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Two-Fisted Fighting (Spiritually): The Importance of Relationships AND Truth

Photo of Jim PutmanJim Putman | Bio

Jim Putman

Jim is the founder and senior pastor of Real Life Ministries in Post Falls, Idaho. Prior to his role as senior pastor, he served as a youth minister in two small churches. In college, Jim won three All American titles in wrestling and went on to become a successful wrestling coach. Real Life Ministries began as a small group in 1998 and has grown to a membership of more than eight thousand. Ninety percent of its fellowship is active in small groups. Outreach Magazine continually lists Real Life Ministries among the top one hundred most influential churches in America.

I am the lead pastor/minister of a church in Post Falls, Idaho, but many people who know me have heard about my past in wrestling. At the collegiate level, I wrestled in national championships. They also know I was an unbeliever who took my skills learned in wrestling to the streets. Unfortunately, fighting was a way of life for me for a time. But I turned to Jesus and eventually became a pastor.

I am glad that the apostle Paul used fighting as a metaphor for the spiritual life (1 Cor. 9:26).

As a fighter, I would never consider fighting with one hand tied behind my back. I would never consider wrestling an opponent with half my body incapacitated. Fighting or wrestling with all my tools was ingrained into me. After I became a believer and then a minister/pastor, that mindset permeated my ministry mindset as well. I see it supported in Scripture when we are told to put on the full armor of God (Eph. 6:10ff).

Remembering the Other Fist

Years ago when I made the decision to become a part of the church, it was with the understanding (at least in the circles I found myself in) that the church, as I understood it, was not using methods that led to real, mature disciples who could wrestle spiritually, beyond flesh and blood. Most of the pastors I knew held to the ancient faith as it pertained to doctrine, but they had eliminated the part of spiritual maturity that led them to embrace real relationships as Jesus intended (relational discipleship). Maturity in my mind meant more than just knowledge; maturity also meant real relationships.

“Most of the pastors I knew held to the ancient faith as it pertained to doctrine, but they had eliminated the part of spiritual maturity that led them to embrace real relationships.”

The methods commonly used to make disciples (as most church leaders defined what that was at the time) were not working to deliver what we needed. At best, these methods were delivering knowledgeable spectators who had few deep relationships at all. So, my emphasis has always assumed that what was needed now was an emphasis on relationships as Jesus modeled and taught (John 13:34-35) and as Paul described to us to in 1 Corinthians 13. My focus was the relational method for discipleship that would also produce a relational outcome (Jesus’ kind of love).

We are living in a different day now.

Not only do many people now have a lack of real relationships as God intended, but they also have given up on what Jude 3 calls “the faith,” that was once for all delivered to the saints. Christians are moving from what God’s Word clearly teaches in the areas of sexuality and gender, women’s roles in the church, divorce, what the church actually is, what the gospel is, etc.

What Has Happened to Christian Leaders?

So now, going back to the analogy of a two-fisted fighter or a wrestler who uses both sides of his body, we have to say that most Christians today are not fighting with either side or either fist very well. The problem, as always, starts with the leaders. As the head goes (the leader), the body follows (the church).

Why is it this way today?

Is it because the Bible isn’t clear on what the truth is—when it comes to doctrine or lifestyle? Is it because there’s some kind of new information that we have not had for 2,000 years but now have discovered? Not scripturally!

For many people, scientific findings and personal experience have become the new infallible word, yet these are far from infallible. We call new ideas theories, and those theories change over time as more information is discovered. Beliefs that scientists once thought were certain now they don’t believe any more. We also know that those with presuppositions and hearts set on specific things often discover what they want to. People can have darkened understandings and see through the eyes of a fool. I once believed many of the world’s lies only to discover that what I was told was absolutely true was actually only the ideas of a few and actually highly debated. It ended up being fake news. How many people have given up on believing God’s Word because of some new information that actually turned out to be false? I for one. Agendas shape what is shared and our ultimate enemy definitively has an agenda.

“Agendas shape what is shared and our ultimate enemy definitively has an agenda.”

