God.
Jesus Christ: Liberalists believe that Jesus was a good example for us and a moral teacher, but He was not God. He didn’t die on the cross for our sins, but his death nevertheless had an uplifting “moral influence on us”. They reject miracles as fantasies of ignorant people in biblical times who did not understand the laws of nature. Therefore, they don’t accept the virgin birth or the resurrection.
Satan: Liberalists believe that Satan is a symbol of evil and does not exist as an entity.
The gospel: Liberalists believe that humanity is fundamentally good, with no sin problem. As there is no sin, there is no need for salvation. They also reject the existence of heaven and hell.
As they deny that Jesus was divine, those who teach liberalism are “false teachers” who bring “destructive heresies” and have “depraved conduct” (2 Pet. 2:1-2). In this case, as they were working within the church, they probably used the words of Scripture but gave them different meanings. Paul devoted a whole chapter to these false teachers (2 Pet. 2:1-22). We are warned to have nothing to do with them because such doctrinal error can spread like cancer (2 Tim. 2:17-18; 3:5).
If God does not exist, we are not accountable for our behavior. Liberalists tolerate sinful behaviour and replace the word “sin” with words such as “crime”, “evil” and “disease” because the word “sin” implies a standard set by God.
For example, sexual immorality in the form of incest was tolerated in Corinth and they were proud of their liberality (1 Cor 5:1-2). They may have thought that grace was a licence for disobedience. God forgives our sin; so we can keep on sinning! But they failed to recognise God’s clear commands against behaviour such as sexual immorality. According to Paul although they claimed to be believers, they indulged in impurity, sexual sin and debauchery (2 Cor. 12:21). The same Greek word, aselgeia, occurs in: “They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord” (Jude 4). Note that in this verse immorality is associated with denying the deity of Christ. Aselgeia characterises pagans and the sinful nature (Gal. 5:19; Eph. 4:19; 1 Pet. 4:3). It is like “the depraved conduct of the lawless” at Sodom (2 Pet. 2:7; Jude 7).
The false teachers of 2 Peter 2 were hedonists. They were shamelessly carousing in broad daylight, with “eyes full of adultery” and appealing “to the lustful desires of sinful human nature” (2 Pet. 2:13-18). They encourage sexual sin by teaching that God-given bodily appetites should not be restrained. Although they advocated freedom, they were enslaved by their sinful behavior, being addicted to sin (2 Pet. 2:19).
The liberalists described in Jude followed their own evil and ungodly desires to pervert the grace of God into a license for immorality (Jude 4, 16, 18). They followed their natural instincts and were not true believers (Jude 19). They did whatever they felt like doing and there was no restraint.
The false teachers of 2 Peter 2 despised authority (2 Pet. 2:10). They recognised no higher authority than themselves. Similarly, the liberalists described in Jude rejected authority and slandered celestial beings (Jude 8). They rebelled against authority and had strong opinions and scoffed at those who disagree with them (Jude 10, 18). They criticize things they don’t understand, such as the Bible.
The Bible teaches that where there is no authority people follow their desires: “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit” (Judges 21:25). As the liberalist rejects the authority of God, they make their own rules for life.
Liberalists are tolerant of sin as they refuse to acknowledge sinful behaviour. The Bible also teaches that “sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4). Therefore, lawlessness is a characteristic of liberalism.
Responding to Liberalism
After describing the ungodliness of liberalists, Jude urged believers to persevere in the Christian faith: “But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life” (Jude 20, 21). This involves obeying God’s commands (Jn. 14:15; 1 Jn. 5:3).
Teaching the fundamentals of the faith is the best insurance against doctrinal error. When others deserted the Christian faith, Timothy was told to keep the pattern of sound teaching and guard it(1 Tim. 1:19-20; 2 Tim. 1:13-15). He was also reminded, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). When dealing with false teachers he was urged to correctly handle the word of truth. Furthermore, “Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will” (2 Tim. 2:25-26).
