A recent article in Charisma News warns about the dangers of ear-tickling preachers and their deceptive message. An ear-tickler is someone who tells you what you want to hear. In contrast, a nose-puncher is one who tells you what he wants you to hear, and typically does so with all the fervor of an Old Testament judge or prophet.
A nose-puncher might appear respectable and religious, but he is nothing more than a bully with a Bible. He prefers doctrine to people, puts ministry before family, and he justifies his abuse of others by telling himself he is doing the Lord’s work.
Jesus encountered many religious nose-punchers; men who sought to throw the book at him and those who followed him. Ironically, these men claimed to know God but by their actions they denied him. Jesus rebuked the nose-punchers for being loveless sons of the devil, and they responded by putting him on the cross.
The apostle Paul also had his share of run-ins with nose-punchers. They hounded him from town to town preaching works and opposing his message of love and grace. On several occasions the nose-punchers beat Paul and plotted to kill him.
The nose-punchers are still with us today. Can you recognize them? Here are five signs of nose-punching preachers.
1. Nose-punching preachers emphasize self-denial and going without. “If you are not in the habit of denying your appetites and desires, you are not a real Christian,” says the nose-puncher. “The more you deny your needs and wants, the holier you’ll be.”
What’s wrong with this message? Nothing – if you want to be a Buddhist.
The modern message of self-denial is nothing more than the ancient practice of asceticism dressed up in religious jargon. Abstaining from food, Facebook, or fun won’t make you righteous and holy (Col. 2:21-23). But it might make you religious. It might make you like the fasting Pharisees who trusted in their own self-righteousness.
The die-to-self message simply means, “Trust Jesus, and not yourself.” It means walk by the Spirit rather than the flesh. It means live each day out of the glorious relationship you have with the Lord.
In the hands of a nose-puncher, “die to self” is reduced to little more than a quit-having-fun lecture wrapped in threats and warnings. But in the hands of a gospel preacher, “die to self” is a thrilling invitation to the adventure of the life that is ours in Christ.
2. Nose-punching preachers are hard on sin. Throughout the scriptures you will find serious men throwing stones of condemnation at sinners. Nothing’s changed.
If warnings and threats about sin stopped people from sinning, there would be no more sin.
Jesus reveals there is only one thing that can empower you to sin no more, and that is radical grace. I’m talking about the kind of grace that defends the sinner from her accusers and turns a thief into a giver, a hater into a lover, and the chief of sinners into the apostle of grace. Rules don’t change people and abuse definitely doesn’t change people; grace changes people.
The nose-punchers would have you turn from sin and turn again until you’re a dizzy sinner. But the good news that Jesus revealed and Paul preached reveals a God infinitely more appealing than sin. A nose-puncher will use threats to compel you to turn, and you might, for a little while, but a gospel preacher reveals the goodness of God that leads you to genuine and lasting repentance (Rom. 2:4).
3. Nose-punching preachers are no friends of sinners. It is one thing to have a reputation for integrity and purity but if our message leaves our neighbors untouched by the love of God, what good are we? If Jesus strode the streets of Jerusalem avoiding sin and sinners, where would any of us be?
Nose-punchers would have you withdraw from the world in a misguided desire for holiness. But Jesus prayed that we might be sanctified in it (John 17:15-19). The nose-punchers will teach you to hate the world, but Jesus said, “For God so loved the world that he gave…” (John 3:16).
The nose-punchers would have the world to come to them (to get their noses punched), but Jesus tells us to “Go into all the world – the business world, the arts world, the sports world, the addicts’ world, the dirty, stinkin’ world – and preach the good news to all creation” (Mark 16:15).
4. Nose-punching preachers seek to crucify the flesh by preaching law. “Don’t be like those Old Testament rebels who refused to obey God,” says the nose-puncher. “To please him you need to keep all the commands of his Word.”
Such a message appeals to our religious pride because it is thoroughly carnal. It teaches you to trust in the flesh – your good behavior, commitment and obedience – instead of God’s grace. The legalist says you must work to be saved while the holiness preacher says you must work to be sanctified, but both are eating from the wrong tree.
The nose-puncher will whack you with the standards of God. “Look where you are falling short. Try harder or be damned!” But the gospel preacher says, “Look where Jesus has succeeded. Trust him and live!”
The nose-puncher would have you die daily, as though that were possible, but the gospel preacher says, “You have died already and once was enough!” Look to the cross, where your old self died, and reckon yourself dead to sin. “I have been crucified with Christ,” said the apostle. “And I no longer live but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20).
5. Nose-punching preachers use the Bible as a stick. Their sermons are packed with scriptures but are devoid of Truth. Like the Pharisees of old, they diligently study the scriptures yet refuse to come to Christ for life (John 5:39-40). Or worse, they take a little of his grace and mix it with their own efforts, ruining the whole thing and becoming lukewarm in the process.
In the hands of a graceless preacher, the Bible is utterly lethal for buried within lies the law which ministers death (2 Cor 3:7). For thousands of years, nose-punchers have been using the law-bits of the Bible to control and manipulate others. Jesus called them abusers and killers (Matt. 23:34) and Paul called them dogs (Php 3:2). We would do well to heed their warnings and be wary of such men.