A couple of years ago I read through the gospel of John about twenty times in a row. I had never done anything like this before, and it was an incredible experience.
I grew up in a Christian home, went to a Christian Bible college, taught in a Christian school, had been on staff with a Christian organization, led numerous Bible studies, and read through the Bible every year since I was a kid. But I hadn’t experienced Jesus the way I did when I laser focused on Him through the gospel of John. A lot of confusing theology in my head and heart cleared itself up through this experience, and I realized that as a child of God, I really wanted to view the human race and religion through the lens of Jesus.
This is what Paul is saying in I Corinthians 2:16 when he says, “‘Who can know the LORD’s thoughts? Who knows enough to teach him?’ But we understand these things, for we have the mind of Christ.”
I want that. The mind of Christ. I want that for me, and I want that for you. I want to learn better how to live out the gospel in the world the way He did. To love is His nature, and I believe when we are simply being IN HIM, we will find that it becomes our nature as well.
Think about how Jesus lived. The things He said. The people He hung out with. When reading the book of John, I never saw Jesus using words to shame or blame. I never saw Him snubbing others. I never saw Him taking power over others, though all power was His to take. I never saw Him accusing anyone. I never saw Him puffing Himself up while tearing others down. I never saw Him comparing Himself and His perfection to others and their sin. I never saw Him focusing on the sins of others.
In fact, He did the opposite. I saw him validating the sorrowful experiences of others. Showing compassion on them. Weeping over them and feeling their pain. Healing them. Forgiving them. Honoring them, regardless of their social status. Loving them regardless of their gender, appearance, or health.
He stooped down and lifted up the faces of the people from the muck of their sin and pointed them to Himself. The Way, the Truth, and the Life. The Living Water. The Bread. The Cornerstone. The King of Kings. The Shepherd. The Servant.
This is true piety. True religion. True Christianity.
What is False Piety?
I want to talk about fake Christianity, or false piety, because it works to undermine and destroy the real thing, and the human race so desperately needs and WANTS to see the real thing!
- It’s a lie about Jesus Christ and the Gospel.
- It’s pretending to represent Jesus Christ and His work in the world while actually representing man’s work in the world.
- It’s thinking we are better than other people according to our own set of rules; therefore, God loves and accepts us while rejecting anyone who doesn’t agree with or obey our set of rules.
- It’s pushing our agenda and personal applications of Scripture on other human beings and calling it God’s agenda for everyone.
- It’s the promotion of some humans in power over other humans—in the Name of God.
- It’s an attitude of “Us vs. Them.”
- It’s exclusiveness.
- It’s pretending to love someone while trying to control them.
- It’s demanding that others do what we do, think what we think, and believe what we believe—or they don’t know Jesus or aren’t as awesome as we are.
- It’s saying we are saved by rule keeping.
- It’s putting people in charge of gate keeping.
Here are some examples of false piety I’ve read from real social media posts or online articles:
You’re a good Christian if you get married, stay at home, and raise children. If you stay attractive for your husband. If you home school your kids. If you wear skirts. If you suppress your emotions. If you focus on your sin. If you are sure to make everyone around you happy.
You are a bad Christian if you divorce your porn-addicted husband (because porn is not adultery to these folks – just keep it on the screen, men, and you’re good to go). If you go to college. If you work outside the home. If you stick out your tongue (yes – I guess this is a real rule for some people). If you struggle with grief and doubt when you lose a child. If you get a manicure. If you are “godlier” than your husband.
This is so inconsistent with God’s Word. College is evil, but porn is fine? (They have to defend their porn addicted men because if they actually took the Word of God seriously and saw porn for what it is – the hateful act of cheating on another human being and contributing to the abuse of women and children – they’d have to be okay with all the divorces that would result, and if there’s one thing more evil than going to college – I guess it’s divorce.)
False Piety is Fake Holiness
It’s calling “holy” what may appear to be holy on the outside but what is actually evil underneath. Jesus did have harsh words for just one group of people—those that were pretending to bow to God while actually grasping at power and control for themselves and oppressing God’s children: the Pharisees.
They taught about God but did not love God – they did not enter the kingdom of heaven themselves, nor did they let others enter.
They preached God but converted people to dead religion, thus making those converts twice as much sons of hell as they themselves were.
They taught the law but did not practice some of the most important parts of the law – justice, mercy, faithfulness to God. They obeyed the minutiae of the law such as tithing spices but not the weightier matters of the law.
They presented an appearance of being ‘clean’ (self-restrained, not involved in carnal matters), yet they were dirty inside: they seethed with hidden worldly desires, carnality. They were full of greed and self-indulgence.
