Category Archives: Gospel

The Spiritual Battle from Three Scriptures

In Sunday school this weekend, we continued to work our way through the third chapter of Ephesians, where Paul prays on behalf of the church there.  Here is this prayer in its entirety:

14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:14-19)

As we broke his prayer down into smaller pieces to focus more closely on single words or phrases, one of the phrases that really grabbed my attention was in verse 17, “so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith”.

I had spent some time reading through and reflecting on Romans 7 last week, and when I read that, it brought to mind these verses from that chapter:

14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. 15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. (Romans 7:14-20)

Did you catch that?  Verses 17, 18, and 20: “sin that dwells within me… nothing good dwells in me… sin that dwells within me.”

So which is it?  Is it sin that dwells within me or is it Christ?

God immediately brought to mind Jesus words in Matthew 12 when our Savior was accused of casting out demons by the power of Beelzebul, specifically Matthew 12:29:

22 Then a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute was brought to him, and he healed him, so that the man spoke and saw. 23 And all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son of David?” 24 But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” 25 Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. 26 And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? 27 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 29 Or how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house. (Matthew 12:22-29)

I would like to hear your feedback on this.  Please comment.

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Necrophilia and Narcissism (Take Two)

A couple of days ago I wrote a post entitled “Necrophilia and Narcissism”, and got a good response from someone who read that post.  I am always thankful when someone takes the time to leave a comment, and especially when they challenge me to think more deeply about what and why I believe.  I would like to take a minute and personally thank you, Daniel, for taking the time to comment and to challenge my position and assumptions.

I purposefully included a broad spectrum of vices and devices in that group.  Few would argue against death as the ultimate end of anger and violence, although some may not see the evident end of it in things like pornography and adultery.  To my mind, pornography and adultery are the same.  Jesus makes that clear in the Sermon on the Mount: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:27-28). But we don’t necessarily even have to look at someone lustfully with our eyes; it might be concealed in the dark thoughts of our mind where no one else can see but God.  And concerning the ends of adultery, the Proverbs are very clear that the end of adultery is death.

We know the same is true for alcohol and drugs, and that the word which is commonly translated as sorcery from the Greek in Galatians 5 in Paul’s list of “bad fruit” is from the Greek “pharmikea” from which we get “pharmacy” and “pharmaceuticals”.  The death sentence was also proclaimed on diviners and necromancers (i.e., those who communed with the dead for knowledge).  And I’m sure we all know someone who has been effected by death produced by drugs and or alcohol, whether by a drunk driver, overdose, or some other tragic consequence of their influence.  Surely, most of us have seen someone we know become someone we no longer knew at all as a result of drug or alcohol addiction.  I can speak from painful and personal experience to these things.  (And God has delivered me from many addictions, as well – cigarettes, alcohol, drugs, pornography, so again I have some experience with these things.)  The door to addiction is called pleasure, and that is what draws people into alcohol, drug, and sexual addictions.  But the Proverb is true that says: “One who wanders from the way of good sense will rest in the assembly of the dead. Whoever loves pleasure will be a poor man; he who loves wine and oil will not be rich.” (Proverbs 21:16-17)

Many will also admit that cigarettes cause cancer and that there is no life-giving benefit to smoking cigarettes.  Yet, I know many people–both friends and family–who despite knowing that there is no medical benefit and much evidence of the harm that smoking does to the body, still smoke.  Many of them have kids.  I would assume that they are at least somewhat aware that 20 or so times a day smoking *this* cigarette right here right now might cost them several years of life down the road with their kids and/or their grandchildren, but they do not feel compelled to stop.

