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Discipleship

Barriers to Knowing Christ

By Dr. Richard J. Krejcir
What Blocks us from Encountering Jesus Christ? Part I

What God Desires and the causes and motivations that block our spiritual growth. Why do some people grow in their faith and maturity while others go about it very slowly or not at all?

What Blocks us from Encountering Jesus Christ?

Part I:  Barriers to Knowing Christ


 

                        GOD AS OUR SAVIOR       

  
       John 3-5; 14-15                                             Barriers??

                     What God Desires          

                 ------------------   

         Others    ↑  ß ME à    Self 

   

      

                    Environment and Experiences 

 

Introduction  
 
            In the next three articles we will be taking a look at the causes and motivations that block our spiritual growth. Why do some people grow in their faith and maturity while others go about it very slowly or not at all? We will be looking in the Book of John at three characters in particular, a Pharisee, an outcast woman, and a sick man who may not even wanted to get well. By looking in the lives of these people who met Jesus Christ face to face, we can see the barriers they had to over come to accept Him. Perhaps we can learn a thing or two to help our growth in Him and know what those barriers are and how we can overcome them. 
 

            If you have spent any significant time in the Christian faith, you will have observed that all of us are not on the same playing field of faith and maturity. We Christians have all had different experiences in life, different reactions to those experiences, and different ways of understanding and applying our faith to those situations. These experiences and the decisions we make concerning them all converge to shape us into who we are today and who we will be tomorrow. Coupled to this is the Work of the Holy Spirit, guiding and molding us, seeking to penetrate the barriers of our stubborn pride and will. The Holy Spirit does not, although He can, overwrite us; He works within us as a gentle change agent, a voice of meekness, as strength under control, desiring us to respond to our life's circumstances in character and maturity. Yet, we tend to form barriers to His leading and call. We form barriers, causing our spiritual growth and our relational endeavors with others to stagnate. Perhaps, if we learn what these barriers are and how these barriers block our spiritual progress, we will be able to advance further in the faith. We will be able to tackle more for His Kingdom and be better examples of His Character.

 

            As human beings, in relation to our world and God, we have four main life experience themes that we have to learn how to relate to, so we can grow beyond our sinful selves into His grace and the sanctification. These are the themes of life that we begin to deal with as babies, and continue to deal with until we are called home. First, we have a relationship to ourselves. This is who we are, how we see ourselves, if we are comfortable being "me," our personality, our experiences, and the way we handle the world around us. This is all the stuff we learn in life, coupled with our genetic makeup, that tells others who we are. From discovering that we have feet at four months of age, until we make a decision to accept Christ as our Savior and how we handle life all facilitate our personality and worldview. All comes from what we have been through, and how we learned and grew from it. Sometimes it is determined because what we have been through caused us to chose to retreat behind a barrier-in fear, bitterness, or perhaps indifference. Then, we come face to face with three other life experiences: how we relate to the environment around us-from nature to the things that happen to us-how we relate to other people, and finally, how we accept and relate to God. The barriers in our life are what stop us from becoming "whole" and "successful" in these relations.

           

            One of the ways to look at these barriers to our Spiritual Growth is through the eyes of developmental psychology, or otherwise said, through the seasons of life we all experience. At each stage of our life, we all face decisions, and these decisions form our determination that makes us who we are. God transcends these barriers to offer us His grace and life; we have to arise and step forward to receive His work and then apply it to our life. But, what stops us? Our will! Let us look at some of these barriers by examining how three people in the Gospel of John handled these. By knowing these barriers, we can see what is ahead, where we have been, and be open to His work through His Spirit. That way, we can grow in our faith development, maturity, and character, which is a part of our sanctification.

 

Nicodemus

 

The first encounter we will look at is in John 3: 1-21. This passage contains the quintessential slogan, catchphrase, or motto to what it means to be an Evangelical Christian.  These precious words of Jesus in the sixteenth verse contain both the heart and the controversy of the gospel; "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." This is a passage that tells us of God's ultimate love, yet is the focal point for contention and strife for the rest of the world.

 

The term, born again, has become very popular in American culture in the past three decades, and is even a slang term or colloquialism to describe so many different kinds of events that have nothing to do with the way the New Testament uses it. I have heard it describe the successful rebirth of basketball or football teams, a renewal of a marriage, and revitalized a few years back in the old town of Pasadena, where I live.  And, I have heard this term used as a "put down" to a person in the media who has made a commitment to Christ!

