False Narratives

I teach politics part-time at a local Christian university. Having spent 20-plus years managing and consulting political campaigns and working in the legislature as a staffer and lobbyist, I’m a bit of a political junkie. One of the most important parts of politics is framing the argument. In other words, making your opponents respond to what you are saying instead of you responding to what they are saying.

I was fascinated this past week reading a story about new Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s meeting with Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen where it was reported that Pelosi said, “I reject your facts!” to Nielsen who was reporting the number of arrests at the southern border. Nielsen’s response was appropriate, “These aren’t my facts…they are the facts.”

If politics is about framing the argument, it also is about creating a narrative and in our current political culture many times that narrative is a false narrative – one that isn’t based on facts or truth but instead on feelings, beliefs, and cultural norms. As newly minted Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said recently, “I think that there’s a lot of people more concerned about being precisely, factually, and semantically correct than about being morally right.” In other words, so long as you think you are in the moral right, facts don’t count!

As Christians, this thinking has to bother us. Why? Because we believe in absolute right and wrong as defined by God. It’s not based on our feelings which betray us as fallen people. It’s not based on what we think which fails us because our ways are not God’s way. And it’s not based on cultural norms which God warns us not to follow because our ways only lead to death. We believe in the true narrative that God has given us – Jesus Christ is the truth, the way, and the life who took upon Himself the sins of the world so that we could be saved by grace through faith and not suffer the penalty we deserve because Jesus did that for us. As part of this gift of grace, Jesus also gives us the Holy Spirit which opens our eyes to the truth and we see God’s truth for what it is – TRUTH!

Unfortunately, Satan is the prince of this world according to Scripture (John 12:31) and God – for whatever reason – allows him to run amuck down here in opposition to God’s people. And one of Satan’s favorite ploys against us is the false narrative! Yes, Satan is playing politics but the consequences of this political game are much more severe than just losing a political battle – losing to Satan means losing your eternity with Jesus.

I want to take a few moments and outline some of the false narratives I see Satan using against God’s people to disrupt our relationship with Jesus and each other. Here are 10 thoughts in no particular order:

You don’t need to go to church to be a Christian

The first thing you have to do when you frame an argument – even a false narrative – is make sure at least some of it is true. So yes, it’s true you don’t have to go to church to be a Christian. But you do have to go to church if you want to obey scripture (Hebrews 10:25); you do have to go to church to use your spiritual gifts (Ephesians 4:11-12); and you do have to go to church grow your faith (Romans 10:17; Acts 2:42). This false narrative is meant to divide and conquer Christians. We all know we are stronger together than apart so Satan works to convince you that you don’t need other Christians in the body and can do it alone. I know, I was out of the church for 25 years yet still claiming to be a Christ follower. I was a Christ believer but not a Christ follower. I didn’t actually become a true follower until I went back to church. Church is hard but necessary. It is the place where we actually get to practice what we preach – unity, longsuffering, bearing each other’s burdens, forgiveness, grace, mercy, non-judgment, and more. Yes, there is a lot of friction in church but it is hard on purpose; it is the crucible where Jesus expects us to work out our humility and relationships so that we can truly love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, as well as love others as ourselves. Staying out of the church stunts your spiritual growth; keeps you from using your gifts to strengthen the church; and sequesters you from other like-minded people who would support you, encourage you, and hold you accountable. This is why believing you don’t need to go to church is a false narrative.

God is love so you need to not just tolerate but accept religious and spiritual diversity

Again, truth wrapped in a lie. Certainly, God is love, but that is not all He is. He is righteousness, and justice, and Holy while at the same time as being love. God does not embrace rebellion against Himself which is what other religions and spiritual diversity is. There is only one way to the Father and that is through the Son, Jesus (John 14:6). The reason is self-evident: We all have rebelled against God and we all need a savior to keep us from the punishment we deserve. Jesus suffered one for all to provide that cleansing. As Jesus said, He didn’t come to abolish the law but fulfill it (Matthew 5:17), and fulfilling the law meant accepting the punishment for the offenses committed against God! Nowhere in Scripture do I see Israel of the Old Testament or Jesus in the New Testament hold an interfaith meeting and passing out coexist bumper stickers. God is love but He doesn’t love everything you do and that includes worshipping anything but Him! So, no, you can’t be “spiritual” whatever that means. You can’t accept Islam, Buddhism, or even Judaism as valid religious systems. Any faith that denies Jesus as the Messiah falls short and is a red herring meant by Satan to keep you from having a relationship with Jesus. I respect those of other faiths, but I will never agree with them, never accept what they believe – especially about Jesus – and never replace God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit with whatever they are selling. Instead, I will as lovingly as possible try to change the narrative so they can see just who Jesus really is and admit their need for a Savior!

