Simon van Bruchem

Isn’t Christianity Just An Oppressive Set of Rules?

Christians often give the impression to the watching world that the rules matter the most. We give the impression everyone else should also follow the rules we do, even though they don’t trust in Jesus. That doesn’t make sense and turns people off Christianity. If all outsiders see is restrictions, where is the attraction in that? We need to explain the wonder of being saved and the security from being in God’s family as the primary thing; how we respond to that comes second.

Whenever I ask someone with no experience of church what they think a Christian is, they usually tell me that they think a Christian is someone who tries to be good. Someone who follows a complex set of rules to try and obey their God. It is easy to see why people get that impression. After all, Christians do tend to avoid getting drunk and they do tend to go to church and read their Bibles. There are things Christians do that others do not and things Christians avoid that others think are fine.
Many kids who grow up in church circles might have a similar view to this! After all, their parents are always telling them things they shouldn’t do that their friends are happy to do.
Yet that idea of Christianity as following a set of rules misunderstands things completely. Like most half-truths, it ends up being a whole lie. A Christian is someone who trusts in Jesus as the One who saved them from disaster and rules their life. A Christian is someone who belongs in God’s family, and because of that is secure and blessed. It’s not to do with rules at all.
So why do Christians live differently to those who don’t believe? Well, that is a response to what Jesus has done for us. That sounds kind of abstract, so let me explain it using an important part of Biblical history and an analogy.
At the start of the book of Exodus, the people of Israel were slaves in Egypt.
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Are Christians “On the Wrong Side of History”?

It is possible to swim against the tide and have views on issues that are unpopular. That makes life difficult in many ways right now for faithful, Bible-believing Christian people. It is hard to believe in something when everyone around you sees it as superseded, bizarre or even just wrong. Christians should hold the line. Don’t compromise what you believe because it is unpopular. You are not on the wrong side of history when you look from God’s perspective.

It seems that whenever a traditional Christian viewpoint on a hot topic is raised, Christians are accused of being “on the wrong side of history”. Many see this as a deal-breaking argument. They assume that society has moved on from Christian principles. Why would anyone hold to such a view, they think, when most people in our current culture believe something different? We should think about this accusation clearly; it is not the convincing put-down it seems to be.
An obvious problem with the accusation of being on the wrong side of history is that the popular view on a lot of issues has changed so dramatically over time. If you asked people about whether some races are superior to others in the 1900s and 1910s, the vast majority of people would agree with you. Respected scientific institutions published major works reinforcing this viewpoint. Anyone who put forward a view that all people were fundamentally equal would be laughed at for being unpopular and on the wrong side of history. Yet the popular opinion of that time was wrong both Biblically and practically.
This accusation also assumes a view of history as progressively getting better. It assumes that as we move through time, we are becoming more accurate in our viewpoints.
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Distinctively Christian Retirement: A Biblical Call To Serve Jesus Well In Older Age: An Excerpt

Perhaps you are convinced that those who are older or who have health issues should be active in serving God, but you find it hard to picture what that looks like. After all, you might not be able to preach or lead a congregation or head to the mission field. If age and health issues are limiting factors for you, what might your service of Jesus look like?

