I recently visited a church that was going Henry Blackaby’s “Experiencing God” study on Wednesday evenings. The book by Blackaby has been a very popular mainstay in many evangelical churches for the past few decades. Although I was familiar with Henry Blackaby and his Experiencing God study through its reputation, I had never actually read the book. So I looked forward to learning more about it on this particular Wednesday night.
The pastor leading the study is a very Godly man, and it was a joy to sit under his teachings. His consistent focus on the scriptures and apparent desire to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ was so refreshing to see. And this pastor’s love for his congregation was made evident in his taking time to speak to each and every person that was in attendance. A true man of God.
After we had opened the study in prayer, a video of Henry Blackaby personally introducing his study was played for all to see. In Blackaby’s introduction, he expressed his deep desire for those participating in the study to come to saving faith in Jesus Christ. Blackaby’s burden to see men saved was apparent, and his love for the Lord unquestionable.
However, when Blackaby gave his reasoning for why he chose to name his book ‘Experiencing God’, his answer was a bit unsettling. Blackaby said that the reason he did not name his book ‘Knowing God’ and instead chose to call it ‘Experiencing God’ is because God wants us to experience Him.
Blackaby went on to say that to know God merely implies a dry book knowledge of our Lord, and what people really needed was an experience with the Divine. “God doesn’t just want His children to know Him, He wants them to experience Him”, said Blackaby.
While I have no doubt that Blackaby desired to see people come to Christ, his statement of placing an experience with God over knowing God is not only unbiblical, but it actual diminishes the relationship to which God has called His elect to have with Him.
This is not my opinion, but rather what the scriptures plainly teach. Not once in the Bible does the Lord request that His people experience Him. What God does consistently say is that He desires His people to know Him. This plea from the Lord is repeated over and over throughout the scriptures.
The original Greek words for “to know” are “oida” and “ginosko.” Both words imply a much deeper definition than simply book knowledge. When God uses the word “know”, He is implying an intimate relationship with Him. In the garden of Eden, the scriptures say of the relationship between Adam and Eve;
“Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten a man with the help of the LORD.” Genesis 4:1.
When Moses wrote that Adam “KNEW” his wife, he did not mean that Adam had a mere knowledge of her existence. The word “know” meant that they had an intimate relationship. Now it goes without saying that the Lord is not implying that His children have a romantic relationship with Him (as the New Apostolic Reformation movement often implies), but rather that our knowledge of Him leads us to know and trust Him more than our closest family member.
Jesus used the same word “know” when speaking to His disciples about eternal life. Jesus did not say that eternal life was found in experiencing Him.
“And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” John 17:3.
Experiencing God is impossible unless we KNOW Him through His Word. Furthermore, salvation is only found through knowing our Lord in a personal relationship. Salvation is not grounded in our feelings or emotions about God. Again, there are false sects of Christianity like the NAR that promote having an emotive experience with God over knowing Him as He has presented Himself in scripture.
Basing our perception of God on feelings or our experience of Him makes God subservient to what pleases us. But when our perception of God is strictly based on knowing Him through His Word, we are at His mercy. And the knowledge of our depravity in light of His grace drives us deep into repentance, thankfulness, and adoration.
“Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.” Jeremiah 9:23-24.
Again, the prophet Jeremiah did not write that God demands an experience of Himself. Rather, the same word for intimacy, to KNOW, is used. To say that knowing God implies a dry book knowledge is due to a misunderstanding of the depth of meaning behind the Lord’s command for us to know Him.
“That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,” Philippians 3:10.
The greatest longing of the Apostle Paul wasn’t to experience God. Paul desired more than anything to know Him through His Word. Even when Paul experienced seeing Christ on the road to Damascus, it was not the blinding light that changed Paul. It was Christ speaking the Word of the Lord to Him. It was the power of the spoken Word of God that brought Paul to saving faith.
It is impossible to have a relationship with God apart from head knowledge of Him.
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:2.
Christ desires that our minds be renewed through the knowledge of God. Peter did not wish for his followers to experience God, but rather to have knowledge of Him that would press them into an intimate relationship with Him.
“But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.” 2 Peter 3:18.
When John wrote His epistle of 1 John, he distinguished how he could tell that a person had been regenerated and born again. He did not say that whoever has experienced God listens to them. Instead, he said whoever knows God. And those without the knowledge of God have no love for His Word. If we desire an experience of God over truly knowing the Lord, it is not Christ we seek, but our own preferences.
“We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us.” 1 John 4:6.
Remember, the golden calf that the Israelites built to worship in the book of Exodus was a cumulation of what they wanted to experience in their worship of God. As the worshipped, they indulged in drunkeness and sexual immorality. Had they possessed true knowledge of God, they would have been broken over their sins and have never acted in that manner. An experience of God that is not grounded in knowledge is very dangerous.
Jesus told a parable of a rich man and a poor man who both died. The poor man Lazarus went to be by Abraham’s side in Heaven, while the rich man went to Hell. As the rich man was in anguish, he recalled that he had five unbelieving brothers. And he knew that when they died, they would likewise join him in Hell. So the rich man made this plea with Abraham;
“And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’” Luke 16:27-28.
The rich man wanted the spirit of the poor man Lazarus to be sent to his brothers to warn them of the consequences of unbelief. The rich man wanted his unbelieving brothers to have an experience that was from God. Like many today, the rich man wrongly assumed that an experience from God would lead to salvation. But Abraham said this in response to the rich man’s request;
“But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’”Luke 16:29-31.”
The rich man argued that if only his brothers could have an experience sent from God, then they would be saved. But Abraham refused, saying that if the written Word, which is written by Moses and the Prophets, did not regenerate them, then no experience would be stronger than the Word of God. Abraham placed knowing God through His Word over having a Divine experience.
In Matthew 7, Jesus gives us the picture of many church going and religious people standing before Him on judgement day. The Lord goes on to say that these people listed all of their good works and piety as the reason that they should be allowed into His Kingdom. But although these people would claim Christ as Lord, they had no true love for Him in their heart. The Lord tells these hypocrites to depart from Him into Hell. Notice that the Lord does not say “Depart from me, for you never experienced me.” Rather He says;
“And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” Matthew 7:23.
Once again, I have no doubt that Henry Blackaby loved the Lord with all of His heart and had the best of intentions in His ministry. In fact, many of the things that Blackaby says in his book are spot on and very useful in leading us into this knowledge of the Lord. But our experience of God can only come through a reverent knowledge of Him. And that knowledge can only be found in His Word. Sola Scriptura.
There are many iconic staples that come to mind when we think of our American culture. Baseball, apple pie, and rock rock and roll, just to name a few. But no cornerstone has embedded itself into mainstream Americana like the fast food restaurant McDonald’s. Whenever we take a family road trip, it is inevitable that one of our kids will make their requests for chicken nugget or cheeseburger Happy Meals.
Founded in 1940, the fast food chain has become known for its hamburgers and golden French fries. McDonald’s even branded itself with child friendly characters such as the burger loving bandit “Hambuglar” and of course, the french fry loving clown, Ronald McDonald.
There is no doubt that the purpose of the McDonald’s franchise is to sell burgers. For goodness sake, they even boast of how many billions of burgers that have been sold under their Golden Arches. It is certain that when you hear someone say McDonald’s, a nice greasy burger is the first thing that comes to mind.
In the late 1980’s, Mcdonald’s decided to alter it’s successful and proven image of being known for hamburgers and started to offer a new item, the McPizza. The McPizza was their version of a fast food pizza and it closely resembled a mini calzone.
McDonald’s marketing team began to push the McPizza in its advertising just as much as it did their burgers. No expense was spared in their attempt to add to their image. Of course this was done in hopes of reaching a new batch of consumers.
However, the result was very disappointing for McDonald’s. The McPizza failed miserably. With top pizza chains like Dominos and Pizza Hut already dominating the market, competition was extremely intense. But more than anything, the addition of the McPizza just was not consistent with the purpose that McDonald’s had always been known for. And that was great tasting burgers. As one person said, “People went to MacDonalds for burgers and fries, not pizza.”
Ironically in the mid 80’s, Coca Cola did the same thing as McDonald’s. They tried to alter their formula from the original, calling it “New Coke” in an attempt to reach a wider audience. And much like McDonald’s, their attempts to add to the original formula concluded with disastrous results.
When something is altered or changed, for better or worse, the original purpose becomes lost. The idea is no longer what it had originally set out to be, because even the slightest deviation from the origin causes a transformation.
To want to improve upon something is human. When results appear seemingly stagnant, the immediate knee jerk reaction is to change the status quo, even if it means altering the original purpose. In the corporate world, sometimes altering the purpose works. And sometimes, as seen in the examples above, it does not. Ultimately, the decision to change must be given approval by the man who is in charge of that particular organization.
In my previous two blogs, I touched on an ever growing deception that is infiltrating the modern day church. That being the man centered trend to attempt to improve upon God’s mandates for the church. We see this in the increasing emphasis of many churches to try and look, sound, and appear more hip than holy in an attempt to attract people with more worldly affinities. In doing this, we basically are saying that the glorious Gospel of Christ is not attractive enough, and God needs us to give it a modern day makeover. Without saying it, we doubt the power of the Gospel with our actions.