The Bible is just a historical document written by men and not to be taken literally in today’s advanced culture

One of the church fathers – perhaps Augustine – is reported as saying something to the effect of, “If you believe only what you like of the Gospel it is not the Gospel you believe but yourself.” Whoever said this is brilliant! So many professed Christians I know have taken a low view of Scripture. Instead of it being the infallible word of God that is revealed to you through the Holy Spirit, it is just a historical book full of good advice and wisdom. Satan has provided that false narrative for two reasons: First, you then don’t have to follow God you just follow what you yourself believe…which we already learned leads to death. Second, that narrative fits in better with our own preconceived ideas about how things should run! The God of the Bible is unreasonable! He’s harsh! He’s homophobic! He’s a misogynist! He’s capricious! He allows bad things to happen! By framing the Bible as just another book, Satan has created a false narrative that God can’t really be trusted! And if you can’t trust God with what He says in Scripture then how can you trust Him with your life? See what Satan did there? He pulled you away from God simply by making you question God’s word. Very clever.

There is no absolute truth – my truth is as valid as your truth

I love people who say there is no absolute truth because their statement is framed as an absolute truth! You have to love Pontius Pilate who rhetorically asked, “What is truth?” when talking with Jesus. Truth is what God says truth is – period. There is no such thing as your truth or my truth or anyone else’s truth. Truth is what you find in Scripture – period. Satan, however, wants you to believe that what you think is true is more valid than what God says is true. God tells us, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6) This isn’t advice, it’s a warning! If you don’t trust God and you DO lean on your own understanding, your paths will not be straight! So, here’s the truth from Scripture: We all fall short of the Glory of God (Romans 3:23); not one of us is righteous, not one (Romans 3:10); we all are sinners in rebellion against God (1 John 1:8); and we all are in need of a savior (Ephesians 2:1-3).

I’m basically a good person

I love this lie! The narrative from Satan is this: “Come on, It’s not like I’m an ax murderer or something!” True, you may be a “good person” relative to others in our society that we label as “bad” people! But relative to a Holy God you are filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). Paul considered himself the worst sinner of all (1 Timothy 1:15) and a wretched man for not doing the things he wanted to do and doing the things he hated to do (Romans 7:24-25). That is a good place for us all to start and here’s why: If you’re basically a good person you basically don’t need Jesus. You see, Jesus came for the sick not the healthy (Mark 2:17). If you believe you’re well – you’re not sick – then you don’t need Jesus. And, if you don’t need Jesus then you’re not saved by Him because you believe you have nothing to be saved from! This is why this idea of being a good person is so insidious! When I believe I am good I believe that I don’t need Jesus in that part of my life! It’s the same for sin! If I believe that something God calls sin is not a sin to me then I don’t need Jesus in that part of my life to save me from my transgression because I don’t believe I transgressed! And that is what Satan wants from you – he wants you to believe that you don’t need Jesus as your savior because you’re basically okay and you’re certainly not as bad as that other guy! (Luke 18:9-14).

