Comfort & Counsel

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by Jacob Ninan

New Age is a term applied to a range of spiritual or religious beliefs and practices that developed in Western nations during the 1970s. Due to its nature of amalgamating varied thoughts and concepts together, everyone will not agree clearly on what it stands for. As an alternative to Western thinking influenced by Christian teaching, New Age assimilates ideas from Eastern religions and philosophies. "There is no organisation one must join, no creed one must confess. Some subscribe to certain portions of New Age, some to others; some dissociate themselves from the movement altogether, though they embrace core aspects of its thinking" (Russel Chandler). One of the core concepts of the New Age is to obliterate the idea of 'sin'. New Age thinker and clinical psychologist Kenneth Wapnick says, "You make sin real and then you have to atone for it. The whole idea – is that sin is an illusion. The Bible speaks of a sinful humanity that is separated from God and in need of reconciliation through the atoning work of Jesus Christ – (New Age) would dismiss such teaching by saying that its source is not God, but the guilt-ridden, separatist ego." In simple words, the way to deal with sin is to disown it; don't think about it or worry about it; just ignore it or reject it, it is just an imaginary concept!

Many New Agers are able to ignore sin because in their worldview there is no God to whom they are accountable; God, if He exists at all, is only an impersonal force. Another major aspect of New Age thinking is to assume that man is inherently good with full potential in himself to rise to great heights and that it is things such as religion and traditions that limit him.

Other New Agers describe sin as being relative and no one having any right to define it in absolute terms. They say that what one man considers as sin comes from his own understanding based on his upbringing, and that he cannot impose his ideas on another man who has the right to have his own understanding of what sin is. This tries to take away the foundation from the Christian concept that sin is what is defined by the Creator Himself.

New Age thinking has gained much place in human life, and we come across it in all kinds of places and situations. Unfortunately, it has also crept into Christian circles, and the attraction of being seen as 'progressive', 'in touch with the times', and 'culturally relevant' has deceived many people to a lesser or greater degree. The 'gospel' is becoming more about our comfort and convenience than about salvation from sin.

But for those Christians who have come to have a personal relationship with God, sin is the most crucial component of life we have to deal with. We know that God sent His Son Jesus to make atonement for our sins so that the demands of His justice could be met, our guilt could be taken away, and He could accept us. This is simple enough, but a problem comes up when people try to define sin.

Consider Christians who come under these broad groups: 1) those who have come to Christ to escape hell or to get benefits on earth such as healing or relief from problems, 2) those who do not generally want to sin, but whose real aim is to live a good life on earth, and 3) those whose aim is to stop sinning in all its forms and to become like Jesus in His character. The way these groups look at sin will be different.

First consider those who have 'come to Christ' not because they realised they were sinners and recognised they needed a Saviour, but because they wanted certain benefits from God. They didn't want to go to hell, and so they were willing to pay whatever insurance premium they needed to pay in order to ensure their place in heaven. This premium could vary between merely 'asking Jesus to come into their hearts' and getting baptised and going to church regularly. Some others in the group came to Christ because they heard He could heal their sickness or solve their problems. They received some miraculous answer to their prayer, and so they have come to believe Jesus is the Answer. They too come to church in order to keep up their connection to Him. The people in this group are not concerned in their mind about sin and they do not waste much time thinking or praying about it. Their prayers are about their earthly situations and their need for intervention from God. They do not consider themselves to be sinners, and after having 'come into the church' they feel that the Gospel is for all the other people. Their examples of what they consider to be sin will be typically murder, adultery, rape, human trafficking, etc., which have no real connection with their own lives.

The second group of people have had a genuine experience with God where they saw themselves as sinners and accepted Jesus as their Saviour. But they see salvation only as forgiveness of sins which is available to them whenever they confess their sins. But the Holy Spirit who has given them the new birth and who resides in their spirit, gives them a conviction in their heart whenever they tend to turn from the true path to the right or left (Isa.30:21). Some people in this group respond to this prompting from the Spirit and go on to walking closer to God (in fact, they move on to the third group). But many remain stuck with a superficial understanding of sin. These are the Christians who say that keeping the Ten Commandments is all that they need to do in terms of practical life. Even though God has done a spiritual work in their lives, their mind is still set only on the things of this life – what they might eat and drink, how they can become richer or greater, what more fun they can have, etc. In this group are also people who have backslidden from the third group.

Is the third group a place for only fanatics or is this the place where God wants all Christians to be in? People in this group have become sensitive about sin and go deeper than the Ten Commandments as Jesus did when He moved from what "you have heard that it was said" to "but I say to you" in the Sermon on the Mount, moving from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant standard of life. The examples He gave about murder and adultery illustrated that it was not sufficient to avoid external acts of sin, but also to get rid of them in the mind and heart. In another place Jesus pointed out that the heart was the place where sin originated (Matt.15:19,20). The Holy Spirit works in our heart now to make us more sensitive to what is going on there and to show us the way we can overcome at that level itself with His strength (Rom.8:13).

It is not really a theoretical definition of sin we are looking for, but to understand in our heart when we tend to go to the right or left of God's paths. Can we be satisfied with post facto forgiveness for our sins (which God has graciously made available) while we let defilement go on in our thoughts, attitudes and intentions (Heb.4:12)? Are we taking cover behind the Ten Commandments which have now actually become obsolete (Heb.8:13) when a greater law (the law of the Spirit of life in Christ – Rom.8:2) has taken over? Shouldn't we be confessing that the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus is setting us free from the law of sin and of death?

Sad to say, on one side, there are people who claim that they do not have to deal with sin anymore because they are 'in Christ'. On the other side, there are also some others who claim they have 'victory over sin' because they keep the Ten Commandments or because they do not commit anymore some of the sinful behaviour patterns they used to have before. And there are many others between these two sides. The apostle Paul who used to claim that he was blameless according to the Law came to realise that he was the chief of sinners (1Tim.1:15) and there was nothing good in his flesh (Rom.7:18) when he began to allow the Holy Spirit to show him what was un-Christ-like in his heart and mind (vv.7-9). He began a lifetime pursuit after gaining more of Christ in every way (Php.3:4-12).

Let us not play with semantics (meanings of words) in order to justify ourselves or to find a theological cover for our way of life, but allow the Holy Spirit to purify us 'just as He (Jesus) is pure' (1Jn.2:3).

-- Editorial in the Light of Life magazine, February, 2019

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