Thursday 19 April 2012


Harbouring an image of God that is attractive and agreeable has its dangers.

Since the dawn of time, beauty has always been sought, adored and even worshipped. How many young ladies can resist a makeover so that they become glamorous – with the soft, airbrush look – like magazine cover girls?

This obsession with all things attractive spills over into the spiritual realm. We all love a God whose image fits our expectation of a benevolent being. We prefer preachers who portray God as loving and forgiving, patient with our sins and deficiencies – rather than those who dwell on judgment.

The respected theologian A. W. Tozer says: "Much of our difficulty as seeking Christians stems from our unwillingness to take God as He is and adjust our lives accordingly. We insist on trying to modify Him and bring Him nearer to our own image.”


                                          Change God, Change the message
This warped image of God is reflected in three areas: blessings, salvation and discipleship. Let’s examine these three points in turn:

1. Blessings above calling.
2. Once saved, always saved.
3. Easy discipleship.

Blessings above calling

In “Cat and Dog Theology”, authors Sjogren and Robison employ domestic animals to describe our relationship with God. Those more akin to cats focus mainly on God’s blessings whereas those with a dog mentality would place God’s glory above personal comfort. Blessings are to be enjoyed but we should not go overboard … and become a “cat”.

God desires to bless His children and included in this package is health and wealth, besides protection and security (Matthew 6:33, Jeremiah 29: 11 and 33:6).

But when our life revolves around our security and success, and God is the One who helps us fulfil our dreams, we are no different from those who pray to idols to get winning lottery numbers.

Taking the “health and wealth” gospel to the extreme is like turning God into the genie of Aladdin’s lamp. That’s when we get mesmerised by the gifts to the degree that they eclipse the Giver, when we choose comfort rather than God’s call upon our lives.

Is it God’s will that every believer lives in a mansion with a swimming pool? Does God heal every case of infirmity and disease? Isn’t God sovereign in all things – when He heals (timing) and whether He heals or not?

The only place where ‘blessing’ comes before ‘calling’ is in the dictionary. Those who place blessing above calling have lost their sense of priority in their spiritual walk.

Once saved, always saved

Proponents of easy believism support the doctrine of “once saved, always saved”. Once you have accepted Christ, you can relax; you have bought your ticket to heaven and nothing can change your fate.

However, both Paul and Jude warn of the danger of resting on our spiritual laurels as God afterwards destroyed those He had saved because of unbelief. Lest we say these things do not apply to us but only to those living in Old Testament times, Paul expressly says that what happened to them should serve as a warning to us; it’s for our admonition (Jude 1:5, 1 Corinthians 10:1-11).

At the Mount of Olives, Jesus warned that false prophets will arise and deceive many, even the elect (as error is so skilled at imitating truth that the two are often being mistaken for each other). Only those who endure to the end will be saved.

Indeed, deception coupled with ‘itching ears’ (2 Timothy 4:3) will spell doom for many. Didn’t Jesus warn that “the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many” (Matthew 7:13)?

Easy discipleship

Riding on the wave of “once saved, always saved”, some believers reckon that since everything rests on God’s mercy – He has saved them – they can kick back and take it easy.

But what about the challenge of radical discipleship so central to Christ’s teaching? “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). What about producing fruits that befits repentance so as not to be cut off (Matthew 3:8, 10 and 7:19)?

No right thinking believer disputes the fact that we are saved by faith. What is crucial is that which follows. What’s next? Genuine faith has to be evidenced by works: "As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead" (James 2:26). Paul echoes this need for personal responsibility – to work out our faith with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). 

A world of difference exists between ‘work for’ and ‘work out’. Author J. Oswald Sanders draws an analogy between salvation and an estate. We do not have to feverishly work for an estate. We have already been given an estate. But we have to work it out – develop the estate’s hidden resources.

Presumptuous faith, failure to walk closely with God, discern and do his will could have disastrous consequences finally for many (Matthew 7: 21-23).

Tough Love

Love and mercy are important attributes of God. He is slow to anger, quick to forgive and chose us while we were yet sinners. He loved us so much that He sent Jesus to die on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins.

But He is also a God of justice and righteousness. “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; love and faithfulness go before you” (Psalm 89:14). He is the Lamb of God and the Lion of Judah as well. He who once rode on a colt as a man is now ensconced on His heavenly throne as the King of Kings.

He may be a tender daddy (Romans 8: 15) and a close friend (John 15: 15). But He is also a Holy God, a consuming fire, to be feared and revered (Hebrews 12:29).