Defend Biblical inspiration. Use the Bible, interpreted within history, as the foundation of logic, not just human wisdom outside the Bible. Whatever the bible says, God says. God used human authors so that using their historical situations, personalities and writing styles, they composed and recorded without error His revelation to mankind.
Recognise sinful behaviour
The Bible teaches that hedonism and lawlessness is sinful. It’s important to name sin as “sin”, rather than accepting it as a part of everyday life. Christian liberty is not license to do as we please (Gal. 5:13). Just because Christ forgives our sins, doesn’t mean that we should keep on sinning so He can keep on forgiving. Paul says “by no means” should we use Christ’s forgiveness and the fact that we are no longer under the Old Testament law to justify sinful behavior (Rom. 6:2, 15).
Don’t live like unbelievers
Liberalism is a natural belief for unbelievers. Paul insisted: “you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they havegiven themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed” (Eph 4:17-19). The thoughts and attitudes of believers should be influenced by their new divine nature instead of their old sinful nature (Eph. 4:20-24).
Believers were also told, “among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for the Lord’s people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place” (Eph. 5:3-4). They are to behave wisely by avoiding drunkenness and sexual immorality (1 Cor. 6:12-20; Eph. 5: 15-17).
Practice Self control
Hedonism and lawlessness are symptoms of lack of self control. Therefore, self control is one of the fruits of the Spirit that is vital in a liberalist world. The believers at Thessalonica were urged to be alert and self controlled; avoiding sexual immorality and controlling their own bodies in a way that was holy and honourable (1 Th. 4:3-8; 5:5-8).
Don’t stumble other believers
In the context of eating food that may have been offered to idols, Paul said, “Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak” (1 Cor 8:9). This means don’t cause those with a weak conscience to violate their strict conscience by causing them to do what they think is disloyal to Christ and therefore sinful (Rom 14&15; 1 Cor 8; 10:23-33). Paul said that he would never do anything that caused another believer to sin (1 Cor. 8:13).
Liberalism is a method of interpreting the bible that comes from the sinful nature and takes away from the Bible. It places the ideas and reasoning of humanism between us and the Bible and puts licence (excessive freedom or liberty) above grace and reason and science above faith. Liberalism makes people the authority instead of God. It is selfish and leads to chaos because it lacks self control. Liberalism is dangerous because it involves sinful thinking and sinful behaviour.
The risk of liberalism comes from our culture. We are exposed to news media, movies, the internet and advertisements that preach humanism, hedonism and materialism. Christians need to be relevant to the culture but not accept its values.
Christians can avoid liberalism by recognizing the limits inherent in God’s word. God has given us the boundaries in which to live, but we need to remind each other of these. In this we need to follow Christ and seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit because it can involve some tough decisions.
Written, December 2007
If you don’t acknowledge the Creator God, you will foillow a false god or a false idea
When you travel by commercial airline in Australia, the terms with your ticket include the following: “For safety reasons, dangerous goods may not be packed in checked or carry-on luggage or taken on board with you.” In the USA they are called “hazardous materials” instead of “dangerous goods.”
Dangerous goods are grouped into nine classes including: explosives, compressed gases, flammable substances, oxidizing agents, toxic substances, radioactive substances and corrosives. Vehicles transporting dangerous goods display diamond shaped signs – red-colored for gasoline.
Dangerous goods can explode, burn and spill. Accidents with dangerous goods can cause major disasters – such as those involving rail, road or ocean tankers. Oil spills, such as the one off the coast of Spain last November, can contaminate seacoasts and oceans.
In my profession, I deal with dangerous goods, and sometimes when typing reports I accidentally leave out an “o” and type them as “dangerous gods.” When that happens, I’m reminded that we live in a world of dangerous gods. Let’s look at some of them.
Secularism and the pursuit of leisure, pleasure and wealth characterize much of the western world. Secularism is a rejection of all religious faith. It assumes that scientific, rational faith is superior to religious faith. But we all make assumptions, and live by them. How reliable are the ideas from science and rational minds that we have faith in?
