One of my students observed that a whole lot of folks who have gone spiritually weird seemed to start out great, but their lives as honorable Christians ended early. They found themselves unequipped to deal with the hardship and tribulation that inevitably faces every believer. They’d become ineffectual and disenchanted Christians.
Others are not sunk by hardship, but by success. At the pinnacle of their ministries they get involved in sexual immorality, misappropriate funds, or simply turn into jerks, bringing shame on the cross of Christ. They become disbarred Christian leaders expelled from the Christian community. Sometimes they even find themselves in prison.
Sometimes they never get caught or corrected, and in a way that’s worse, because they quietly teach views that in the long run don’t bring maturity and completeness in Christ, but actually prolong spiritual adolescence, even though these teachers come across as spiritually profound.
So this student asked a very simple but important question: “How do you survive in the long haul as a Christian?” In other words, how do you keep from getting spiritually weird?
So I’ve put some time and thought into it and I’m going to suggest a few things I think can make a difference.
First, what kind of people get spiritually weird? People who are looking for quick fixes frequently get weird.
It seems like every couple of years a new fad comes down the pike promising a, deeper richer, fuller, Christian life. If you’ve been around for a while you know what I mean. In my twenty years as a Christian we’ve had Power in praise; the “second blessing” as key to the powerful Christian life; speaking in tongues; heavy-handed submission to church leadership; binding, loosing and rebuking of demons, name it and claim it, the School of the Prophets, hearing the voice of God, power evangelism. These are all fads, ladies and gentlemen, evangelical joy-toys. They each may emphasize something that has biblical merit, but they do so in an unbalanced way, and each fails utterly as a panacea, as the one particular and principle thing that makes your Christian life “work.”
It is uniquely American to want an easy way out, especially a way out that is not painful and requires no work. That American value has crept into our American Christianity. So we have these seminars to get it all taken care of in a weekend. Want mental health? Get hands laid on you and you’ll have mental health overnight. Want spirituality? Have a vision, get the baptism, or speak in tongues. Want your problems to disappear? Simply praise the Lord. Want to be rid of temptation and sin? Have the demon cast out. Want to done with the aggravation of decision making? Let God speak to you.
Instead of being devoted to developing spiritual maturity and attaining Scriptural knowledge, we want the quick fix. Instead of developing mastery, we want magic. Instead of learning our lessons, we want the master sitting next to us during the tests of life whispering His answers into our ears. We anticipate an A in the exam of life not because we know the material, not because we’ve mastered the content and it’s become a part of us, but because we’ve cheated.
You will notice, by the way, that these extreme things do not stay around long, and that the effects of these fads fade over time. That’s why the church as a whole has to move on to its next fast-fix.
Let me give you an example. Recently I read an article on Momentous, a new “Christian” encounter seminar that has earned the praise of many participants, but has also drawn the attention of concerned ministers and counter-cult groups like the Christian Research Institute (CRI).
The article quoted Rex Julian Beaber, an attorney and psychologist familiar with encounter groups. He made this observation: “The grand lesson of the whole marathon group encounter movement is that the effects are very short-lived...It is very difficult to change another human being...[People] confuse emotional intensity with significance. What are they doing now that they weren’t doing before? Were they unemployed people who now have jobs?...Are they best friends with someone they couldn’t forgive? The evidence of real change is usually trivial.” LA Times, Sunday, April 17, 1994, p. E2
Let me run that by you again: “[People] confuse emotional intensity with significance.” We move from one experiential high to another and call that spirituality. In the meantime our lives are chaotic and we wonder why God seems to be right next to us one minute and then the next minute He’s gone. The Spirit has departed. The anointing has left. Now what?
“But this is a humanistic, non-Christian, skeptic’s perspective!” you say. “He’s a psychologist, for goodness’ sake.”
May be, but I have to agree with him on this point. In my twenty years as a Christian I have seen precious few who seemed substantially changed by any of these intense, quick-fix experiences. Yes, we have times of profound insight and radical paradigm shifts, and the Holy Spirit can work some dramatic, significant changes—and maybe some of you have experienced things like that. But I think quantum leaps in growth are rare, and for the most part we don’t control the circumstances that stimulate them. It’s not our spiritual tricks—our fads, our joy-toys—that make the difference in those times. Instead, God visits something upon us sovereignly.