My great fear is that this mindset of improvement has infiltrated the church to our detrament. R.C. Sproul once said that he believed less than five percent of pastors truly believed in the power of the spoken word of God to save men. This was the Lord’s original game plan for church growth.
To coincide with the analogy of the corporation, if the CEO is the only one who can change the purpose statement, then as Christians and church leaders, God is our CEO. And God has mandated that the only means to church growth and salvation is the preaching of the Gospel, and calling people to repentance. There are no other means.
Sadly as Dr. Sproul had commented, a great many ministries and their leaders have lost sight of the original purpose of the church. The preaching of the Gospel has not yielded the results (or numbers of members) that they had hoped for. And so, they begin to add to the Gospel. Sometimes they will even change it all together.
The Gospel is not enough, we need lights and smoke during worship.
The Gospel is not enough, we need comedians and story tellers instead of preachers.
The Gospel is not enough, we need more acceptance and less repentance.
The Gospel is not enough, we need an image that is less holy and more culturally relevant.
No church leader would ever say these things verbally, but by their methods of operating the church, actions speak louder than words. To be sure, it is very easy to rationalize their reasons for doing this. Plenty of church pastors have boasted of how many people are being brought to the Lord as a result of their pragmatic methods.
But are we really seeing people coming to the Lord as a result of our changes or additions to the Gospel? Or are we merely seeing more warm bodies that are seeking a worldly experience with God’s name stamped on it? To answer this question, just ask the congregation why it is that they attend their church.
Many have answered this question by saying they attend their church because it makes them feel loved. And to feel loved is a good thing. But the Gospel is not about what we feel, it is grounded in what we know. The reality of God’s grace in light of our depravity is what leads men to repentance. So knowledge, not emotions, leads men to salvation.
Many have said that the music style of worship or the relaxed atmosphere is why they attend a certain church. And while these things are well and good, they are not reasons for attending a church. Any reason other than the proclamation of the Word of God are faulty primary reasons for church attendance. Justin Peters rightly said, “We are letting the goats in and calling them sheep.”
This begs the obvious question, “What is the purpose of the church?”
A brief study of the church in Corinth will be of great benefit to us in answering this question. The church in Corinth was founded by the Apostle Paul while on his second missionary journey. Corinth was a large trade city, so it had great wealth and was the location of many Olympic type games. The city of Corinth also was extremely immersed in the world, worshipping such Gods as Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love.
Paul preached the Gospel in Corinth for almost two years before departing. The church was no doubt on solid ground while Paul was there. But very soon after he left, the church at Corinth began to depart from the Gospel of faith alone through Christ alone that was preached to them. They began to become enamored with different personalities in the pulpit, as some claimed they were followers of Paul and others Apollos.
But the most serious problem of the Corinthian church was worldliness, and an unwillingness to divorce the culture around them. Paul received word of many sins that the church was now accepting, and he addressed them in his epistles to the Corinthians.
“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality” 1 Corinthians 6:9.
Again, Paul did not write these words to pagans. He wrote to the church.
Obviously the message of repentance and sternly crying out against sin was not being preached. The church began to hold an attitude of acceptance of sin, not rejection of it. And with most of the society putting a great emphasis on love, as seen by its affinity for the goddess Aphrodite, apparently the church was influenced by the culture. The church was allowing itself to look more and more like the world in the hopes of being accepted.
The state of the church at Corinth is very similar to many churches today. In an attempt to win the culture, they begin to dress, speak, and act more worldly. And with the growing number of evangelical preachers that only desire to preach love and acceptance while shying away from preaching repentance, its as if our culture has begun to worship the false goddess Aphrodite. Just like the Corinthians.
Therefore what happens is that these churches end up drawing the world to a similar version of itself, but not to Christ. Just because a church calls itself a church, doesn’t mean it is truly the bride of Christ. Because if the Gospel that is preached is not what is used to attract men, then its not the true Gospel.
“But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, a curse be on him!” 1 Corinthians 1:8.
So the questions remains, “What is the purpose of the church?” Paul gives us the answers through his example.
“And I, when I came to you, brothers, I did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” 1 Corinthians 2:1-16.
Too many churches believe the power of God unto salvation lies in the charismatic ability of the preacher. These churches tend to want the preacher to tell more entertaining stories rather than exposition of scripture. The mentally is that if the preacher is just the right mix of relevant and funny, then maybe people will be saved.
However, Paul didn’t believe this. And Paul for sure didn’t exemplify this. According to what Paul wrote, he was not an eloquent or gifted communicator (2 Corinthians 11:6). He was not worried about if people would like him or his message. Paul was concerned with proclaiming truth.
Paul came proclaiming the testimony of Jesus Christ only. He was not there to entertain or to promote himself. The proclamation of the Gospel was the only trick he had in his bag. Paul went on to talk about the church participating in the Lord’s supper in 1 Corinthians 11. The supper itself is a proclamation of the atoning death of Christ and the redemption of sinful man.
And in 1 Corinthians 12, Paul emphasized the baptism of all men, Jew and Gentile. Once again, baptism being a mirror image and proclamation of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. Also baptism represents the shedding of man’s sins and new life in holiness.
There are many more verses that beautifully expound on the purpose of the church. But they all center on one God given and defined purpose. The purpose of the church was never to try and fit in with the world. And our goal given by Christ was never to seek acceptance from the world by attempting to act and look more like them. This is conformity, not separation. We are called to stand firm in our separateness.
“Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you,” 2 Corinthians 6:17.
The purpose of the church is to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and to edify & equip the saints through the sacraments and the preaching of the Word of the Lord.
As Christians as well as church leaders, our job is not to be the coolest church on the block. Our job is not to create an atmosphere where sinners can feel comfortable in their sins. And our job is not make sure congregants feel amused and entertained with their Sunday morning experience. Our purpose is to proclaim all of the scriptures, both the popular verses and the hard to swallow text. Our purpose is to proclaim the Gospel.
Are we hospitable and loving in our purpose? Absolutely we are. But not at the cost of altering or shifting the emphasis off of the purpose to which God called His bride. And not in an attempt to help God out by adding to the Gospel.
The lost cannot and will never be reached with worldly means. Both John the Baptist and Christ began their ministry by calling sinners to repent. They were not ashamed of the offense it might cause, because they knew that the Gospel was the only means to salvation.
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” Romans 1:16.
Do we believe this today? Or are we allowing the church to become a modern day version of Corinth? Is the modern day church influencing culture with its separateness from the world? Or is it being influenced more by its apparent conformity to the world? Remember, the definition of Holy is to be separate or set apart. Therefore a church that strives to look more like the world is not Holy.
“…without holiness no one will see the Lord.” Hebrews 12:14.
If what the writer of Hebrews wrote in the verse above is true, then conformity to the world should absolutely terrify us as believers. I fear that there are many modern day churches, much like Corinth, who should heed the warning that Christ gave the church in Ephesus.
“But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.” Revelation 2:4.
For those churches that have strayed, Jesus gives words of conviction and comfort…
“Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.” Revelation 2:5.
If your purpose is to serve hamburgers, then you cannot reach your customers by serving them pizza. Sure, you can add pizza to the menu. But you are no longer a hamburger joint. And if the preaching of the Word is not primary within the church, then it is not a church.
It was John Calvin who said, “The preacher has nothing to say outside of the Word of God.”
What is the purpose of your church? Is it image driven or Gospel grounded? Is your church more concerned with being relevant to everyone with its conformity to the world or glorifying Christ with it’s Holy separateness?
In Isaiah chapter 6, when Isaiah was brought to a state of repentance as a result of getting a glimpse of God, it was not that Isaiah saw the Lord to be so much like him that caused him to be in awe of God. Rather, it was the Holiness and separateness of God that led Isaiah to repentance. In the same manner, the church will be used by God to lead people to repentance not because of how similar we are to the world, but because of how separate we are from it.
The seraphim in chapter 6 of Isaiah were not declaring that God was “Relevant, relevant, relevant.” Rather, they cried out “Holy, Holy, Holy,” as they covered their eyes from His blinding glory. If the Holiness of God and His non conformity to the world is what leads men to repentance, shouldn’t we as the church embrace the same example?
If God has ordained that our purpose as the church is to reach the lost by means of His Gospel, then all other alterations and additions to it will be in vain. Never be ashamed of the Gospel. For it is our only hope, and the power unto salvation.
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. ”Matthew 28:19-20.
We live in a very consumerist culture. Most everything that we do is guided by our personal preferences. We want to find satisfaction with the decisions that we make. From the clothes we buy, to the televisions shows we watch, our personal desires mold the choices we make each day. This mentality even affects our preferences in worship.
The most common question Christians will ask one another has to do with their preferences in style of worship. Contemporary or traditional? I’ve met traditionalists who think contemporary Christian music is of the devil quite literally. And I’ve known contemporary loving believers who consider the traditionalist to be legalistic in their choice of music.
The truth is that both contemporary and traditional worship can become idols within church. Both forms of worship can be glorifying to the Lord. And both can become stumbling blocks that rob God of His glory. Anytime we filter our worship preferences and judge them by our own personal opinion, it creates an environment where the worship of God is in crisis.
