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A Call to Return to Simplicity

By Loren Rosser 2.1.08



 “But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.”

                                2 Corinthians 11:3


About eight years ago that verse became one of my favorite verses in the Bible. But it’s funny, before that time that verse sounded so negative to me. It was one of those, “Watch out or the devil’s gonna get you!” verses. When I would read about the possibility of the devil deceiving us as Eve was deceived I immediately thought Paul was talking about watching out for all those weird and crazy doctrines that are out there. You know, Paul was saying he’s afraid that we’re going to embrace the New Age movement or start listening to all the David Koreshs’ and Jim Jones’ that are out there. I used to hear preachers use that verse when they were talking about the anti-christ coming along and deceiving many.

But eight years ago I discovered a beautiful and yet so obvious nugget in that verse that for some reason I had never seen before. Paul wrote that he feared that our minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. The key word there is simplicity. Paul wasn’t worried about the church running after pagan cults or crazy doctrines. He was concerned that the church would be corrupted by abandoning the simplicity of Christ. Wow! We fell for that one hook line and sinker! You don’t have to look far to see just how complicated we’ve made this simple relationship with Christ. We have heaped religious duties, rules, regulations, and obligations upon ourselves and others. And then we wonder why people aren’t running to Jesus. Can they even see Him?

We have lost sight of the whole point. God created the human race because he had so much love to give He longed to share it with us. He created us to be in relationship with Him. But then that relationship was severed by sin. But God still so yearned to be in relationship with us that He sent His son to reconcile us back to Himself. Father’s greatest passion is us! He wants nothing more than for us to know Him and be in relationship with Him. But somehow a whole heap of stuff has been added to the gospel and really complicated this simple relationship with Father. We say, “Christianity is a relationship not a religion.” But to most people on the outside looking in, it’s pretty much just another religion.

We’ve piled numerous requirements on the backs of believers while neglecting this amazing relationship Father longs to have with us. We have even brushed aside the only commandment Jesus gave to us.  “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” John 13:34

When I did a search in the New Testament on the word love, I was amazed at how many passages were all about love. Whether they were speaking about God’s love for us, our love for Him, or our love for one another, the list was enormous! Kind of makes you think this whole love thing is really important to Father.

Most folks reading this are probably thinking “Well duh! Of course love is important! Every Christian knows that!” I mean our music is full of lyrics about love. The sermons given preach about it. Christian books talk about it. Sunday School curriculum focuses on it. And evangelistic tracts center on it. But what I fear is that through all of the complication we added to following Christ we have turned love into a “buzz word” rather than a reality. And because we have lost sight of the simplicity of Christ, love has become just one of many intellectual topics covered in the Bible we choose from when preparing a sermon. You know what I’m talking about. That list of Christian words you pick from when you need a topic to teach on. Words like love, obedience, faith, hope, joy, self-control, trust, endurance, trials, and so on.

But we have missed the boat BIG TIME! Love is not this nice little word that looks so sweet stamped on a “Precious Moments” figurine or a Thomas Kincaid calendar. Love is the very heart beat of God. It is supposed to be the very thing that defines us. Love is to be the purpose and motive of everything we do. But the church has treated love like an elementary principle. It’s something that “mature believers” move past as they get into the meat of the word. But if that’s the case, why is the New Testament so saturated with love? Jesus spoke of it often. His actions showed it even more. Paul, “the great intellectual apostle” spoke about love constantly. I don’t think the image most people have of Paul as this “hard nosed mighty apostle” is really in line with who he was when you look the way love just poured from his pen when he wrote. And then look at John, talk about a man who was passionate about living a life saturated in the love of Christ! Almost his entire first letter is all about living in the love of God.

Love is not a Bible topic. Love is THE topic. Love is why Father created us. Love is why Jesus went to the cross. Love is why we came to know Him. Love is what He wants to share with us daily. Love is what we are supposed to have for one another. Love is the chord that is supposed to keep the church connected to one another. Love is supposed to be the motive behind all of our actions. But for so many believers love is just a bunch of head knowledge. We have been so deceived into thinking that knowledge equals revelation and reality. So we talk about love but in reality it is missing from much of the western church.