They exhibited themselves as righteous on account of being scrupulous keepers of the law, but were in fact not righteous: their mask of righteousness hid a secret inner world of ungodly thoughts and feelings. They were full of wickedness. They were like whitewashed tombs, beautiful on the outside, but full of dead men’s bones.
They professed a high regard for the dead prophets of old, and claimed that they would never have persecuted and murdered prophets, when in fact they were cut from the same cloth as the persecutors and murderers: they too had murderous blood in their veins. (Source)
False piety is the voice of the enemy (I Peter 5:8). The accuser (Rev. 12:10). The liar (John 8:44). It’s anti-Christ (John 2:18). It’s darkness disguised as an angel of light (II Cor. 11:14). It’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing (Matt. 7:15). Because it does its dirty work in disguise, it gets away with all kinds of mischief.
It counts on us being too naive to recognize it or too unsure or “nice” to call it out for what it is.
I recently became aware of a blog for Christian women (I’m not going to link to it or name it because I don’t want to give the destructive attitude and words on this blog undue attention) that is the quintessential example of false piety. This blog appears on the outside to be an encouragement for women of faith, but it is far from encouraging for the daughters of the Living God because it’s filled with shaming accusations and man-made ideas that oppress women and grind them into dust. Rather than setting them free to revel in the gospel love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ, it sets up impossible standards based on human opinions rooted in misogynistic, power-over theology. The opposite of what Jesus came to do in the world.
I want to show you an example from this blog about how she shames divorced women, because many of my readers are divorced, are in the middle of the divorce process, or have at least contemplated it at one time or another.
Please note: I’m not attacking the woman behind the blog. I don’t know her or her motives. I have no idea what her private life is like. I’m simply examining her words – words she has put out there in public for others to read – to see if they reflect the gospel of Jesus Christ. I also want to show how words reflect our core beliefs and attitudes about God, people, and ourselves.
Here’s what she writes:
“I have often wondered about the wives and moms who have blogged over the years…offering their (seemingly mature) thoughts and advice to all the readers, but now are divorced! Those once husband-and-family-encouraging blogs, have been turned into how-to-recognize-when-your-marriage-is-over musings and encouragements! As well as how divorce IS an (easy) option, a very freeing one, to be able to carry on with one’s (much happier, now) life!
I also wonder if just possibly(?) these wives had lived their lives…based on God’s perfect design and biblical principles for us, as women, might they not be experiencing the joys of reaping a fulfilled marriage.“
Grammar aside, what she’s communicating here is her belief that young female bloggers who tried to influence other women via the blogsphere ended up getting divorced because it was easy, freeing, and they could “carry on” with their happier life post-divorce.
She also communicates that she’s got a hunch if they had just obeyed God, they would now be experiencing the joys of a fulfilling marriage. She is implying they did not obey God, and she’s assuming they are not enjoying a fulfilling marriage – which is odd because in the statement prior to that she claims they are now carrying on with their happier life post-divorce. A life they no doubt do not deserve, in her opinion. So it’s rather confusing, but false piety does get pretty muddy when you start digging around in it.
She then goes on to write about the wonders of herself—how she is an older and wiser woman who has earned the reputation required to influence other women by being faithful “in all areas” (she mentions the areas of washing clothes and having sex in particular). She refers to herself as having “wisdom and perspective and spiritual maturity” and that she “brings glory to God.”
By the way, I found in another one of her blog posts that she believes young female bloggers are abandoning their families when they blog, and this is the root cause of all their troubles – bad marriages among them.
Then she quotes I Timothy 3:6: Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil.
Where, oh where do I begin?
Bible Verse Bombs
I’ll start with the verse she quotes. That verse has a context (as all verses do – something people forget when they’re trying to make a point and Bible Stamp it.) The context is this: Paul is writing to Timothy about the requirements of a deacon, and he is saying that a deacon shouldn’t be a brand new believer (the meaning of “novice”). The point of her blog post was to scold younger female bloggers for trying to influence other women because they aren’t as wise and experienced and spiritually mature and old as she is.
So I’m not seeing the connection. Young female bloggers = deacons? Brand new believer = young in biological age? She can’t possibly know whether or not all these bloggers she is writing about (who are possibly a bit of competition for her, I’m guessing) are brand new believers. When I was in my late twenties-early thirties, I had been a devoted believer for 18-24 years already. I started early. Jesus was my life! But I would have fallen under her judgment due to my age.
Also, a little bit later in I Timothy (4:12), Paul tells Timothy not to let others look down on him (like this woman is doing) just because he is young. So the verse she quotes actually doesn’t apply here, but a later verse in the book of Timothy is actually one that might help her check her own attitude toward others that are younger than she is. I find that a little fascinating.
