"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 does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I 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, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. - John 15: 1-11 (ESV)
Say what you will about Joel Osteen, he is nothing if not consistent. Every sermon starts the exact same way. Joel tells a little joke. Most times it is amusing, rarely inappropriate. Every good motivational speaker needs to loosen the crowd up. The joke is probably the most redeemable portion of his message since it does not pretend to be biblical in nature. What follows next though is the affirmation. This is critical to word faith preaching that believes our spoken words have the power of creation. It is not unlike the old Saturday Night Live character, Stuart Smalley who would look in the mirror and declare - I'm Good Enough, I'm Smart Enough, and Doggone It, People Like Me! Joel's affirmation has caught on in churches across this land where pastors try and emulate this:
"This is my Bible. I am what it says I am, I have what it says I have, I can do what it says I can do. Today I'll be taught the Word of God. I boldly confess my mind is alert, my heart is receptive, I'll never be the same, in Jesus name."
I was listening the other day to an Osteen sermon, so you won't have to, when this part triggered something in me to wonder, what if we hold the Bible up to the portions of this statement. Let's start with - I am what it says I am. Now we all know why Joel leads off with this. It is a staple of his preaching. Invariably you will hear in his sermons how you are the head and not the tail. A lender and not a borrower. You are God's workmanship. You are more than conquerors. You are a child of God. You are the righteousness of God. You are a friend of God. You are the apple of His very eye. These points are made because the preaching in word faith is always about YOU. Sure the name of Christ is thrown around enough to make it seem pious and solemn but at the end of the day it is about how fantastic you are. The problem is that these biblical concepts while generally true have context which Joel always ignores. For example Abraham was not a friend of God until God was His Lord. The things we are more than conquerors over are the things that would separate us from Christ. The head and not the tail and lender not a borrower were contingent upon Israel keeping all 613 Mosaic Laws. I think we get the point. The Gospel is not about us beloved. It is about Him. It is not about what we can do but what He has already done for us. According to the key verses we are but branches. Not only that but we had to be grafted in. We should be ever humbled that God even allowed us a way in. What does the Bible truly reveal about who I am:
As it is written: "There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one." "Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit." "The poison of vipers is on their lips." "Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness." "Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know." "There is no fear of God before their eyes." Romans 3: 10-18 (NIV)
Thank God for the blood of Jesus Christ that washes me from all unrighteousness but heaven forbid I ever forget who I am without Christ. I am not suggesting that it is our lot in life to walk around in condemnation but we need to understand better what that means. The person who walks in condemnation thinks they are condemned. That means they think they still are going to hell. That their sin condition is somehow unchanged even though they are supposed to be a new creation. That new creation however is in Christ Jesus not in positive affirmations. He is the reason I no longer walk in condemnation. He is the reason why I am a new creation. I am what Romans 3 teaches me I am without His blood. I am in fact nothing without Him.
Next up in the affirmation is "I have what it says I have." We all know why Joel adds this line. His preaching is centered around cashing in on the great promises of God as a core of his theology. His sermons always talk about favor and how we should expect that great raise and promotion at work. How we ought to believe that God wants to prosper us materially. Sure there may be enough talk about spiritual prosperity to give it a nice religious veneer but underneath that are the promises of avarice. Yet, going back to our key verses, what do we find we have? We are supposed to have fruit. This is no small matter for God beloved. Those that do not bear fruit He takes away and are thrown into the fire. There are many today in the church that believe they have been grafted in but there never was repentance and thus there was never regeneration. There can be no fruit of the Spirit without the indwelt Spirit. The key verses also remind us that we have cleanness now that we are with Christ. He has washed us of the filth of this world. What does it say washed us? Was it his love? Was it His grace? No beloved - it was His Word! Is it any wonder then the first thing we see abandoned in false churches such as Lakewood is the Word of God? Osteen himself has said that doctrine is not one of his "giftings." He refuses to apologize for not bringing the Scriptures in until the end of sermons. When he finally does it is usually out of context, misinterpreted, or in fragments. We have absolutely nothing without His Word. We have absolutely nothing without Him.
Lastly from the affirmation it says that we can do what the Bible says we can do. Joel includes this because he will routinely preach this false power paradigm. That we can do whatever we want to. That God always has some grand purpose for us that will make us famous or rich. That the worst thing ever is when one of our dreams do not come to fruition. All lies. What do the key verses teach us that we can do? Well first of all they teach us what we cannot do. We cannot bear fruit apart from Him. Once again, it is not about us. The average time someone stays in a false church is less than three years. You cannot fake the fruit of the Spirit over time. The key verses also teach us that we can abide in Him. Not only can we do this but we must! This is why the hipster churches of the world are so false. You cannot embrace this world and think that you are abiding in Christ. In Genesis it tells us that when Lot and Abram separated, Lot "pitched his tent toward Sodom." The next time we see Lot he is living in Sodom. This world is Sodom and we cannot gaze affectionately upon it and still think we will not eventually be found living in it. Remember, if you dance with the devil he always insists on leading.
Lastly from the key verses we see what else we can do. We can glorify the Father by abiding in His love. This is not the mushy gushy worldly love that so many Christians confuse it with. It is not a matter of agreement. It is not that you cannot point out what is false. If you mention the world "sin" to many in the church today you will be greeted with charges of being a Pharisee or judgmental. You will have verses ripped furiously out of context like not throwing the first stone and judge not. Yet what do the key verses teach us love actually means to God? Is it to talk about His grace? Is it to hold hands while skipping merrily down the broad path to destruction? No beloved. 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.
Don't hand me this carnal love wrapped up in verse fragments. If you are truly abiding in the love of Jesus Christ then you will strive to keep His commandments. The truth is contained right in these verses - you can do nothing apart from me. Nothing. So thank you Joel for pointing out to us that we are nothing without Jesus Christ. We have nothing without Jesus Christ. And we can do nothing apart from Jesus Christ; even if I do not think that was what you were trying to say"