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So don’t boast about following a particular human leader. For everything belongs to you—whether Paul or Apollos or Peter, or the world, or life and death, or the present and the future. Everything belongs to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God. 1 Corinthians 3:21-23 (NLT)

You’ve seen the commercials on TV. A well-dressed, successful person tells you about themselves. They are smart, good looking and obviously have made the best of life. After telling you all about themselves, their successes and how they have made positive changes in their world, they summarize all the good things by telling you that they are a particular religious group. The next time you see the commercial notice that the person talking doesn’t say they belong to or are a part of the group. They ARE the group. Whether by design or otherwise the message is clear. If you want to know what my religious group looks like or what it can do for you, look at me. I’m the example of what you can be. 

Now, this isn’t a treatise for or against this group. Whether you agree with their theology or not you have to admire the creativity of their marketing. Want to be successful in life? Want to make a difference in your world? It’s as though the speaker is looking straight into your eyes and saying, “Want to have people admire you like you are admiring me right now? Become a ____________. Your world will change!”

Don’t be too hard on them though. We do the same thing. A pastor friend of mine was telling me about one particular church that he served in. Unfortunately this church had a bad reputation in town because of how they treated people in the community and how they treated several of their former pastors. My friend brought a suggestion to the boardroom table one night shortly after he started his ministry. He asked what his church leaders would think of changing the name of the church. The new name he suggested would not have the denominational title included in it. He made sure to tell them the doctrinal statement would not change, the denominational affiliation would not change, and several other churches in this denomination had made similar changes with good success. 

The reaction was pretty much along the lines he expected. No one was in favor of it for various reasons. Horror stories based largely on misinformation and rumors surfaced about other churches that had done something like this and either closed or became a cult. While he expected many of these arguments, the one statement that caught him off guard was given by the most respected person in the church. It was a statement that killed the discussion immediately. My friend later said he was so taken back by this statement that he was speechless to continue. Here was the sincere statement from a man who knew God’s word. “But I get my identity from the ___________ church.”

Character is defined as one of the attributes or features that make up and distinguish an individual. This person’s character was based on a set of doctrines and beliefs held in the confines of denominational affiliation. Such thinking isn’t new of course. The Apostle Paul struggled with it too. He didn’t have to mess with Baptists or Lutherans or Methodists or Presbyterians. He had to contend with followers of Peter or Apollos or, (and I imagine he shuddered at this), those who followed him! Paul says, in the book of 1Corinthians, “What are you thinking? Stop following the teachings and opinions of men. You have all you need in Jesus Christ who came from God himself!”

The enemy doesn’t like that way of thinking, by the way. The lie he uses in the battle for our CHARACTER is the subtle belief that ‘Your doctrine is the most important thing to you’. In our effort to love ourselves this attacks us in at least two ways. First of all, the standards of men are sometimes harder to live up to than the standards God has for us. Man’s standards don’t always offer much grace or mercy as is shown by the reaction of some church bodies to differences in a person’s lifestyle or their beliefs. Man made doctrine is often more about making cookie cutter Christians than it is growing in the freedom of grace and mercy through the Lord Jesus Christ.   

In a love relationship it’s always amazing to me how the people involved think so much alike, or at least know what the other is thinking. It’s a process of course. The longer they are together the more they begin to look, think and act alike. Why? Because they have the same set of rules? No. They begin to ‘be each other’ because of relationship.

The second attack that this lie levels on our ability to love ourselves is that when we hold to strongly to man-made principles and doctrine we become legalistic and push people way. The nasty negative spiral comes in again. If I take to harsh a position I push you away. Since I don’t want to push you away I will guard my words. The result is I struggle to decide, ‘Do I hold my allegiance to you and watch you self-destruct, or hold my allegiance to what I know to be right and lose my chance to minister to you and bring you to the freedom I’ve found in Christ.

How does a person whose character is built on Jesus and not man-made rules react to people who are ‘different’ than us? Look at how Jesus responded to people in his day. People who struggled with greed, with lust, with sex, with addictions. How did Jesus respond? With love. “Neither do I condemn thee. Come to me you who are weary.” Paul says, “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will. (2 Timothy 2:24-26 (NIV)) 

The person of Christ-like character is the person that gently accepts people who are struggling and leaves the repentance and life change to the one who does it best, Jesus Christ. This is a huge relief for the follower of Christ because it takes the responsibility of life change out of my hands and puts it in the hands of God’s Holy Spirit.

The Truth Statement in the battle for our Character is: “When others watch you make sure they see Jesus and not a church name!”

PRAYER: Thank you Jesus for the freedom you have shown me through your grace, mercy and forgiveness. As I build relationships around me, help me to show them the patience and gentleness you showed those around you. In your name I pray, Amen.

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October 2011
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