No, there are no shortcuts. But there is a secret to long-term to stability and genuine maturity. I say “secret” with tongue in cheek because it’s no secret at all, that’s one of the reasons it’s often ignored. This is the antidote to the quick fix: stick with the basics, the dull, ordinary disciplines that have been around for millennium and have served a very good purpose, to build solid Christian people over time.
How do we attain a deeper, fuller, richer Christian life? By following the fundamental, basic disciplines of Christianity God has given us, revealed in the Bible. Prayer. Fellowship with accountability. Bible study. Meditation and memorization. Practicing Christian virtue. Obedience. Repentance. Worship. Fasting. All of these ordinary, every day type of things, that every single Christian person can do.
It’s the practice of these things in a consistent manner over a long period of time that builds deep spirituality. Not some power encounter with God or the devil. I’m not disregarding powerful spiritual encounters people have with God. Those are valuable and God determines when they happen. But people who seek those sometimes get other kinds of experiences besides God. Not only that, it often substitutes a dramatic emotional experience for substantive, real, genuine transformation of character.
But what of the advanced stuff, the secrets? Well, there are no secrets. In Christianity everything is public. You never need to buy a book that says, “Here are the secrets to the Christian life. Here is the inside scoop.” Many things are important in our Christian walk; no one particular thing is preeminent.
When you understand this, a whole new world seems accessible to you. You don’t need to chase after the next seminar or hot Christian best-seller to find out how to flip on the spiritual switch, to connect with God in a secret, esoteric way that only the ascended masters of Christianity can pass on to you, for a fee.
Many of these seminars are led by godly people who love Jesus, and I’m not impugning their motive or character. I’m just saying that people go to things like this, proclaim great transformation in their lives, when in reality they are confusing an emotional reaction with substantial change. And such change usually doesn’t happen in a weekend. It doesn’t happen by employing some peculiar trick that someone stumbled onto.
One of the hard truths of spiritual growth is that it takes time an persistence and consistent application. It doesn’t take secret knowledge. It’s doesn’t take a special voice from God or a special inside track with the Holy Spirit. There’s nothing hidden. It’s available to all and you can find it between the covers of the book to be read by anyone. Everything that is to be known and practiced as Christian discipline are there in the Scriptures taught plainly.
The point that I’m making is that you don’t have to plug into some deep, hidden, specialized, higher knowledge in order to be a profound Christian. You don’t have to “hear the voice of God” to live the optimal Christian life. There are times when one can say God “speaks” to people with special guidance, but it isn’t the kind of thing that is the ordinary part of the Christian’s walk. And those who pursue that kind of thing end up frequently on the junk pile of Christianity. That doesn’t mean they all become apostate, but what does happen is a serious time of disillusionment and ineffectiveness.
So the first way to keep from becoming spiritually weird is to stick with the basics and don't go for the quick fix. Stick with the old tried and true. Don’t go off on these tangents. Usually the new stuff is just an alleged short cut to a destination that has only one route: the simple, persistent application of classical spiritual disciplines over time in the power of the Holy Spirit. This is very important because there’s a lot of goofy stuff out there.
In regards to your Christian life, be a plodder. The times when we see significant, consistent change is when we’ve been applying ourselves over a long period of time. As a matter of fact, that’s the kind of change we’re not usually even aware of, like growing a few inches taller over the course of a year. It’s the kind of thing other people reflect to us, but we don’t always see ourselves.
The first thing, then, is stick to the basics and don’t look for the quick fix. The “secret” is that there is no secret except for consistency and time. Don’t go after the evangelical joy toys. Instead plod on with the basics. That’s what builds true spirituality, in my opinion. It’ll also go a long way to protect you from excess.