Think about it.  If love was the heart beat of the Body of Christ, would we have strayed so far from the simplicity of Christ? If I love you, am I going to place obligations and requirements on you? Hmmm, what is the motive behind obligating you to something? Is that about you or about me? Is laying burdens on you an act of love? Jesus was quite vocal that it’s not. He even said, “Take my yoke upon you, for My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Is taking authority over you an act of love? How is stealing somebody’s freedom ever an act of love? I read of one who steals in the Bible and he is anything but love. Do we really want to look and function like him? How about placing expectations on each other? Is that an act of love? What about expecting you to support my church or ministry? Is that about you or me? See, we have a heap load of traditions and practices in the church that are viewed as being completely normal and yet that have absolutely nothing to do with love.

There are raging debates about how the church should meet or what it should look like when we gather. Should we meet in a traditional building, a coffee shop or in a house? How should we be structured? How should we run things? Who should speak and when? What about worship? But when you look through the lens of the law of love, does any of that really matter? Is that even what church is about? It seems to me the Body of Christ has been majoring in the minors. I think if we made our relationship with Father and loving one another priority, our motives and goals would be a whole lot different. I think a whole lot of stuff that we currently think is important would move to the wayside and eventually disappear.

“So what should the church look like?” I’ll tell you exactly what the church should look like: a people who really love one another. “Yeah, but what about form and structure? How should we meet and do stuff?” people ask. Well, as soon as I can find in the Bible where that was a concern Jesus had I’ll let you know. The interesting thing is Jesus spoke nothing about form and structure. He didn’t even mention it! I think that’s why some people elevate Paul to the same level as Christ. (Although they’ll never admit that they view him that way.) You don’t get a method or formula from the words of Christ, so people go to the teachings of Paul and twist them to get a formula out of them. But Jesus taught that life in the Kingdom of God is not about rituals, traditions, methods and formulas. It is a matter of the heart. That’s why all the debate about how to DO church is simply ill relevant. It’s deceiving people away from the simplicity of Christ. It’s not about form. The real issue is where is our heart? Are we abiding in His love? Are we pursuing a relationship with Father? Do we love our neighbor as we love our selves? Do we seek to walk in love with one another? There is no formula or pattern for that. There is only daily life and relationships with Him and one another.

Jesus was talking to His disciples about the days to come and He said, "Because lawlessness is increased, most people's love will grow cold.” Matthew 12:24. I wonder if Jesus was just talking about unbelievers when He said that? I was looking at that word “lawlessness” and had some thoughts.  Jesus only gave us one commandment, "This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.” John 15:12 Then Paul wrote in Romans 13:10, “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” So if love is “the law” we live by, then what would it mean that “lawlessness is increased.” Could it be that believers stop living by the law of love? They stop loving one another? When you look at the landscape of Christianity, I don’t think that’s very far fetched. You hear of all kinds of ludicrous squabbling among believers. The way “Christian businesses” often treat their clients. The demands Christian religious groups place upon people. The control some people who are called “leaders” have over others.  The way Christian couples often treat each other. The condition of many Christian families. The list goes on. And yet these same people will be very much involved in Christian activities. The activities have become more important than walking in love.  And yet love is the very mark that we belong to Him!

Now I want to say something before I go on. Some people reading this may hear me talk about “walking in love” and they’ll feel like there’s another obligation they have to fulfill. You know, another thing to add to their complex list of Christian rules to live by. But love is not something you can grunt out. It is the fruit of growing in relationship with Father. It is the very mark of knowing Christ. You can’t force love to grow anymore than you can force a flower to grow. Love grows in us as we receive Father’s love for us. When we are abiding in His love loving others just becomes a natural thing to us. This isn’t about “grunt work.” This is about reconnecting with Jesus, the love of our lives, and growing in that relationship Him.