 

This term, born again, is the heart of God's love for us. Yet, in so many ways, people seek to cheapen it or use it as a byword to attack someone who has the Lord as the Ruler of their own heart and will. People, in general, do not like anything taking the place of their will; they want to rule themselves as if their will is their own, as if it belongs to no one else, not even God. After all, this is a part of freedom-of being an American, as some people would say.  The American Congress has, in recent months, used the term, being born again, to denounce some of President Bush's appointments to the federal court because they are Christians. They fear these would make decisions based on their faith and not from the court. Or, consider the sensational attacks last year from the Western World's media to bring down anybody in political power who happened to be a Christian. This is the first barrier to encountering Christ we have to go through. Fortunately for us, we do not do this alone; God sends His Spirit to penetrate that barrier. However, we still must cross it by faith.

 

Nicodemus came face to face with the ultimate barrier, to go from His fallen, sinful self to being born again and accepting God's grace. Nicodemus was a Pharisee and a ruler of the Jews. He was a member of the Sanhedrin, the council of seventy men who ran the religious affairs of the Jewish nation, and who had religious authority over any Jew anywhere in the world. We need to understand the mindset of the typical Pharisee. If ever there was a group in church history that could be called "religious fanatics," it was the Pharisees. They were a very select group from just a few to as many as 6,000 of them. They would make solemn vows in public and devote every moment of there entire life to obeying the Law of God as a way of pleasing God. The Pharisees took the Ten Commandments, and how we come before God in worshipping the one, true God, very, very seriously. What is wrong with that? The Law includes the many, many extra laws they made up for themselves and forced upon others, thus clouding people from follow the one, true God. And, the Pharisees were prideful and pretentious; many of their shows were just that-shows and not from the heart. That is why Jesus attacked them so forcibly. God hates fake pretension and pious frauds.

 

The Pharisees were very zealous about not having idols, honoring father and mother, refraining from lying, adultery, and combating the 600+ various, and other sins. They seemed to have sincere hearts, seeking to follow God, but, for the most part, it was all just a show. The Pharisees were also the Taliban of their day, demanding strict adherence of the Law down to every last conceivable detail, with the exception they were not terrorists nor were violent. However, they ruled with an iron glove. In their zeal, they put so many rules and regulations on how to seek God in addition to the Law, that the true law and how to reach God was covered and blinded by traditions and made up rules and regulations. So, the average Jew on the street was blinded from freely worshipping and seeking their God. Instead, they had hundreds of laws to follow. These were the rules they used to confront Jesus.

 

To add more clouding to God's truth, the Pharisees had the scribes transcribe their new laws, called the Mishnah. The Jews still have this today, and it is one of their main commentaries. The other main book, besides the Torah, which is the first five books of the Old Testament, is the Talmud, which is made up of commentaries on the Mishnah. For example, in the Talmud there are 156 pages devoted just to the observing of the Sabbath as it applied to life! So, the Jews placed traditions and rules on top of traditions and rules, covering the original rules of God with their own roadblocks of reasoning and self-proclaimed devotions. Many Christians do this too; we can place so much emphasis on tradition that we forget what it is, and who it is we are to worship and do church for. We become blinded by our traditions and made up rules and regulations, so we never see beyond that barrier to Christ's real, saving grace. We can see how serious the Pharisees were about keeping the Law. They wrote down all of the laws, such as the Ten Commandments, then applied layers and layers of duties and commentaries over them, so that the original meaning became lost over centuries of doing this. Thus, when a rabbi wanted to speak on a topic or give a sermon, they went to the Talmud as their first, and sometimes only, prime source.

 

We have similar ways of thinking and systems today. One of my favorites is called case law. This is the set of court rulings over the past two hundred years that American lawyers will use to argue and defend their positions in the courtroom and in arbitrations. The more case laws you can find to support and back up your position, the more likely the judge will have no choice than to rule in your favor, lest their ruling be overturned by a higher court. This would be a terrible thing to happen to a judge professionally. Yet, in this country, we have the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the various Amendments as the definitive law of our country. However, most law students will never actually read the original constitution or the Bill of Rights; they only study the case laws that come from them, period. A lawyer cannot even bring up the constitution in most courtrooms, unless he wants his case to be thrown out, or be held in contempt. I am not making this up. Just ask a lawyer, as I did in preparing this illustration. It is this mindset that sets up the law as a system unconcerned with real truth and justice. The Pharisees were unconcerned with real Biblical Truth or how to know God and make His truth known; they were only concerned with their regulations.

