I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. (John 10:9)
As my regular readers will know, I very often contribute on forums where some of the worst excesses of Christian judgementalism can be seen. On those forums, there are some pretty nasty examples of hard-line, dogmatic religious types who are so harsh and unbending that they portray a horrible image of my Father God. And so, I go on the forums in order to show the hurting, the true seekers, the rejected of society, that not all those who profess to follow Jesus Christ are harsh and ungracious. I go on there to demonstrate the gentleness* of Jesus to those who are sinking in the mire of everyday drudgery and hopelessness. I go on there to show people that God loves them, exactly as they are, and that He loves them in spite of everything that they think stands in between them and Him; everything that would cause their sensitive consciences to believe that they are not welcome in His Presence – when in actuality, they are fully welcome there. In short, I go on there to counter the nastiness exhibited by those who claim to be working ‘from the Scriptures’, and yet don’t even come close to exhibiting the character of the Christ revealed in those Scriptures. And I have to say that sometimes it’s hard to be gracious and gentle with these people, whom God also loves, but I do the best I can.
So of course I come under heavy fire from the harsh and judgemental. Because I do not agree with what they preach, and indeed I actively stand against it, I too become ‘unacceptable’ in the eyes of people I don’t even know; unacceptable both to them, and, they hasten to tell me, to god as well. No doubt the words ‘heresy’ and ‘blasphemy’ have featured in replies to my comments more than happens to most people! It seems that some would rather espouse a gospel of harshness and nastiness than one of love, joy, peace and all the other fruits of the Spirit. And, to be honest, sometimes this type of action is damaging; occasionally I need to take a break from the battle and recharge.
Well, this article is about why, despite their vitriol, I am not afraid of these people, and also about why you in your turn need not be afraid of them either.
Gentle soul, honest seeker after Truth, be encouraged!
Let me tell you that nothing that these people can say can change the reality of God’s love for you, nor can they change the passion with which He seeks you – although by the way they talk (well, ok, write!), anyone would think that they are the people who decide who ‘gets into heaven’ or whatever. (Actually writing that down in black on white re-emphasises for me how ludicrous that statement actually is!).
I do believe that they like to think of themselves as ‘God’s Gate-Keepers’! – but we do not need to be afraid of them! They hold no power to do the things that their writing suggests they imagine they can do!
Remember that these people have neither the right nor the mandate to be God’s ‘Receptionists’ – people who would like nothing better than to screen others in order to determine their acceptability as people who are/are not allowed into God’s Presence. What I am saying is that, well-meaning and sincere though some of these people may be, they are not the Gate-Keepers.
Probably the principal harm that they can do is that they ‘shut the doors of heaven in men’s faces’; they make it appear as if it is impossible to please God – except, of course, by following their particular set of Rules and Requirements – and thus put people off following their hearts’ desires and seeking God. Their efforts at ‘evangelism’ by pointing out ordinary folks’ ‘sin’ actually puts their victims off following a path of faith, when actually they were quite amenable to the idea before they met these people! The other main harm they do is to give others a really bad idea of what god is like; to outsiders, their god looks vicious, mean and nasty! And who would want to follow a god like that?
This is all, to my mind, completely reprehensible, because the Christian Life is so full of blessing, and the Gate-Keepers are denying that blessing to those whom they damage with their harsh attitudes.
These are indeed the people of whom Jesus said, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to”. (Mt23:13)
So, let me tell you again that these people are not the Gate-Keepers. Jesus said of Himself, “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved [kept safe]. They will come in and go out, and find pasture” (Jn 10:9).
Nobody can take away God’s call on your life: “However, those the Father has given me will come to me, and I will never reject them” (Jn 6:37 NLT). As a believer, your life is “…hidden with Christ in God” (Col 3:3) – it is kept safe where thieves cannot “…break in and steal” (Mt 6:19). At worst, all they can do is hurt you in earthly terms, as Jesus said in Lk 12:4, “I tell you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more”. Jesus was not talking here only about unbelievers who persecute Christians; He was also talking about anyone who tries to steal your assurance of salvation, including, and especially, other believers. No one else is ‘religious’ enough to even want to steal your assurance! And that, then, is the other major harm that these people do.
But the truth of the matter is this: if you have a relationship with Jesus Christ, then no one can take that away from you, no matter how much they might try to devalue your faith and beliefs. They can quote scripture at you all they like but you know, you know that you’re safe. And there ain’t a thing they can do about it.
