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4 Challenging Passages of Scripture Christians Need to Take Seriously

I’m not really a scary movie person. I understand that some people get a thrill out of the racing pulse, goosebumps and standing hairs while watching a movie about masked killers, strange child ghosts or vicious monsters. I’m just not that person. I’d much rather see something that makes me smile or laugh, as opposed to jumping out of my skin.

In the same way, I’d much rather read passages of Scripture that make me feel good. Verses that remind me of God’s unending love, grace and mercy. Passages that give us hope are important encouragement for all of us. We know that “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).

There are a few passages, I believe, are in there to make us uncomfortable and jolt us into repentance.

For me, my devotion time often looks like this: I read the Bible for a few moments, and depending on the passage, I vow to work on it, then usually end up going about my daily routines. What I read may stick with me for a while, but other times, I forget about it and move on until the next day and next reading. Thankfully, my walk with Jesus is a lifelong journey, not one to be accomplished in one day. Hopefully, the result is becoming more like Him, little by little.

Most of the time, I read a passage during my devotion time, think on it for a minute or two and pray. The Holy Spirit will convict me of some things I am doing that I shouldn’t or some things I am not doing that I should. But, then I move on with my day. There are some passages that hit differently. Some that are downright frightening if you stop to meditate on what is being said.

Here are a few sections of Scripture that I believe are the scariest parts of the Bible for those who call themselves Christians.

1. The High Standard of Pure Religion: James 1:19-27; James 2:14-26

The book of James is one of the hardest reads in the Bible, but it’s not because it’s long. It’s actually one of the shorter books, and it packs quite a punch. It is chock full of real-world wisdom and practical counsel about what it means to be a true follower of Christ. I read James often, because I need these reminders over and over.

I need to be constant encouragement about doubting (1:6), temptation and lust (1: 14-15), being slow to speak (1:19), anger (1:20), humility (1:21), and being a doer of the Word (1:22).

After all of these exhortations, James takes it a step further: “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (James 1:27).

Pure religion requires that we not only avoid sinning, but proactively reaching out in love to those who need us most: widows and orphans. Ouch. He goes on to say that if you don’t have a faith to prompts you to take action – like reaching out to orphans and widows – your faith is dead.

“What use is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone says he has faith, but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? In the same way, faith also, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself” (James 2:14-17).

Every time I read James, it inspires me to reexamine my own faith and how I live it out. Do my actions reveal my love for Jesus? This is not a works-based salvation; rather, my inward faith should reflect outwardly in doing good for others.

2. A False Sense of Security: Amos 5

If James “steps on your toes,” the Old Testament prophet Amos kicks you in the kneecaps.

Amos was not a prophet by profession. He was actually a shepherd (1:1; 7:14). God called him to speak truth to a culture intoxicated by wealth and luxury--something Israel didn’t even know they needed to hear.

The people of Israel had become comfortable. They were blinded to their own sin. They thought they were doing all right. They felt like they were keeping the law. They went to the Temple, observed all the feasts, and even worshipped God in song. Speaking through Amos, God tells them that it is not as much about what they are doing, but what they were not doing.

“Therefore because you trample on the poor and you exact taxes of grain from him, you have built houses of hewn stone, but you shall not dwell in them; you have planted pleasant vineyards, but you shall not drink their wine. For I know how many are your transgressions and how great are your sins—you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and turn aside the needy in the gate” (Amos 5:11-12).

It’s easy to see the similarities between the culture then and ours today. Here, God is saying “woe” to those who are religious, but lack a real-world faith. They say all of the right things. They go to church and worship. But, yet turn a blind eye to those in need of justice.

Here’s the really scary part. Amos uses some pretty descriptive language to remind them that their religiosity is a false sense of security.

“Woe to you who are longing for the day of the Lord, For what purpose will the day of the Lord be to you? It will be darkness and not light; As when a man flees from a lion And a bear confronts him, Or he goes home, leans with his hand against the wall, And a snake bites him” (Amos 5: 18-19).

Sitting on a church pew isn’t a ticket to heaven. There are sins of omission – when we know the right thing to do and don’t do it. Amos reminds us that seeking good and establishing justice are priorities for the people of God. Not doing those things will lead us to destruction, when we think we are doing all right.

3. The Hard Road to Heaven: Matthew 7:13-23

Jesus puts all of this in the clearest terms.

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is narrow and the way is constricted that leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:13-14).

There are two paths – one is easy and leads to destruction. The other is really hard, but leads to heaven. If we are not bearing good fruit (7:17), we are not on the path we think we are on.

Then, he reminds us that there will be people on the day of judgment who are surprised by what happens. People who thought they were doing the right things, but were doing them with the wrong motivation. They lacked a true relationship with Jesus.

This passage really causes us to reevaluate how we've been seeing our Lord and Savior.

4. Separating the Sheep from the Goats: Matthew 25:31-46

This passage takes me back to attending church revivals when I was a kid. There would always be a visiting preacher – often one who sweated profusely and needed to regularly wipe his forehead – preaching on Jesus’s parable of the sheep and the goats.

Much like Matthew 7, James and Amos, this teaching reminds us that we might not be who we think we are. Some of us have a distorted view, and assume Jesus is talking to the other side, when it might just be us He’s trying to reach with a wake-up call.

At the final judgement, He will draw a dividing line, putting some folks (sheep) on the right and others (goats) on the left.

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life” (Matthew 25:41-46).

He’s clear here. True faith is one that is active. One that leads to real-life service to the most vulnerable in our community. Eternal life rests on the kind of inward faith that mandates an outward response.

When I read passages like this, I pray that God will move it from head-knowledge to heart-knowledge. If we are living comfortable lives that are inward-focused, it’s clear that we are doing it wrong. Maybe these scary readings are the shock we need to change while there is still time.

Related Resource: Listen to our FREEpodcast, How to Study the Bible, available at LifeAudio.com. You can listen to episode one right now:

Photo Credit: ©kucherav

Brent Rinehart is a public relations practitioner and freelance writer. He blogs about the amazing things parenting teaches us about life, work, faith and more at www.apparentstuff.com. You can also follow him on Twitter at @brentrinehart 

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