I came across a Twitter thread recently that made me chuckle. It was one of those times I was reminded that we may hear information many times, but until we experience it we won’t comprehend what we’ve heard.
Raymond Chang asked, “What if young people are leaving so called gospel-centered churches, NOT because they are drawn away by the world, but because they are not drawn in by the preaching of a diluted gospel message that has nothing meaningful to say to the brokenness we see in the world? Jesus shines when he not only heals us as individuals but also as communities and the whole world.”
To which David Kinneman, President of Barna Research Group replied, “We’ve done a decade’s worth of research and this, in essence, (is) the central finding of You Lost Me and especially Faith for Exiles.”
Both men are correct, which was affirmed by the thousands of tweets in response to Chang’s question as well as Barna Research Group’s decade of research.
Yet centuries before Kinneman’s project launched, Christians growth was slowed by those in the Church who weren’t rooted in God’s truth. In Galatians 5 Paul reminds a group of new believers that they need to filter who is influencing them.
You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion did not come from Him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough. I have confidence in you in the Lord that you will adopt no other view; but the one who is disturbing you will bear his judgment, whoever he is. But I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted? Then the stumbling block of the cross has been abolished. I wish that those who are troubling you would even mutilate themselves.
For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.Galatians 5:7-26 NASB
Paul asks a direct question framed by three truths. The question is; Who hindered you from obeying the truth? The three truths are ones we can apply in any situation where we’ve veered off course ourselves.
Three Truths From Galatians 5:
- You were running well. The church was growing and faithfully following God
- This persuasion did not come from Him who calls you. When they fell into legalism and found themselves clinging to man’s law above God’s law (read Galatians 5:1-6 for details) it wasn’t directed by God.
- A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough. This is a warning and a reminder. It only takes a small doubt or mistruth to cause a whole lot of trouble.
When it comes to these three truths there is an Old Testament story that stands out as a warning of what happens when we don’t pursue God with our whole heart. More than that, Samson also teaches us that our callings can take an unexpected twist and we can still fulfill them for God’s glory.
Now the sons of Israel again did evil in the sight of the Lord, so that the Lord gave them into the hands of the Philistines forty years. There was a certain man of Zorah, of the family of the Danites, whose name was Manoah; and his wife was barren and had borne no children. Then the angel of the Lord appeared to the woman and said to her, “Behold now, you are barren and have borne no children, but you shall conceive and give birth to a son. Now therefore, be careful not to drink wine or strong drink, nor eat any unclean thing. For behold, you shall conceive and give birth to a son, and no razor shall come upon his head, for the boy shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb; and he shall begin to deliver Israel from the hands of the Philistines.” Then the woman came and told her husband, saying, “A man of God came to me and his appearance was like the appearance of the angel of God, very awesome. And I did not ask him where he came from, nor did he tell me his name. But he said to me, ‘Behold, you shall conceive and give birth to a son, and now you shall not drink wine or strong drink nor eat any unclean thing, for the boy shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb to the day of his death.’”Judges 13:1-7
Laws for Nazarites
In Numbers we learn more about the Nazarites. These were people set apart for a special calling by God. They
Again the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘When a man or woman makes a special vow, the vow of a Nazirite, to dedicate himself to the Lord, he shall abstain from wine and strong drink; he shall drink no vinegar, whether made from wine or strong drink, nor shall he drink any grape juice nor eat fresh or dried grapes. All the days of his separation he shall not eat anything that is produced by the grape vine, from the seeds even to the skin. ‘All the days of his vow of separation no razor shall pass over his head. He shall be holy until the days are fulfilled for which he separated himself to the Lord; he shall let the locks of hair on his head grow long. ‘All the days of his separation to the Lord he shall not go near to a dead person. He shall not make himself unclean for his father or for his mother, for his brother or for his sister, when they die, because his separation to God is on his head. All the days of his separation he is holy to the Lord.Numbers 6:1-8
These were very specific rules, and they may not make sense, but God had his reasons. What we know is that they were distinguishable physically because they didn’t cut their hair and internally in the that they ate differently than typical Israelites. Samson was a special man, set apart by God, for God’s glory. We learn in Judges 13:24 his parents obeyed God, and the next time we read about Samson he is of marrying age and we learn he’s not interested following all the rules associated with being a Nazarite.
Even though Samson breaks some of the laws associated with being a Nazarite such as eating honey from the carcass of an animal Samson doesn’t lose his strength. In Judges 14:5-6 it says, “Then Samson went down to Timnah with his father and mother, and came as far as the vineyards of Timnah; and behold, a young lion came roaring toward him. The Spirit of the Lord came upon him mightily, so that he tore him as one tears a young goat though he had nothing in his hand; but he did not tell his father or mother what he had done.” God protected Samson even though he was hanging out with woman he wasn’t supposed to be with, in a location he wasn’t supposed to be present.
That same strength comes after he eats the honey. Judges 14:19 says, “Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon him mightily, and he went down to Ashkelon and killed thirty of them and took their spoil and gave the changes of clothes to those who told the riddle.”