The Bible says atheists are fools: “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Ps. 14:1; 53:1 NIV). This doesn’t mean that such people are not intelligent; many atheists and agnostics are very clever people. They are foolish by choice; in their thoughts “there is no room for God” (Ps. 10:4). Because they feel no need for God, they live as if He never existed. Agnostics say they don’t know whether there is a God, but they generally behave as if God doesn’t exist. The motivation for both seems to be that they don’t want to be accountable to a supreme being.
If you don’t acknowledge the Creator God, you will follow a false god or a false idea: “When you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods” (Rom. 1:23-25; Gal. 4:8-9). This is the most dangerous god of all because it is Satan’s deception to lead people to the lake of fire (Mt. 25:41). This disaster goes on and on. There are no fire fighters, no emergency response crew and no chance of rescue there!
The Bible’s answer to atheists and agnostics is, “What may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – His eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse” (Rom. 1:19-20). He has revealed Himself in creation and in our conscience (Rom. 2:1-16).
Money And Possessions
There is another dangerous god. After his return from a visit to Europe an early Chinese philosopher declared, “The European god is not so large as the Chinese. It is so small that one can take it in the hand. It is round, made of silver and gold, bears inscriptions, and is called money.” My uncle used to say, “Money is round to go around, but it is also flat to stack.”
In the western world people often aspire to a standard of living well beyond their means. What were once luxuries are now essential parts of daily life. Credit card debt and personal bankruptcies have soared and people work longer hours to finance their purchases.
Jesus said, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a person’s life does not consist in the abundance of his or her possessions” (Lk. 12:15). Self-worth is not measured by possessions. But what you think you own may end up owning you! Money isn’t evil, but it is seductive: “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Tim. 6:10). A strong desire for wealth leads to sinful behavior. If we keep chasing better jobs, investments and possessions, we will lose the desire to live for the true God. Wealth doesn’t bring lasting satisfaction and is easily lost (1 Tim. 6:17).
The Bible’s answer to those seeking money and possessions is this: “Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that” (1 Tim. 6:6-8). “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have” (Heb. 13:5). God doesn’t value us according to our money and possessions, so we shouldn’t use these to compare ourselves with others. Instead, God wants us to be “generous and willing to share” our money for His work (1 Tim. 6:18-19). We need wisdom as we earn, save, give and spend money.
Selfish ambition is another dangerous god. One of the reasons why the Jews didn’t accept Jesus was because they placed high importance on receiving approval, recognition and honor from others (Jn. 5:44). They wanted praise from others, not praise from God.
It’s good to have goals and a purpose in life. However, they should be godly, not selfish. Jesus was asked to give James and John a prominent position in His kingdom, a place of authority and recognition (Mt. 20:21). Like Pharisees, they desired a place of honor (Mt. 23:6). Also, the disciples argued among themselves as to who would be greatest among them (Lk. 9:46).
This can also happen in the local church. Paul said, “I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will have nothing to do with us” (3 Jn. 9). Diotrephes loved being the leader. He took charge and dominated others. This is pride and arrogance supposedly carried out in God’s name!
The Bible’s answer to those seeking a position of importance is, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant” (Mt. 20:26-28). Jesus Christ did not come to earth to be served but to serve.
Legalism And Religion
The next two dangerous gods are opposites, either adding to or taking away from what God has revealed in the Bible (Rev. 22:18-19). Legalism involves adding to the Bible, and liberalism involves taking away from it. Both are mindsets from the sinful nature, not from the divine nature. They are associated with distorted views of “grace” and “truth.”
Legalism is an attitude regarding our approach to God. It imposes law on the believer’s conscience so that it comes between them and God. It also includes an effort to merit God’s favor. Legalism exalts “law” above “grace” and replaces “faith” with “works.”
The Pharisees were obsessed with following man-made rules; Jesus strongly criticized their religious practices (Mt. 23). Strict religious rules don’t have power over the sinful nature (Col. 2:20-23).
