Val starts off the sermon speaking about the difficulties in trying to cater a sermon to audience members who fall in vastly different age groups. If you’re preaching to kids from Grades 2-8, it is likely that you’ll either go over their heads or dumb it down, no matter at which age group you target. Likewise she wants to take pains that her message will not be over the heads of new believers or visitors, while desiring to appeal to more mature believers. As a note, she states that sometimes newer Christians have a clearer picture of what Christianity is and who God is, as it’s more clear and more fresh to them, whereas seasoned Christians can get cloudy in their reasons and purposes of belief. But things getting cloudy isn’t a new phenomena.
By way of background, she spends some time unpacking some Old Testament history. She speaks of how after the Israelites were exiled, upon returning to Jerusalem they wanted to rebuild their identity and remember who they were as a people, and so under Ezra they re-read the law. From Malachi to Matthew there is a 400 year gap, and at the end we see these men called Pharisees who took the good traditions and turned it into religion. And so when Jesus comes to fulfill the law, he sets forth a new concept- what we do is not our religion, but rather who our God is, is our religion. But the Pharisees held the latter. They judged others by righteousness and how well they acted, believing that you are righteousness and a true Jew because of the works you do.
For Val, the sermon comes out of constantly struggling to be a better Christian by reading her bible more, praying more, doing devotions more, etc. and getting discouraged. For the Pharisees, they were trying to follow their laws which was becoming their religion. That was what was defining them as righteous and justified, and likewise we have developed our new breed of “pharaseeism”, where we get so consumed with what we do and how we follow our rules, that we’ve lost sight of true religion. As it were, true religion is Micah 6:6-8.
“With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
The people wanted to know how to please God, and so she likens their futile efforts of their traditions of killing rams, to our efforts at praying and worshipping which we think will please God. That’s her modern day translation “How do I please God? Do I worship with my hand raised? Do I get a little teary when the song drops down a little slower….? But that’s not what God wants. God wants us instead to simply act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.
She says that when we make our attempts to do our church stuff, but fail to walk humbly and justly, we are just making a bunch of noise. She heads to 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 to show this to be the case “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.”
She says that if we try so hard to worship louder and pray harder, but are neglecting what God has called us first, and are not walking humbly with the Lord, we are nothing. We need to sink into our hearts the pointlessness of all our religions and traditions if we’re neglecting the one and the purpose of the one who came for us. She then plays the John Foreman song “Instead” of a Show which is summarized with the following lyrics
I hate all your show and pretense
The hypocrisy of your praise
The hypocrisy of your festivals
I hate all your show
Away with your noisy worship
Away with your noisy hymns
I stomp on my ears when you’re singing ‘em
I hate all your show
Instead let there be a flood of justice
An endless procession of righteous living, living
Instead let there be a flood of justice
Instead of a show
Picking up steam, she says that Galatians is Micah 6:8 expanded into a whole book [Which I don’t see] .Paul is asking the people “Why are you going back to works-righteousness?” The summary is that we do it because we feel like we have control. “We are constantly trying to prove why we’re worthy. Why we deserve it. Why we measure up better than someone else. Because we gotta measure somewhere. We can’t be at the bottom, we gotta keep measuring. So our fleshly desire is to constantly do and do and earn and earn to be held worthy to be considered worthy to ourselves and to others”
She says that the purpose of the law is to show us our sins. We are all born sinners and the purpose is to show us that we are dirty and we have a need to be cleansed. In this, the mirror has no power or ability make us cleaner, but rather serves to show us our filth. We can’t live by that. If we abolished the law, that would remove our ability to know we’re dirty. Jesus came to cleanse us. We don’t look in the mirror and try to cleanse ourselves- that is a satanic tactic. Christ came to cleanse us.
She quotes Galatians 5:1 “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” We are free from comparing our sins and dirtiness to others. We don’t have to look in the mirror because no matter how dirty we are we have been cleaned by Christ. [Romans 3:23],That redemption is the new life in Christ that we begin to live. [Galatians 5,6, 16-19]
We ask ourselves “God how do I do better?” and It’s not by being better, or doing more, it’s by living by the spirit. Because what the flesh desires and what the spirit desires are constantly in conflict, and instead of doing doing doing,. we ought to instead just live by the spirit. Galatians 2:20. “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Turning a corner She gives us Galatians 5 “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.” Val says that not only can we lead a righteous life led by the spirit in our own selves, but we have to love one another by God’s spirit too. And this is where we trip up. We want to walk and expect a bunch of mercy, but we love to judge everyone else. Because it compares us. We are not to judge, as we will destroy one another.
What about our Christian brother? She says that we don’t ignore people who are caught in sin, but those who are spiritual had better do it gently and with love. Because our job is not to judge, but we can help them. So let us not judge each other, because we will be caught in it.
What a sermon. It was of average length, about 36 minutes, But I listened to the thing four times, as well as exchanged several emails with Val, and I’m still not sure I have it all worked out in my mind. It seems simple and straightforward at first, but this Micah/Law vs Grace vs Law thing is so tricky that I’ve had to sit back multiple times, look at the whole thing, take a break, ponder it, and then come back for more. Let’s start with the good. As always, Val is an engaging and a very gifted communicator who managed to keep me interested throughout the whole thing. For another, she brought us a lot of scripture, which I like, and thankfully did not preach from The Message Bible.