In his book, The Comeback Louie Giglio notes, “Outwardly, God’s favor is on Samson and God still uses him-this is a mysterious thing. Internally, a hurricane is brewing. Both of the outward and inward scenes of Samsons’ life are happening at the same time.”
This is important for us to remember in light of Galatians 5. God gave Samson a special gift and a specific calling on his life for a reason. Even in Samson’s darker moments, the Spirit of the Lord came upon him and protected him to keep him alive so he could fulfill his future calling. This isn’t an endorsement of Samson’s behavior.
I’m going to more through much of Samson’s story, however, I encourage you to read the whole thing for yourself. Samson fell in love with Delilah and eventually, he tells her that his strength comes from his hair. She cuts off his hair while he sleeps and in Judges 16:20-24 we read of Samson’s fate.
She said, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” And he awoke from his sleep and said, “I will go out as at other times and shake myself free.” But he did not know that the Lord had departed from him. Then the Philistines seized him and gouged out his eyes; and they brought him down to Gaza and bound him with bronze chains, and he was a grinder in the prison. However, the hair of his head began to grow again after it was shaved off. Now the lords of the Philistines assembled to offer a great sacrifice to Dagon their god, and to rejoice, for they said,
“Our god has given Samson our enemy into our hands.”
When the people saw him, they praised their god, for they said, “Our god has given our enemy into our hands, Even the destroyer of our country, Who has slain many of us.”Judges 16:20-24
This persuasion did not come from Him who calls you
Spiritual fruit contains the seeds required to reproduce even more fruit. Man-made (seedless watermelon) or artificial fruit is lifeless and cannot reproduce. However, for seeds to spread, the fruit must die.
Giglio writes “Samson was so focused on the external use of God’s power that he missed out on the internal exercise of God’s power. He was always thinking about what God would do to someone else. He never stopped to think that he had an internal situation that could bring all his plans to a screeching halt. He never said, “God, as much as I’ve needed your power to kill the Enemy, I need your power to fix me. It’s not enough that power goes out from me; I need the power of God to work in me.”
He goes on to say, “Strangely, God was still using Samson even during Samson’s low points. The man still operated in some of the gifting and empowering and calling that God had placed upon his life even while battling this internal hurricane.”
And here’s the thing…if this could happen with Samson, then it most certainly can happen with us. It’s possible that we are faking the fruit of the Spirit outwardly. We might have everyone around us fooled…but we haven’t fooled God.
God has a bigger plan, and He will use any situation He pleases to for His glory. He will use any situation for his glory.
I think we need to consider with the fruit of the Spirit and abiding in Christ is that this is an active process that takes attention, surrender, and sometimes guidance. As sisters in Christ, we need to encourage each other to further develop the Fruit of the Spirit in our lives and extend grace to each other along the way. Growth doesn’t happen overnight, and it requires pruning and tending. Above all, we must remember that if we don’t stay focused on God’s truth we are all capable of allowing false influence to lead us astray. Jesus reminded the disciples of this just before his death.
“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them and cast them into the fire, and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.John 15:1-11
There are significant contrasts in how Samson and Jesus lived their lives on earth. Yet they both started out making intentional choices inwardly and outwardly to glorify God. Both sacrificed their lives in the end for those they loved. Both deaths fulfilled prophecies from angels, and both men lived out their specific callings from God.
Unfortunately, for much of Samson’s adult life, he used his gifts from God to get his own way, rather than to glorify God. We don’t need Nazarites anymore. Jesus’s death and resurrection created a path for us all to be equally able to be indwelt with the Holy Spirit and to use our gifts to glorify God through our individual callings.
Similarly to Samson though we have the choice to act in a way that outwardly shows one aspect of our character while inwardly a hurricane brews. We can choose to abide in God, seeking to allow our inward and outward characteristics match. We can choose to honor God in our life or in our death. When we do this we will find ourselves naturally reflecting the Fruit of the Spirit. We will also find that we’ll instinctually love our neighbor as ourselves because we will be reflecting the same sacrificial love Jesus and the disciples lived out daily.
Finally, we will be speaking truth to others and multiplying the Church rather than aiding to its rapid decline when we choose to align our inward and outward characteristics and to pursue our calling in a way that intentionally glorifies God rather than ourselves. Even if that calling seems like has nothing to do with the Church, when you partner with God, you have the opportunity to reflect the love of Christ everywhere you are in any situation.
Whether you’re considering the concept of what attracts people to the church for the first time today, ten years ago or at some other point, today, we have the gift of more than a hypothesis to build a conversation around. Kinneman’s data confirms the question Chang posted on Twitter. Together they are helping to amplify the truth. We can choose to believe the responses of those who are leaving the church or ignore their words and determine for ourselves why reality is what it is, it’s up to you.
If you aren’t sure which way to go, I encourage you to consider Galatians 5 and to read the story of Samson. Ultimately, whatever your calling is, as we partner with Jesus the best way to ensure we are speaking truthfully about him is to stay as close to him as possible. It’s also the best way to ensure we’re hearing him correctly.
This article was originally posted February 8, 2016 and has been updated for accuracy and freshness 7/2020