I was talking last week about how to keep from getting spiritually weird. I’d like to give you some more thoughts on that. The first way to keep from getting spiritually weird is stick to the basics and don’t look for the quick fix, spiritually. Don’t go after the evangelical joy toys. Instead plod on with the ordinary Christian disciplines: prayer, Bible learning, fellowship and accountability, worship, obedience, the practice of Christian virtue, that kind of thing. What kind of people get spiritually weird? People who are looking for quick fixes; they get weird.
A second kind of person gets weird. That’s the person who’s attracted to theological novelty. If you have a taste for the novel, it’s very easy for you to get weird. People who are drawn to theological new, strange, fascinating, flashy, showy, extreme, get weird.
So our second guideline is simply: to keep from getting spiritually weird, avoid theological novelty; or, to put it another way, err on the side of conservatism.
It seems that it’s the goofy, extreme things that cause problems. What is novel? Something that’s new, as opposed to that which has been once for all delivered to the saints, as Jude puts it.
Some people have a spiritual appetite for secrets, for the inside scoop, for special hidden knowledge. They like that kind of thing. It’s appealing, it’s titillating. If you’re like that, look out. Your kind is prone to get weird. The second century heresy known as Gnosticism was spawned by a desire to know more detail about the supernatural world. When people started probing into the spiritual realm for novelty, new stuff, stuff that the Bible didn’t tell them about, the spiritual realm provided it for them. They got all kinds of juicy stuff, but it was heresy and it destroyed their faith and the faith of others.
I anticipate a response here. The classic response to my warning to be careful of the novel, new, strange, flashy kinds of things and instead, stick with the conservative stuff, is “You can’t put God in a box. If God wants to work through a Holy Ghost ’laugh-in’ [one of the current weird rages], then who are we to pass judgment on it?”
My response is that we have a responsibility to pass judgment on it, first off. We can’t simply assume that because it has a supernatural character to it it must be from God. It is our responsibility to judge those things. We are to look at them carefully. That’s part of our job. Nothing wrong with that. In fact, there’s something wrong with not doing that. And sure, there is the chance that I might quench the Spirit. God might be doing something that’s really kind of bizarre by my standards, and I’ll say Hey that’s too bizarre for me, I’m going to err on the side of conservatism and I’m going to opt out for the time being, and then I would quench the Spirit. But I want to tell you something, better take the chance of “quenching” the Spirit than becoming a cultist. The Spirit will survive the alleged quenching; you may not survive the imbalance that may—and frequently does—result.
Yes, God can work through anything, and if He wants to deepen your spirituality with a good belly-laugh, that’s His business. But, no thanks for me. I’d just as soon take my chances at quenching the Spirit a little bit and stay sane, than got off into something marginal and go whacko. It’s better to err on the side of conservatism than to see your Christian life sabotaged or your witness discredited because of some trendy silliness.
What kind of people get weird? People who are attracted to novelty. I’ve got to raise the question: But how do you know if something is novel? Well, to know what’s novel you’ve got to know what’s normal. We learn from this that people also get weird because they don’t know the normal Christian things. Simply put, they don’t know the truth.
This leads us to our third guideline to keep us from becoming spiritually weird: know the truth. And you can see how this fits with our first point of not looking for quick fixes for spiritual maturity, but instead plodding along with the basics. In order to stick to the basics you must know the basics.
You must know the nature of God. You must know the person of Christ and the nature of man. You must know the work of the cross. You must know the nature of revelation. Virtually every significant error in Christendom at large is an error in one of those areas.
You’ve got to know doctrine. Sorry, there’s no other way. That’s the only way to be protected. And remember what I said yesterday if you want to build your faith? Build your knowledge, because knowledge undergirds faith. This is the kind of thing I’m talking about. You can’t know what’s theologically weird and avoid it unless you know what’s theologically normal.
If you want a book recommendation, try the relatively short book on doctrine Know the Truth, by Milne (IVP). Or for something more thorough, I’d suggest you pick up a copy of Christian Theology, by Erickson (Baker). Then start reading with your Bible open. “But that’s a lot of material.” Right. So what? You’ve got the rest of your life. Just start and learn what is true. Do you want the rest of your life to be a normal Christian life or a weird one? Your choice.