So those may be obvious.  But television?  Junk food and soda pop?  Coffee?  Too much sugar?  Pharmaceutical drugs?  These are things that our culture says are okay, right?  Even Jesus drank in moderation didn’t he?  There is a Proverb that reads, “Those who tarry long over wine; those who go to try mixed wine. Do not look at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup and goes down smoothly. In the end it bites like a serpent and stings like an adder. Your eyes will see strange things, and your heart utter perverse things.” (Proverbs 23:30-33) And another that says, “It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine, or for rulers to take strong drink, lest they drink and forget what has been decreed and pervert the rights of all the afflicted.” (Proverbs 31:4-5) These do not reflect the character of Christ at all, but they certainly reflect the character of many who love their alcohol today.

Now, in moderation, some things are fine.  I have children.  And I have appetites of my own.  I happen to like coffee a lot.  But if I drink too much of it and not enough water, it is bad for my body.  My body lets me know if I’m drinking too much coffee and not enough water.  And if I do it for a long period of time, it gets worse and worse.  I don’t have a problem with a bowl of ice cream or a couple cookies after dinner.  But if one of my kids wants to drink soda and snack on candy, cookies, and crackers before a meal, and then claim they are not hungry when it’s time to eat their vegetables, I know they are not getting the nutrition that they need.  And if this persists for days and weeks and months and years. . . well, there may be one more member of my family who dies at an early age because of obesity and diabetes.  If they never learn to develop healthy appetites and feed their bodies the nutrition that they need–and they never develop that necessary sense of moderation–well, the end of such is death.  That is just the simple truth.  The Apostle Paul writes in his epistle to the Philippians: “For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.” (Philippians 3:18-19)

And the big problem with our American society today is it does not teach any sort of understanding of moderation or “delayed gratification” (or a true sense of self-sacrifice for that matter).  But rather it encourages a spirit of “I want it here, I want it now, I want it hot, and I shouldn’t have to wait for it or work for it.”  The family meal has almost vanished, and a real appreciation of food and nutrition is lacking in our society like never before.  But our heart-attitude toward food is really not specific to just food, but to almost everything in our society.  Speaking in admittedly sweeping and general terms, I think it is obvious that we are a people who have very little appreciation for anything, and who live with a sense of expectation.  Indeed, the basic marketing principle that underlies our whole consumer society is that “we deserve” all these things being sold to us.  The focus is entirely all on self and self-gratification.  Narcissism; the love of self.  But the Apostle writes to the church: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31)

And what of television?  Well, I guess we’ve agreed that pornography and violence produce death, but isn’t that 90 percent of what television sits on?  Most of the shows on TV (even most professional sports) package up some form of sex and violence, encouraging anger, dissension, and adultery all the while selling and reinforcing those primary principles of entitlement and instant (self) gratification.  Television like nothing else in the last 50 years has taught us to devalue everything around us, promoting sex and violence, and a continual discontentment with what we have–always telling us that to want more, to not be satisfied with what we have, whatever it may be–whether our home, our car, our job, our material possessions, our spouse, our children, our very lives. . . which ultimately means dissatisfaction and discontentment with God, our great provider of ALL things.  This is the basic message that television promotes and it is at enmity with God.

Now, please understand — I have not gone off the deep end.  I am not advocating the destruction of television sets and soda vending machines all across the land.  But I think it is good and necessary to point out that even those thinks that we accept as harmless to determine what sort of fruit they ultimately produce.   It is also good to examine our own hearts and our appetites to see if they are balanced.  And if they are not, to take steps to correct them.  As I said in the article, sometimes it is our appetite that is not healthy moreso than the thing we crave itself…. that “our voracious consumption of it only works to bring about death.”  “When you sit down to eat with a ruler, observe carefully what is before you, and put a knife to your throat if you are given to appetite. Do not desire his delicacies, for they are deceptive food. Do not toil to acquire wealth; be discerning enough to desist. When your eyes light on it, it is gone, for suddenly it sprouts wings, flying like an eagle toward heaven.” (Proverbs 23:1-5)

