After a week on the amazing continent of Africa I have seen extremes in several directions – from people kissing the shoes of their favorite ‘man of God’ to God supernaturally mending broken hearts, the appalling murders of Christians to the joyous celebration of a newly wed couple. I have witnessed heart rending poverty and then opulence that makes even a Westerner like me gag; I have delighted in seeing the tears of joy as people come to realise how much they are loved but then have seen others refusing to relent in their religiosity and ministry of condemnation.
Today is a day off from speaking, but I have been struck by something I really want to share with you dear reader. As some of you know I am a recovering Pharisee and I have made it my task that as long as I am in this body to convince as many as possible of God’s staggering grace; and over the last couple of days I have begun to understand something that has fuelled my determination.
I am writing from the wonderful country of Ghana, it is filled with a predominantly gentle and kind people; it boasts a claimed 40%+ Christian population (church goers at least) and has at least one church, international ministry or global outreach on every corner. However, there is one negative that I haven’t noticed until now – they have condemnation by the truckload. These people pray for hours, some have two offerings in every meeting, there is fasting, intercession, multiple programs, ear splitting praise and worship, dance and pretty well any other Christian activity you can imagine, but woven through out more or less every activity is the insidious and lethal fog of condemnation.
If you look up condemnation in the ‘Mark Neale Dictionary of Overly-Simplistic Bible Definitions” it states that condemnation is the state of believing in God whilst also believing He is displeased with you and thus requires appeasing. The natural reaction to this is of course to try and please Him, and so begins the mind numbing cycle of supposedly good works and adherence to irrelevant laws as we try to drag ourselves into God’s good books. The problem with this of course is that without faith it is impossible to please God and when we add law to faith we fall from grace; I don’t mean for a moment that God abandons His people or that they lose their salvation, but when we live in that merciless cycle we often feel as though we are either lost or that God has at least turned His back on us.
The problem here is that the harder we try the more our consciences condemn us, and eventually we either end up in a dejected heap or we choose a far far worse path. The only other option to us is the devilish road of religious extremism; it is my belief that hidden in the heart of every extremist is a core of indestructible doubt and uncertainty that has to be countered by more and more extreme attempts to prove our love and zeal for our chosen deity.
When western Christians infect themselves with extremism they tend to go into a religious overload that generally ends up with them living some peculiar lifestyle or another – they lead very separated lives, the women are suppressed, the children crushed and there will always be a distinct lack of joy. There are of course those who celebrate the death of soldiers and publicise their belief that every person who has same sex attraction will burn in hell – but I am not convinced that they are actually saved, but only God knows. Christians from the developing countries will go to the same extremes but may also incorporate bits of their local or tribal religions; however, in my limited experience no one who is genuinely born of God will use violence as a way to promote the Gospel, but sadly dead religion has no such qualms.
Religion appeals to the most base and wicked parts of human nature; it offers power and control and can be used to justify the most vile and un-human parts of mankind’s desires. When we mix this with parts of the Old Testament or parts of the Koran we end up with the insane religious atrocities that I have had shown to me these past few days and that we have all witnessed on our news channels.
The conclusion I have come to through what I have seen, and what I have learned from those who are wiser and more experienced than myself is that we don’t have so much a sin problem, but a condemnation epidemic. The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life, Jesus has removed the handwriting that was against us (the ten commandments), we are forgiven all of our sins and there is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.
Where do we start when it come to the war on terror? Perhaps we should start with personally coming to terms with the fact that God does not condemn us, then encouraging our believing communities; and perhaps then the message the world hears from us will be the Good News, and then, just maybe, some of those who currently want our heads on a stick might themselves be set free.
If this has been helpful to you please share it on Facebook etc.
Go well my friends 🙂
P.S. I will be posting some articles and study notes on condemnation and righteousness in the coming weeks. Use the sign up form at the top of the page if you want to receive these automatically. Thanks.