Far too often, people will base their preferences of worship style on their feelings. Some feel that the traditional sound of an organ puts them in a spiritual mood. And others feel that the upbeat twang of an electric guitar makes them want to raise their hands in praise. And the problem lies not in the musicians choice of instrument, but in the motives behind those singing praises.
David Garland wrote, “The danger for us is that we will want to keep up with our entertainment culture and its focus on the eyes by turning our worship into a religious stage show. We must walk a fine line between offering worship that is appealing and engaging without becoming simply a splashy performance, and worship that has depth without becoming tedious and flat.”
When we allow our feelings to play a determining factor in our preferences of worship, we unintentionally enter into worship with praising ourselves and not God. We are basically saying that we gravitate towards a certain worship style because it makes us feel a certain way and not because it glorifies God.
Also, music should never be used to coerce feelings of spirituality. Our feelings in worship should spring forth from the words that we are singing. And our words of praise must be grounded in the truth of God’s Word. True Christ centered worship cannot be fabricated.
The words that we are singing should be the focus of our worship, not the tempo of the song or the instruments that are being used. We should always ask, “Who is being glorified in this song?”
There are traditional songs that are very Christ honoring and totally focused on God’s glory. One of my personal favorite traditional songs of praise is ‘Behold Our God.” I also love to sing “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” written by the reformer Martin Luther.
I love these two traditional hymns not because of their beat, how they make me feel, or the instruments that are used, but because of the words. They are totally void of praising man and solely focused on glorifying God.
However, there are songs in the traditional genre are very popular but void of praising the Lord. My general rule of thumb when listening to the words in worship is to ask who is being sung about, God or me? For example, there is a widely renowned traditional hymn called “I Am a Friend of God.” The lyrics are very repetitive with the congregation repeating that they are a friend of God, and that He calls them friends.
Is the song heretical? No.
Who is the focus of this song? Me.
Also there are some very Christ honoring contemporary worship songs. Some of my personal favorites from the contemporary genre are “All I have is Christ” and “Show us Christ.” There are other contemporary forms of urban Christian music by artist such as Tripp Lee or Lecrae that are saturated with Gospel truth. Many are quick to dismiss these forms of music based on their fast tempo, but their lyrics are more Christ centered than many traditional hymns.
And there are also contemporary songs that make the hearers want to raise their hands, but give no praise to the Lord. On of the biggest pitfalls of modern contemporary Christian music is vain repetition. Saying the same thing over and over, and what is being said is based more on how we feel about God rather than speaking the truth of who He is.
Some contemporary songs unfortunately speak of God as if He was their spouse and not the sovereign Lord. One contemporary song that is very popular with younger believers describes the love of God as being like, “…a sloppy wet kiss.” Jesus is not our romantic interest. And to sing songs that portray Him as such is very disturbing, not to mention extremely man centered.
If the words that we sing could just as easily be sung as a love song to our significant other, then it’s not praise to God. Again, praise should be centered around leading our minds to dwell on truth. The purpose of praise is not to promote warm and fuzzy feelings within us. Worship should not be void of emotions, but it should not be led by emotion either. Singing Gospel truth leads us to experience emotions of thankfulness and gratitude towards God.
Genuine Worship is driven by what we KNOW to be true about God, not by what we feel. And it is the knowledge of His truth that should drive us into the emotional state of thankfulness and praise. Knowledge leads to emotion, not the other way around.
Also we should ask “Who does the worship draw attention to?” Some of the most God glorifying, humble worship that I’ve attended has been contemporary praise. But I have also seen contemporary worship being sung by bands that jumped all around the stage and gave the impression that you were attending a rock concert. The attention was primarily on the musicians and the excitement they created, and glorifying God was secondary to their performance.
Kent Hughes wrote, “Congregational worship has taken the form of something done for an audience as opposed to something done by a congregation. Stages, theater-seating, programs, “special music,” and the adoption of the posture and gestures of secular performers by worship leaders all suggest that the priority of the contemporary church is entertaining congregations, not worshiping God.”
So the issue at hand is not musical style. Both traditional and contemporary can be glorifying to God. The crux of this issue is in the content that is being sung. The question we must ask centers around if the lyrics are grounded in the character of God and in Biblical truth. Or are they aimed more towards generating an emotional reaction from a crowd.
When planning the Sunday morning songs, far too many worship leaders ask the question, “What do the people want to hear and experience?” Rather than asking, “What songs would speak the greatest truth and bring the most glory to God?” Sadly, there are far too many churches that are more concerned with their “image” rather than the glory of the Lord.
Praise is not performed for our preferences, but for God’s glory.
Aside from the Gospel of Jesus Christ, one of the greatest influences on me as a pastor has been the life and ministry of Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones. Even though he passed away in March of 1981, his sermons still speak volumes to modern-day Christians. Lloyd Jones has served as an example of what an evangelist should look like, particularly in how he viewed the church.
In 1943, Lloyd Jones became the pastor of Westminster Chapel. And he quickly became known for his utter dependance upon God as well as his belief in the power of the Gospel to draw men. Dr. Lloyd Jones didn’t believe in pragmatics and worldly means to draw people to the church. Rather, he believed that the preaching of the Word of God was all that was needed to draw men to Christ.
Lloyd Jones was also known for his passionate expository preaching. He did not preach sermons that started with the problems of man and then make his way to the scriptures. Instead, he always began with God’s Word and let it then speak to men. He held a very high view of God and the Church of Jesus Christ.
When planning his worship services, Lloyd Jones did not concern himself with what would please his congregation. His sole purpose in worship was to focus on pleasing and glorifying the Lord. His view of the church was not considered cool, and he was not worried about being culturally relevant.
Lloyd Jones was so opposed to pragmatic means taking the place of Gospel proclamation within the church that one of the first things he did when he became the pastor of the Westminster Chapel in London was to nail the pulpit to the floor. Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones unapologetically preached the Gospel as it was. And as a result thousands were drawn to Christ.
Unfortunately, this mindset of seeking the desires of the Lord in worship has been replaced with the seeker sensitive movement of modern-day culture. The seeker sensitive movement does just what it sounds like. It is predominantly concerned with pleasing the people (or seekers) rather than pleasing God.
Churches in this movement desire to look more like the world in order to become appealing to the masses. For many of these churches, Christ centered worship has been replaced with an environment resembling that of a secular rock concert, putting the spotlight on performers. Sermons that contain a rebuke of sin are considered judgmental. And calling people to a life of holiness and repentance is viewed as legalistic.
Seeker sensitive churches do not ask the question, “How far away from the line of sin can we flee?” Rather, they ask, “How close to the line can we get without stepping over?” Or in some extreme cases, they just move the line altogether.
Preachers in this movement are encouraged to be entertainers in part, and a serious focus on the scriptures is frowned upon. The concern is not how many people are growing in their sanctification, but how many warm bodies are in attendance.
“When amusement is necessary to get people to listen to the gospel there will be failure. This is not the method of Christ. To form an organization and provide all kinds of entertainment for young people, in order that they may come to the Bible classes, is to be foredoomed to failure.” -G. Campbell Morgan.
The concept of church discipline is almost non-existent within the seeker sensitive movement. Many times, the sins of the people in seeker sensitive churches (and their leaders) is tolerated or all together ignored. Transgressions go unaddressed as to not offend anyone who may be dealing with sin. And no mind is given to the fact that the Lord is offended by their tolerance of sin.
The seeker sensitive movement is driven by pragmatics and not the Gospel. It hopes to draw more people into the church with entertainment and a more worldly look. While some may have the best of intentions with these additions to worship, they actually belittle the Lord with their church makeover.
They are basically saying that the preaching of the Word of God is not enough to draw men, so we need to add more into it. And in doing this, they portray to everyone a very low view of God.
The high view of God and of the church that Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones held was not concocted by him, but rather had its roots traced back to the times of the reformation and even to the back to the Old Testament itself.
Throughout the scriptures, it is God who has detailed to man how He desires to be worshipped. In both the Old Testament and New, the worshipers of God would come to the temple in a spirit of reverence with no intentions except to give praise to the Lord. Man has always strayed into disobedience when either he began to twist or add to how the Lord asked to be worshipped.
We can see this perversion of worship in the historical account of Cain and Abel. The Lord told the brothers how he desired to be worshipped through the bringing of their sacrifices. The Lord had required an animal sacrifice of the flock’s first-born which Abel brought forth. However, Cain’s offering was an offering of fruit and not animal. Abel’s worship was acceptable to God, and Cain’s was not.
When the people of God were transporting the Ark of the Covenant in the book of 1 Samuel, one of the many requirements of the Lord was that no one touch the Ark. It was to be carried with poles. However, as the Ark was being carried, the men stumbled. Uzzah reached in an attempt to keep the Ark from falling and touched the Ark. And the Lord killed him on spot.
Why did God kill Uzzah for merely trying to do what he thought was best for the preservation of the Ark? No doubt, Uzzah was only trying to help! So why the harsh reaction from the Lord?
Because our worship and obedience should never be based on what we think is best, despite the circumstances. Rather worship and obedience to God should always be done as God requires, regardless of circumstances.
We see a similar scenario when the sons of Aaron came to worship the Lord. Again, God had laid out how he desire to be worshipped. But the brothers added strange fire to the Lord’s commands in hopes of pleasing Him. But instead of pleasing God with their additions, the Lord kills them.
This is so important to grasp.