Now the other important point of the post, and what I was really shooting for (but probably missed) was not just the Necrophilia, but perhaps more importantly, the Narcissism.  I think it is true that the vast majority of us are drawn to (or “consume”) perhaps one or more things that unchecked and unmoderated could contribute or bring about our demise, but it is usually pretty easy to see the effects of these things and to recognize when we are no longer in control of our appetites, but they in control of us.  The greater danger it seems to me is not the Necrophilia, but the Narcissism.  Even when it comes to own our Necrophiliac tendencies, our usual habit (at least mine anyway) is not to lament over our own Necrophiliac tendencies and to cry to the Lord for help, but to see them in others and wag our heads and make mouths at them (Psalm 22).  Isn’t this typically the beam in our own eye.  I’m sure it is in mine.

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)

And even when we do we lament and cry out, how much more often is it for our Necrophilia than our Narcissism?  How often is the condition of our heart truly more like the Pharisee than the Publican, whether we state it so or not?  That was the point that I really wanted to emphasize.

My motivation in the post was not to condemn everyone who has an addiction–be it to coffee, soda, sugar, and/or fast food. . . or anger, adultery, alcohol, and/or drugs.  I think there is actually a positive aspect in that addictions (and their consequences), when they become strongholds, can sometimes drive us to our knees so that we cry out to our Sovereign Lord for mercy.  Often the corruption of our lusts and desires and our complete helplessness to break free of them reveal our great need for a Savior, which is the place we really all need to come to if we are to be born again (John 3:1-15).

But when it comes to Narcissistic self-love and pride, I think it must be exceedingly rare that we are driven to God in despair for that.  It is the Narcissistic tendency rather than the Necrophiliac one that poses far greater danger because it masks the inner decay and the decomposition of the soul.  The Narcissistic tendency wants to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil not so much because we really want to be like God, but because like the serpent, we desire to sit in His throne.  And the Necrophiliac tendency wants to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, in spite of the fact that God has told us that to do so will bring death.

It is not that one tendency is “better” than the other, and both are dangerous to the life of the soul.  But I do think that the one is a bit more honest and obvious in both its effect and its assessment, and if for no other reason than that, it may serve to bring one to the Cross, recognizing the significance and the need for a Savior.  And yet, for those of us bound up by either one, the only hope of escape that we have is Christ, and that the God of all grace would mercifully open our eyes to the depths of our own depravity and reveal to us this great need for deliverance, for redemption. . . for Christ.

Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. (John 3:1-15)

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What's So Bad About Hell?

I would like to thank my friend and fellow blogger, Laurie Mathers who posted this yesterday on her blog Beauty for Ashes.  I asked for her permission to re-post her entry here because I thought it was so profound and powerful that I wanted anyone visiting my site to have the opportunity to read this.  Also, please take the 9 or 10 minutes after you read it to watch Ray Comfort discussing the scene from ER with the dying man and the chaplain.  It is equally profound and powerful and went along perfectly with her post.

What’s so bad about Hell?
(by Laurie Mathers)

Is it the flames? Is it the darkness? Is it both those things wrapped up with the hopelessness of knowing there will be no end to the pain? The contemplation of just those things has been dreadful enough to lead vast numbers to reject the God of the Bible out of hand. It has led others, understandably, to try and interpret away the clear teaching of Scripture on the subject. It has led me at times to wish I could do either of those things. Yet, I’ve known all along, deep in my heart, that the horrible doctrine of Hell is true. Hating it, denying it, or wishing it weren’t so won’t change it, or make it go away. But as if that weren’t terrible enough, there’s more to Hell than flames and hopelessness. There’s something more, something more tormenting to a soul than flames are to a body – lovelessness.