Aren’t believers free from the law? In a sense, the answer is ‘yes’ in that we need not arduously keep the law in order to earn our ticket to heaven. As Scripture says, "You are not under law, but under grace" (Romans 6:14).

However, that doesn’t mean we can do whatever we like. We are still held accountable under moral law as revealed in the Ten Commandments. Jesus puts it succinctly: "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them” (Matthew 5:17).

The whole truth

The story of the six blind men who felt different parts of an elephant is highly instructive. Each perceived the pachyderm differently. Its trunk was likened to a snake, leg to a tree trunk, tail to a rope, ear to a fan, tusk to a spear and body to a wall.

It is wise not to “cherry pick”. Tozer warns: "Heresy is not so much rejecting as selecting.” By examining the whole Bible, we do not dwell on half-truths or emphasise one truth at the expense of another equally fundamental truth (Acts 20:27).

The Bereans were cited as good examples because they questioned what they were taught – even Paul’s teaching – scrutinising it against the Scriptures (Acts 17:11). Any teaching that does not stand up to the test of Scripture should be rejected, no matter how eloquent or respectable its proponent might be.

The four Gospels portray various facets of Jesus – as King (in Matthew), as servant (in Mark), as the perfect man (in Luke) and as the Creator, God incarnate (in John). Their accounts complement one another, giving us a composite picture of His nature and work.

Starting with a premise and then finding appropriate verses (eisegesis) to support our convictions is a shaky proposition. A more sensible approach is to study the whole Bible with the Holy Spirit’s help (exegesis) before forming our own views on a topic – in this case, God’s nature.

Wake-up call

If we live only to please ourselves, believing that an “indulgent” God will constantly bless and forgive us, we are deceiving ourselves.

Thinking erroneously that He is always meek and mild may prove disastrous when we’re confronted by God the judge at the end of our life journey or when Christ returns (Hebrews 9:27, 1 Peter 4:7, 17).

"Faith is good only when it engages truth; when it is made to rest upon falsehood it can and often does lead to eternal tragedy."  – A. W. Tozer.

More than ever before, we need to rediscover what reverential fear of a holy God means – that we might live soberly and circumspectly in these tumultuous end times.


When we select portions of scripture which are attractive and agreeable to us, we are distorting the truth.

Some people only want to hear things that are pleasant and soothing. Anything that brings pain is rejected. They would rather listen to comforting lies than harsh truths.

Let us dwell on the whole truth, not half-truths.

Have God’s moral laws become irrelevant for believers saved by grace? Does grace do away with the Law?

Are all our future sins forgiven at conversion?


Francis Tan * , who read my article, The Divine Makeover, responded by sending this feedback:

Dr Lim, I would like to commend you on your article, The Divine Makeover:

I strongly agree with you that most Christians are in error in the three areas you mentioned: blessings, salvation, and discipleship.

A few weeks ago I was sort of lamenting to someone that most of us have inaccurate ideas of who God is and what He is like. We create in our minds and hearts an image of God who is all loving, all gracious, never gets angry, like a soft and gentle Santa Claus.
And a Jesus who is buddy buddy and only buddy buddy with us. We have created in our minds false images of God, and that is tantamount to idolatry.

My "lamenting" probably stemmed from something I heard from the pulpit one prayer night, when a pastor in my church quoted John 15:14 "You are my friends if you do what I command."  Then he called us "friends of God" and asked us to sing the song that begins, "I am a friend of God".  Wasn't that presumptuous? Jesus says we are his friends "if you do what I command", yet in the face of Scripture stating the condition, we are duped into thinking we are by default friends of God.

It's so sad that most Christians don't read their Bibles and even those who do, pick and choose what they like and disregard the rest.  Even a casual reading of the New Testament shows us that Jesus can be a hard Master and Lord. Show them Matthew 7:13-14, 21-23 or Philippians 2:12 and so many other verses, and you get varying degrees of indifferent responses.

Now we have prominent leaders making it so easy to enter the kingdom of God.  Many Christians are hoodwinked into thinking that they are godsend.  When I tell them what these leaders believe, they think I am alarmist.

It is also good that you use Cat and Dog Theology to illustrate our poor spiritual condition, and quote A W Tozer.  We need more voices like yours to set us straight.  I am also encouraged knowing that I do not stand alone among so many "cats".

*   Francis Tan, a private tutor, attends Calvary Church, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

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