As well, the whole middle section was exceptional. It really was well done. When she was speaking on how we’re dirty, and the law is a mirror, and that it can never clean us, but rather only show us our filth and our need for a Savior- that was great stuff. I was getting giddy just hearing about it. At one point she rapid-fired off a monologue about being dirty and comparing ourselves to others, and it really was some of the most compelling preaching that I’d heard in a long time. Major kudos and points for that bit. As well, I really empathize with her when she’s talking about the frustrations that most believers feel that they’re not practicing the disciplines as they should, when we fail at the churchy stuff. I think she’s tapping into a deep well of despair and felt-needs there, and so it’s good to discuss it.
As for the bad, well, there are a few things which concerned me. The first was her slightly historically inaccurate portrayal of the Pharisees. They didn’t just “make good traditions their religions.” It really is a stereotyped and unfair version of who they were and what they were all about. For the Pharisee, many of them wanted to find ways to practically implement the law, but then those ways became the law, which then became a substitute for the law, and became used in the hands of sinners and used as a way of getting around the law. That’s certainly not a good thing, but if you’re gonna get blamed for something, you want to at least have done it. A greater weakness in this first segment though is that I just couldn’t figure out what certain things meant. How is “religion” being defined? What does it mean? How did the Pharisees make law and traditions religion? Are these two words being used interchangeably? Even something like “Who our God is, is our religion” doesn’t make sense on the surface. What does that sentence mean? I can theologize it enough to surmise the meaning, but wouldn’t something like “What our God did for us is our religion” make more sense? It’s just really unclear language, and I struggled through that section a bit.
Another issue was the verse Micah 6:8 being normative for us and a valid definition of what God desires us to to. I mean, I don’t know how to say it any clearer- This verse is not for us. These texts are addressed to Judah, where the external form of the sacrifices were proper, but was not combined with genuine repentance and godly living. In such cases the worship is worse than empty; it is an attempt to manipulate God. We read about Balak king of Moab and Balaam the son of Beor and we know this is not a word for us. We read a few verses below Micah 6:8, in verse 13 and 19, and we see God saying “Therefore I strike you with a grievous blow, making you desolate because of your sins. You shall eat, but not be satisfied, and there shall be hunger within you… For you have kept the statutes of Omri, and all the works of the house of Ahab; and you have walked in their counsels, that I may make you a desolation, and your inhabitants a hissing; so you shall bear the scorn of my people.” Here’s the logical question I have; do we surmise that that promise and word is for us too? That if we do not walk humbly and love justice, that the Lord will smite us and make us desolate? I mean, I didn’t know that I was keeping the statues of Omri, but does this mean I am made to bear the scorn of God’s people? That’s what God promises. And so if you’re not preaching the consequence of failing to keep the command as normative, you shouldn’t be preaching the command as if it were normative.
Which is not to say that I don’t think we shouldn’t love mercy and walk justly and humbly and so forth- I just think there are better ways to say that which are more biblically,textually and hermaneutically precise without utilizing Old Testament judgement books which were directed at the Israelites several thousand years ago, and fulfilled. I think we can cull certain principles from these passages about God’s nature and character, but I am wary as all get-0ut of being put under the Old Testament covenant, which is what this verse is for.
Another thing is that her modern interpretation and contextualization that “sacrificing idols=pharasaical traditions=doing devotionals” doesn’t work very well, because the reality is that the people were commanded to sacrifice and kill the creatures. They were commanded to kill bulls and goats. These were not pointless, outmoded and useless traditions, but rather were absolutely essential to having sins covered. And so her analogy breaks down really quickly at least in that respect. Not only that, but I am…disquieted by her definition of “True Religion.” If I had to pick something, I would say that true religion is the Gospel. It is believing and putting our trust in the fact that Christ died for us on the cross, finished the great exchange, and we receive his righteousness and eternal life by grace through faith. True religion is the Gospel, but Micah 6:6-8 is the Law. Gospel is receive, Law is do.
It’s like saying “Stop doing all those church stuff, all that law. Instead, rest in true religion, which is even more law.” Because don’t forget; love is the law, and we can’t keep the law. People often point us to the two greatest commandments, love God with our whole mind, body, soul and strenght,and love our neighbor as ourselves, and offer that as the solution; as the antidote to the stress and burden of being beaten and bruised and weighed down by the law. But that’s just more law. I don’t love God as I should. I don’t love my neighbor as I should, and every time I don’t, it does the work of the law by reminding me that I’m a sinner and that I need the saving grace of the Gospel to save me from not loving God as I should.
As far as the song, it is clearly taken from Amos 5:21-24, and I don’t have many thoughts on it. I get that hypocritical worship is bad, but I don’t even know what the sentence “Instead let there be a flood of justice,” means. Isn’t justice when people get what they deserve? Do I really want that, especially when grace gave for me what I couldn’t deserve? How about “An endless procession of righteous living,” I think we all want that, and that is part of the slow burn and struggle of sanctification, but why can’t we do both? Why can’t I try to live right while worshiping and praying in spirit and in truth? I think a bit more background and explanation of the song would have helped, at least me, understand it.