I’m a Christian so I won’t be affected by being engaged in the culture

Scripture tells us that bad company corrupts good character (1 Corinthians 15:33). As much as we’d like to think we’re the ones influencing the world around us, most the time it’s the other way around. Satan’s false narrative to us is that as Christians we can engage the world and be protected from the world and its influence as we try to influence the world for Jesus. The true narrative is that we are to be in the world but not part of it; we are to hate the world and everything in the world (1 John 2:15) and call out the world for its ungodliness while telling the truth of Jesus in love yet boldly! We are to be like the prophets calling our people to repent and serve God – ever notice that nobody ever really liked the message the prophets brought except maybe for Nineveh? We are to be like John the Baptist who called out the king for illegally marrying his brother’s wife! We are to tell the truth no matter the cost! And believe me, there will be costs – you will lose family and friends, be ostracized, lose employment, and more. However, we are not to engage the world on its terms! Satan, on the other hand, wants you to believe it is enough to let people know you are a Christian and perhaps even model Christ for them in little ways while you do exactly the same thing the world does. Soon you will look just like everyone else in the world and you no longer will be separate from the world. No, brothers and sisters, we cannot buy into that false narrative – certainly we engage the world for Christ but we do so as a priesthood of believers marked and sealed by the Holy Spirit not as one of the gang getting along and going along hoping people will pick up on our personal faith by the cross we wear, the prayer we say over our meal, or when we say, “Bless You” if someone sneezes. Unfortunately, too many so-called Christians’ lives look exactly like those of unbelievers and they don’t even know it. Jesus knew about this false narrative which is why He told us to be as gentle as doves yet as wise as serpents! (Matthew 10:16)

Your focus and identity should be on your profession, family, and retirement savings

I have to admit that I fell for this false narrative for 40 years of my life. I believed that my identity was my job and not found in Christ alone! My title, my position, my influence, the amount of money I made, the promotions I got, and the accolades I accumulated defined who I was. For men, this is a powerful narrative because in this world run by Satan status, position, power and pecking order matters! The first thing men do when they meet is ask what the other does for a living. That’s not so much a question as it is a probe to determine hierarchy! Is my job more important than his? Do I make more money than he does? Professional women fall into this trap just as easily! Then there is the false family narrative. Family is everything! They are a blessing from God so they must come first! Again, some truth here, but no, family does not come first; Jesus comes first. Jesus told his disciples that if someone loved their mother or father more than they did Him those people were not worthy of Him (Matthew 10:37). That’s harsh, but super harsh in the context of 1st century Near Middle East culture! Satan, of course, wants you to make an idol out of anything in your life so that it replaces Jesus as the number one thing. For some it’s prestige. For others it’s money. Still others covet looks or possessions, or family. There are probably 100 different things in life that you could put before Jesus and Satan is going to frame the argument in such a way to make you think that it’s okay to put those things ahead of Jesus. I was preaching one Sunday and asked one of the athletes in our congregation how much time he spent in a given week preparing for a match. He thought about it and gave me an answer. Then I asked him how much time in that same week he spends reading the Bible. Let’s just say there was a significant difference in favor of the sports activity. Of course, God wants you to have a job, earn an income, take care of your family, save for retirement and all the rest. Paul tells us that if we don’t work, we don’t eat! (2 Thessalonians 3:10). But Jesus must be the first priority in your life and everything you do in every arena of your life must be done with the motive of glorifying Jesus. That is your identity.

It’s impolite to push Jesus on people or as they say, “Don’t push your religion down my throat!”

Perhaps it’s just my generation and older but we were always told there were three things you didn’t talk about in public: religion, politics and someone’s income. That was how to be polite and exhibit proper etiquette. Think about that for a moment – entire American generations being told that it was impolite to discuss Jesus with people! Talk about your false narrative!! Yet, that narrative has given way to people believing that if someone does talk about Jesus that they are breaking etiquette and cramming religion down their throat! Satan did a great job framing that argument! The truth is that if we truly are concerned about people spending eternity in hell, we have to spend a lot more time talking about Jesus openly no matter how people feel about it! I read this great line the other day from John McArthur who said, “If the truth offends, let it offend. People have been living their whole lives in offense to God; let them be offended for a while.” I agree!! I don’t want anyone to suffer an eternity in hell. The most unloving thing I could do is withhold Jesus from them! If I truly love them and care for them, I MUST tell them about Jesus. If they’re offended, so be it – better offended today than burning in hell tomorrow! Satan, of course, doesn’t want you talking to anyone about Jesus. So, he created this framing that if you do talk about Jesus, you’re breaking social taboos. Again, clever, but we’re not falling for it!

