by I Q Cameron
In theBible, in the book of Matthew, Jesus gave a warning to the church that perhaps we need to look more closely at than ever before in our lifetime.
Matthew 5:13 [Jesus said] “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.”
If we look around us – on the news, in world events, in our own country and others, and even on the streets where we live, I think it has become obvious that the ‘church’ has lost much of its relevance in modern society. Or, put another way, the church has lost its saltiness. That is how Jesus described the problem. Perhaps this reality is most easily seen in wealthy western countries where once the church flourished and was respected and revered, but is no longer.
Who of us has not been alarmed by the gradual, and sometimes blatant erosion of ‘Christian’ values, standards and Biblical laws? Personally, I have no doubt that we are seeing the words of Jesus becoming applicable in our own time.
Has the salt (the church) lost its saltiness? Has the church truly lost its relevance in modern, western societies?
Please don’t misunderstand me. I have belonged to numerous evangelical churches in several denominations as I have moved around (geographically) over almost four decades, and I have great respect for them. Indeed, I have invested much of my time (and financial giving) with them. So this is not church bashing, but rather a timely reminder that perhaps we should look at what is happening. In my own experience, I think that a significant part of what I have observed is that the ‘old ways’ simply don’t work anymore. But I also believe that the problem is much more dire than simply how we 'do church'.
People are not drawn to churches and denominations as they once were. Once upon a time people were often invited to a church by friends or neighbours, but with dwindling attendances, that natural growth dynamic has largely dried up. But still, this has little to do with the real problem we are seeing.
Sadly, some of the ‘Christian values’ of the past have also served to deter potential outsiders to visiting. As far back as history goes, many of the efforts of ‘the church’ were at best destructive (the crusades, the burning of witches, the taking of children from their families, various biases, etc.) At worst, these practices were horrendous and shameful. But even these deeds are not responsible for dwindling church attendances and a lack of power.
We must look closely, because there is a much more dire reason for the church's lack of power in modern society.
I don’t think it does any good to say that the church is simply coming under attack because we are in ‘end times’, even though I might agree that the signs seem to be present that we are. However, end times (as described in the Bible) certainly better not be our argument for the church’s failure to impact society, for the church’s lack of… power. Neither is it enough to use Jesus’ own suffering as an excuse for the fact that ‘the church’ is nowadays being frowned upon by so much of society. Trodden underfoot, so to speak.
Suffering at the hands of a hostile world is not the reason for the modern church’s decline, though there is no doubt that Jesus warned that his people would certainly suffer.
John 15:18 [Jesus said] “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. 20Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. 21They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me.”
However, Jesus’ ministry still flourished wherever he went, and people were saved and healed and changed – despite the negative influences and opposition he encountered. Can we say that about the ‘church’ of today? If we are honest, the answer is that in so many places Christians simply... lack something. There is so often a lack of the very love and life that Jesus promised – something that cannot help but attract people and draw them in.
There seems to be a lack of saltiness.
Didn’t Jesus say He was with us to the end of the age?
Matthew 20: 19 [Jesus said] “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
So, where is that power? And if the church has lost its saltiness, why is that? We (as churches) try different programs, or rather, more programs, new buildings (nothing wrong with those, I rather like them), and even new pastors and leaders. But in so many places, numbers still dwindle.
In the end, if we are honest, very often so many of us simply end up… tired. Burned out. Not always, I know, and I am not being negative here, simply trying to show a trend that I have observed over many years of being active in various churches in the towns and cities where I lived. And at the end of the day, if you don’t agree with me, I think most of us simply have to agree that the church doesn’t hold the same sway in society (western societies, anyway) that it once did.
Well, Jesus certainly did make a promise to always be with us. So, why then do we see so little evangelical impact in so many parts of the world, and moreover, our own societies and our own lawmakers? (I am addressing believers in Jesus Christ at this point.) And why are so many of our valiant, committed servants (warriors for Christ) so tired?
I am always buoyed when I see evangelical churches doing great works and forging away with the love of Christ, so please understand that I am well aware that such great blessings are, indeed, all over the world. But I am talking about a general trend (perhaps a political or society-value trend). Let’s face it; the evening news is not as full of stories about how Christian churches are forging ahead as it is about a plethora of evil deeds, wars and even the possible looming threat of the collapse of various western societies.
Over the course of thirty-six years of a fault-ridden, often difficult, mostly testing, but always close walk with Jesus – the Son of God and our saviour, I would like to share with you what I have discovered. That said, as basic concepts have finally gelled in my slow, human mind, I’ve found no shortage of loud, mocking voices decrying what I think Jesus has been saying to all of us all along.
What He said very clearly when He walked among men in the flesh…
And what the writers of the New Testament said too.
To give you a little background on how I have arrived at my conclusions, please bear with me while we briefly go right back to the beginning, where original sin first occurred, and where all our problems stem from. And it started when God warned Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden of the dangers of disobeying him.