Why did God kill the sons of Aaron? To read the account, they were only attempting to enhance their worship with the addition of this strange fire. During this time period, fire was used by the people who worshipped false pagan Gods. No doubt, it was seen as a cutting edge way of worship. It was alluring to people. And maybe even viewed as entertaining.
But again, we learn that worship is not defined by man. We do not get to decide how God might be better worshipped. It is not our job to give God a makeover so that He might seem less offensive and more relevant to the world.
Many modern-day seeker sensitive churches attempt to make their worship more worldly in hopes of alluring or entertaining their congregants. And in doing so, they fall into the same folly as did the sons of Aaron. Adding strange fire, in any form, to the worship of God is a dangerous game.
In Exodus, we find God’s people building a Golden Calf.
“And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord.” And they rose up early the next day and offered burnt offerings and brought peace offerings. And the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” Exodus 32:4-6.
What many have failed to realize is that the Israelites were actually following some of the guidelines for worship that the Lord had laid out for them. They said in the midst of their pagan worship, “And they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” They had heard this saying before from the Lord Himself when He rescued them from enslavement.
“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” Exodus 20:2.
They even offered sacrifices to their false God. But in the midst of this worship, they added in elements that were desirable to their flesh and not in the commands of God. The scripture says that as they worshipped, they rose up to play, which translates that they participated in sexual sin. Sin was tolerated, and repentance was shunned.
They were adhering to some of the Lord’s guidelines for worship, but also adding in their own elements and allowing sin to go unaddressed. It’s quite easy to shake our heads in disdain at the Israelites, and wonder how they could be so ignorant. When ironically, much of our church culture has molded their own golden calves in the form of entertaining worship services and sermons that are more or less inspirational speeches that are void of an urgent plea for repentance. This is the seeker sensitive movement.
Ezekiel chapter 37 is one of my favorite passages of scripture. It is the vision of the prophet Ezekiel standing in a valley of dead, dry, human bones. The Lord asks Ezekiel how the bones may live again? Ezekiel responds, “Lord, only you know.”
The Lord told Ezekiel to speak the Word of the Lord to the bones, and they came to life. But this didn’t happen immediately. Ezekiel spoke the Words of the Lord to the bones, and the bones came together with muscle and ligament, but still there was no breath in them. Ezekiel had to continue speaking the Word of the Lord, and eventually it was God who breathed new life into them.
Ezekiel could have easily grown frustrated. He could have said to the Lord, “I know a faster way to bring them to life.” The Word of the Lord is one that rebukes sinners and calls them to turn from their worldly ways.
What if Ezekiel would have said, “You know God, your Word is very harsh. So why don’t I just speak a word of encouragement to the bones and create an inviting environment so they might be more receptive?” Do you think God needed Ezekiel to add to the Word of the Lord in order for those bones to live? Absolutely not.
The dead bones were a shadow of the dead state of men in their sins. And Ezekiel represents the one speaking or preaching the Word of the Lord. Again, the Lord rhetorically asks the evangelist, “How can these bones live again?”
Many seeker sensitive preachers would respond, “The bones can live again by making worship fun and exciting!” Or perhaps they can live again if we just were not so hard on sin and we portrayed ourselves as being more relevant!”
But not Ezekiel. His response was one of utter helplessness. “Lord, only you know.”
There is no doubt that if our definition of church growth refers to how many people are in attendance on Sunday mornings, there is no doubt we could get faster results with seeker sensitive outreaches. But if we draw people to the Gospel with pragmatic means, we will have to continue to provide pragmatics to keep them. It’s easy to fill a church will proverbial dead bones. Its much more difficult to breathe life into them.
Consider this allegory. Imagine there was a King that was going away for a long time. And before his departure, he gave orders to his servants to take care of his bride.
His bride was beautiful and pure. And the kings orders were very detailed. He wanted her to be presented to the kingdom in a reverent manner. The king ordered that she wear no make up and be clothed in pure white.
After the king had departed, the servants noticed that very few people were coming to the kingdom. So in an attempt to draw more people into the kingdom, the servants changed the appearance of the king’s bride. They added make up, and clothed her in the most popular clothing of the day.
As a result thousands were drawn to the kingdom. But it was not the purity of the kingdom that drew them, but rather they came as a result of the new worldly make over. When the King the servants were elated. They expected a pat on the back for all the new people who had come to the kingdom.
But the king saw what they had done to his bride, and he knew that they had gone against what he had requested. They had made his Kingdom into a mockery, and had drawn people who wanted a more worldly kingdom, and not one that represented purity.
The king sent the servants away from the kingdom into outer darkness along with all of those who had praised the perversion of his bride.
Thomas Aquinas was once told that it seemed that many people in the world were seeking after God. This was contrary to Romans chapter 3, where Paul wrote that no man seeks after God. Aquinas responded that men were seeking after the benefits of God, but did not actually want God Himself. They did not want to submit to God. They merely wanted to paint Him in their own image. They wanted a golden calf.
Sadly, this remains true in our day. Seeker sensitive churches desire to be more pleasing to man rather than God. They tend to shy away from preaching against sin and obedience in exchange for sermons about life improvement and mood enhancement. They shutter at preaching the wrath and Holiness of God and focus most of the messages on love and acceptance. And they celebrate teachings centered around their church ‘image’ or ‘branding’ rather than Biblical doctrine.
Seeker sensitive churches would rather be relevant to the culture rather than reverent to God. And in essence, they focus on the attributes of God that build man up while watering down or all together casting away the truths of God that expose our human depravity and inability.
Pastor Voddie Baucham rightly said, “Seeker sensitive churches cherish the addition of an 11th commandment, which says ‘Thou shalt be nice.’ And this added commandment from man tends to trump the former ten from God.”
The church is the very bride of Christ. And the Lord has given specific instructions on how men are to be drawn to His kingdom through His bride. And it is God alone through the proclamation of His word that does the drawing. The church doesn’t need a worldly makeover in order to draw more people. It needs obedient saints that realize their inabilities and cling to the Word of the Lord.
“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.” John 15:5.
On the day of Judgement, we should not fear so much for the lost person as we should for those who considered themselves servants of God and took liberties with His church. When the King comes back, His bride should be a place of reverence. She should be prepared to be appealing to the King, and not dressed up to be attractive to those outside of the Kingdom.
In reality there is no such thing as a seeker sensitive church. Because again, the apostle Paul wrote in Romans chapter 3 that no one seeks God. All men, in their dead state of sin are born haters of God. They want the benefits of God without bowing their knees to Him. That is until God breaths life into them through the means of His spoken Word. So there are no true seekers except the Lord. And if we are going to be sensitive to someone, it should be to HIM.
I will conclude with a short video that mockingly spoofs these seeker sensitive churches. It would be quite comical if sadly it were not so true of many popular churches that we are currently seeing today. Christians should never seek a church that caters to meet their personal preferences. Rather we should seek a church that desires to glorify the Lord through the proclaiming the full council of His Word and one that stands on truth, regardless of how offensive it may be to our sinful flesh.
When believers are asked if they are of the Christian faith, most would have no problem confidently answering by saying, “Absolutely.” However, it is when the questions become more probing that some feel lost as to how to respond.
This primarily occurs when they are asked the question, “What does it mean to be a Christian?” What most people who are curious about Christianity mean when they ask this question is, “What had to occur in order for you to become a Christian?
Have you ever been asked this question personally?
If you are a believer in Jesus Christ and are outspoken about your faith, eventually you will. There are two overarching problems that cause many evangelicals to answer this question wrongly. First, there is the problem of tradition. And secondly, there is the problem of bad theology. Both of which I will address in this post.
When asked how they became a Christian, most people resort to answering that question by thinking back to personal experiences or the external traditions that surrounded their conversion. While traditions are not in and of themselves a bad thing, they can at times be elevated above the scriptures when not kept in their proper perspective.
In the South, the most common answer given by many when asked how they know that they are a Christian sounds something like this; “Well I’ve said a sinners prayer, I joined the church, and I stopped cussing.” All of these things are well and good, but none of them are correct when telling someone how to become a Christian. And much of this error is attributed to elevating man-made traditions over the Bible.
Sadly, there are even church websites that claim that the two things one must do in order to be saved is recite a prayer of invitation to Jesus and then to join a local body of believers. Again, both of these are good things, but they are not what makes a person Christian. And furthermore, Jesus doesn’t need an invitation to save.
As one pastor rightly said, “When God saves you, He doesn’t do it because you gave Him permission. He did it because He’s God.”
It is a good thing to pray to God. However, no where in the scriptures does it say that our words have the power to make us righteous before the Lord. And just because a person has a membership in a church doesn’t mean that they are saved.
C.S. Lewis once wrote, ““Going to church won’t make you a Christian any more that being in a garage makes you a car.”
If we tell people that we’ve gained our salvation by praying a prayer and committing to regular church attendance, it is telling them some of the effects of salvation but not the cause. It is not Biblical truth, but rather human tradition. We’ve made these very good things into God things.
There are many pastors that hold this formula of “A Sinners prayer plus church membership equals salvation” in such high esteem that to question it would be viewed as sacrilegious in their opinion. Our traditions are often given more authority than they deserve. Let me use an example to illustrate my point.
