By Femi Aribisala

Many Christians are still living frustrating lives. We cannot live lives of victory. We cannot stop smoking. We cannot stop drinking. We cannot stop fornicating. We cannot stop losing our temper. We find it difficult to forgive and forget. We still have ungodly thoughts. We are still held in the bondage of masturbation. We are addicted to pornography. We still find ourselves telling lies.

And all the time, the devil keeps telling us that we are not Christians. Our hearts continue to condemn us, and we come to believe that we are hypocrites.

In many respects, the church has been singularly unhelpful in this regard. All that the church does is promise us hell and brimstone. The church has failed to appreciate the new wine of the gospel and continues to serve it in old wineskins.

The good news of the gospel has become bad news for many. Failing to promote righteousness, the church has emphasised regulations and the punishment of sins, and this has led to witchcraft and bondage. Many of the rules and regulations that are prevalent in the churches today are man-made and cannot lead to salvation. God says: “These people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men.” (Isaiah 29:13).

The problem with man-made regulations is that they cannot change the heart. Paul says: “These rules may seem good, for rules of this kind require strong devotion and are humiliating and hard on the body, but they have no effect when it comes to conquering a person’s evil thoughts and desires. 

They only make him proud.” (Colossians 2:23).

As a result, churches have become places where people’s hands are cut off in the name of religion. It is the place where people are stoned to death in the name of righteousness.

Comfort My people

The Lord has sent me to comfort you, beloved Christian, and to offer you a godly counsel. The very fact that you feel terrible, that you feel frustrated, and that your heart condemns you is actually a confirmation that you are a child of God.

“This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in His presence. Whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and He knows everything.” (1John 3:19-20).

The reason why we keep falling short and keep feeling terrible is that we are disciples of John the Baptist. But we need to become disciples of Jesus Christ. John the Baptist himself counsels: “(Jesus) must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30).

Without realising it, many Christians are disciples of John the Baptist, and they put Jesus’ new wine in old wineskins. This inevitably creates problems.

Instead, we need to follow the example of the disciples of John who deserted him and followed Jesus: “John stood with two of his disciples. And looking at Jesus as He walked, he said, ‘Behold the Lamb of God!’ The two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus.” (John 1:35-38).

John the Baptist

John the Baptist was a powerful preacher. He spoke, and people immediately became convicted. If you were to listen to John the Baptist preach, and you would know immediately that you are finished. If you ever thought you were righteous, by the time you listen to John’s message, you would see yourself in a different light.

No arguments, no excuses. You would know that have to repent, or else. But there was a problem with the preaching of John the Baptist: it left the people worse off than before.

John was a prophet in the tradition of Isaiah. His mandate was designed to frustrate the people to death. God said to Isaiah: “Go, and tell these people: ‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.” (Isaiah 6:9).

John could not answer the most nagging question of the people: “What shall we do?” The answer was clearly beyond his pay grade.

“The people asked (John), saying, ‘What shall we do then?’ He answered and said to them, ‘He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise.’ Then tax collectors also came to be baptized, and said to him, ‘Teacher, what shall we do?’ And he said to them, ‘Collect no more than what is appointed for you.’ Likewise, the soldiers asked him, saying, ‘And what shall we do?’ So he said to them, ‘Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages.’” (Luke 3:10-14).

Futile prescriptions

The church is full of John the Baptist messages. Do not steal. Do not fornicate. Do not tell lies. Do not cheat. Do not fight. But these injunctions are simply religious, they are completely ineffectual.

Yes, we know that we should not do all those sinful things. We know! We know! We know! But the knowledge of sin does not promote righteousness. All it does is give us a guilty conscience. The Christian now knows what is sinful. The Christian now hates sin. But the problem is that we cannot seem to stop doing sinful things. 

Let us be instructed by Paul’s confession. He says: “No matter which way I turn I can’t make myself do right. I want to but I can’t. When I want to do good, I don’t; and when I try not to do wrong, I do it anyway.” (Romans 7:18-19).

The reason for this is that, because of sin, God has closed the hearts of men. Thus, He gives Isaiah a strange assignment that is repeated more times than any other scripture in the Bible:

“Make the heart of these people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed.” (Isaiah 6:10).

Accordingly, despite the many outstanding miracles of Jesus, nevertheless, the people did not believe in Him. They did not believe because they could not:

“They could not believe, because Isaiah said again: ‘(God) has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, lest they should see with their eyes, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them.” (John 12:39-40).

Jesus’ Beatitudes

On the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus seemed to worsen the problem. His beatitudes take the Law of Moses to another impracticable level. Before, we were struggling with fornication, but now Jesus says if we even so much as look at a woman lustfully, we have committed adultery. Before, we were struggling with anger, but now He says if we say, “you idiot,” to someone we are in trouble with God. 

Before, we were struggling with the desire to punch that hateful brother in the nose, but now Jesus says if he slaps us on the one cheek, we should turn the other cheek.

Let us face it, the standards of Christ are impossible to fulfil. But with God, all things are possible. (Matthew 19:27). 

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