Genesis 2:16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”
Logically, in perfect Eden, Adam and Eve had no true concept what ‘to die’ meant. They had no experience with it. They knew no pain; not physical or emotional. Death was a complete stranger to them. Sounds nice, doesn’t it?
But God knew. And he tried to warn them. So, all they had was God’s word on the matter. It is vitally important to understand this.
All they had was God’s word!
Put in today’s terms, God was saying something like, “Trust me on this, you two! You want to avoid this at all costs!”
But they only had God’s word for it.
Let’s not go into the nuances of why the ‘forbidden fruit’ was even present at all within God’s perfect garden. There is far more to this than meets the eye, so for now let’s just move on to the subject at hand.
After this warning from God, then we are introduced to Satan’s presence (the serpent).
Gen 3:1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”
In reality Satan didn’t even expressly lie to Eve when he tempted her to eat of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. Certainly not at first, at least. This fact may come as a shock to some. But if you look carefully, Satan’s ruse was far more to insinuate that God could not be trusted. Note that in verse 1, it would seem that he didn't even actually refer to the prohibited tree by name. Far more importantly, he didn’t need to lie. In fact, he may not have been able to in God’s garden.
Please note this well. No initial, actual lie was required to form doubt in Eve’s mind.
Just an insinuation. Just a seed of doubt.
And all was lost.
Gen 3:1b “Did God really say…?” Satan asked.
Can you hear him plant the seed of doubt in Eve’s mind?
Not an outright lie, just an insinuation.
Eve’s uncertainty set the downward fall in motion after that.
The simple answer should have been, “Yes. God really did say that!”
Indeed, Eve did explain what God had said, but without the confidence that might have saved her from a terrible decision.
Gen 3:2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”
Instead of explaining God’s words (elaborating on his warning, if you like), had Eve simply come right out and refuted the very insinuation that God may not be able to be trusted, she (and Adam and the rest of us all) may have been spared so much pain! This is not to blame Eve; after all, she was entirely innocent (and likely unsuspecting) up to that point. It should, however, prove to be a timely warning to the rest of us. The very moment that we refuse to outright decry the insinuation that God’s plan for us is not perfect and totally reliable, we open ourselves up to lies and to being misled; outcomes that can only lead to sin and chaos for all!
In the absence of an outright crushing denial to Satan’s ruse to insinuate that God could not be fully trusted (that God knew exactly what he was talking about), note how Satan, the strategist, lures Eve over the edge of absolute trust into fallen doubt. Yes, now perhaps he lies, but even in that lie, there was truth.
Gen 3:4 “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. 5“For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
Note the elements of truth hidden within the carefully crafted deceit. The truth was that if Eve did eat of the fruit, she wouldn’t die – at least not right away. And so we suddenly see how the best of lies are often planted on elements of truth. Of course, in time, Eve would die, so the lie was at the very least, veiled. Moreover, the rest of what the serpent said was also actually partly true, for the Bible clearly tells us that after Adam and Eve ate of the fruit, they did become (at least a little) more like God, knowing good from evil. This is evidenced by the fact that for the first time they became aware that they were naked, and it bothered them.
Gen 3:6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. 7Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.
What a pity it was that the mere word of God – his words of warning – were not enough to convince Adam and Eve of the dangers of doing what God had said not to do. But tragically it wasn’t, and so we all see and experience what is generally called ‘the fall of man’, or some such other way of referring to the break in trust between mankind and God. For that is what it was: a break in trust.
Just a mere break in trust… but look at all the pain, destruction, suffering and death it has caused!
Again, it is imperative to note that no total and actual outright lie was required to lead God’s beloved creations, Adam and Eve (and by a birthright of inherited sin, you and me) away from God’s ideal for them (and for us). No actual and outright lie was needed. And even if there was a lie, it was based on elements of truth.
Just a simple seed of doubt – followed by words that actually contained some truth!
“Did God really say that?”
Doubt set the ball rolling.
And after that, all it took was doubt and logical rationale by Eve (and then Adam) to determine what they considered to be a better path than the one God had given them to follow. Incidentally, I do recognise that we have no actual recorded Biblical account of why Adam ate of the fruit, other than the fact that Eve offered it to him. At this point and for the benefit of this article, it doesn’t matter. Adam ate too, so all of mankind was subjected to ‘sin’ and its horrific results.
In those moments of doubt, so much was lost. Surely one might be able to presume that for Eve, clearly God either didn’t know what he was talking about, or perhaps he just wasn’t to be trusted. Perhaps Adam and Eve wondered if the problem was that God didn’t want for them to be like him. Or perhaps God simply wasn’t giving them the full story… Or perhaps they simply thought that it didn’t matter whether they followed God’s word to the letter or not! None of these assumptions may be correct, but it didn’t matter because the seed of doubt had already been sown.