The risk of legalism comes from within the Church. The Bible is largely comprised of principles which can be expressed in many ways. Any group that has existed for some time tends to become legalistic as its customs and traditions get confused with scriptural truths. For example, there is usually resistance to change, as some confuse change with liberalism.
So, we should be careful not to equate customs and traditions with biblical truth. Otherwise we will be locked into the practices of times past, and become irrelevant and old-fashioned to today’s generation. Instead, we should unselfishly consider today’s generation and be culturally relevant. We also need to avoid pride, and “accept one another, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God” (Rom. 15:7). “For in Christ neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (Gal. 5:6).
Liberalism And Pleasure
Liberalism interprets the Bible and Christianity in terms of current ideas and reasoning. This means using the glasses of secular humanism where “reason and science” replace “faith” and “license” replaces “grace.” From this viewpoint, there is no such thing as right or wrong or sin. There is no need for God’s grace or a Savior, and we have license to live as we wish. We are the authority, instead of God.
The Gnostics were liberals who influenced Christians to think they were free from moral law because of grace. Liberalism involves doctrinal error, hedonism and immorality (2 Tim. 4:3; Jude 4-10), where people “follow their own evil desires” (Jude 16).
The risk of liberalism and pleasure comes from the culture we live in. Christians are exposed to the media, movies, and advertisements. We must be aware that these preach humanism, hedonism and materialism. For example, TV and movies encourage sexual immorality. The Church needs to be relevant to the culture but not accept its values. This is a challenge.
We need to recognize sin. Paul wrote, “What shall we say then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (Rom 6:1-2). “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love” (Gal. 5:13).
The Bible says that these dangerous gods are idols (1 Chr. 16:26; Ps. 96:5; Gal. 4:8-9). They hinder and entangle Christians causing them to backslide and lose their joy (Gal. 4:15; Heb. 12:1). That is why believers are urged to get rid of them (Gal. 4:30; 1 Cor. 10:14; 1 Jn. 5:21). We should be reminded of this when we see “dangerous goods” or “hazardous materials” signs.
Jesus said the religious leaders were able to predict the weather by interpreting the sky’s appearance, but could not interpret the signs of the times (Mt. 16:1-3). Likewise, sometimes we fail to recognize the dangerous gods in our midst.
Dangerous goods need to be contained so they can be used safely and not explode, burn or pollute the environment. When large quantities are involved, it is good practice to provide more than one level of protection. Major industries typically have three levels of protection for dangerous goods: the container, an impervious wall, and drainage to a spill tank.
With dangerous goods the policy is always “Safety First.” But if there is an emergency, people refer to the “Material Safety Data Sheet” to find out how to bring it under control. The MSDS is written by the manufacturer of the hazardous material. Similarly, the Bible was written for our protection, providing three levels of protection against dangerous gods.
1. Leaders. Paul warned against the dangerous gods of his time, including: pagan idols (1 Cor. 10:14), Jewish legalism (Gal.), liberalism and sexual immorality, false teachings, and all sorts of sinful behavior, including greed (Eph. 4:17-5:6). The elders at the church of Ephesus cared for the flock, and part of that care was to warn about dangerous gods (Acts 20:28; 1 Th. 5:12). Similarly, our leaders, preachers and teachers should remind us of the dangerous gods today and help us stand against them. We should listen to and obey our leaders (Heb. 13:17).
2. Peers. “If someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently” (Gal. 6:1). Here we see Christians helping to get a friend back onto the right path. In these situations we should “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph. 5:21). We need to have Christian friends so we can help each other stand against dangerous gods. This means knowing each other well, telling the truth and respecting the advice and help offered (Gal. 4:16).
3. Individuals. We don’t have household gods as Laban did, or do we? (Gen. 31:19, 33-35). God said, “I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt” (Ex. 12:12). Likewise, we need to judge them in our lives.
“We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away” (Heb. 2:1). Christians should remember the truths learned from the Bible, so they are not deceived into following dangerous gods. These gods can be tempting (Heb. 2:18). Jesus used Scripture to deal with temptation (Mt. 4). But how can we combat temptation, if we don’t know the Scripture?