JOY is simple. It is not elaborate, artificial, or complicated.
JOY does not require money, reputation, success, marriage, health, or fitting into a religious culture to make you feel good about yourself. It does not thrive on these things.
JOY is easy to understand. It does not come with a complex owner’s manual that makes you work hard to get it to operate correctly.
When I thought about my word for 2023, what immediately came to mind was Joy.
Because in its purest form, it brings me back to why I exist on this earth and who God called me to be.
But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. Luke 2: 10-11.
This verse says that Jesus brings good news that will cause GREAT JOY for all the people.
As 2022 progressed, I realized I did not have this great joy Jesus promises. In May, I looked back on my life as a Christian, and it became apparent that my recurring thought is to believe I am not good enough. Good enough for what? I had to ask myself this question.
Then my therapist suggested a book for me to read called, Faithful Feelings, Rethinking Emotion in the New Testament. The author says that our emotions are affected by our theology. This statement made me cry because, if I were honest, my theology was not bringing me joy, and I needed to stop feeling guilty about it and find out why this was so.
My awareness of my unjoyful feelings started a multiple-month pursuit of re-evaluating my view of Jesus. I had to look at why my self-esteem was so low and why I felt I didn’t have any value in my church. Usually, when I try to figure out why I don’t have joy, I look for any sinful attitudes in my heart because my heart is what I always think is my problem. However, it finally occurred to me to look outside myself and audit the church I had committed most of my time in the past four decades.
I learned during my deconstruction period that when you attach yourself to a specific religious group, you will take on their worldview of God and the scriptures. If a group thinks they have the corner on the truth and do not associate with any other Christian churches that do not interpret the scriptures precisely as they do, then your theology will be confined to the teachings of that group.
It then hit me that my understanding of Jesus came solely from the International Churches of Christ’s interpretation of scripture since the age of 19.
After deep diving into the history of the Church of Christ, The Restoration Movement, and the International Churches of Christ, I concluded that the church does not bring me the good news of Jesus. My decision was not born out of simply trying to escape bad feelings but finally taking responsibility for what I believe in the Bible. In August 2022 I left the ICOC and after some months of searching, I found an amazing church that is grace-based and more in alignment with what the Bible says about the good news of Jesus.
The entire time I was in the ICOC, I refused to listen to what the critics were saying about their controlling discipleship practices and performance-based steps to salvation. I was trained not to think any other way than what they teach in their First Principles Bible studies. Now I see that I was insulating myself from anything that would make me see my theology differently. Even though I have dear friends in the ICOC, and I truly believe many of them genuinely desire to love God, I can no longer find my joy and purpose in the ICOC.
Then what is this good news that Jesus brings to me?
Jesus died on the cross to pay for my sins so I could have his righteousness. I receive this gift of grace by faith, not by works, so I cannot boast that I did anything to be right with him. I am justified by faith. Period. Any performance or steps required for salvation is a false gospel. Anyone who has to decide you are ready to come to Jesus for salvation is a false gospel. Anything other than your faith in the righteousness of Christ is a false gospel.
One activity I did during my examination period was to do a full audit of every study in the ICOC’s First Principles Bible study series. Their study series is a tool to teach people who want to become Christians. My three points below do not reflect my exhaustive evaluation of the study series.
- You will not see the entirety of Ephesians 2:8-10 mentioned in any of the ICOC’s study series. They leave out the good news in this verse that we receive the gift of God’s grace by faith, not by works, so that no one can boast.
Ephesians 2:8-10 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
- The only words emphasized in Romans 3:21-25 in their studies is that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. But the good news is in the second part of the sentence, which is not expounded upon at all. It says: and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. For the ICOC, salvation as a free gift is not emphasized.
Romans 3:21-25 21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through Faith inJesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement,[i] through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith.
- Ephesians 1:13-14 says we were included in Christ and marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit when we believed. This passage does not mention baptism to receive the Holy Spirit. However, the ICOC studies will only look at one way of receiving the Holy Spirit, which is in Acts 2:38. The verse of Acts 2:38 settles the score for the ICOC. They ignore all other verses indicating faith and belief in the work Jesus did (not in what we do) is how to receive salvation.
Ephesians 1:13-14 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.
Why does the good news of the gospel bring me great joy?
Now I can love Jesus freely without being condemned by falling short in my Christian life. I no longer have a performance-based theology. My relationship with the law has changed because Jesus has already fulfilled the requirements of the law for me. I now understand the purpose of baptism. In the new church, I attend, I can see from the scriptures that they put baptism in its proper place in the Christian life rather than elevating it above the gospel message.
So, in conclusion, my faulty theology obscured the good news of Jesus in my life. Why did it take so long for me to see this? Because I never stepped outside the ICOC and evaluated its doctrine against mainstream Christian theology. I had stopped being a Berean.
Acts 17:11 Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.
This post is one of many blog posts I will share about what I have been learning during my deconstruction period.