So many of the rules and regulations religion lays down are meant to keep people from sin. But those rules just reveal that we are not connecting with the love of God. If I am in love with Father, am I going to desire to sin against Him? And even beyond that, you can’t receive the love of God for very long and not be changed. And receiving His love will change the way we treat others. This doesn’t happen over night. This walk with Him is a life long journey. But I don’t think Father is wringing His hands about getting us all cleaned up. He simply wants us to know Him and to be in relationship with us. Getting “cleaned up” isn’t the goal, knowing Him is. Sin drops off as a fruit of knowing Him. He knows that!

So many people carry guilt and shame because of the sins they wrestle with. But that shame does nothing to help them find freedom from it. It pushes them away from Father when they need to be running to Him more than ever. Religion has been the king of heaping shame on people for centuries. I think that’s why people who are bound by religion are some the nastiest people around. They are so guilt ridden that they feel horrible about themselves. But religion just scolds them and tells them to try harder. So rather than running to Father and receiving His love they stay miserable. If you’re full of guilt and misery how can you possibly love others? There is no love in you to give! But the good news is Jesus bore our guilt and shame on the cross. Father has no desire to put shame on people. Rather He has removed it and He replaces it with His love, joy and peace.

As I said before, the very mark of a person who knows Christ is that they are growing in His love. But this is so far from modern Christian thought. Many of today’s believers think that the mark of belonging to Christ is that you go to church. The sign of growth is that you are part of a ministry or begin to take on more responsibilities around the church. And if you really know Him, you are in leadership. But that’s not what Jesus taught. He said, "By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." John 13:35.

Take a look at Matthew 7:22-23: "Many will say to Me on that day, `Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' "And then I will declare to them, `I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.'

What’s interesting is Jesus tells them to depart from Him because He never knew them. And there’s that word “lawlessness” again. And what is the New Testament law? Love! So that verse becomes very clear. These people didn’t focus on knowing Father and as a result their actions weren’t marked by love.

I’m sure you’ve read the story Jesus told in Matthew 25 about the sheep and the goats. The one where he said at the end He will divide the nations like a shepherd divides the sheep from the goats. Then he invites the sheep into His kingdom. He says to them,
“For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.' "Then the righteous will answer Him, `Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? `And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? `When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?' "The King will answer and say to them, `Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me” Matthew 25:35-40

Then you read in verses 41 – 46 that he kicks the goats out because they didn’t do these things unto Him. That passage used to confuse me. The Bible says in several places that salvation is not by our works but by believing in Him. Well this passage seemed to be saying the opposite. I would hear it preached that Jesus is saying we need to get out there and feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit prisoners and the sick. There was this feeling of doom that if we didn’t get busy and do these things I would be a goat and be cast into hell. The churches I was a part of started prison ministries to go into prisons. They had food banks to give food to the homeless. They had visitation ministries that went into the hospitals. Why? Because they weren’t going to be goats! But guess what? We missed the point! Now those are all good things to do. But Jesus who told us His burden is light wasn’t cracking the whip to get people doing this stuff. Once again, the issue is love! The sheep in that passage clearly knew Him. They bore the mark of love. Their actions reflected it.

In 1Corinthians 13:1-3 Paul wrote:
If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.

In that passage Paul says that these good works done without love profit him…how much? A little? Get you into heaven? NO! He says they profit him NOTHING! Why not? Because love is the mark that you are in relationship with Father. John wrote: Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. 1John 4:7 & 8

And then John goes on to say: If someone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. 1John 4:20

So the issue in the story Jesus told about the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25 is not “go do a bunch of good stuff.” It’s that we are characterized by love. And why is that? Because we know the One who is love. We can’t help but grow in love because we know Him.

Following Jesus is simple. He saved us to bring us into relationship with a loving heavenly Father. It’s just about growing in love with Him and loving one another. But looking at the modern landscape of Christianity, I’d hate to say it, but sometimes it feels like it’s about everything BUT that. It is my prayer that the body of Christ will return to the simplicity of Christ and knowing Father and walking in love with one another. This is what He commanded, so it must mean a lot to Him. Can we take a break from all of our “Christian activities” and get back to what really matters to Him?

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