I’ve recently finished reading Jonathan Edwards’ work, Charity and Its Fruits. It is a collection of lectures devoted to defining and describing authentic Christian love culminating in the a breathtaking discussion of heaven – “a world of love”. What makes heaven Heaven, is the presence of God, the Fountain of all love, and His people made perfect, once and for all, in love. “Their love shall be without any remains of any contrary principle, having no pride or selfishness to interrupt it or hinder its exercises. Their hearts shall be full of love. That which was in the heart on earth as but a grain of mustard-seed, shall be as a great tree in heaven….In heaven there shall be no remaining enmity, or distaste, or coldness, or deadness of heart towards God and Christ. Not the least remainder of any principle of envy shall exist…all the members of that blessed society rejoice in each other’s happiness, for the love of benevolence is perfect in them all. Every one has not only a sincere, but a perfect good-will to every other….”

What makes Heaven “heavenly” isn’t so much the streets of gold or the gates of pearl, though no doubt nothing on this earth that will compare to its beauty. It is much richer than that. It is the presence of God Himself and His redeemed people made perfect in love. Like a new bride, embraced by her husband for the first time, His people, purchased by His blood, will be enveloped for all eternity in the perfect love and joy which God has enjoyed in Trinity since before time began.

By contrast then, what makes Hell “hellish” isn’t so much fire. The fire speaks to something far worse than mere physical pain. In his message of heaven, Edwards takes a moment to speak of hell – the opposite of heaven. Where Heaven is the presence of God, Hell is His absence. Where Heaven is the place of God’s eternal loving embrace, Hell is the place of eternal separation from any experience of any love from God or anyone else. There is no mercy whatsoever to be found there, only wrath. There is no comfort. There is no more opportunity of reconciliation to Him.

“There are three worlds. One is this, which is an intermediate world – a world in which good and evil are so mixed together as to be a sure sign that this world is not to continue for ever. Another is heaven, a world of love, without any hatred. And the other is hell, a world of hatred, where there is no love, which is the world to which all of you who are in a Christless state properly belong. This last is the world where God manifests his displeasure and wrath, as in heaven he manifests his love. Everything in hell is hateful. There is not one solitary object there that is not odious and detestable, horrid and hateful. There is no person or thing to be seen there, that is amiable or lovely; nothing that is pure, or holy, or pleasant, but everything is abominable and odious. There are no beings there but devils, and damned spirits that are like devils. Hell is, as it were, a vast den of poisonous hissing serpents; the old serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and with him all his hateful brood. In that dark world there are none but those whom God hates with a perfect and everlasting hatred. He exercises no love, and extends no mercy to any one object there, but pours out upon them horrors without mixture. All things in the wide universe that are hateful shall be gathered together in hell, as in a vast receptacle provided on purpose, that the universe which God has made may be cleansed of its filthiness, by casting it all into this great sink of wickedness and woe. It is a world prepared on purpose for the expression of God’s wrath. He has made hell for this; and he has no other use for it but there to testify for ever his hatred of sin and sinners, where there is no token of love or mercy. There is nothing there but what shews forth the Divine indignation and wrath…

And as for Hell’s inhabitants, to use the same language of which Edwards spoke of heaven: That which was in the heart on earth as but a grain of mustard-see, shall be as a great tree…:

“There are none in hell but what have been haters of God, and so have procured his wrath and hatred on themselves; and there they shall continue to hate him for ever. No love to God will ever be felt in hell; but every one there perfectly hates him, and so will continue to hate him, and without any restraint will express their hatred to him, blaspheming and raging against him, while they gnaw their tongues for pain. And though they all join together in their enmity and opposition to God, yet there is no union or friendliness among themselves – they agree in nothing but hatred, and the expression of hatred. They hate God, and Christ, and angels, and saints in heaven; and not only so, but they hate one another, like a company of serpents or vipers, not only spitting out venom against God, but at one another, biting and stinging and tormenting each other….”

Separated once and for all from God’s patient, merciful, and restraining hand, the inhabitants of hell find themselves finally free to express themselves without restraint, and to experience the fullness of their wickedness. And so, I return to my original question. What’s so bad about hell? I venture to say, it’s not the place (as dreadful as that must be) so much as it’s the people, the hatred, the complete absence of love for all eternity. People will suffer great things for the hope of love, but to suffer great things for the sake of hatred, now that is suffering indeed.