And it didn’t matter, because whatever conclusions Adam and Eve arrived at, they had ceased to take God at his word – as the one who knew best. Whatever Eve’s, and then Adam’s motives, they had failed to trust their creator.
Even though he was the one who had created both them and the garden, complete with the forbidden tree.
And so they failed to trust him as the one who had their best interests at heart.
As the one who truly loved them.
But there is something else to note here too. Not only was there no actual outright lie from the tempter, but it could be argued that Eve’s motives were actually good. Indeed, this is very possibly the case.
And perhaps here is where we should take a timely note of caution when it comes to Satan’s ploys, because as always, he was very strategic in all he said. You see, even Satan admitted some degree of truth here. “For God knows that… you will be like God.”
Genesis: 3:4 “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. 5 “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
Please pause and think about this for a moment, because it is vital!
Being wiser: knowing good from evil – isn’t that a good motive?
Being more like God! Isn’t that a good motive?
Shouldn’t we all want to be more like God?
Indeed, isn’t that the motive behind so many of the things Christians do (and have done)? Those who attend a church will likely know exactly what I am referring to here. Stay busy, do good, study the Bible, seek God’s wisdom so that we can see things from his perspective, be diligent, pray…
All these things are Biblical principles, and in essence, they are very good. But let us not forget the one that seems to be held up to us as possibly the most important: let us strive to… be good! (Or perhaps, better put, be righteous.)
Surely these are all good motives!
And isn’t being good (righteous) implied for the Christian?
Indeed, even those reading this who do not attend a church or even claim any kind of adherence to Jesus Christ (glad to see you reading anyway ) will have seen this in society – even if you didn’t recognise it for what it was at the time.
We’ve all seen followers of Jesus taking a stand against one social issue or another. Some of us will even have been part of such efforts. And if we’re honest, some of us have also groaned or even been angered by some of the stands that Christians take. Perhaps more accurately, we can sometimes be dismayed by how we see Christians debating the things that matter to them.
We need to take notice of something here: if we can take the boiling emotions out of such issues, no matter what side of the argument we are on, surely we can be capable of recognising that the motives of most of the people shouting and marching and picketing are, more often than not… good.
Take the bile and bitterness out of most arguments, and most times most people will be able to recognise good motives on the part of those making a noise, even if they heartily disagree with them, or even if those motives may be a little skewed.
Good motives were a driving force for Adam and Eve. Read the verses again.
Gen 3:6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.
Being more like God. What could be a better motive?
Not only did ‘being more like God’ have to be a good motive, but surely it would prove to be true!
And indeed it was true. Because the moment they ate of the fruit, Adam and Eve suddenly did understand the difference between good and evil, making them more like God, because up until then they had been… innocent.
But now they understood.
Just as God did.
Additionally, it appears that God had always planned to save his beloved created beings from utter destruction - even before they had sinned by not trusting him. And no doubt he knew that to do so (to save them) would cost him dearly.
Gen 3:14 So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and all wild animals! 15 And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”
The words spoken above are the first recorded promise that God gave that he would (in time) send a saviour to the world to save his beloved creation (mankind). That being the case, then it seems a certainty that God was always going to make both them (and therefore us) more like himself – in his own time! This is because in the saving of mankind, God planned to eventually indwell us with his Spirit. Consider the following verses from the New Testament – written after Jesus had died for us and then risen again.
1 Corinthians 3:16 “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?”
Romans 8:9 You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you.
It is worth noting then, that even in the midst of utter sin – distrust of God and the awful suffering that it brings - God’s amazing plan to make us more like him was not lost, and has never been lost!
That’s how powerful and wise our God is!
And by his indwelling Spirit, we are all made more like God – wiser, more loving, more aware of what is righteous (not to be confused with actual righteousness, which we will have to look at later), communing in our own spirits with God (with his Holy Spirit).
But for now, there can be no denying that Adam and Eve’s errant choice was definitely used by our very wise God to play a role in ‘man’ becoming more like God – in his own time and his own way.
So again, perhaps technically, there was no blatant lie in Eden, only the seeds of distrust. And Eve’s motives were perhaps, underneath it all, good, if her desire was to be like God. Indeed, it has been said that sin is often not what we want, but how we go about getting it. Food for thought.
In light of all this, perhaps we should carefully consider our own efforts to ‘become like God’, to see if good motives just might be leading us astray in some way. After all, just like Eve, we too would be easily capable of being led away from what God has really said about how to be saved, trading his plan to make us righteous in his sight for our own efforts to become more like him.
Adam and Eve broke their trust relationship with their Maker – and this is the fundamental nature of sin – not trusting what God has said. And so, the only way to save mankind would be to come to trust God once more.
Or perhaps more precisely, to trust what God was saying once more.
And that leads us to the only question that really matters.
So just what is God saying to us?
(Thank you for reading. I hope this helps and perhaps, provokes thought for you. I will upload my next article as soon as possible, and hopefully answer the question: Just What Is God Saying To Us?)
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