Sam loved it when his wife cooked her infamous roast beef. The recipe had been passed down from generation to generation in her family. But Sam noticed that before cooking the meal, his bride always would cut off the very end corners of the beef.
One day out of curiosity, Sam asked his wife, “Why is it that you cut the end corners of the beef off of the meat before cooking?” His wife answered that her mother had taught her to do it this way and she assumed that it was done to make the meat more moist.
At the next family get together, Sam asked his wife’s mother why it was that she always cut the ends off of the roast beef. His mother in law responded that her mother had taught her to do it that way, and she assumed that it was to make it more appealing to the eye.
Finally Sam asked his wife’s grandmother why she cut the ends off the roast beef. Sam said to her, “Your granddaughter said the reason is because it makes the beef more moist, and your daughter said it makes the meat more aesthetically pleasing.”
The old lady responded, “It doesn’t make the beef more moist and it has nothing to do with appearance. I cut off the ends off of the roast beef because my pans were always too small.”
When telling someone how to become a Christian, it is important that we answer them with truth, not tradition. Jesus said that a person must do only two things. That is to believe that Jesus Christ is Lord, and to repent (or turn from) our sins (Mark 1:15).
But what does it mean to be a Christian? What does it mean to repent of our sins as a result of our believe in Christ? This leads us into the theological fallacy that causes Christians to stumble when presented with questions regarding their faith.
Imagine that a pastor comes to the house of one of his partitioners who hasn’t been to church in a few months. During his visit, the pastor learns that this man has been out drinking and partying, and these sinful actions have kept him from having time for church.
Feeling guilty in front of his pastor, the man responds, “You are right pastor, I need to just stop going to the bars and quit the womanizing and starting coming to church.” Although these may be the exact words that the pastor wanted to hear, the answer was prompted by guilt, and not true repentance.
Essentially what the man was saying to the pastor was, “I know that I need to stop chasing after the sins that I love and begin doing the righteous things that I hate.” Constantly throughout the scriptures we see that God is not so much interested with our external actions as much as He is with our internal motivations for those actions.
Unless people understand The Gospel and the amazing grace of God they will never desire biblical repentance in their lives. It’s not enough to just tell people to repent. Because even repentance is something that must be granted to man by God (2 Timothy 2:25). We must lead them to feel the weight of their transgressions by exposing them to the holiness of God. And this is done with God’s Word.
Once a person begins to grasp the holiness of God, a right view of our sin comes clearly into focus. Once they begin to understand the undeserved grace that the Lord extends in spite of their sins, repentance becomes a desire rather than an unwanted burden. For more on this topic, see our book study on J.C. Ryle’s ‘Holiness’.
It isn’t behavioral modification that leads men to repentance. It’s a proper understanding of the Gospel. It is the love and kindness of God that leads a person to view repentance as a delight and not a duty.
“Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” Romans 2:4.
Finally, the question that tends to theologically stump many believers is when they are asked, “Why is it that God saves men?”
Many would say that the reason God saves men is in order to have fellowship with them. Others have said it was because He loved us so much. And although our salvation does bring us into fellowship with God due to His great love, neither God’s desire for fellowship or love for man were His motivations for saving. Both of these reasons given for why God saves are wrong because they center around us rather than Christ.
First off, God does not need us in order to have fellowship. We bring nothing to the table and are no benefit to God. To say that God needed man in order to have fellowship is to essentially say that there was harmony lacking within the Godhead. It is to say that there was not perfect preexisting fellowship between the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, and that what was lacking was man. This is blasphemy.
There is perfect fellowship within the trinity, and it has existed eternally. God didn’t save man because he needed something from us.
“…and human hands can’t serve his needs–for he has no needs. He himself gives life and breath to everything, and he satisfies every need.” Acts 17:25.
And although God is love, His love for man is not rooted in us, but in Christ. God the Father doesn’t save because of His great affection for people, but because of His great love for Jesus. Our salvation is rooted in the Father’s love for His Son. Consider the words of the high priestly prayer of Christ in John 17.
“When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.
“I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.
All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.” John 17:1-11.
Notice in the prayer of Jesus how many times Christ referred to believers as “...those you have given me.“ In eternity past, God the Father gave His Son a gift. The Father gave the Son a people, that He would receive glory, honor, and praise from them.
If you are a Christian, it is not because of something you did by your own power. And it is not primarily because God loved you so much that He just couldn’t live without you. We are Christian because of God’s great love for His Son Jesus. And as a result of this love, God the Father gave a group of people (believers) to the Son for no other reason than for Him to receive all honor and glory.
God doesn’t save because of us. The Father saved man because of His love for Christ the Son. There are those who have considered this truth to be extremely offensive. But this is only so because in our flesh, we want to view ourselves as the center piece to God’s affection.
The sole purpose of God creating man was so that Christ would be glorified by them.
“Bring all who claim me as their God, for I have made them for my glory. It was I who created them.'” Isaiah 43:7.
In our sinful flesh we would rather take Christ off of the throne and seat ourselves upon it, having Jesus then act as a servant to us. Sadly, this is a picture of a great majority of American Christianity. The cross was not a secondary reaction to man’s sin. The cross planned by the Father for the glory of the Son in eternity past.
“But God knew what would happen, and his prearranged plan was carried out when Jesus was betrayed.” Acts 2:23.
Christ is the centerpiece and the reason for the grace of God. And this is such an amazing thing for man. Because that same eternal love God the Father has for His Son covers all of those who are in Christ. God no longer sees believers as being covered in their sins, but rather covered in the precious blood of Jesus. The blood of Christ marks the believer as loved, righteous, and justified before the Lord.
What does it mean to be a Christian?
It means that we are eternally loved, forgiven, and kept by God the Father through Christ the Son. It means that we have been given a righteous standing that we could have never attained on our own. It means that we’ve had a change of mind, and we now desire the very righteousness that we once hated. It means that Jesus died in our place, and for our sins.
It means that we see the salvation that we’ve been given as something that we did not earn nor were we entitled to, but rather as an undeserved gift. And it means that we find our greatest joys emanating from conformity to Christ. Our salvation is of the Lord, and our reason for being is found in glorifying Him.
Mutt and Jeff.
That’s what people called us when my wife and I first began dating. It wasn’t until years later that I realized that Mutt and Jeff were iconic comic strip characters from the early 1900’s who were together all the time. Mutt was very tall and Jeff was extremely short. I stood at an abnormally proportioned 6 feet five inches tall weighing around 225 lbs. And my wife Lacy measured in at 5 feet 5 inches in height weighing around 100 lbs.
Ergo the nickname, Mutt and Jeff.
Now imagine for a moment that someone came up to me and said, “I’m very good friends with your wife, Lacy Parish.” However, this person then goes on to describe Lacy as being a very tall, heavy-set woman with red hair.
I have two options at this point in our conversation. I can say to them, “Well that’s just your interpretation of what my wife looks like.” Or I can personally introduce the person to my wife and let the truth of what is plainly before them speak for itself. I would have made my point and a defense against their erroneous statement by simply presenting them with the facts.
We defend against false statements not with opinion or interpretation, but by presenting truth.
This is an example of apologetics.
Apologetics comes from the greek word which means “to speak in defense.” Expository apologetics is the study of defending the Christian faith through the use of scripture. And it is a discipline that has been greatly neglected by many modern day Christians.
Contrary to what some may say, there is no such thing as a private faith in Christ. The scriptures themselves contradict this notion. We are called by Christ proclaim His name to the world (Matthew 28:19). Every Christian is considered and appointed to be a ‘Royal Priesthood’ (1 Peter 2:9), preaching His Gospel to everyone.
And in preaching the Gospel, opposition to our message is unavoidable. Therefore as believers in Christ we must be properly equipped and ready to make a defense of our faith. And if that defense is based on opinions, feelings, or anything other than the Word itself, our proclamation will be powerless.
Unfortunately, a great majority of professing believers stay relatively quite about their faith in Christ around unbelievers. Their reasoning for this is two-fold. First, because they don’t want to offend anyone with their beliefs. And secondly, they don’t feel up to the task if a situation arises where they may have to defend their beliefs.
So instead of standing on the truth of God’s Word, Christians will either try to change the subject or resort to saying, “Well that’s your interpretation.” If someone were to point to a fire and tell me that it was actually cold to touch, I wouldn’t say to them, “That is your interpretation of what fire feels like.” Rather I would tell them to touch it and see what happens.
Pastor Voddie Baucham used a similar illustration. Baucham asked his listeners to picture two medieval knights getting ready to do battle. The first knight draws his sword. The opposing knight then says, “I do not believe in your sword.” The first knight can either put his sword away and try to explain through his own reasoning why his sword really does exist. Or as Pastor Voddie says, “He can cut him with the sword.”
Instead of defending the truth of God’s Word, far too often many feel like they have to make apologies for the offense or sharp edge that it brings. As believers in Christ, we should be less concerned about offending people with God’s Word and more concerned about offending God with our sins.
But we live in a day and age where the golden rule is quoted more by Christians than the scriptures. Many will not defend their faith because of the possible offense that doing so may cause. Being nice to others is seen as better than speaking truth. And goodness knows that if Jesus Christ was known for anything, it was being non offensive, peaceful, and polite….right?