Another related thought that will help, I think. Know something about church history, about the development of Christian thought. Why is that important? Because people have been getting weird for 2000 years. And a record of the history of the church demonstrates that fact, but it also makes it clear what is weird and what isn’t. What was rejected and what was accepted and the reasons why, in most cases. Most of the errors being made now have been made a number of times in the past. My previous reflection on Gnosticism was possible because I knew a little about church history.
This is the issue of catholicity. The word “catholic” means universal. A belief passes the test of catholicity if it can be shown to be part of the belief system of the church at large down through history. Actually, the test of catholicity is more of a guideline because the church can be—and has been, in my view—in error on certain issues for long periods of time. But if your view is out of step with the conventional view of the church, you better be really certain that Scripture unequivocally backs you up.
By the way, some of what is basic to American evangelicalism today is actually historically novel. We think that what we believe is ordinary, right? And, in fact much of what we believe is new: for example, the emphasis in evangelical America on hearing the voice of God to live the optimal Christian life; the view that the church will disappear seven years before the visible return of Christ—the rapture—this is new; extreme individualism, personal peace & prosperity, the emphasis on mental health, all new and recent. So, because of these recent things that we are not alert to, as being kind of novel, we’ve got a lot of weirdness associated with Christianity because people are doing strange things that they fancy God “told” them to do. You have Christians getting weird because they’re trying to figure out the timing of the “secret” coming of Christ, or because they’re treating God like a cosmic bellhop instead of the Lord of the universe. Christians get weird when God becomes their personal financial wizard, when the Mercedes is a sign of spiritual maturity. So you can have financial holy trinity: Dave Delgado, Tony Robbins and Jesus H. Christ. That’s weird. All of these things are historically recent, and that ought to be a clue to us that they are novel, and novelty makes Christians weird.
Another value of being familiar with history is that you realize that the things which you hold dear theologically, to a great degree are trends. We think that everything we believe is what Christianity really is. But much of what we believe—speaking here of the secondary things, not the principle, primary catholic issues—actually reflects trends in Christianity that come from our culture and they are not part of what Christianity essentially is. This doesn’t mean the beliefs are necessarily false,—it could be trendy and true—but it forces us to ask ourselves whether what we believe is merely a trend or not. And if you have some perspective on the development of Christian thought, if you’ve done some reading in Christian history, even a little bit, you realize that we are deeply influenced by those trends and you are more capable in identifying trends and separating those from the truth of Christianity. And clinging to the later, and eschewing the former.
And so our second and third points are kin to the first. Stick with the basics and avoid theological novelty. In order to do that, know the truth and know what the church has characteristically believed and practiced. That will help keep you from becoming spiritually weird.
This leads us now to our fifth point of how to keep from becoming spiritually weird. And it has to do with how tightly we hold onto certain doctrinal positions. Now, I’ve changed some of my doctrinal convictions since I’ve been a Christian. I haven’t really changed on the fundamentals. Though my understanding of them has become more precise In the last 20 years. But there are a whole bunch of things that fall into a broader category of what I call Christian folklore that I have changed drastically. And so, my next point is simply this: to avoid getting spiritually weird, you have to stay teachable.
Now, how do you stay teachable? Well, first, you have to be a student, and you have to be a student continually. Some might say, well it’s easy for you to say this, Koukl, because you like learning, apparently. And the truth is, I do. And some people don’t like learning so much. And I understand that. And it makes me feel good because of my personal likes, my natural tendencies, I more readily do those kinds of things that will protect me. But it doesn’t mean that others are no less responsible for protecting themselves just because they don’t happen to like learning as much.
You are obliged as a Christian to continue learning about spiritual things. This is the command of the Scripture. You may learn at a different rate than others, but you need to keep learning. You need to consider yourself a student. And what the heck—you’ve got the rest of your life. Sixty-six books in the Bible seems like a lot, but you’ve got, forty, fifty, sixty years for it. That’s a lot of time. You don’t have to have it all tomorrow. You don’t have to have all your theology tightened down and all the hatches battened down in the next year or so. You can just be a continual student and move slowly at your own pace, but progressively, through the teachings of the Scripture. And as you do that, the fact that you are a student, the fact that you are continuing to learn will help you to be teachable. After all, you are seeking teaching if you are a student. So be a student, continually.