“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says ‘I know him’ but does not keep his commandments is a liar and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked….Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not him him. For all that is in the world – the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and the pride in possessions – is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” 1 John 2:1-6, 15-17 (See also, 1 John 4:15-21.)

It’s been a few weeks since I first read Edwards’ words about heaven and hell. They’ve had a tremendous impact on me, and several times I’ve wanted to post them, but didn’t. To be perfectly honest, the reason I’ve resisted is because of the offensiveness of the doctrine of Hell.  That never stopped Jesus, though; and if I desire to be as He is in this world, I shouldn’t let anything stop me from speaking the truth in love. What finally propelled me beyond my fear was this: Today I was walking through my kitchen, remembering Edwards’ words about hell and thinking how I wanted to share them with the world, but didn’t want to be offensive. I headed to my computer, sat down, and clicked this link on my friend Barry’s FaceBook page:

I want to be the kind of minister that speaks the truth, in love, because of love. May God grant me grace to let perfect love overcome fear.

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A Lesson in Theology and Grace

Recently, two people who did not know each other and had never met crossed paths.  One man tried to give the other one a lesson in theology.  The other man, however, taught a much more valuable lesson in grace.  One left with little, the other with much.  Why?  Because theology–as valuable as it is to help us  know about God–is no comparison with grace, which is to not just know about, but to truly know God.  I would be surprised—truly surprised—to learn of anyone ever being broken by a lesson in theology.  But I would be even more surprised to learn of someone—anyone—who has truly been broken that was not broken by grace.

This is not to diminish the importance of theology and sound doctrine.  But if the blessed knowledge of God that we share with others springs from the head and not the heart, it has no life-giving force.  All of the theology of God is made alive in His grace.  We may read our Bible our entire lives and know much about God and His character.  But unless He opens our eyes and our hearts to really understand the grace He has given us in Christ, it means nothing.  But praise be to the God of ALL GLORY when He does, and when a man who was once dead is made alive in Christ.

Theology–that is, the knowledge of God–helps us better understand God’s grace, and this is good… but in and of itself, it has never saved anyone.  The grace of God, on the other hand… well, it is the only thing that saves and none have been saved–or ever will be saved–without it.

And what is the grace of God?  No, brothers and sisters.  This is the wrong question.  WHO is the grace of God?  That is the right question.  His name in Jesus.  HE is the grace of God.  And what does the gift of His grace bring?  It brings love, unity, humility.  This is His character, and to those who have been touched by His grace–to these have been given the ministry of reconciliation.  And without these gifts and fruits of His Spirit, the ministry will fail.

If you have access to an electronic searchable Bible, do a search for the “grace of God”.  It is Jesus Christ.  Everywhere you find this term, you find Christ.  And where you find Christ in these passages, you invariably find the love, the unity, and the humility of Christ at work in His body.  That’s because He is the head, and these qualities are in Him.  Consider just a few passages.  I encourage you to read each of these and really dwell on what is being said in them:

Colossians 1:3-14
3    We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you,4 since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints,5 because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel,6 which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth,7 just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf8 and has made known to us your love in the Spirit.
9    And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding,10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.11 May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy,12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son,14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:3-14)

Titus 2:11-14
11    For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people,12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age,13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ,14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. (Titus 2:11-14)

Hebrews 12:14
14 Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.15 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled… (Hebrews 12:14)

The grace of God is a man.  But He is so much more than that.  He is the Son of God, and no one comes to the Father but by Him.  He is the Lamb of God, the Sacrifice… and the Lion of Judah, the Savior.  He is the Just Judge, and the Righteous Redeemer of His people.  He is Jesus Christ, and He is glory.  He is the grace of God.  And it is not nearly enough to know about Him, brothers and sisters.  Know HIM. KNOW Him.  He is the eternal word of God that will never pass away.