God loves to use the weak to shame the strong
It is a natural thing for us to honour those who are strong and young. Olympic athletes grace the covers of magazines, and younger people advertise beauty products. Even in the church, often it is the university student ministry that is prioritised as ‘strategic’, while ministry to older believers or those with disabilities can be overlooked.
God doesn’t value strength the way that we do. In fact, God seems to love using those who are weak for his purposes. We see this all through Scripture. God chose Moses to lead his people out of Egypt, even though he couldn’t speak well and didn’t want to do it. Jesus chose a ragtag group of men to be his disciples, impetuous men like Peter who were fishermen instead of scholars or aristocrats. Many of the people remembered as having great faith in the gospels are foreigners, women, prostitutes, disabled, or poor.
We might honour the apostle Paul for his tightly reasoned letters in the New Testament, but he was derided for not being very impressive in person[i] and he struggled with a “thorn” problem his whole life. When he asked God to remove this “thorn”, God’s answer was:
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)[ii]
In the end, Paul realised it was good for him to have his limitations. His problem, whatever it was, was an ongoing struggle that kept him from becoming conceited. God used someone with significant struggles in his life so powerfully to make it clear that the power came from God and not from Paul. In fact, Paul could conclude that it was when he was weak that he was actually strong. He came to depend on God in his hard times instead of himself.
Paul explained God’s use of the weak over the strong in another place:
26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. (1 Corinthians 1:26-29)
Do you see how freeing Paul’s point is here? You don’t need to be an impressive strong young person to be used by God. God loves to use people who are weak in the eyes of the world for his purposes. You might be incredibly useful to God, not because of your innate abilities, but because people can see the grace of God working through someone like you. There are few things more encouraging to younger believers than to see older saints who struggle with their health remaining faithful as servants of the Lord Jesus.
But what could I possibly do to serve God in my situation?
Perhaps you are convinced that those who are older or who have health issues should be active in serving God, but you find it hard to picture what that looks like. After all, you might not be able to preach or lead a congregation or head to the mission field. If age and health issues are limiting factors for you, what might your service of Jesus look like?
There are examples all around us in our churches if only we would look. Many older people in churches I have been part of have been incredibly faithful in prayer. Even if you have some limitation that means you cannot leave your house, you can pray. Perhaps God has given you the great opportunity to spend more time in prayer than you ever have before! Don’t focus on your limitations; think about your opportunities to serve. A focus on prayer will change you as well as you present your requests to God, reminding you that even in your time of challenge, your Father hears you.
Several retirees I have known have used their extra time and resources well by showing hospitality to others in the church. Inviting others over for meals is a dying tradition for many struggling to balance busy careers with their home lives. Opening your house to others, or taking them with you to a restaurant, can be a great way to show love to other people and encourage them.
With age comes experience and wisdom. Oh yes, I know that even older believers who have been in the church for decades still feel their lack of understanding! But the reality is that if you are older, you most likely have a more robust Bible knowledge and experience of living out your faith than many younger people. Consider how you might use those talents. You could meet regularly with new Christians to read the Bible with them. You could take the opportunity to serve as a Bible study leader or visit others. You can phone people or use email to encourage others. Even with limited energy, there are so many ways you could use what God has given you to benefit others.
If you find yourself with a more severe disability or limitation, even then you can see your situation as an opportunity for service. I have known many Christians with severe disability and chronic diseases to be a magnificent witness to the health staff and doctors who cared for them. If you have carers come to your house to help you with everyday tasks, the way you treat them and interact with them can shine the light of the gospel into their lives. Never underestimate the influence a faithful believer can have on the world around them simply by living a joyful, faithful life in difficult circumstances.
Simon van Bruchem is a Teaching Elder at All Nations Presbyterian Church in Perth, Western Australia, where he has served since 2007.
This is an excerpt from Distinctively Christian Retirement: A Biblical call to serve Jesus well in older age. You can find out more about the book at www.writtenforourinstruction.com/distinctively-christian-retirement/. You can purchase the ebook from Amazon here, Kobo, Apple Books, or anywhere ebooks are sold. The print book is available in many places including Book Depository and Amazon. The audiobook is available at Audible here and soon in many other places as well.

[i] In 2 Corinthians 11:6 Paul admits he is unskilled in speaking, and 2 Corinthians 10:1 implies he is accused of being bold only in his writing and yet humble in person.
[ii] Unless specified, all Bible references are from the ESV Bible (Holy Bible English Standard Version), copyright ©2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Adoption Helps Us Understand Why Christians Should Care About Sin

Christians can strain the relationship with God through our sin. But if we are repentant, we don’t need to fear that we will be removed from God’s family. 

Christians all love the idea of being forgiven. We love to sing of our sins being paid for and know how kind our God has been to us. That is 100% correct. If we trust in Jesus, we are secure knowing that Jesus paid our penalty for us.
This has led many to struggle to understand why Christians should keep God’s law or try to deal with sin. After all, logically, if we are forgiven by what Jesus has done, then our future is secure. It doesn’t depend on us, we are constantly told, it all depends on Jesus. So this should mean, we reason, that we can live however we want. God loves us. Why worry about sin and law at all?
The idea that we can live however we want because of God’s grace is not a new one. Paul deals with it at length in Romans, for example, way back in the first century after Jesus. And in our modern individualistic age, we are very tempted to follow the same line of reasoning. We’re saved by grace, so that means I can live how I want and I am still forgiven!
I think the logic of adoption helps us a great deal when it comes to understanding why how we live as Christians is so important. Let me explain.
Adoption is when a couple decide to accept a child into their family. That child is not theirs genetically, but usually due to some significant problems in their biological family, they are looking for a safe place to belong. When this child is adopted, it is not due to their worthiness. It is due to the gracious act of their new parents. They have a new legal status due to what their parents have done. That’s what Jesus has done for us. When we come to trust in Jesus, we then have a different status before God, and we are part of God’s family. We have that status by grace alone.
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Sin Is Far Worse Than We think It Is

Next time you’re tempted to sin, to fall into the sinful patterns all of us have in some parts of our lives, tell yourself this: sin is serious. Sin cost the life of the Son of God. Sin will eat away at us and enslave us, and the short-term reward from sin will not be worth the long-term impact on our faith. Run from sin and never take it lightly. Sin is far worse than any of us think it is.

