Freedom from Independence!

With Independence Day approaching, we celebrate both our freedom as Americans and, more importantly, our Freedom in Christ—which is the Higher Christian Life. While meditating on independence, I have realized that to be independent has both good and bad connotations. Independence from oppression is a good thing. Independent living—to be capable to live on your own—is a good thing.

But independence can also be a bad thing. Independence is bad when we don’t reach out for help because we just want to do it on our own— when we think “I got this; I don’t need someone else’s help or counsel.” We try to be the self-made man or woman. One definition of independence is “not looking to others for one’s opinions or for guidance in conduct” vs. Scripture that says, “There is safety in a multitude of counselors.”

Independence is bad when it alienates us from others or when it becomes prideful. Independence is bad when it says, “I got to be me,” and becomes an excuse for “I don’t want to change.” We find ourselves opposed to Scripture that commands us: “Put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24).

Many of us croon with Frank Sinatra, “I did it my way.” Having it your way is fine for Burger King (I love my Whoppers without onions!), but not for our spiritual life or the church. God says His ways are higher than our ways. Independence is bad when it is all about ourselves. I looked up synonyms for the word “Independent”: “self-dependent,  self-reliantself-subsistent, self-subsistingself-sufficient, self-supportedself-supporting, self-sustained, self-sustaining.” Notice that it is all about self.

Independence is bad when we don’t want to submit to others. Another definition of independence is: “free from outside control, not depending on another’s authority, not subject to control by others.” I remember James Robison, a Baptist TV evangelist, once saying tongue-in-cheek, “If you say ‘Independent Baptist,’ you have said “independent” twice!” An independent attitude opposes several Scriptures. Here are just two:

  • “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21).
  • “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you” (Hebrews 13:17).

So then, the answer is not codependency, which is unhealthy dependence on the needs of or control by another. In other words, people need each other, so they use each other.

Biblically, we are not to be independent, dependent or codependent, but we are to be interdependent. This is the Higher Life in Christ. The Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit are harmoniously interdependent. The King James Version of Galatians 6, verse 2 and 5 read as follows:

2 “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.”

5 “For every man shall bear his own burden.”

These two verses appear to contradict each other. However, verse 2 and 5 have different Greek words translated the same as “burden.” The KJV mistranslates verse 5. “Burden” in verse 5 means the soldier’s backpack. “Burden” in verse 2 means an oppressive heavy burden. The NASB translates accurately verse 5: “For each one will bear his own load.” We each have our own load for which we are responsible, but we need to reach out to others when we overburdened.

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down,  one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12).

We need each other. That is a good thing. None of us can stand completely on our own. We need each other’s friendship, we need each other’s encouragement, we need each other’s prayers. And yes, we need each other’s admonishment and we need to submit to one another. That is real freedom in Christ.

I realized many years ago that I had an unhealthy independent spirit. I had left 3 denominations and became pastor of a non-denominational independent church. I had become anti-denominational and proud of my badge as an independent pastor. But after trying to pastor 3 independent churches, I found them more problematic than a denomination, fostering an unhealthy spirit of pride, bitterness, separateness, and rebellion, not only in the churches but also in myself.

My Dad tried to encourage me to come back to my original denomination, but I fought against it until I realized I was fighting the Lord. Someone gave me a right-on prophetic word, saying that I was like a can with a generic label, but that God was putting a name brand label on me, yet the contents would still be the same. I am now back in the denomination of my childhood, and though it is not perfect, I have never been happier.

I celebrate my independence as an American, and I am proud to be an American. But I never want to be independent as a Christian. I never want again to be independent as a pastor. I want always to be biblically interdependent with the family of God. I pray we all set our sights on the Higher Life in Christ and become free from an independent spirit.




Is It of God? Biblical Principles for Spiritual Discernment

After a hiatus of a few years because of an incredibly busy schedule, I am starting to blog again, introducing my newest book Is It of God? A Biblical Guidebook for Spiritual Discernment. Here is a summary of 8 principles from Chapter 2: 

Spiritual discernment is a bit like driving a car. We need to learn when to press down the accelerator, apply the brakes, or continue to move forward with alertness and caution. The illustration of approaching a traffic light while driving helps to picture the process of discernment: Green Light means Go. Red Light means Stop; go no farther. A yellow light means slow down and get ready to stop. A blinking yellow light means proceed with caution, looking in all directions.