Satan did this to Jesus in the wilderness using three Bible verse bombs to throw Jesus off track, but of course, Jesus didn’t fall for any of them. There is nothing wrong with using Scripture to back up your assertions, but there’s something wrong with using Bible verses to bonk people over the heads. The accuser is the devil. Not Jesus. One of the accuser’s favorite weapons of choice is actually the Bible. As God’s PR people on this earth, let’s use His Word to introduce people to His great Father heart of love toward them.
And be on the lookout for Bible Verse Bombs. When you see them, get out of the way – and remember that true Christianity never uses the Bible to condemn, enslave, and control others. That is not the heart of Jesus Christ.
Wherever there is false piety, you will see Bible Verse Bombs.
So many examples of this here. When we presume to know the minds and motives of other human beings, we are violating their person-hood. Their boundaries. We are also placing ourselves in the seat of God. The exception to this is when you LIVE with someone who repeatedly and chronically violates YOUR boundaries and takes power and control over your body, mind, will, and emotions. Then you have every right to discern some obvious conclusions about where their hearts are at based on unrepentant, chronic sin that destroys the lives of other human beings.
But that’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about people who THINK they know the lives of other people that they’ve maybe never even met before! I’d like to take a wild guess and say that this woman has never sat down to lunch with any of the young, divorced, female bloggers she is disdaining in her blog post. It is one thing to critique their actual words (as I am doing in this post), but it is quite another to assume things about their personal lives and critique them based on wild guesses and speculation.
Yet she has made some serious accusations about them. She believes:
- They think they are mature, but they are not. At least not half as mature as this woman is. (She made that very clear.)
- She states that their divorces were EASY. (She is not divorced, so she has no experience with this. If she did, or if she had a friend or daughter who had walked through divorce, she would know that divorce is one of the most difficult, heart-wrenching, horrifying experiences a woman can go through. But she assumes divorces are easy. She is an older woman, yet she lacks the ability to understand that our experiences are not everyone else’s experience.
- They have abandoned their husbands and families. This was from a different, but related post. Apparently young female bloggers are not allowed to take an hour out of their day to write a blog post. If you’re an older woman, you can. (Hmmmm….do you think she’d give me the thumbs up if I’m in my 50’s? Oh, I DO hope I’m old enough finally!) But if you are young (maybe ages 21-35? Is 40 too young? It seems young to me, but this is HER rule, so she gets to call the shots. I wish she was more specific so we’d all know where we stand) then you don’t even have an hour to yourself. Even if your littles are sleeping. Better use that time to polish the furniture one more time before your husband gets home, but don’t you dare practice your writing and communication skills in your spare time. You might actually make some mistakes and sound a little foolish here and there and then eventually get smarter and wiser and better at it than this lady, and we can’t have THAT, now can we? (I’m slipping into sarcasm – trying ever-so-hard not to…)
- She assumes that once these young female bloggers got their divorces, they were now happier. NO, wait. She assumes they are unable to have a fulfilling marriage because they’ve gotten divorced. Oh dear. Which is it? We may never know, but I’ll tell you this – neither does she. Because the fact is, divorce creates all kinds of other problems, and yet sometimes a woman gets remarried and actually DOES finally experience “the joys of reaping a fulfilled marriage.” That happened to me. My first marriage was abusive. It wasn’t fulfilling EVER. After 25 years I got my “easy” (cough cough) divorce and remarried an amazing human being with whom I share an incredibly healing Christian marriage. (I highly value the institution of marriage. But as a daughter of God, I want to put a premium on human lives over institutions.) So my goodness, there are so many different scenarios, and how in the world can she possibly begin to understand even one of them let alone the hundreds of thousands of them out there? But she knows. By golly, SHE KNOWS.
The fact is, she doesn’t know. She can’t even begin to scratch the tippy top surface of knowing. Why? Because she already believes she knows. People who already know everything never get to learn anything new. I never want to get to that place, do you?
Wherever there is false piety, you will see boundary violations.
Man-Made Rules with a God Stamp on Top
She makes sure to point out that laws have been broken. Laws she keeps because she is godly. Laws that the young female bloggers break because they are young female bloggers who have abandoned their families. These laws may change depending on who you’re talking to. Laws about hem lengths, how to spend your time, proper and improper sex positions (if your husband is into porn, you need to be a little kinkier in order to satisfy his ever changing needs, but if he’s not, then stick to the basics), how to cook quinoa…you know. Stuff like that.
Here’s the thing about her 64,982 laws. They all have a big old GOD stamped on the top. Who put it there? She did. But no matter – it works. If you just say “God says to do this,” other Christians wince and angst. And making everyone squirm is what it’s all about when it comes to false piety. I feel sad for the women reading her soul-enslaving propaganda.