Second, be honest about your limitations. We have to hold our ideas about what is true with a little bit of a loose grip. Now, I’m not suggesting that you become capricious, changing your views every other day, or that you abandon your beliefs about a particular thing over night. But I am encouraging you to keep in mind what Chuck Colson has said. That “human beings have an infinite capacity for self-deception.” We think we know something for sure. But it’s very, very simple for us to deceive ourselves because there are other things that are going on. Things that are underneath the surface that motivate us to want to see a thing a certain way. I’m not suggesting that we can never know something without a sense of conviction that it’s actually true. But what I am saying is that we ought to have a sober attitude about our own capability to see things the way we want to see them or the way we are used to seeing them. We like the status quo; we don’t like to change the way we believe. We often times have a personal investment in those beliefs. So the tendency is to overlook some things that sometimes are very obvious that would demonstrate for us that our beliefs are actually in error. So we have to be aware that we can deceive ourselves and because of that we have to be willing to look hard at even things that we hold dear in our own theology.
Now, how do we know when to change and when to stand firm? Here’s what I suggest: We should hold onto something that we believe as tenaciously as the credibility of the ideas permit. What does that mean? I’ll explain. There are some things that I’ve researched and thought through very extensively. These are the convictions I cling to very strongly. I’ve done the work to justify the determination and tenacity with which I cling to those particular beliefs. Even so, by the way, I still pretty regularly ask myself the question “Are you wrong about this, Greg? Maybe you’re mistaken.” I look as honestly as I can at the other point of view. Is there merit in the idea? Is there error in the thinking? Is there misapplication of a verse? Am I being blind to something that is obvious to everyone else? And I’ve got to acknowledge that possibility even on the things that I think I really know well. I ask myself quite frequently, and often times because of the challenge I receive on this program, “Am I mistaken?” Maybe I’m not getting it. Maybe I’m blind to something that’s obvious to everyone else. And so I have to go back to the process myself. I go back to my research, examine my reasons to see if my convictions are well grounded.
So I hold my views quite tenaciously on the issues that I’ve done the work on. But there are other things that I haven’t done the work on. And because of that, I can’t hold to those views tenaciously. I can say to you, as I frequently do here on the show, “This is my feeling right now, but I could be mistaken. I could be wrong. I need to do some more work on this.” And you know, it is very healthy for you to learn to say the phrase “I could be mistaken.” Not just in theological matters, but in all of your relationships, frankly. It’s just really a good thing, when you are in an argument or a discussion, when you are having a difference of opinion with a friend or a spouse or an employer or a co-worker, to be willing to say, to genuinely entertain the idea that “I could be mistaken on this.” One thing it will do is save you a lot of humiliation when, later on, you find that you are mistaken. At least you’ve admitted the possibility. So be sure that you have the capability and that you are in the habit of acknowledging that you could be mistaken. And to say that genuinely because you realize the limitations of your thinking on a given subject, and because you realize your human tendency to deceive yourself.
Now there are times when I’ll say, “I could be mistaken, but I’ll tell you what, I really don’t think I am on this one.” But what I’ll then do, is give reasons. You see, the reason I say that is not because I’m bull headed. I’ll sit down and I’ll give you the reasons why. And if you can refute the reasons, I’ll abandon my view. It has happened before. Or if your reasons are good enough to alter my view, I’ll change it in some fashion. And in that regard, you will do me a favor. And there is no reason for me to tenaciously hang on to a view that is just flat out false. And this is why it is always good for us to be in the habit of encouraging other people to express their disagreements with what we believe. Because one of two things is going to happen: either we are going to find out that their reasons are bad ones, and be more confirmed in our own thinking or we are going to find out there are some flaws in our thinking and we will abandon the bad thinking and come closer to the truth. Both ways, we win, right?