Christians are intolerant, judgmental, mean-spirited, hypocritical, and have done more harm in the name of Jesus than any other group in history

Satan’s false narrative here is this: Christians are bad so their God must be bad, too!

There are two ways to look at this – you either embrace it and say, “Darn right I’m intolerant et al and here’s why!” Or you say, “You have your labels wrong. Here is what I really am.” Unfortunately, many Christians have fallen for this false narrative and agree that Christians are bad and that if we could just apologize for our history and then love each other everything would work out fine. Let me address both ways you can handle this false narrative.

Yes, I’m intolerant. I’m intolerant of the things that God says are not tolerable! Sin – in any form – is intolerable. It’s intolerable in my life and it’s intolerable in everyone else’s life. Just like I fight being sinful in my life and confess and repent when I do sin, I fight against the acceptance of sin in our culture. There is no right way to do the wrong thing so I will follow God not men.

You have your labels wrong. I’m not intolerant; I disagree with you – there’s a difference. And if you say that anyone who disagrees with your is intolerant than it is you, in fact, who is being intolerant of differing ideas.

Now, let’s be real: Christians can suck! They can be intolerant jerks instead of telling the truth in love with grace. They can be judgmental instead of allowing God to judge. They can be mean-spirited instead of grace-filled. They can be hypocritical when they see the faults in an enemy but ignore those same faults in their allies. And yes, Christians have killed in the name of Christ quite a bit throughout history. But none of this makes Christians as a group bad and none of even the worst stuff (Inquisition, Crusades) has any reflection on who Jesus is. Satan would have you believe that if one Christian fails the entire faith is a sham. It’s the old one bad apple spoils the whole bushel argument. But scripture is clear that each man’s failing is his own for which he alone is responsible (Jeremiah 31:30). Just because some celebrity pastor molested his secretary does not make me implicit or affect my walk with Jesus. And that pastor’s action certainly has no bearing on who Jesus is – the pastor failed not God.

Right now, it’s the in-thing to bash Christians as bad people because we believe that what God calls sin is actually sin – homosexuality, transgenderism, abortion, lying, et al. But like I tell people, when I die, I’m not going to be meeting any of these people bashing Christians. I’m going to meet Jesus and it is to Him I am responsible and nobody else. Jesus told me that the world would hate me for following Him (John 15:18). I’d much rather have to explain to Jesus why I believed what the Bible says than try to explain to Him why I didn’t. People will hate me for following Jesus and I’m okay with that. My job is to be as Christ-like as possible when I speak of God’s truth and how He wants none to perish (2 Peter 3:9).

As long as I’m not hurting anyone else, I can do whatever I want

This is a great way to frame the argument that all things are permissible. Kind of the moral relativism approach. The problem is the premise is wrong. You are hurting someone every time you rebel against God: You hurt God and you hurt yourself!

God grieves over your rebellion (Psalm 78:40). It breaks His heart that you’re so obstinate and don’t love Jesus enough to follow His commands (John 14:15). How much more did it grieve the Father to have to put Jesus through the Passion (torture and crucifixion) because of your constant rebellion? Jesus suffered and died because I did things that I didn’t think hurt anyone else! I was wrong and you are as well if you believe this false narrative.

There is no such thing as a victimless sin. God is a victim of my sin, I am a victim of my sin, and unfortunately, most sins also involve transgressing against someone else as well. No, there is nothing I do that doesn’t affect someone, which is why this is a false narrative.

As you can see, there are a lot of lies out there about how we should live. That shouldn’t surprise you – Satan is the father of lies (John 8:44). He is going to twist the truth – including twisting scripture – to make you believe his false narratives and separate you from your faith. I’ve listed 10 above off the top of my head but there are literally hundreds more as you drill down into the various issues we face every day.

Satan is a master politician. He frames issues, creates false narratives, speaks in half-truths, and like any good politician is trying to get and keep your support without you actually knowing what he’s doing behind the scenes. Don’t fall for it. Don’t play politics with Satan. Challenge Satan the way Jesus did in the desert during the temptation: every time Satan hits you with a false narrative, go to scripture and tell Satan the truth – God’s absolute truth!

 

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