The scriptures describe God’s Word as a sword. So when our faith is questioned, and we answer with anything other than the Word of God, we are in essence putting away our sword and trying to explain why it exists. That is why it is so vital that Christians don’t merely believe in Christ, but they also know Him intimately through His word. Jesus specifically said in the Gospel of Matthew;
““Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Matthew 10:34.
This is not a Bible verse that is quoted too often in our world today. The sword Christ spoke of was the word of God. Jesus wasn’t concerned about offending others with the truth of scripture. Jesus was not concerned with being nice. He was concerned with speaking the truth. And He was unapologetic in doing so.
At the passover celebration when Jesus saw His Father’s house being blasphemed by setting up shop in the temple, Jesus didn’t ask them to Kindly remove their wares with a smile on His face. Jesus was outraged that their sin was offensive to God the Father, and He thrashed the temple in a rage. (Matthew 21:12-13).
Some would say that Jesus was only harsh with the self righteous Pharisees, and that He was meek and gentle with those who were not religious and lived in their sin out of ignorance. However this is not true. The Lord consistently rebuked unbelieving Israel as a whole for their rebellion all throughout the Old Testament.
“…and say to the land of Israel, ‘Thus says the LORD, “Behold, I am against you; and I will draw My sword out of its sheath and cut off from you the righteous and the wicked.” Ezekiel 21:3
Also when we read the book of Revelation, we see Christ returning with wrath against all those who are unGodly, not just those who are self righteous. And certainly not just the religious leaders.
When Jesus came as God incarnate the first time, the golden rule was not his priority. And when He returns, it will not be in hopes of making new friends. Read what John wrote in Revelation about the second coming of Christ.
“From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.” Revelation 19:15.
When Christ returns, the word of God, (which is the sword) will place a guilty sentence on those who are enemies of God. And the Lord Jesus Christ will destroy all of those who have opposed Him.
“If I sharpen My flashing sword, And My hand takes hold on justice, I will render vengeance on My adversaries, And I will repay those who hate Me.” Deuteronomy 32:41.
After the resurrection, when Peter was preaching to the thousands of unbelieving Jews at Pentecost, he didn’t resort to using human reasoning or give them his personal opinions on why they should believe in the risen Christ. And Peter didn’t tell them that if they didn’t believe that Christ had risen, then they could just agree to disagree based on differing interpretations of the resurrection.
Rather, Peter began quoting the prophet Joel from the Old Testament scriptures and King David regarding the prophecies of the Messiah. Peter did not coddle their sin, but rather pointed out that it was their unbelief that led to the crucifixion of their long awaited Messiah. In essence, Peter put all of Israel on trial by making a defense of his faith.
“Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”Acts 2:36.
Peter was not worried about offending the Jews. He was offended by their unbelief. And Peter didn’t just explain to the Jews why they should believe that his sword existed. He pulled it out of its sheath and pierced them with it.
“Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart,” Acts 2:37.
Thousands came to faith in Christ that day as a result of Peter’s sermon. And it wasn’t Peter’s kindness that led them to repentance. It was his defense of the truth and the piercing blade of the Word of God pricking their hearts.
There are people who sit in churches each Sunday who have a problem with preachers that preach against sin in a serious manner from the pulpit. They are more concerned and afraid that someone who may be dealing with sin might get their feelings hurt if it is addressed rather than telling them the truth.
And unlike Peter, they are more offended that God’s Word cuts like a sword rather than realizing that the very sin they don’t want spoken of is an offense to God. Granted we should always speak the truth in love. But therein lies the issue. Because whenever you speak the truth of God’s Word to a lost person, it will cut and offend.
Regardless of how much proverbial honey you put on the Word of God, it’s still a sword. In order to defend our faith in our postmodern culture, we must be less concerned with being nice and more concerned with speaking truth.
Let me use an example. If your child were playing ball in the middle of the road and an 18 wheel truck we barreling down the road, just moments away from hitting your child, what would you rather I do? Would you rather I speak softly as not to hurt your child’s feelings? Maybe say something like, “I really wish you would get out of the road, but if you don’t feel like it that’s ok.”
Of course not! No one would be concerned about the feelings of the child when death could be seconds away. Any parent would want someone to scream as harshly and seriously as they could, “GET OUT OF THE ROAD…NOW!!!!!” The most unloving thing that I could do in that situation would be to focus on not offending the child.
Or if out of ignorance the child ignored the warning, claiming that there was no truck, is the correct response to agree to disagree based on differing interpretations of the situation? Absolutely not. The truth is that death is imminent. The response would be to do everything possible to put the child’s eyes upon the truth!
We shy away from presenting truth, because the truth of God’s Word is offensive to those who live in rebellion to it. This is our problem when it comes to defending the faith. We don’t like apologetics because it is not viewed by the world as nice. We don’t like apologetics because the Gospel is no longer viewed as life or death. It’s urgent message has been replaced by a soft plea that is referred to as an interpretation rather than truth.
“I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Luke 13:3.
This warning from our Lord is not a passive plea. It’s an urgent warning. And in our evangelism we should treat it as such. Countless people who do not know the Lord die unexpectedly on a daily basis who are walking down the middle of the eternal highway. And Hell is about to hit them full force. We speak truth because we love. We fight because souls are at stake.
“…but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,” 1 Peter 3:15.
Why are apologetics important?
Because we are called to be prepared to make a defense of our faith. Always. Who are we to defend it too? Anyone that may challenge it or ask the reason for our hope.
We speak truth with kindness and gentleness. But we dare not dull the blade of God’s sword that we present to them. And we had better not be concerned that it might pierce their sinful consciences. Lest the sword of almighty God be used upon us.
The sword of God’s Word will indeed cut down those who are flaunting their sins in His face. But this same sword of truth will be the salvation of His people. The lost will not be saved by our human reasoning or giving them our opinions or interpretations of what we think about His Word. The captives can only be set free by a sword.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is serious, not jovial. It is truth, and not personal preference or up to interpretation. In your evangelism and defense of the Gospel, place the truth of God’s word before your hearers and not your opinions. Only it has the power to save.
“Blessed are you, O Israel; Who is like you, a people saved by the LORD, Who is the shield of your help And the sword of your majesty! So your enemies will cringe before you, And you will tread upon their high places.” Deuteronomy 33:29.
For most people, January 1st signifies a new beginning. Each new year, resolutions and vows are made centering around making improvements and meeting certain goals. In reality, most resolutions are centered around self, and not God.
And each new year, I am continually humbled by reading the resolutions made by Jonathan Edwards. Below I’ve posted the resolutions written by Jonathan Edwards. Make it a priority to read over them at the start of this New Year, and allow his passion for Christ shape your own resolutions.
The Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards
By Jonathan Edwards
Written Aug. 17, 1723
Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do humbly entreat him by his grace to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ’s sake.
NOTE: Remember to read over these Resolutions once a week.
1. Resolved: I will DO whatever I think will be most to God’s glory; and my own good, profit and pleasure, for as long as I live. I will do all these things without any consideration of the time they take. Resolved: to do whatever I understand to be my duty and will provide the most good and benefit to mankind in general. Resolved to do this, whatever difficulties I encounter, and no matter how many I experience or how severe they may be.
2. Resolved: I will continually endeavor to find new ways to practice and promote the things from Resolution 1.
3. Resolved: If ever – really, whenever – I fail & fall and/or grow weary & dull; whenever I begin to neglect the keeping of any part of these Resolutions; I will repent of everything I can remember that I have violated or neglected, …as soon as I come to my senses again.
4. Resolved: Never to do anything, whether physically or spiritually, except what glorifies God. In fact, I resolve not only to this commitment, but I resolve not to even grieve and gripe about these things, …if I can avoid it.
5. Resolved: Never lose one moment of time; but seize the time to use it in the most profitable way I possibly can.
6. Resolved: To live with all my might, …while I do live.
7. Resolved: Never to do anything which I would be afraid to do if it were the last hour of my life.
8. Resolved: To act, in all respects, both in speaking and doing, as if nobody had ever been as sinful as I am; and when I encounter sin in others, I will feel (at least in my own mind& heart) as if I had committed the same sins, or had the same weaknesses or failings as others. I will use the knowledge of their failings to promote nothing but humility – even shame – in myself. I will use awareness of their sinfulness and weakness only as an occasion to confess my own sins and misery to God.
9. Resolved: To think much, on all occasions, about my own dying, and of the common things which are involved with and surround death.
10. Resolved: When I feel pain, to think of the pains of martyrdom – both of Jesus and of Believers around the world; and remind myself of the reality of hell.
11. Resolved: When I think of any theological question to be resolved, I will immediately do whatever I can to solve it, … if circumstances don’t hinder.
12. Resolved: If I find myself taking delight in any gratification of pride or vanity, or on any other such empty virtue, I will immediately discard this gratification.
13. Resolved: To be endeavoring to discover worthy objects of charity and liberality.
14. Resolved: Never to do anything out of revenge.
15. Resolved: Never to suffer the least emotions of anger about irrational beings.
16. Resolved: Never to speak evil of anyone, except if it is necessary for some real good.
17. Resolved: I will live in such a way, as I will wish I had done when I come to die.
18. Resolved: To live, at all times, in those ways I think are best in me during my most spiritual moments and seasons – those times when I have clearest understanding of the gospel and awareness of the World that is to come.