So, to stay teachable, you need to continue being a student and secondly, you have to hold your convictions with a strength that is commensurate with the soundness of the ideas and the research that supports those convictions. You have to be willing to say “I could be wrong on this, but if I’m wrong, here are my reasons, if I’m wrong you tell me why.” So what kind of people get weird? People who are looking for quick fixes, instead of knowing and applying the basics. People who are attracted to novelty because they don’t know the truth very well and don’t know something about the history of Christian thinking. Those are the kind of people who get weird. Now, some people don’t know these things simply because they are not teachable. And people who are not teachable, people who are calcified, locked in to a way of thinking, people who won’t bend, people who are even unwilling to consider flexing, people who cannot integrate new information, who cannot integrate new ideas, who cannot assess them fairly, these kind of people are vulnerable to getting spiritually weird. Don’t you be one of them.
The next point I want to share with you is related to this idea of flexibility, teachability and integrating new information that will allow you to have a clearer, more accurate view of the truth. People get weird when their understanding of the truth is not balanced. In other words, they’re unbalanced in their doctrine. They’re not careful in their understanding of the full counsel of the Scripture. Now, when I refer here to balance, I am referring to something very particular. I’m referring to a kind of knowledge, and not a time management principle. I’m not talking about people who spend too much time doing one thing and not another. The particular kind of balance that I think is the biggest concern for a Christian—though the other has its value and is important—but the particular kind of balance that relates to people becoming spiritually weird has to do with balance in the area of knowledge. Balance, the way that I’m using it, is the ability to integrate all the teaching of Scripture on a particular topic.
Let me give you an example. I believe that people who are extreme pacifists, in other words, people who believe that it’s wrong to fight under any circumstances, and certainly wrong to take someone’s life under any circumstances, are people I believe who are not only adopting an immoral position in itself, but they are sometimes doing so with justification from the Scriptures from the Old Testament where it says “Thou shalt not kill,” as they read it at least. Consequently, they are theologically weird because they are imbalanced in their knowledge about what the Scripture teaches about this issue. What they have done, folks, is camp on one verse and commit themselves to a particular understanding of what that verse means, and they’re also apparently not teachable. In the King James, the verse reads “Thou shalt not kill”—that is not what it means. The Hebrew word is very clear there, it means “Thou shalt not murder.” It’s not a commandment against taking any life whatsoever. It’s a commandment against taking innocent life. That’s the commandment. But some who are extreme pacifists will argue from the Bible that it teaches that you should never take any life under any circumstance, and they will quote this verse. The reason that this view is imbalanced is because, though one might infer that meaning from that isolated passage, there are other passages which makes it impossible for you to hold that particular viewpoint. For example, in the same section of the Bible that says “Thou shalt not murder,” it also says that when someone does murder their life should be taken by the ruling authorities. Capitol punishment is not only allowed in the Old Testament, it is commanded under quite a number of circumstances.
Now, the point I’m making here is this: a person who focuses in on only one aspect of the teaching and doesn’t take into account all of the relevant verses to develop a position that keeps all those verses’ in tension and doesn’t violate any of them, is a person who is out of balance. If you don’t know the different things, you focus on one area to the exclusion of others and you get out of balance. And when you get out of balance you get spiritually weird. If you focus on one part of a doctrine and you don’t integrate the rest then your understanding is without balance.
Folks, balance doesn’t mean taking a little bit of this and a little bit of that. It isn’t taking a little bit of grace and a little bit of law, as if having a little bit of each gives us balance. We’ve kind of got even amounts of each—that’s balance. That’s not balance. The reason that it’s not balance in the sense that I’m talking about is because that way of approaching Christian living is a Biblical distortion. The Bible doesn’t tell us to take a little bit of grace and a little bit of law. The balance I’m talking about is a balance of true knowledge. Balance means understanding enough of the Scripture, so that you have the breadth not to distort any particular thing. That comes with time, by the way. It doesn’t happen over night. I hope that this doesn’t put a burden on you that you have to be perfect over night. That isn’t what I mean. I’m giving you these guidelines so that they will give you something to shoot for and to pursue.