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:36)

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Repentance (Richard Owen Roberts)

From the Introduction to Richard Owen Roberts’ book “Repentance”:

“From that time Jesus began to preach and say,
‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’”  —Matthew 4:17

As Jesus Christ was passing from one city and village to another, teaching, and proceeding on His way to Jerusalem, someone asked an enticing question concerning the numerical aspects of the kingdom of God: “Lord, are there just a few who are being saved?” The surprising answer Christ gave penetrates to the very heart of the Christian message: “Strive to enter by the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. Once the head of the house gets up and shuts the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock on the door, saying, ‘Lord, open up to us!’ then He will answer and say to you, ‘I do not know where you are from’” (Luke 13:22-25). Instead of satisfying a man’s curiosity, Christ confronted him with an alarming truth affecting his eternal soul.

The question of how many are being saved is still of considerable interest today. Are there billions? Are there millions? Are there hundreds of thousands? Are there just a few? While the Bible never answers this question, it does provide some sobering insights.

In the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount, the contrast between the wise man who built his house upon solid rock and the foolish man who did his building on sand provides a one-out-of-two count: one wise, one foolish (Matthew 7:24-27).

Both the parable of the tares among the wheat (Matthew 13:24-30) and the parable of the dragnet (vv. 47-50) indicate that some are saved and some are lost, without any hint of proportion.

The division of the sheep and goats at the time when Christ comes in His glory (vv. 31-46) makes it clear that some are in the kingdom and some are outside the kingdom, but no numbers or ratios are provided.

Obviously Christ did not intend to provide Bible readers today with an answer He withheld from a face-to-face inquirer. The number who are being saved is not for us to know or speculate concerning. Our duty, like that of biblical characters, is to strive to enter the narrow gate. (Matthew 7:13-14)

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven; but only he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness’” (Matthew 7:15-23).

But it is not just false prophets that Jesus probes. He is still asking us, “And why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46). Christ has never revoked His adamant demand, “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20). “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the

Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Peter 1:14-16).

In a passage describing the difficult times of the last days, the apostle Paul speaks of persons who have a form of godliness but who deny its power. (2 Timothy 3:1-5) Timothy and all those who read the epistle are warned to avoid such persons. A list of eighteen sins is provided:

1. lovers of self
2. lovers of money
3. boastful
4. arrogant
5. revilers
6. disobedient to parents
7. ungrateful
8. unholy
9. unloving
10. irreconcilable
11. malicious gossips
12. without self-control
13. brutal
14. haters of good
15. treacherous
16. reckless
17. conceited
18. lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God

Paul is describing the plight of religious people who are still very much full of themselves. They are persons who have never taken seriously enough the explicit words of Christ, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; and whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s shall save it” (Mark 8:34-35).

It is impossible to go in two directions at once. We either turn from our way and go Christ’s way or we go our way and do not follow Christ. Most of the scribes, Pharisees, and religious leaders of Christ’s day were intrigued by what He said and amazed by what He did but angered by what He claimed and demanded. They neither would nor could deny themselves, take up their crosses, and follow Him. While they enjoyed their righteousness, it meant nothing to God, for it was worth no more than filthy rags. Because they would not repent, they could not believe. None of us has any hope of surpassing their righteousness if we resist repentance as they did. Holiness cannot prevail in unrepentant persons who are still full of themselves. It does not take repentance to enjoy a form of religion, but repentance is mandatory for all who would live in the power of true godliness.

In urging your most careful consideration of the doctrine of repentance, I am reminded of two very urgent words of caution given by our Lord Jesus Christ concerning our hearing. Please consider them carefully: 1.) “Take care what you listen to” (Mark 4:24a), and 2.) “Take care how you listen” (Luke 8:18a).