19. Resolved: Never to do anything, which I would be afraid to do if I expected it would not be more than an hour before I would hear the last trump sound. (i.e. when Jesus returns.)
20. Resolved: To maintain the wisest and healthiest practices in my eating and drinking.
21. Resolved: Never to do anything, which if I saw another do, I would consider a just reason to despise him for, or to think in any way lesser of him.
22. Resolved: To endeavor to obtain for myself as much happiness in the world to come as I possibly can. To accomplish this I will use all the strength, power, vigor, and vehemence – even violence – I am capable of, or can bring myself to exert, in any way that can be thought of.
23. Resolved: Frequently take some deliberate action – something out of the ordinary – and do it for the glory of God. Then I will trace my intention back and try to discern my real and deepest motive: What did I really desire out of it? If I find that my truest motive was not for God’s glory, then I consider it as a breach of the 4th Resolution. (See Above)
24. Resolved: Whenever I do any conspicuously evil action, I will trace it back till I come to the original cause; and then I will carefully endeavor BOTH 1) to do so no more AND 2) to fight and pray with all my might against the source of the original impulse.
25. Resolved: To examine carefully, and constantly, what that one thing in me is that causes me to doubt of the love of God, even the least little bit; and then to direct all my forces against it.
26. Resolved: To oust away anything I find that diminishes my assurance of God’s love and grace.
27. Resolved: Never intentionally omit or neglect anything, except if such an omission would be for the glory of God. NOTE to Self: frequently examine anything I have omitted.
28. Resolved: To study the Scriptures so steadily, and so constantly, and so frequently, that it becomes evident – even obvious – to myself that my knowledge of them has grown.
29. Resolved: Never consider something a prayer, nor to let pass for a prayer, any petition that when making I cannot actually hope that God will answer; nor offer as a confession anything which I cannot hope God will accept.
30. Resolved: To strive to my utmost every week to be brought to a higher spiritual place, and to a greater experience of grace, than I was the week before.
31. Resolved: Never to say anything at all against anybody; except when to do so is perfectly consistent with the highest standards of Christian honor and love to mankind; and except when it is consistent with the sense of greatest humility and awareness of my own faults and failings. Then, whenever I have said anything against anyone, I will examine my words against the strictest test of the Golden Rule.
32. Resolved: To be strictly and firmly faithful to whatever God entrusts to me. My hope is that the saying in Proverbs 20.6, “A faithful man who can find?” may not be found to be even partly true of me.
33. Resolved: Always do whatever I can towards making, maintaining, establishing and preserving peace, whenever it can be, but without over-balancing the value peace to such a degree that it becomes a detriment in other respects.
34. Resolved: When telling stories, never to speak anything but the pure and simple truth.
35. Resolved: Whenever I so much as question whether I have done my duty, to a point that my peace and tranquility is disturbed, I will stop and question myself until my concern is resolved.
36. Resolved: Never to speak evil of anyone, except I have some particular good purpose for doing so.
37. Resolved: To inquire every night, as I am going to bed, where I may have been negligent, what sin I have committed, and how I have denied myself. I will also do this at the end of every week, month, and year.
38. Resolved: Never to speak anything that is ridiculous, trivial, or otherwise inappropriate on the Lord’s Day or Sabbath evening.
39. Resolved: Never to do anything when the lawfulness is questionable. And then afterward, resolve to consider and examine whether or not whatever I have just done is truly lawful and/or whether whatever I have refrained from doing would have actually been permissible.
40. Resolved: To inquire every night, before I go to bed, whether I have acted in the best way I possibly could, with respect to eating and drinking.
41. Resolved: To ask myself at the end of every day, week, month and year, where I could have possibly done better in any respect.
42. Resolved: To frequently renew my dedication to God, which was first made at my baptism and which I solemnly renewed when I was received into the communion of the church; and which I have now solemnly re-made this [DATE] day of [MONTH], [YEAR].
43. Resolved: Never, from this day until the day I die, act as if I were in any way my own, but entirely and altogether belong to God, and then live in a way agreeable to this reality.
44- Resolved: That nothing other than the gospel shall have any influence at all on any of my actions; and that no action shall be, even in the very least circumstance, anything other than gospel declares, demands, and implies.
45. Resolved: Never to allow any pleasure or grief, joy or sorrow, nor any affection at all, nor any degree of affection, nor any circumstance, but what advances the gospel.
46. Resolved: Never allow the least measure of any fretting or uneasiness about my father or mother. Resolved to never allow the effects of disappointment in them, or frustrations with them, to even in the very least alter what I say to them or about them, or any activity in reaction to them. Let me be careful about this, not only about my parents, but also with respect to any of our family.
47. Resolved: To endeavor to my utmost to deny whatever is not most agreeable to a good, and universally sweet and benevolent, quiet, peace able, contented, easy, compassionate, generous, humble, meek, modest, submissive, obliging, diligent and industrious, charitable, even, patient, moderate, forgiving, sincere temper; and to do at all times what such a temper would lead me to. Examine strictly every week, whether I have done so. Sabbath morning. May 5,1723.
48. Resolved: With the utmost niceness and diligence, and with the strictest scrutiny, constantly be looking into the state condition of my soul, so that I may know whether or not I have truly an interest in Christ at any given time. I will do this so that, when I come to my end in death, I will not have neglected to repent of anything I have found.
49. Resolved: That Neglect never shall be, if I can help it.
50. Resolved: I will act in such a way as I think I will judge to have been best and most prudent, when I have come into the future world – Heaven.
51. Resolved: That I will act in every respect, as I think I would wish I had done, if in the end for some reason I would have be damned.
52. I frequently hear persons in old age say how they would live, if they were to live their lives over again, so… Resolved: That I will live just as I can imagine I shall wish I had done, supposing I live to old age.
53. Resolved: To improve every opportunity, when I am in the best and happiest frame of mind, to cast and venture my soul on the Lord Jesus Christ, to trust and confide in him, and consecrate myself wholly to him; that from this I may have assurance of my eternal safety, knowing that my confidence is in my Redeemer.
54. Resolved: Whenever I hear anything spoken in a conversation of any person, if I think what is said of that person would be praiseworthy in me, I will endeavor to imitate it.
55. Resolved: To endeavor to my utmost to act as I can imagine I would if I had already seen all the happiness of heaven, as well as the torments of hell.
56. Resolved: Never to give up, nor even slacken up, in my fight with my own corruptions, no matter how successful or unsuccessful I may be.
57. Resolved: When I fear misfortunes and adversities, to examine whether I have done all I am expected to do, and resolve to do everything I am able to do. Once I have done all that God requires of me, I will accept whatever comes my way, and accept that it is just as God’s Providence has ordered it. I will, as far as I can, be concerned about nothing but my own duty and my own sin.
58. Resolved: Not only to refrain from an air of dislike, fretfulness, and anger in conversations, but also to exhibit an air of love, cheerfulness and graciousness.
59. Resolved: Whenever I am most conscious of feelings of ill nature, bad attitude, and/or anger, I will strive then the most to feel and act good naturedly. At such times I know I may feel that to exhibit good nature might seem in some respects to be to my own immediate disadvantage, but I will nevertheless act in a way that is gracious, realizing that to do otherwise would be imprudent at other times (i.e. times when I am not feeling so irked).
60. Resolved: Whenever my feelings begin to appear in the least out of sorts, when I am conscious of the least uneasiness within my own heart and/or soul, or the least irregularity in my behavior, I will immediately subject myself to the strictest examination. (i.e. Psalm 42.11)
61. Resolved: I will not give way to that apathy and listlessness which I find artificially eases and relaxes my mind from being fully and fixedly set on God’s Grace. Whatever excuses I may have for it, whatever my listlessness inclines me to do, or rather whatever it inclines me to neglect doing, I will realize that it would actually be best for me to do these things.
62. Resolved: Never to do anything but what God, by the Law of Love, requires me to do. And then, according to Ephesians 6.6-8, I must do it willingly and cheerfully as to the Lord, and not for man. I must remember that whatever good thing any man has or does he has first received from God; and that whenever a man is compelled by faith to act with love and charity toward others, especially those in need, that we do it as if to/for the Lord.
63. On the hypothetical supposition that at any one time there was never to be but ONE individual in the world who was a genuine and complete Christian, who in all respects always demonstrated the Faith shining in its truest luster, and appearing excellent and lovely, from whatever angle and under whatever circumstance this Faith is viewed… Resolved: To act just as I would do, if I strove with all my strength, to be that ONE; and to live as if that ONE should live in my time and place.
64. Resolved: Whenever I experience those “groanings which cannot be uttered” (Romans 8.26), of which the Apostle speaks, and those “longings” that consume our souls, of which the Psalmist speaks (Psalm 119:20), I will embrace them with everything I have within me. And I will not be weary of earnestly endeavoring to express my desires, nor of the repetitions so often necessary to express them and benefit from them.
65. Resolved: To exercise myself in all my life long, with the greatest openness I am capable of, to declare my ways to God, and lay open my soul to him: all my sins, temptations, difficulties, sorrows, fears, hopes, desires; and every thing in every circumstance. (See Dr. Manton’s 27th Sermon on Psalm 119).