The other day it happened again! I spoke with an influential leader who has now changed his view on homosexuality. When I asked him why, he shared a new study that had come out. Not a new understanding of Scripture—Scripture wasn’t mentioned at all. He had started to judge Scripture based on human fallible findings that “proved” our historic understanding of Scripture could not be true. He then had an experience with a loved one which shaped his perspective. So now he was going to be affirming.

Yet real love does not rejoice with unrighteousness but rejoices with truth (1 Cor. 13:4-7). Somehow our believers today have replaced the Word of God with the “infallible” voice of our senses and experiences. Never mind that Scripture makes it clear that our flesh is broken and like a compass that no longer leads accurately.

So, the truth is, I cannot say there is anything new—except the fact that our people in America don’t like what was written down and understood in the beginning. Many leaders today have come to the conclusion that we should somehow not offend people with what they deem as their personal truth. On “secondary” issues, they suggest that it’s not that important to teach what Scripture has always taught because these secondary issues aren’t salvation issues. In other words, let’s just forget about non-salvation issues and let’s get people saved. Except that discipleship is to teach people to obey all that Jesus commanded (Matt. 28:18–20). This includes truths that make for stable churches, faithful homes, holy sexuality, and so on.

How Far Will It Go?

When our goal becomes not to offend people, how far will we go?

The gospel itself is offensive to the lost if it is properly understood. We are the stench of death to unbelievers (2 Cor. 2:16). If you teach that being saved means saved from hell, then you offend people who don’t like the biblical and historical truth concerning hell. If you claim that Jesus is the only way in a culture that says he is merely a way for some, then people are going to be offended.

Objective truth is exclusive.

Again, what new truth from God have we been given? None. The difference is only that people in our day increasingly don’t like what God gave us because it will lead to unpopularity and a denial of our sinful impulses. Scripture tells us that in the end times people will be haters of the truth and lovers of themselves (2 Tim. 3:1-5; Matt. 24:10-13). We have been told to hold onto the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3).

“We have been told to hold onto the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3).”

Two Problems We Can’t Ignore

Relationships have already become optional for believers. It has become this way because following Jesus has become more of an idea rather than a lifestyle for believers. All the while, today in the church we have two problems that we cannot ignore. Until we get back to the historic understanding of Christianity as it was defined by the apostles of Jesus—in relationship and truth—we will not be the church Jesus intended and therefore will not prevail against the gates of hell.

So, we must be two-fisted fighters, as we wrestle for the gospel.

My concern is that more and more do not believe in the truth as the Bible describes it doctrinally. I honestly do not want to invest time raising leaders if they don’t hold to a high view of Scripture or hold to a number of key doctrines. Cults have always been able to use some of God’s Word better than many believers have and so have been able to make disciples of the wrong kind. I do not want to contribute to that.

As disciple makers, we are told to teach people to obey all that is commanded, and the early church did so. The first disciples lived at a time when they could ask questions and have them answered by the apostles of Jesus themselves (Acts 2:42). They got to ask of those who got to ask of him! Because the world had messed up the design of God in every fashion, God desired to give us his design in every major sphere of our lives via the Holy Spirit through Scripture.

“God desired to give us his design in every major sphere of our lives via the Holy Spirit through Scripture.”

Jesus himself said that a man who builds his house on Jesus’ words (given to us by the apostles) was akin to building a house (a life) on the rock (Matt. 7:24-27). God’s plan included how to live out order within the church and the home, and well as how to function in the world as employers and employees. He even taught us how to defeat the devil as an army, a family, and a body, through prayer in Ephesians 6. In Scripture there is a design we are to follow for all these areas of life. These are best taught to us in the church as Jesus defined and modeled it: in relationships. Or, as we like to call it, “intentional relational disciple making.”

As we have long taught, you cannot divorce the teachings of Jesus from the methods of Jesus and get the results of Jesus. We learn best in relationship and we live best in relationship. Anyone who attends Real Life, where I pastor, has heard us say that many times. But it’s not enough just to prioritize the disciple making methods of Jesus. As a church, we have emphasized the methods of Jesus because we assumed everyone agreed to live out the teachings of Jesus.

We’re assuming this no more.

It takes a two-fisted fighter to beat the devil in our slice of history. It’s time to start fighting with both hands.