By the way, I think that you will notice how many of these things that I’ve talked about in this series really have to do with knowledge. And if our knowledge is sound and accurate and reasonably precise and broad, then we are going to be protected from being spiritually weird in a lot of different ways. Now, one of the problems with assessing balance, especially for Christian leaders, is that there isn’t a Christian leader or teacher who thinks he’s unbalanced. We all think we’re balanced. So that’s a liability we have to live with. But in your pursuit of this virtue, maybe the best thing is to not think about trying to get balance, per se, but rather to think about having a breadth of understanding of the Scriptures, or of the issues that you deal with. And having a breadth of understanding will help you accomplish balance.
A lot of my own contribution that I make here on the air involves bringing other information or other thinking to bear on a particular issue that someone raises. Then I encourage the callers to work this information into the formula of their thinking. They say, “This is my view. Here is why I believe it.” And I say, “Wait a minute, there’s a couple of other things that you haven’t taken into consideration. Integrate those things into your view now and your view will be more balanced.” Balance is when all of the relevant factors and relevant information is taken into consideration in order to draw a conclusion about someone. So, people get weird when their knowledge and therefore their application gets out of balance.
People get weird for another reason. They get weird because they don’t have a healthy sense of vulnerability. Because they’re not vulnerable, they don’t stay accountable, and they fall prey to a few things. What do I mean by vulnerability? Vulnerability is a willingness to see yourself as a traveler with everyone else. Not to allow yourself to be placed on a pedestal as some kind of super human Christian, but rather to be transparent about your liabilities and your limitations as a human being.
Many Christians aren’t tested in this area simply because they don’t expect themselves to be on a pedestal. But this is a serious problem for those who are in Christian leadership because they are placed there and they think they have to maintain an image of some kind of spiritual perfection. As a result, they are not vulnerable. They are not readily willing to admit their weaknesses and their moral liabilities. This is true of all Christians, I think, in some measure, and to the degree that it’s true, it is dangerous. But it is more true and therefore more dangerous to Christian leadership because of the unique demands of their particular position.
Many Christians—and this includes many, many Christian leaders—don’t want people to see that there is a real human being in there that has to come out from behind the podium when he’s done with his sermon or lecture, and live among human beings, and struggle with the same things everyone else struggles with. There are well known teachers that come to mind—you could probably think of them—for whom it’s really hard to imagine that they ever really struggle with anything—morally or otherwise. They just seem so perfect. Well, if you have that feeling about someone else, then that’s a tip to you that they may not be very vulnerable in a proper way. I don’t mean you have to spill your guts all the time and tell every nasty sin, but I’m talking about a general quality. Instead they become somewhat of an icon or image, instead of being a human being. When they do that they not only do a disservice to us, they also put themselves in an ironically vulnerable position of becoming weird in some fashion. Here’s why. Because of our fear of admitting our liabilities or humanness, we are not particularly eager to let anyone have access to us on that level. We’re private. We don’t want people to know we’re kind of nasty inside. In other words, we don’t want to be accountable to others for the darker side.
Let me give you an illustration. If you have a big spiritual name to protect—or think that you do—then you won’t want anyone to know about your struggle with pornography. Because you are not vulnerable in that way, you will not be inclined to report to another brother on a regular basis and confess to him your recent sins in that area. Gulp. Report to someone on my recent sins in this area? Yeah, right. Well, if you say that, that is an evidence that you are not being vulnerable. And because of your lack of vulnerability—your inability or unwillingness to admit that you have some liabilities in this area, that you may be open to sin in this area—you are not going to surround yourself with people to be accountable to. Therefore you can get hurt big time.
Let me tell you something, not for effect, but simply for your education. I have a Christian brother who I answer to on that particular issue—pornography. Why? Because I know my vulnerabilities. (How embarrassing. People are going to think, golly.) No, it’s not embarrassing, not really. And I’ll tell you two reasons why. I have no delusions—nor does he, nor should you—about what I am capable of as a fallen human being. What’s there to be embarrassed about? We ought all be aware of the fact that we can do just about anything. We are all capable of just about anything. Secondly, because I am accountable to him I usually don’t have much to confess. See how that works?