Regarding the the whole middle section, it was fantastic, and this is why I was confused and have been listening over and over. It is clear that she does not believe that justification comes from the law. Not even for a bit. In one of our correspondences she says “I believe that Micah 6:8 is what Jesus came as to fulfill, that through Him, living through the Spirit we would be free to do those three things, AGAIN not that we would be justified because we do those tings…Jesus is our justification, but that life through the spirit and its fruit would naturally lead us towards those three things, act justly love mercy and walk humbly. My hope and heart was that despair would be abolished by the fact that it is SOLELY through Christ we are justified so we have freedom to pursue a Micah 6:8 relationship with God”. And I think what got me hung up is the order she presented them in. It’s like telling a cancer patient you have a remedy for them, which is injecting them with the HIV. I just don’t get it.
And I’m not trying to heap it on here, but I have legitimate concerns, of which the last is her restriction from judging. She states at several junctures that we are not to judge, and in fact I have quoted a long section verbatim where she goes off on this very thing. She quotes Galatians 6:1-8 and says “[This is what Paul is saying...] Don’t try to mock God, every man will reap what they sow. Its not our job to judge. If you see someone and they’re not living the way you think they should be, you’re in no place have any need to go judge them because God is not blind….Paul is saying here is don’t mock God. Don’t think that you need to be the judge. That you in any way need to take that judging upon yourself. Because he’s saying this for our own good too…He’s saying “if you start to pull this out again, you’re not only going to see that person, you’re going to see yourself, again. He says if you start to judge you’d better watch out because you’re going to be tempted too. You’re going to look at their dirt and you’re gonna see your dirt, so he’s like just put the mirror down. Just stop judging. Just stop looking, and believe that Christ is the ultimate judge and that’s his job. That’s why he came. Because our job is to love mercy. We are supposed to be walking examples of God’s mercy and love because everyone single one of us can look into our mirror and find some dirt.”
Paul is not saying that. At all. That’s a worse paraphrase than the Message Bible. I don’t know about you guys, but when I read Galatians 6:1-8, I don’t see anything about that at all. I think part of her error, other than eisegesing the “don’t judge” bit into this segment, is that she is not reading “Whatever a man sows, that will he reap” in context. In this context, Paul’s reference to “reaping” is a reference to the blessings of Spiritual life, rather than to temporal blessings that the believer will “reap” as the result of “sowing” his life to the spirit. As well, the scriptures couldn’t be more clear that we are to judge many things, such as false doctrine, false teaching, the behavior of professing Christians who are not living it, etc. 1 Corinthians 5 bears this out quite nicely, in fact, culminating with verse 12-13 “For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”
When someone stands up in Church [any church] and starts preaching heresy, or a friend starts to tell you that homosexuality is right and good, or another friend reveals that they’re having sex with their boyfriend and that God doesn’t have a problem with it, or some other clear violation of scripture, it’s not wrong to confront them and to “judge them” by their actions, and then to deal with it from there. To not judge would be incredibly cruel. To not judge them and say “It’s none of my business, God will deal with it” is one of the most unkind things you could do in that situation. In fact, ironically enough the entire book of Galatians is one Epistle leveled against false teachings with Paul judging the Judaizers, as well as the actions of the church in Galatia. And so where does she get this idea that we as Christians are not to judge? It certainly isn’t biblical. It is certainly not born out in Matthew 7:, especially [and not limited to] by the fact that we see Jesus in John 7:24 saying: “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge righteous judgment”. To her credit she does say that we don’t ignore people caught in sin, and rather should help them, but isn’t us determining that they are indeed caught in sin a form of judging? I think that if I pressed Val a bit, she would readily agree with me that some judging is good and necessary, and so I’m unsure as why she would leave things the way they are, with this blanket “Don’t judge others”.
The reality is that Christians are to apply scriptural principles of discernment regarding beliefs, teachings and actions, and then to act on those in order to bring about repentance and restoration. I don’t believe I have ever been given the right or the responsibility of eternally judging someones soul to hell. In this sense, I cannot correctly weigh action, motives, opportunities, nor know all things about any individual, as God alone is capable to do so. However, as a believer and one who is biblically literate, I have been commanded to make decisions, appraisals, discernments, and even take corrective action towards other believers. Even then, my judging ought to be remedial and leave the door open to the person for repentance and reconciliation. Any judging on the part of a Christian which is not remedial is a false aspect of Christian judgment. As stated earlier, we are called upon to ”judge righteous judgment” and failure to do so is to be negligent in a crucial aspect of our Christian calling. And so unless we have vastly, utterly and completely opposing definitions for what judging means, then I think she’s very wrong in this, and that at the very least she owes the congregation either a retraction or some pointed elaborations which will bring clarity, precision and biblical faithfulness to the message.
In any case, I think this is the longest review I have ever done. Certainly it took me the longest. Overall, a good middle to this sermon, but too many deep flaws at the start and finish for me to recommend this one.