Let me say it again: you do not need to pay any heed to what these people say. You do not need to be afraid of them. They have neither power nor authority over you. Your salvation depends on Jesus, not on pleasing men; giving them cause to have a good opinion of you. The fear of man has to do with voluntarily placing the ownership of our life in the hands of men. We change our behaviour in order to be accepted. Well, there’s no need to do that, not ever. It’s not about pleasing men at all, not even other believers who want you to conform. Your life belongs to God, not to the Gate-Keepers. Proverbs 29:25 (KJV) says that “The fear of man bringeth a snare but whoso putteth his trust in the Lord shall be safe” Put in more modern English, the Good News Bible says, “It is dangerous to be concerned with what others think of you, but if you trust the Lord, you are safe” (Prov 29:25 (GNB))
And finally, to me, the crowning verse is this. In 1Cor2:15, in the middle of a treatise on handling others’ insistence on ‘doctrinal correctness’, St. Paul says that:
Did you see that? If you are a spiritual person, that is, guided by the Holy Spirit, you can do all the thinking and reasoning about your beliefs, thinking things through, coming up with answers, and learning new things about God, and nobody – nobody! – can judge you. You are simply not subject to others’ judgement – period.
Maybe none of this makes any sense to you; maybe you have never encountered one of these people, at least not on the forums. But I’d wager you will have encountered them in ‘real life’. Maybe you’ve heard certain street preachers (And I’m not tarring them all with the same brush here!) saying harsh things about you being a ‘sinner’, or maybe someone has knocked on your door, and under the pleasant veneer you have detected a hard, unbending religion. Maybe you’re in a church where the leadership is strict and authoritarian, and permits neither questions nor deviation from the ‘norm’. Or maybe there’s someone at your place of work who tells you that as far as God is concerned, your best is simply not good enough and is worthless in eternal terms. You see, we are all subjected to these kinds of people, and I’m here to tell you today that you do not need to take any notice of them, whether you are a believer or not.
Don’t get me wrong; I firmly believe that these ‘harsh’ people are people who believe in, and love the Lord Jesus Christ. I also firmly believe though, that they are acting from a tragically misguided** view of God (again, as detailed in this article) and that their actions are based mainly on a desire to see people believe in what they see as a ‘right doctrine’. In other words, they want others to live their religion in the same way as our harsh friends do. But until God reveals more of His loveliness, His gentleness and His mercy to these people, they simply will not be able to see it, so blinded are they to God’s goodness; blinded indeed by their religion. Doctrine has become more important then walking with Jesus. This is why I try to be gentle with them; they are simply wayward children who do not understand. There is more on this in this article, which in general is themed similarly to this one.
No, the reason I wrote this present article was to encourage those who have been attacked by these people and (as is usual in these situations) had their faith and/or ‘salvation status’ called into question. You’ve been told you are an heretic; you have been told these are ‘demonic lies’ and that you are ‘in danger of hell fire’, that you are in gross error and you need to change your ways, and that it’s especially bad because you are publishing these ‘lies’ in the public domain for everyone to see. I know the arguments and the threats of these people; I have seen them so many times and they are boringly familiar.
But be encouraged! God thinks so much more highly of you than you can possibly imagine, and He has His best for you in your life no matter what the Gate-Keepers would like to say. Remember they can’t touch your salvation; they may rock your boat, but only if you let them by taking notice of their threats.
Remember this: These people are NOT the Gate-Keepers. Your salvation is safe and secure in Christ, and their words mean absolutely nothing! Isn’t that great?
Do Not Fear the Gate-Keepers!
*I have a particular friend on one forum who refers to me as his ‘gentle Anglican friend’. This is a guy who is an excellent theologian and gives the online Pharisees ‘what for’ (as we say in Yorkshire) in similar terms to how they do it. We kind-of do a ‘good cop, bad cop’ routine 😉
**I use the term ‘misguided’ in its literal sense: these people have indeed been mis-guided by others who have taught them the harsh doctrines they too have been raised on. These beliefs get passed on from one generation of believers to another, to the detriment of the quality of life of those who live by those beliefs. Jesus came to break the cycle of harsh, unbending, dogmatic religion, which was why He went so hard on the Pharisees of His day – these were the harsh doctrinal types in those days. Notice also how Jesus was a ‘Pharisee magnet’ – because He was teaching ideas of freedom from religious Rules, the Pharisees simply had to take Him to task on it. They just couldn’t leave it – isn’t that exactly the same as these people on the forums, then? 🙂