Thank you for continuing to think through and pray about these words of exhortation. In part 1, I directed you to beware the demonic, spirit-targeting conspiracy more than any human conspiracy. In part 2, I identified two satanic pitfalls in our day that we must carefully avoid: shallow discernment and prideful isolation. In this third and final part, I want to discuss the tragic consequences of failing to guard against the great conspiracy in faithful community. Where we begin to see the below fruit in our lives or in our church, we need to repent and take loving action:
1. Self-Righteous Obsession
Without faithful companions to keep our thinking in check and to protect us from pride, we easily fall into unhealthy obsession. A piece of worldly wisdom, an acceptable biblical conviction or application (of many), or even a true Bible teaching out of balance with the rest of Scripture becomes to us something like a prophetic commission from God. Thus, what is essentially a human cause becomes our consuming drive. Our cause (and it could be saving America from Communism, establishing social justice, or exercising freedom from masks) dominates our lives: our reading, our thinking, our speech, and our time. And we prepare for war with flesh and blood (compare Eph 6:12).
We convince ourselves that our human cause is God’s cause. We therefore create in our minds a new faith and a new standard of righteousness not found in Scripture and use this self-made standard to judge others. For example, being pro-President Trump (or anti-Trump) is not only an opinion, it is righteousness. Or getting the Covid vaccine (or refusing to get the vaccine) is not a possible choice, it is sin. Though certainly there are biblical principles that touch each of the contemporary issues I’ve raised in these two paragraphs, none of these issues deserve our devotion or call for self-righteous judgment. And we do need to be able to have reasonable and loving conversations about these issues while applying the principles of Rom 14:1-15:13, 1 Cor 8:1-10:33; and Phil 2:1-30. Remember, opinions and convictions are not evil, but they are when we elevate them to the level of God’s standard.
2. Bitter Division
Once caught up in a self-righteous crusade, we begin to damage the unity of Christ’s church. We no longer feel able to tolerate opposing views as we now believe our opponents are evil and dangerous. Only we have the saving truth. We therefore find ourselves constantly trying to promote our cause in the church and convert new followers to it, distracting our brethren from the holy simplicity of following Christ (2 Cor 11:2-3). Soon, battle lines are drawn up in the church: those for the cause and those against. Each side becomes increasingly suspicious and resentful of the other. Eventually, people will not listen to or fellowship with each other anymore and genuinely begin to hate each other—brethren for whom Christ died (Rom 14:13)!
Considering the spiritual challenge of our day, I can imagine the apostle Paul speaking to us a slightly altered version of 1 Cor 1:11-13: “I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, that there are quarrels among you. Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, “I am of Trump,” or “I of masks,” or “I of MacArthur,” or “I of Christ.” Has Christ been divided? Trump was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Covid vaccines?” None of these persons or issues are worth a pseudo-holy war in the church. It is a demonic scheme against believers not only to become caught up in a struggle of flesh and blood but also to bring that struggle into the church.
3. Compromised Witness
Christ fundamentally called the church to be making disciples, turning people away from devotion to the things of the world to God himself (Mt 28:19-20; 1 Thess 1:9). Yet not only do the above self-righteous obsession and bitter division distract from this goal, they actually contradict it. When believers are caught up in fleshly war and more interested in enlisting others into a human cause instead of Christ’s cause, what will visitors to the church think? To apply 1 Cor 14:23 to today’s situation: will they not look at this confused preoccupation and conclude that we are mad? But if we are instead united in declaring God’s good truth and not judging opinions but welcoming and showing tolerance to one another, might not an unbeliever instead be convicted by all and proclaim—especially considering our country’s many divisions: “God is certainly among you!” (1 Cor 14:24-25)?
Sadly, Satan has apparently succeeded in convincing much of the professing American church that outright sin is justified if the cause is important enough. We (and I speak of American Christians generally, here) speak hatefully and demeaningly of opposing politicians and their supporters, are unconcerned whether the gossipy “news” we imbibe and spread is actually slander (Prov 16:22; Eph 4:31), and even participate in and defend a violent riot targeting our nation’s leaders. What happened to living as good citizens in subjection to the authorities set up by God and quietly attending to our own business (Rom 13:1-10; 1 Thess 4:10)? What happened to living as strangers and exiles on the earth waiting in holiness for the lasting city of God (Heb 11:13-16)? What happened to being disciples of Jesus known by our love (Jn 13:35)? We would do well to remember our Lord’s words to a would-be disciple wanting to secure an earthly inheritance, “Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God” (Lk 9:60).
Brethren, the stakes are very high right now, but not in the way that most people think. Rather than being chiefly concerned about our health, our rights, or our government, we need to be concerned about our spirits. The demonic conspiracy is at work against the church; are we falling into their trap? Or are we standing firm together, determined to overcome any evil we see around us with good (Rom 12:21)? Even as we talk and help each other think through some of today’s issues, are we still overwhelmingly concerned with Christ’s kingdom and looking forward to its establishment?
As difficult as our circumstances are and as dangerous as the demonic conspiracy is, let us also remember that there is another plan at work in our days, not for evil, but for good (Rom 8:28). Our holy God reigns! And he laughs at the rebellious peoples, nations, and even demons that rage against him (Psalm 2:1-12). Christ is our shelter in the storm, and he will continue to build and preserve his church so that the gates of Hades do not prevail (Mt 16:18). In our dire spiritual struggle, the victory has already been assured by our Captain (1 Cor 15:57). And this should give us courage, hope, and joy! But we must still go out to the battle and fight the good fight of faith. So let’s do this together; God is with us! Let us no longer be distracted with lesser, pointless melees, but instead give sin, despair, and the evil ones no quarter.
Questions to Consider:
1. Are you seeing the negative fruit described above in your life? Where do you need to repent? And how can you also lovingly and gently direct erring brethren back to simple devotion to Christ?
2. Why does a changing political situation not really change the church’s mission?
3. Are you confident in Christ through these difficult circumstances? Why or why not?