Be accountable. But before you can be accountable, you have to be vulnerable. Only if we are vulnerable about our limitations because of what we know we are capable of doing or being in the shadows, in the darkness, in the hidden places where other eyes are not upon us will we be willing to be accountable. The key to accountability is that there be nothing hidden in our lives. In other words, have nothing in your life that you would be ashamed to have others find out about, or to have others discover suddenly.
I heard of one guy who was on the pastoral staff of a church, and somebody had a word of knowledge and nailed this guy publicly for his problem with pornography, which apparently he was not dealing with. How would you like that? Somebody out of the blue nails you publicly for a sin that you thought was secret to everyone but God. Well, let me tell you a secret. God can whisper that sin into someone else’s ear. It’s possible, and it has happened.
Now, how do you protect yourself against that? Very simple. Don’t have anything in your life that someone can discover. Have enough visibility, vulnerability, accountability in your life such that you have disclosure about what it is that you are doing. The way to keep from getting uncovered or discovered suddenly is to have godly people in your life who can already see everything. Get it? “Well, gee, I sure wouldn’t want them to see this and that and the other.” Of course you wouldn’t. That’s why when they are allowed to see everything you quit doing those things. That’s the point. By the way, this is called confessing to one another. All right? Got it?
Now what are the key areas you should be accountable, to be alert to? There are actually three areas that are the biggest areas of downfall for Christians, especially Christian leaders: money, sex and power. Or you can insert pride there for power. It’s basically the same thing. Money, sex and pride. How do you protect yourself against these three major stumbling blocks? You make each of these areas objects of total disclosure. Not to everyone, but to some people in your circle of mature Christian friends. People that you humbly give power to in your life. Yes, it takes humility, but that’s the point. You see, this is what Christianity entails to a great degree—a willingness to confess our sins one to another and humbly give others access to our lives so that we don’t continue in the sin.
What kind of people get spiritually weird? People whose knowledge of the truth is not in balance. People whose lack of vulnerability does not allow them to be accountable, does not allow disclosure of their moral habits to others. Or simply put, they refuse to confess their sins to others so that they may be healed. Refusing to be vulnerable in this way actually causes you to be vulnerable to getting weird. And that’s no fun.
So keep in mind all of these areas. Each one of them is important, and as I mentioned a few moments ago, most of them that we’ve discussed the last couple of weeks have to do with the area of knowledge. If you know things rightly, if you spend some time to get clarity on the truth, if you spend some time to get a refined understanding of that which is true, to get some of the details down, if you have some perspective of Christian thinking so that you know what’s been weird in the past, and what is ordinary, if you know properly, if your mind is being renewed, if you have a true knowledge, that will protect you from becoming spiritually weird. And if you take your own awareness, your own accurate self-awareness that you are nothing special spiritually, and you are just as vulnerable to sin as anyone else, if you take that seriously and are willing to be vulnerable with that truth to others, if you are willing to not act like a spiritual icon, someone on a pedestal, but as a human being which is what you are, if you are willing to take that self knowledge seriously and then allow others to take it seriously about you, then you will be more inclined to be accountable. You must realize that you and everyone else have the capability of being and doing as badly as anything can be done. You have the possibility of getting spiritually weird. You have the capability of committing any sin in the book. That happens to be true, and if you think not then your view of yourself is too high. You don’t have a clear understanding of your own fallenness.
A friend of mine who I hadn’t seen in a while called me recently, and I have to get back to him. His name is Rob Mehl, a singer, composer. He wrote a song and said in this song “Be as holy in the shadows as you are in the light.” The only way you can really do that, frankly, is if you have true knowledge, and you have other Christians in your life that are with you in the shadows, as it were, so they can see whether you are holy or not. That takes vulnerability. That takes courage. That takes some humility, as well. But that will keep you and protect you from becoming spiritually weird.