In their context, both of these passages make it clear that what a person has, what is added to them, and what is taken from them is immediately affected by their degree of care in listening.

These cautions place important responsibilities upon each of us. Our spiritual intake can have a very dramatic effect upon us. Some, being careless about what they hear, will sit for years listening to unsound and unprofitable teaching and preaching and will suffer the loss in withered spiritual lives. Others sit under a very solid biblical ministry but

are careless about how they hear and in consequence they likewise experience little if any spiritual growth, and indeed they may even lose much of what they had earlier gained.

These cautions affect all intake of truth and are as applicable to reading as to hearing. Just as there are many very sloppy listeners who never really learn to heed either what they hear or how they hear, so also there are careless readers who pay too little attention both to what they read and how they read. Some waste their lives reading worthless things. But others read important things that seem to make no lasting difference in their lives.

Perhaps in the past you have not been careful about spiritual matters. Maybe you have treated the Bible and Christian doctrine shabbily; but please, don’t do that any longer. The doctrine of repentance is of utmost consequence. It deserves your most thoughtful and prayerful consideration. Be cautious not to draw false conclusions merely because the truth is unfamiliar to you. Search out what is said. Compare it carefully with the Word of God. Meditate upon it! Discipline your spirit! Become an earnest student of the Bible! Be a conscientious person who pays close attention to what you study. Read with the fervent prayer that you will not only understand the doctrine of repentance as fully as God Himself makes possible but that you will know experientially all of God’s grace of repentance in your own daily experience.

Be warned, however, against taking pride in your repentance. Some have unwisely set themselves up as the standard of repentance and have looked with disdain on others who whose repentance did not match their own. Such foolishness! Christ alone is the standard. Still others have attached merit to their repentance as if in repenting they gained some favor with God. How absurd! Repentance is a grace Christ gives that can only result in His glory, not ours.

In every season when the church has known greatness, it has also known faithfulness to all the great doctrines of Scripture. You can be certain that at the forefront of every significant recovery from backsliding that the church has ever known, the doctrine of repentance has been among the precious truths that God has quickened and used. I pray and hope that in His grace this will be true once again. May it be true for you.

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The Whole Law – James 2:10, An Illustration

If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. (James 2:8-10)

Imagine if you will a wide, deep canyon–a vast expanse between two great cliffs.  Between them stretches a great length of rope.  If you were to study the rope, you would see that every statute, every precept, every command–every jot and tittle in the whole of the Law of God–is written upon every square inch of it.  In fact, closer inspection would reveal God’s law was not just written on every thread and every fiber, but in fact God’s law comprised every fiber stretching the expanse.

Far, far below, fire and lava churn and smoke belches up from the depths of that infernal gulf.  Even at this great a distance from the bottom, you can still feel the heat emanating upward from below.  Now imagine being blindfolded and having your hands fastened behind your back.  You are being led to the edge of the cliff of the side on which you stand.  You must cross over, you have no choice.  You were given an option–to be carried over, but you would not trust in someone else to get you across, deciding instead to trust in your own abilities.

You are beginning to sweat.  One foot stretches out, feebly fumbling around and feeling for the rope, testing it.  A voice right beside you says that each step you take will actually be guided by every thought, action, and decision that you made in life.  When they were motivated by love for God and for His holy Law, and pure devotion to that Law, your footing will be certain and the rope will hold strong.  But if at any point, your heart was motivated by sin and by selfishness, by a desire for selfish gain, at that very point where God’s law was broken (whether by word, by thought, or by deed) the rope will snap, and you will plummet.  The whole Law must be kept from beginning to end.  If it is broken at any point, it matters little how much or how little of it was kept.  Your destination is still the same.  Whether you take two steps or two thousand matters not.  If you fail to keep the Law perfectly, your end is the fiery pit.

