Hypocrisy is a charged often leveled against Christians. “How can you say you believe ‘x’ and still do ‘y’?”, the unbeliever asks. While the merits of this claim probably deserve an entire devotional on their own, the implication is that these hypocrites are unqualified - unqualified to be taken seriously, unqualified to speak the truth of the Bible, even unqualified to be a child of God. If someone hears this charge, particularly the latter one, with enough repetition, they may actually start to believe it. What exactly qualifies someone to become a Christian, or to at least claim that they are?
Believe it or not, the list of qualifications is quite short.
1Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” 3Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
Throughout the Bible, there are many, many examples of those who would likely be called hypocrites today. Abraham lied about Sarah being his wife - twice! - (Genesis 12:11-20, Genesis 20:1-18) and is still the father of the nation of Israel. Jacob stole his brother’s blessing (Genesis 27:5-35), but was still the father of the 12 tribes of Israel. David committed adultery (2 Samuel 11:2-5) and murder (2 Samuel 11:14-24), yet God used Bathsheba to give him Solomon, his successor as king. Paul persecuted and killed Christ’s followers (Acts 8:1-9:2), yet he was used to write nearly half of the New Testament.
Were these people hypocrites? Some may say “yes.” The thing is, while salvation is an instant change in state, learning to live in a way that pleases Christ takes a lifetime. As we work to allow the Holy Spirit to control our lives, and deepen our relationship with Him, we can see significant growth. Habits can be changed, thought patterns can be transformed, and we can experience peace and joy that are not possible in our own strength. We will get better, but we will never be perfect.
This is also a great example of God’s redemption. The more cynical person would look at the people above and think “If these are the founders of this religion, I want nothing to do with it!” When you look at each life, though, you see God working to bring about a changed heart, which results in a transformed life. These people weren’t used by God to do those sinful things; those people were used by God to do amazing things for Him in spite of those sinful things!
(A note on leaders - Paul sets out qualifications for deacons and pastors in two different places (Titus 1:5-9, 1 Timothy 3:1-13). James echoes this along with a warning.
1Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 2For we all stumble in many ways.
These guidelines are good for all, but the church should hold their leaders to these standards as a condition of continued leadership. The Bible contains several examples of God removing people from leadership when they turned from Him.)
How, then, do we get qualified? That’s just it - God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called. If you have accepted Christ, you are qualified! Don’t let your failures get you down; rather, use them as reminders of how much you (and we all) need Jesus. If you haven’t accepted Christ, the good news is that you’re only missing one qualification. There is no credit check, and no test for which you have to study. God is waiting with open arms to welcome you into His family! All you have to do is ask; God’s Simple Plan of Salvation can show you how.
This week, let’s look at Ephesians 3:16 (through verse 19).
16[I pray] that He may grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, 17and that the Messiah may dwell in your hearts through faith. [I pray that] you, being rooted and firmly established in love, 18may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and width, height and depth, 19and to know the Messiah’s love that surpasses knowledge, so you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
God is omnipotent. If you’ve grown up in church, you’ve probably heard that so much that its meaning is often taken for granted - it’s just one of those three “omni” words you had to learn in Sunday School (the others being omnipresent and omniscient, for those who didn’t grow up going to Sunday School). God has all power, and He has promised to give it to us!
Before Jesus went back to heaven, He promised that He would send the Holy Spirit to help us do the things He wanted us to do.
8"But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."
So, this means that we already have the power, right? One would think. Check out this video, though.
How often are we, in a spiritual sense, like those people? We’re “stuck on an escalator,” not realizing that we have the power to change the situation we’re in. How do we get out of that cycle? Paul tells us in the remainder of the passage above.
One of our pastor’s favorite things to say is that “victory is not you overcoming sin, it’s Christ overcoming you.” We don’t have to look within for this power - what God commands, God supplies! Look at the last part of verse 17 into verse 18; we should be “grounded in love.” What does that mean? There are a couple of ways to look at it. You could think of it the way a tree is grounded - its roots are in the ground, and it gains its nourishment from the ground. You could also thing of it the way an electrical circuit is grounded - a way for things the circuit can’t handle to be directed away from it, so they do not damage it. God’s perfect love can do both these things - it can be the source of our growth, and our protection.
But it’s not even limited to those two things. Paul prays that the Ephesian church will know the “breadth and width, height and depth” of God’s love. We know in our heads that each of these dimensions is infinite, but do we know it in our hearts? Do we really believe that God’s love and power are infinitely deep? Way back in 1917, Frederick M. Lehman penned the words to the hymn “The Love of God.” Here are verses one and three.
The love of God is greater far
Than tongue or pen can ever tell;
It goes beyond the highest star,
And reaches to the lowest hell;
The guilty pair, bowed down with care,
God gave His Son to win;
His erring child He reconciled,
And pardoned from his sin.
Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.
Finally, Paul says that they need to be “filled with all the fullness of God.” To be filled with God, we must empty ourselves of us. The more we cling to our plans, our desires, and the way we think things ought to be, the less room there is in us for God to reveal His plans, His desires, and the way He wants things to be. When we are willing to surrender ourselves to His leading, He can guide us.
If you still feel powerless, perhaps it is because you’re trying to do the wrong thing. As a teenager, I felt a call that my life should be given to full-time Christian service - becoming a pastor was the way I thought it was going to work out. However, I began working during high school, and to save money, I attended a community college once I graduated. I became distracted from my calling, and really struggled. I bounced from job to job, not really feeling contentment in anything. A few years later, I determined that I hadn’t been succeeding at much of anything, although the effort I was putting forth should have been bringing much more success. That’s when it occurred to me - maybe I wasn’t being successful because I wasn’t doing that at which God wanted me to succeed. I decided to go to a Christian university (Bob Jones University) and follow the call I had received, majoring in Youth Ministry.
The first day of classes, I met this really nice lady named Michelle, who became my wife at the end of that school year. Through talking to an Air Force Chaplain recruiter on campus, I decided to check out the Air Force, where I’ve had a successful 11-year-and-still-going career. I’m not a pastor, obviously, and I’m not even working with anything related to the ministry in the Air Force. However, I have used the training I received during that year of college; I’ve been able to study my Bible more effectively, I can put together a sermon or Sunday School lesson if needed, and I’m a Cub Scout leader. But, even if I hadn’t gotten anything else from that year at BJU, the family God has given me with Michelle is an overwhelming blessing.
The above is my testimony (the short version). By no means have I arrived - I still find myself struggling with things, and often I’ll ask myself “why are you struggling with this so much?” Sometimes, the answer is to not try so hard to do it myself, but let go of it and let God work it out. He’s much better at those things than we are!
My prayer for you this week is the same as Paul’s prayer for the Ephesian church. I pray that we will live grounded in love, and that we will be able to shed our impotence in favor of God’s omnipotence, and allow His spirit to overwhelm us.
Daniel is a man who wants to be used of God however He sees fit.