 

This would be the same as if a pastor went to seminary to only study the commentaries and what others have said about the Bible, and never ventured for himself into the Word of God. These pastors would read into the Bible what they want it to say, and not exegete what His Word actually says. You might think, and rightly so, that this would be foolish. Nonetheless, many seminaries, especially the liberal ones, teach that way. The point I am trying to make here is, each of these groups set up so many barriers and walls in front of the original source that you could not see the original source over them. This is the common practice in Law, most seminaries, and even what Nicodemus the Pharisee thought and taught with. We have to be able to see over these obstructions and receive the Truth as revealed in Scripture and through the Holy Spirit. If not, we stay behind the barrier. Nicodemus was able to see, whereas his fellow Pharisees were not willing to. The first main barrier is the acceptance of Christ's work on the cross so we can be redeemed, as in being born again.

 

Jesus is telling us that a new birth is absolutely essential to enter the Kingdom of God. It literally means in the Greek, again (anothen), which has three meanings associated with it: 1. To do it a second time; 2. To begin radically and completely new, or a new beginning; and, 3. It also means from above, that God must do this. Thus, we are to understand this term to mean a radical, new beginning from God. It is God who gives us this gift of love and salvation; it is something we cannot earn for ourselves or inherit from someone else (Eph. 2:8-9).

 

And, this is the contention of debate. It is why Nicodemus had such a hard time with it, and why so many people have a hard time with it. Why? We do not earn it! The whole Pharisee system was about earning God's approval through works, contrary to Deuteronomy, chapter 6, where we are called to love God. This is also principle in the minds of most people, perhaps the biggest and most successful lie Satan has ever come up with (1 Peter 1:22-25; 5:5-11)! Jesus sensed in Nicodemus a deep hunger and emptiness. We need to all ask ourselves, is there a hunger in me for more out of my relationship with Christ? If so, what do you need to do to get there? If not, what is holding you back?

 

This was John Wesley's favorite text, which he preached throughout all of England, Wales, and Scotland, and then here in the US.  God used it to start the great English and American revivals of the nineteenth century. It is a simple message of truth; "You must be born again." Someone once said to him, "Why do you preach so often on 'you must be born again?'" Wesley's answer was, "Because-you must be born again." That is what Jesus is saying.

 

Nicodemus misunderstood Jesus and immediately jumped to gynecology. He took the word "again" (anothen) to mean a second time. Hence his cynicism by saying: "How can a man be born when he is old?" Nicodemus asked. Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born!"  "How can I do that?" he says! 

               Mark Twain once said, "It is not what I don't know about the Bible that troubles me, it is what I do know!" He was not doing what he knew. This is the real problem. Most people know what is right, but they do not want to do what is right. The lights feel good when they are off, and we can sleep through life content and comforted in our beliefs, regardless of truth and conviction or faith. The reason they do not do what is right is because there is something wrong about whom they are. You know, that is true of us all. It is called sin, and that is our hardened will refusing to surrender over to God. We want to do and live our way with a "who cares" attitude; who cares what anybody else thinks, including God!  

               I have been in pastoral ministry as a profession since 1982 and in lay ministry years prior. I can absolutely tell you that the one thing that keeps most people from accepting Christ as their Savior, to be born again, is that they do not want to admit their need. They do not want to admit that there is something basically wrong with them; they still cling to the idea that there is some good thing about them that God should accept, and if they do more good than bad, He will have to let them into heaven. I do not think anything has been more destructive in the whole realm of theology and what is preached in a lot of our churches than that we are O.K. as we are; no repentance is necessary! Come one, come all. But, the Bible says we cannot come; He comes to us. Christ saves us, if only we acknowledge our need and accept Him as our Lord and Savior; yet so few will. Despite our best efforts, we are not fulfilling God's law. We are not able to do so. We desperately need a Savior! Admitting our need is the first barrier we need to cross!  

               So, carefully consider any barriers in your thinking that blocks you from the core truth and reality of life: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." 