Eight biblical principles of discernment help us to know whether to press on the gas, press on the brakes or proceed forward with caution. These are based on the acronym DISCERNS:

DISCOVER BIBLICAL PRECEDENT. Is the teaching, practice, or manifestation found in Scripture? (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Do any biblical commands, principles, or examples clearly question or condemn this teaching, practice, or manifestation? This is an automatic red light. Do any biblical commands, principles, or examples permit or sanction this teaching, practice, or manifestation? This may be a green light, but it also may be a blinking yellow light that requires looking in all directions for further confirmation of two or more Scriptures or other witnesses (2 Cor. 13:1). If we do not have a green light from clear scriptural precedent, then we need to proceed with a blinking yellow light caution by exercising the other discernment principles that follow.

INVESTIGATE FOR SCRIPTURAL HARMONY—If no biblical precedent can be found, we need to be a Berean (Acts 17:22), examining closely and asking: is this teaching, practice or manifestation in harmony with Scripture? Proceed with a blinking yellow light, looking in all directions and prepared to stop (Red light!), if found to be not in harmony with Scripture; green light, if found to be in harmony with Scripture.

It is important to discern between “un-biblical” and “not biblical.” “Unbiblical” is a teaching, practice, or manifestation that contradicts or compromises, takes away from, or adds to (Deut. 4:2; Prov. 30:5-6), or goes outside the bounds of Scripture(1 Cor. 4:6), making Scripture insufficient for salvation and truth—Red light“Not-biblical” means not found in the Bible (Blinking Yellow Light). Just because it does not appear in the Bible does not automatically mean it is wrong (such as Sunday school, youth groups, terms like Trinity and rapture, etc.)Much that is genuinely of God is not found in Scripture (John 20:30-31; 21:25). We must be careful not to condemn what Scripture does not condemn (Luke 9:49-50). We proceed with caution, looking in all directions.

On the other hand, just because it does appear in the Bible does not mean it is automatically always OK.

We need to be careful not to confuse normal with normative. Some things in the Bible are unique and not precedent-setting. Some things could be repeated, but are rare in the Bible (stilling the storm, protection from poisonous food or snake bites, being caught up to the third heaven, use of prayer cloths for healing, resurrections from the dead, walking on water, turning water into wine, etc.)

SCRUTINIZE FOR SOUND DOCTRINE. Is this teaching, practice, or manifestation consistent with sound biblical theology, interpretation, and/or practice? Is it accurate use of Scripture (2 Tim. 2:15)? Is it sound teaching in agreement with what Christ taught (1 Tim. 6:3)? Is it in accord with teachings handed down from the apostles (2 Thess. 2:15: 3:6; 1 Cor. 11:2)? (Green light)Does it compromise the deity or humanity of Christ? the virgin birth of Christ?  the atoning blood of Christ? the resurrection of Christ?  the authority of Scripture?  The reality of heaven and hell? the Trinity? Salvation by grace through faith? (Red light!)

CONFIRM WITH EXPERIENCE. Is this teaching, practice, or manifestation confirmed from real life experience (Mark 16:20; Heb. 5:14)? Doctrine is not merely theoretical; it is confirmed by examples from life. If the experience is in harmony with Scripture—green light; maybe—blinking yellow light; no—red light.

EXAMINE THE FRUIT. Does teaching, practice, or manifestation bear good fruit(Matt. 7:16-18)? Is Jesus Christ lifted up and glorified? Does it edify spiritually? Are people saved and/or lives transformed? Does it bring people closer to Jesus? Does it build godly character? Does it edify? Yes—green light; maybe—blinking yellow light; no—red light.

RECEIVE SUPERNATURAL DISCERNMENT. Pray for the gift of discerning of spirits to shed light (1 Cor. 12:8, 10; Col. 3:15). The Holy Spirit often gives a witness or a check where Scripture says nothing. You know intuitively in your spirit—a sense a peace (green light) or lack of peace (yellow light or red light).

NOTE EXAMPLES AND LESSONS FROM THE PAST.  Can we find similar precedent in teaching, practice, or manifestation in church history(Heb. 11; 12:1; Jer. 6:16; Rom. 15:4; 1 Cor. 10:11). Yes, if in harmony with Scripture—green light; maybe—blinking yellow light; no—red light.

SIFT AND WEIGH FOR EQUILIBRIUM. Does this teaching, practice, or manifestation represent a biblical balance? Green light, if the answer is “Yes”; Red right if the answer is “No”; Yellow light, if one-sided, there are continuing questions, or the answers are mixed.

My newest book Is It of God? A Biblical Guidebook for Spiritual Discernment is available for purchase at