While some divisions among Christians are obvious, others are subtler. Why does God allow it? Is it because He wants to make it hard on us? Or are the reasons as old as the church itself? Satan has always been involved in the church. It is notable that the first place Jesus cast out a demon was in the synagogue, which was Jesus’ church ( Mark 1:23-27 ).
The devil has always been at work in the church. I guess he felt if he couldn’t beat them, he would just join them. His ways are subtle, so it is important to see how he has caused such division. With this in mind, let us explore the methods of this master tactician and how we can overcome his influence.
1. Inability to Understand God’s Paradox
Honest people who are sincerely seeking God can come up with very different notions about the teachings in the Bible. This is because God has purposely put paradox in Scripture. He doesn’t want us to approach Him through knowledge, but rather through childlike faith. It is His paradox that confounds knowledge and the wisdom of the world. Here are a few paradoxes in Scripture: law and grace; predestination and free will; one God in three; Christ as God and Christ as man; salvation by grace and work out your salvation with fear and trembling; judge not and he who is spiritual judges all things ( Isaiah 55:8-9 ).
If I only believe in the law of God, I may become motivated by fear of God, which affects my intimacy with Him. If I only focus on grace, I may not fear the consequences of sin. Both sides of the paradox must be balanced by each other. The Corinthians received the message of grace and then began to sin with reckless abandonment. They believed they were no longer under the law. The result was death and sickness in the Corinthian church ( 1 Cor. 11:30 ). In the same way, Jesus taught us grace and love, but was unwilling to cast aside God’s law ( Matt 5:17-19 ).
Every doctrine that divides the church has paradox in it. We will begin to know the true spirit of God when we can embrace both sides of the paradox by faith. Only then can we say all things are predestined and yet I have free will to choose. Only with God is such a thing possible. We say that we believe, with God, all things are possible, but then deny that paradox is possible. Childlike faith has no problem accepting the impossible. When Christians begin to appreciate each other’s viewpoints without feeling threatened, we will no longer be separated by the paradox of God; we will be united in the spirit of love.
2. Confusion of Temporal with Eternal Principles
There is much confusion over temporal and eternal truths. As I stated earlier, many Christians want to argue over a particular viewpoint in Scripture without considering the passages in paradox to that viewpoint. Because we want God to fit into our logic box, we discard any nonconforming Scripture, or simply ignore it. If we acknowledge the opposite Scriptural reference, our doctrine must be modified to accommodate both Scriptures. In the temporal, God’s law is still in effect. By this I mean we have consequences by not following the law. I hear the principle of grace being preached from many pulpits, too often at the expense of the law. The grace is an eternal law that is applied to our eternal spirit, but it should not give us the idea that we can sin with no temporal affect.
In the natural, if you break the law, you will suffer the consequences. If you are speeding and you get a ticket, you might argue to the policeman that you are not under the law, but I doubt it would do any good. The eternal law of grace will keep us out of the lake of fire but will not keep us from the consequences of violating the law in the temporal. Obedience to the law doesn’t save us, but it will keep us out of a whole bunch of trouble. The confusion over law and grace has caused many Christians to be entrapped in sin and division ( Romans 7:7-8 ).
Confusion over the temporal and eternal principles often divides the body of Christ. True wisdom comes when we can be gracious with brothers and sisters who have not yet come to a fuller understanding of the temporal and eternal truths. Jesus said to His church, "Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin ( John 8:34 ). In other words, Satan can gain great authority in our lives if we reject the commands of Christ.
3. Incorrect Motives of the Heart - 1 Cor 13:1-3
When did God ever make our relationship with Him and people about knowing all things, gifts of the Spirit, or pious acts? Too often we make fellowship too much about gifts, doctrines, good works, and sacrifice. According to the Scripture above, none of these things matter to God if they are not motivated by love. All gifts of God are wonderful, but they are not an evidence of a right heart. They should never be seen as a badge of spirituality. Even our sacrifices to God do not impress Him if we are not motivated by love.