               And, what happened to our friend Nicodemus? Just read John 7: 50-51. He kept sneaking to see Jesus in the night, curious and conflicted. And, at some point, prior to Jesus' crucifixion, he believed, and he provided the expensive burial ointments (John 19: 39-41). At some point, those penetrating words of Jesus got across his barriers; Jesus got through to him. The Pharisees conducted their scrupulous attempts to observe the Law and thus please God. That is the kind of man Nicodemus was until he met Christ, and until that meeting penetrated his heart and will. Has the Word of the Lord gotten though to you?

 

What are some of your barriers to growing, beyond where you are now, in character and maturity? Here are some thoughts:

 

·        Perhaps what happens is, we get ourselves so comfortable in the life of the church, and we forget what the church is all about. We think, I go to church, I serve on a committee, my kids are in Sunday school; what more could there be?

 

·        Perhaps, we were born into it-the church that is-and grew up hearing all there is to know; yet, it never sank in and transformed us.

 

·        Perhaps, we got turned off from the pious frauds we may have observed on TV or in the walk of life, "pseudo" Christians, who talk the talk but do not walk the walk.

 

·        Perhaps, we see the radical commitments of some of the born again Christians and think they are crazy

 

·        Perhaps, there is a fear of commitment or a fear of conversion; we do not want to be convicted of sin; we do not want the lights turned on because we do not want to see what is hidden in the dark.

 

 

Discussion Questions Read John 3:1-21 and make some observations:

 

1.      What do you think and feel when someone turns on the light or makes a loud noise while you are sleeping, about being interrupted? Consider how the Spirit interrupts us.

 

2.      What are your thoughts about Nicodemus?

 

3.      What are the barriers that Nicodemus may have had to overcome to accept who Christ is?

 

4.      Look over the "What Blocks us from Encountering Jesus Christ?" chart. Where are you in this chart? Where do you need to be? Barriers to Discipleship Chart

 

5.      The question we have to ask ourselves is, what barriers do I place in the way of knowing Christ as my Lord?

 

·        Barriers from knowing Christ?

  •   Barriers from growing in Christ?
  •   Barriers from following His will?

 

6.      How is this like coming to Christ?

 

7.      What barriers do we place in the way of knowing Christ as our Lord?

 

8.      Maybe this is not a problem, but what perceptions and presumptions do you have that keep you from growth in sanctification?

 

·        What holds you back?

·        Traditions?

·        Presumptions?

 

9.      What did it take for you to realize, if you did, the reality of Christ in your daily life? How can that help fuel you to further persevere in your faith and spiritual growth?

 

10. Is there a hunger in you for more out of your relationship with Christ? If so, what do you need to do to get there? If not, what is holding you back?

 

 

We cannot reach verse 16 until we overcome the barriers we place over verses 4-15!  There has to be a wakeup call, a light to be tuned on, and a realization of who Christ is; this can happen suddenly or it can take a lifetime. We cannot make chapter 15 real, and a lifestyle, until we grow from 3:16!

                What about you? Do you yearn for the lights to stay off; do you just acknowledge Jesus as a great teacher and founder of a religion, not wanting to be bothered with Him outside of Sunday morning? What do you think that God expects? Do we do as the Pharisees and cloud God's love with meaningless traditions, or perhaps do the opposite, and really dilute it down to just being a good person? I lived a good life! That is all I need to do-do my best to obey the Ten Commandments, to live life as best as I can, to try hard to do what the Bible says. If we read it at all, perhaps this will please God and we can be accepted by Him. Or, you are a committed Christian, but that commitment only goes so far… Maybe this is not a problem, but what perceptions and presumptions do you have that keep you from growth in His sanctification?  

Make sure you carefully check out theBarriers to Discipleship Chart

In the next two months we will be continuing our look at reasons that block our spiritual growth, next month "Barriers from growing in Christ" and the following month "Barriers from following His will."

 

© 1990, 2003 R. J. Krejcir Into Thy Word Ministries www.intothyword.org

  

Richard Joseph Krejcir is the Director of "Into Thy Word Ministries," a discipling ministry. He is the author of the book, Into Thy Word, and is also a pastor, teacher, and speaker. He is a graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena California. He has amounted over 20 years of pastoral ministry experience, mostly in youth ministry, including serving as a church growth consultant. 

 
 
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