BUT…

There is hope.  There *is* one who has perfectly kept the Law.  There is one who promises to save you from the destruction that awaits.  There is one–and ONLY one–who can carry you across this vast expanse between Heaven and earth, crossing the great divide between God and man.  There *is* one who can save you.  His name is Jesus, the Son of the Living God.  Will you trust Him?

“Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

“Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17-20)

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Power Team Assessment

I read this over the weekend while searching for some additional information on “The Power Team” traveling evangelistic outreach group.  It is an assessment of their ministry and methods, and I thought the pastor (Phil Scovell) who wrote the article tried to be fair about both the positive and negative aspects of their approach.  I thought the entire article worth reading, and do hope you’ll chase the link and go read it.  However, I want to include his closing remarks here because I thought they were so pointed and powerful.  He writes:

<snip>
I have expressed my concern about the improper music played. I am also bothered by the commercialism; the buying and selling; the advertising; the commercialization of Christ. I am concerned about John Jacobs opening statement: “We don’t care what church you go to, we just hope you have a good time tonight.” I am concerned about the plea for money and the fund raising techniques employed to support the Team’s activities. I am greatly disturbed about the hype employed. Are all these things necessary in order to get people to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Has the plane preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ lost its power? Is not Christ our example? Did He employe any such techniques in order that people might listen to His preaching? If you say He in fact healed the sick which drew crowds, that would be correct but He did not do so in order to attract the crowds; He did so because He was the Messiah and He had the power to do so. In another words, He preached the Gospel first; the healings were a natural consequence of His Messiahship. What I am suggesting is we do not need the Power Team nor any other para-church ministry to do the work the Church – the Body of Christ – should be doing. Every radio or television show, every traveling evangelistic team of any kind, every special entertainment group not supported fully by local church ministries should disband and go back to the local church ministry where they belong. Christians do not need to be entertained, they need the preaching of God’s eternal Word which changes lives for eternity.

A friend of mine pastoring in western Colorado had moved into a small town of about fifteen hundred people to start a church. The church now runs about one hundred fifty. He heard of an old dying pastor in the small town and went to pay his respects. They visited for some time as the old man lay in his bed waiting for his home going. My friend asked the old preacher if he had any advice for him concerning the church he had just started. “Son,” he said, “whatever it takes to bring them in is what it’ll take to keep them.” I have never forgotten those words. How can the man of God who stands before his thirty or forty people in a small rented store front building; the man who has prayed and cried all week and studied the Scriptures and prepared the message God has laid upon his heart for his little flock; how can this man possibly top the performances of super human strength of the Power Team the night before? It is my opinion that the Power Team and all such Christian entertainment groups are robbing God’s house and short changing the Christians of God’s true blessings for His people. Stop it and stop it now! Go back to Church and spend your time walking the streets with your pastor and knocking on doors and winning the lost to Jesus Christ. That’s the true “POWER TEAM!”
</snip>

“Whatever it takes to bring them in is what it’ll take to keep them.”  Profound and true.  If someone has to be lured into an event that is more like a circus act than a church service just to share the gospel, there is little reason to think that a real Sunday morning service and a genuine body of believers will ever hold their interest long enough to keep them coming back.  Although there may be a few exceptions, by and large, the majority of people are not being drawn to these shows under the conviction of the Holy Spirit, but out of the desires of their flesh. 

I really do not see much difference in this and someone might decide to buy free rounds of beer one Friday night so that the gospel could be preached at the local pub.  It is a way of appealing to the flesh nature of a sinner and trying to make them comfortable in their natural element (that is, in their sin) so that you present the gospel in a non-offensive way, hoping they will pray the prayer before they pass out.  In fact, I would venture to say, some enterprising young evangelist could probably do this for several months to try and reach the lost.  But my guess is that there would be very few (if any) real converts who would be satisfied attending church and joining up with a local body as a result of this evangelistic outreach.  Take away the comfort of their sin, and challenge them with the truth, and it is the truth that will emerge.

What are your thoughts on this issue?

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