Wherever there is false piety, you will see man-made rules with a God Stamp on Top
Why is Fake Christianity Bad for the World?
If the good news of the real gospel of Jesus Christ is actually GOOD for the world in that it sets captives free and enables human beings to find the love and acceptance and freedom they desperately need in Jesus Christ, then anything that acts as an imposter to this good news is actually not good for the world because it exchanges one kind of bondage for another. But both kinds of bondage have the same root: wanting to be like God.
Think about it. Those who reject Jesus do so because they want to play the role of God in their own life. And those who add a bunch of rules to the gospel do so because they want to play the role of God in everyone else’s life. But both ways reject Jesus Christ for a different god. The god of Self. Which is the original sin. And that’s definitely bad for the world.
What Can We Do About Fake Christianity?
We can expose it where we see it in our own life and all around us. Whenever we think we can be good enough by obeying all the rules and regulations, we are grasping at playing God. It’s just not possible for us to obey everything to the letter. We are not justified by our obedience (Galatians 3:11). This is an “outward form of our religion,” and it has no real power (2 Timothy 3:5).
We can choose to live out authentic Christianity. This means focusing not on our sin or on the sins of others, but rather on Jesus Christ, Himself. The more we are obsessed with Him instead of rules, the more we will become like Him. I challenge you to read the Gospel of John 20 times before the end of 2018. Then write me an email and tell me what you learned. Tell me how it changed your life. I promise it will.
“Learn to do right, seek justice, correct the oppressor, defend the fatherless, plead for the widow.” Isaiah 1:17
“He has shown you, O mankind, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you but to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8
“And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:28-31
“Is this the fast I have chosen, a day for a man to deny himself, to bow his head like a reed, and to spread out sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast and a day acceptable to the LORD? Is not the fast I have chosen to break the chains of wickedness, to untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free, and tear off every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, to bring the poor and homeless into your home, to clothe the naked when you see him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will come quickly.” Isaiah 58:5-8
I’m going to close with an excerpt from my upcoming book, Is It Me? Making Sense of Your Confusing Marriage. This excerpt illustrates perfectly the heart of Jesus Christ. Notice how different it is from the attitude that comes across when you are in the presence of false piety. The heart of Christ you see here – THIS is what we want to strive for. Not rules. Jesus, Himself. This is how we will change the world.
“Remember when Jesus’ mother told Him the guests were out of wine? She wanted Him to do something about it. She knew she couldn’t, but Jesus could. He was God, and so far, only she and Joseph were aware of that (and Joseph was likely dead by this time as he isn’t mentioned beyond Jesus’ childhood). But what was Jesus’ response? “No, Mom. It’s not my business.” Talk about boundaries! There was a need, but He felt no obligation to fix it just because His mom wanted to. So what does His mother do? She goes ahead anyway and tells the stewards to do whatever Jesus says! She disregards Jesus’ boundaries and plows ahead with her own desire to help out. And Jesus? Does he reprimand her? Tell her to get out of everyone’s business? Judge her motives? Tell her to stop being a busy body? Accuse her of rebellion? Insubordination? I mean, seriously! A woman goes over GOD’S head and gets a wee bit bossy! Can’t you just hear the propaganda machine gearing up?
Look at the amazing response of our precious, gracious God. He doesn’t argue. He doesn’t rebuke. Instead, He graciously and lovingly honors her by quietly submitting to her desires. And do you know what’s more incredible? She knew he would. She was fully resting in His character. She knew she was totally, 100% safe in His love for her. She knew He knew her heart. And of course, He did. Isn’t that incredibly beautiful? And so began the miraculous earthly ministry of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ.
What about you? Do you live as a child reveling in His safe love for you? Just like Mary, you can. That’s just one little hidden gem layered within the pages of the Gospel of John. And this message is for you. Jesus is SO not like your destructive spouse. He is SO not like any churchy person who shamed you or treated you as less than worthy because you were desperately seeking answers and help. He is our humble, sweet, kind, powerful creator and friend, Jesus. And He knows you, inside and out. He knows your heart. He created you fully human and embraces you exactly in your humanness—all the good and all the bad. You are totally safe and totally loved. Right now, no matter how bad you feel about yourself, no matter what choices you’ve made, no matter if you’ve failed yourself or others, He loves and accepts and likes you just as you are. ALL THE TIME, and NO MATTER WHAT. Period and Amen.
My deepest desire for you is that you will one day shake off the chains of the enemy and his lies and find your deep hope and joy and peace in resting in the unconditional love and acceptance of your very good God—your loving Heavenly Father, your precious Savior, Jesus Christ, and your ever-present Helper and Companion, the Holy Spirit.
Your God is nothing like your abuser and his allies. I promise.”