3 trendy imperatives the Bible doesn't teach

Jan. 7, 2017 | by Brian Thorstad

The Apostle Paul gave his beloved young co-worker Timothy some timeless advice when he admonished, “Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you” (NAS.) With a little imagination we could paraphrase that first clause as “Think carefully about what you are actually teaching; don’t just repeat trendy sayings…”

It’s so easy to do; we mindlessly pass on to others the sound-bites we’ve heard from impeccable sources, like the preacher with a world-wide following. I’m going to raise some eyebrows and upset some apple-carts, but I’m troubled to hear how casually these highly questionable doctrines are passed along, again and again.

“You must learn to love yourself.”Really? Does the Bible say or imply this? Certainly we are to respect ourselves as men and women created in the image of God, designed for His glory, fashioned for the joy of experiencing His presence and grace.

The individual who takes his own life is guilty of not respecting his life, but I don’t think he’s guilty of not loving himself, as suicide is the ultimate selfish act.

It seems to me that Scripture assumes that we all love ourselves, something that most of us make all too obvious. Isn’t the most basic human sin our “turning to our own way” (Isaiah 53:6)?

If loving ourselves is something that God has to tell us to do, why does Paul warn in 2 Timothy 3:1,2 that in the “terrible…last days” “…people will be lovers of themselves…”? It certainly doesn’t sound like Paul is excited about the prospect.

“You must learn to forgive yourself.”Again I have to ask, “really?” Does Scripture say or imply this? In Scripture, the forgiveness that matters supremely is that which only God, the law-giver and life-giver, can give. The Bible indicates that God wants those who have fled to Christ for mercy to know at a deep, life-transforming level that they have been completely forgiven for their sins.

But forgiving ourselves? There simply is no Biblical category for such a concept. Coming to grips with my damning guilt before a holy God is vital. Accepting my ongoing imperfection is important. Embracing God’s extravagant forgiveness and lavish grace is overwhelmingly sweet. 

In light of these blessed truths, the futile exercise of “forgiving myself” seems to be unnecessary and irrelevant. I believe that the apostle who said “…I do not even judge myself…” (1 Corinthians 4:3) would also say that “neither do I presume to forgive myself.”  

“You must learn to forgive God.” This might be the most dangerous of these platitudes. Doesn’t the very concept imply that God has done wrong? Didn’t God repeatedly challenge Job to convict Him of doing wrong? Did He ever suggest to that beleaguered sufferer that maybe He’d been kind of hard on him? Did Jesus cry out “Father, I forgive you for you know not what you do”?

Coming to grips with the hard things that God has allowed to happen to us is very important. We’re speaking here of bowing before God’s wonderful sovereign providence – His benevolent meddling in our lives for our good and His glory. This is an important step which, while looking like a step down, is ultimately a step up which our Heavenly Father is waiting for us to take.

But the language of “forgiving God” substitutes humanistic fluff for Biblical theology in the worst possible way: making man the righteous judge and God the supplicating sinner. 

Please brothers and sisters, let’s “pay close attention” to our teaching!


Topics: Commentary, Ministry, Preaching



Brian Thorstad

Brian Thorstad is a Redevelopment Transitional Pastor. He is the author of Heaven Help Our Church! (A Survival Guide for Christians in Troubled Churches) and Redevelopment: Transitional Pastoring That Transforms Churches.

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