When Christians think about sin, often it is in the context of our sins being forgiven. We know that we are sinners and that we do all kinds of things that disobey God, some of them unknowingly and some of them intentionally. But we have been forgiven for our sins, right? Jesus died for our sins in our place, our debt is paid, and we are free. That is great news and foundational to what it means to be Christian. With the knowledge that our sins are forgiven, and that we have been shown such grace, we can start to think that sin is not really that bad. After all, if I make a mistake, Jesus will forgive me, right?
Yet, in places like Matthew 18, Jesus says very harsh things about sin. Here’s a brief excerpt:
8 And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. 9 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire. (Matt. 18:8-9 ESV)
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God Cares for Every Christian More Than You Know

In a world that excludes people because they are not fashionable, or because they are difficult, or because they struggle with mental health or messy relationships, Matthew 18 is refreshing. Jesus cares deeply for his people, whoever they might be.

Matthew 18 is a chapter with a theme: Jesus is speaking about what the Christian community should be like. And the fundamental thing we have to understand is that our stance should be one of humility. When we think of others in the Christian community, we are to realise that we are like little children. We are all dependant on God for our salvation. Even the most capable and respected among us are forgiven sinners, so we need to view others in the church as our brothers and sisters, our equals in God’s sight.
A little later on in the chapter we come across this verse:
See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven. (Matt. 18:10 ESV)
This verse is made up of a command and an explanation. The command bit is straight-forward: do not despise one of these little ones. By ‘little ones’, Jesus means any Christian, especially Christians who are weak and insignificant in the eyes of the world. We must not despise, or look down upon, any other Christian. There should be no ranking of importance or feelings of superiority in the church.
Well, you might wonder, why not? Are not some more gifted, or some more useful for the kingdom? Jesus’ explanation does not rank people based on their usefulness but on how God sees them.
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Listen to Jesus, not only Moses and Elijah

We must not ignore the Old Testament and think it unimportant. Moses and Elijah, and the rest of the Old Testament, are the background for Jesus. If we want to understand Jesus better, we need to know the Old Testament. It is there we read of creation and sin, of sacrifice, of covenant promises, of God’s presence, and so much more.

The Old Testament is rich and full of useful things for Christians to think about. We see how God relates to his people, his faithfulness to the promises, and instructions about how to live. All of that is true. Yet there is a real danger that we don’t see the Old Testament in the right light. The transfiguration of Jesus helps us to avoid a few fundamental mistakes that it is easy to make.
In the transfiguration, Jesus was transformed with his face and clothes glowing. And while he was in this transformed state, Moses and Elijah appeared beside him.
(As an aside, this raises all kinds of issues for us. How did the disciples know they were Moses and Elijah? Were there nametags or subtitles or something? Were they really there or some kind of vision? This is one of those passages we wish we had more detail in, but we are told what we need to know.)
Why Moses and Elijah? Well, together they symbolise the Old Testament. Jesus often referred to the Old Testament as the Law and the Prophets (as in Matt 5:17, 7:12). Moses wrote the Law, the first five books of the Old Testament. Elijah didn’t write any books, but he is the greatest of the prophets in the Former Prophets. So these two men represent the Old Testament.
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“What Would Jesus Do?”

Next time you open your Bible, don’t only ask, “What would Jesus do?” and try to do that thing. Ask, “What does this passage tell me about how wonderful Jesus is?” We need to be worshippers, not only activists. 

What would Jesus do? It has turned up on bracelets now for decades, and many Christians find it a helpful thing to consider. After all, Jesus was without sin, and if we want to live a life that pleases God, surely Jesus is a useful example! And yes, of course we see aspects of Jesus’ life on earth that we should follow. The way Jesus interacts with people, the humility he showed, the confidence in prayer; all of these are things we would benefit from reflecting on.
Yet, if this is the main way we think about Jesus, it is clearly not enough.
Let me explain. I heard a sermon recently where the preacher was explaining Mark 10:46-52. That’s the passage where Jesus healed the blind man outside Jericho. After getting Jesus’ attention, Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” After saying that he wanted to see, Jesus healed him, and the man went on to follow Jesus.
The main application the preacher drew from this was that we should notice those people whom others might not, the disabled, the quiet, the ones with problems. And we should ask them what we can do for them. In doing this, we are being like Jesus. That is a valid application of Mark 10, sure. We should do this. The world would doubtless be a better place if we were more observant of the downtrodden and moved to help them.
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