66. Resolved: I will endeavor always to keep a gracious demeanor, and air of acting and speaking in all places and in all companies, except if it should so happen that faithfulness requires otherwise.
67. Resolved: After afflictions, to inquire in what ways I am now the better for having experienced them. What good have I received by them? What benefits and insights do I now have because of them?
68. Resolved: To confess honestly to myself all that I find in myself – whether weakness or sin. And if it something that concerns my spiritual health, I will also confess the whole case to God, and implore him for all needed help.
69. Resolved: Always to do that which I will wish I had done whenever I see others do it.
70. Let there be something of benevolence, in all that I speak.
Over the Christmas holidays, my six year old son Luke had what I’ll simply describe as a rough day. Some of Luke’s trials he brought upon himself through temper tantrums and starting squabbles with his siblings. And his transgressions resulted in the loving yet firm discipline of his parents multiple times on this particular day (yes, we spank). Other hardships on this day we can just chalk up to things not going Luke’s way. He accidentally dropped and broke his favorite toy, bumped his head multiple times on a variety of objects, and generally felt as if the world was out to get him. In Luke’s six year old mind, things couldn’t get any worse.
Towards the end of this perilous day, Luke came over to me (after his mother and I had lovingly disciplined him for the umpteenth time) with tears in his little eyes. With a shaky voice, Luke apologized for his rebellion and disobedience. He then asked me a question that greatly surprised me. As I held him in my arms, Luke asked, “Daddy, are you going to kick me out of the family?” By the look on his face, I could tell this wasn’t merely the random question of a six-year-old boy. Luke was seriously concerned that due to his actions, he might be asked to pack his bags and hit the road.
I drew him close to me in a tight embrace and looked him square in his bright blue eyes. I said, “Luke you are my son and your mommy and I have loved you from before you were born. And nothing you do can ever change that love.” Under Luke’s teary eyes a big smile broke out all over his face. All of the hardships of his day seemed to pale in comparison to the security of knowing that his identity was secure in the love of his family.
The year 2017 has come and gone. And unfortunately there are many people within the church whose feelings about this past year are very similar to how my son Luke felt a few weeks ago. No doubt, there are those who feel like they have been beaten up by the world. They may feel separated from God due to out right rebellion or due to numerous trials that have recently engulfed their lives. And when this happens, it is not uncommon for believers to ponder the question, “Does God truly love me as His own, or am I outside of the family?”
It is in these uncertain times that God draws near His troubled child and gives the most comforting words that any Christian could hope to hear. The Apostle Paul delivered these words to believers who were questioning God’s love for them due to the many trials of life.
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” Romans 8:28-30.
Contained in this promise are the five great pillars of our faith. They are five pillows in which the children of God can lay their weary head upon when life seems to cause questions regarding the love of our Father.
For all of those who truly love God have been foreknown.That is, God had set his affections on them before they had breathed their first breath. They have not only been foreknown, but the Christian has been predestined, meaning their status as a child of God had been predetermined before the foundation of the world. God foreknowing His children and predestining their sonship are things that were done by the Father in eternity past. However, Paul goes on to write that those who love God will also be called, justified, and glorified. These three pillars are future promises. But the calling happens in between God’s past selection and their final glorification..
Those whom God calls will indeed come to him. Some have called this calling the irresistible call. However in truth, this call can be resisted. But only for a time. Eventually, those whom God has foreknown and predestined He will eventually call. And although there are those who may fight this calling, eventually they will come to the Lord.
“All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” John 6:37.
There are actually two different calls that go out. The first call has been described as a general calling. This calling goes out to all the world. The book of Romans tells us that God calls through the knowledge of His creation. That merely looking at the wonders of the universe proves to all that there is a divine creator. Also the Gospel call is heard through the preaching of the Gospel. Everyone who has breath can hear the Gospel through preaching and read of the message through His Word.
This is an external calling that is available to everyone. However not everyone responds to this outward calling. In fact, if it were not for a second calling, as a result of sin, no one would respond to God. In order for man to come to God and desire to forsake his sins, God must supernaturally give an internally calling. This is a call that God gives to those that He has foreknown to be His before time began. This is a call that breaks the sinner and causes the Gospel to be seen as beautiful. We see an example of mans denial of the general call and God internal calling a parable Jesus gives in Matthew 22.
“And again Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come. Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.”’ But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them.
The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’ And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests.” Matthew 22:1-13.
As the parable goes, the King gave the invitation (the general calling) but no one responded. Their earthly concerns were of far more importance than coming to the King. This is proof of how far sin has distorted man’s thinking. Who in their right mind would choose their daily grind over fellowshipping with a King? It’s as if those who deny this gracious invitation are under a spell or a curse. Paul describes sin as a curse in Galatians.
Notice then the King sent His servants to gather anyone they could find, both good people and also those who were deliberately rebellious against the King. All of these who received the second calling He brought into fellowship with Himself. If we continue reading down to verse 14 of Matthew 22, Jesus says this of the call of God;
“For many are called, but few are chosen.” Matthew 22:14.
Many are called though the general calling, and this calling goes predominately ignored. But those who are given the effective internal call have been chosen through God foreknowing them. The second calling is a supernatural calling. It is a calling that removes the blinders of pride and self-absorption that sin has placed upon us and it exposes us to the shame and degradation of our own sins.
This second calling breaks man. It causes even the most self-righteous of us to see ourselves in light of our sin and as the prophet Isaiah say, ““Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips .”Isaiah 6:5.
Those that are called are changed people. Although they are not perfect nor will they be until their future glorification, they now despise their sin and desire to be like the God who saved them. In 1 Thessalonians the Apostle Paul speaks to the church to who he had proclaimed the Gospel and makes this statement.
“For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you,” 1 Thessalonians 1:4.
How could Paul know for certain that these people in the church of Thessalonica were truly children of God? Did Paul have the power to see their hearts? Absolutely not. Paul was certain of their calling as a result of what he saw their response to hearing the Gospel. Paul continues and says;
“…because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.” 1 Thessalonians 1:5.”
Paul writes that he was sure of their calling because when the Gospel was delivered full of power, the Holy Spirit fell upon them and they were convicted. Notice Paul doesn’t say they were merely sorry for their sinful life, he says they were convicted. Conviction is to know and realize guilt, and to carry with it a feeling of great remorse and a desire to change. This change is not possible with man. We do not have the power within ourselves to break the chains of sin that bind us. Only Christ can effectively deliver this calling which makes sinful man into a new creation.
Throughout the scriptures, Christians are referred to as the called ones of God.
“He has saved us and called us to a holy life–not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.” 2 Timothy 1:9.
“For God’s gifts and His call are irrevocable.” Romans 11:29.
Paul said of his own salvation, “But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace,” Galatians 1:15.
“It was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 2 Thessalonians 2:14.
“Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” 1 Timothy 6:12.
“After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.” 1 Peter 5:10.
“Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called,” Ephesians 4:1.
“These will wage war against the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, because He is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those who are with Him are the called and chosen and faithful.” Revelation 17:14.
When God calls with His effectual call, it is undeniable. The call of the Lord is that which breathes new life into our spiritually dead souls. When Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones was just a boy, his Sunday school teacher asked him why Jesus had called Lazarus by name as he lay dead in a tomb before telling him to come forth. Lloyd Jones replied, “Because if Christ hadn’t specified his name, all of the dead would have risen from their graves.”
The calling of God is life giving to man, both physically and spiritually. And it is this calling that is our greatest treasure. It is our assurance that our salvation is not seen in our downfalls or in the numerous obstacles life may through in our path. This calling is one we desire to live out more than fulfilling the sins of our former life.
“Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble;” 2 Peter 1:10.
I praise God for His call upon my life. And I give Him praise for the calling of all of His children. For it is within this calling that our tears are wiped away and our sonship in Christ is realized.
Sola scriptura is one of the five solas, which were the war cries of the Protestant Reformation. The term is latin for, ‘scripture alone’. It was one of the central doctrines held by the reformers and many evangelicals to this day that hold fast to the authenticity of Scripture. It is the truth that the Word of God, governed by the Holy Spirit, is all that is needed to open the eyes of the lost and bring people to saving faith in Christ.
It is the reality that the scriptures are their own interpreter, and nothing on the part of man is needed to be added to them in order to make them more effective. In short, it is the Word of God that brings people to faith. And it is the Holy Spirit’s working in the heart of man through the knowledge of the scriptures that keeps them eternally.
One of the major battles of the reformers in the early 1500’s was over the sufficiency of the scriptures. At the time, the church in Rome was taking away from the scriptures and adding their own doctrine of works to them. They didn’t teach by grace alone through faith alone are you saved.
Rather, an element of works was added to their doctrine. Particularly in the form of the selling of indulgences. The church would sell indulgences to the people as a means of penance for their sins, and as a reduction of time spent in purgatory, which is another false teaching all together. Read More
It’s that time of year once again. The leaves are beginning to fall, the temperature is ever so slightly beginning to drop, and Saturday afternoons are filled with hot wings, hamburgers, and bragging rights. Football season is back in full force. And for those who are actually playing the sport, it is a season of hard work and preparation.
The late comedian George Carlin had a stand up routine wherein he compared the sport of football to war. Carlin quipped, “In football the object is for the quarterback, also known as the field general, to be on target with his aerial assault, riddling the defense by hitting his receivers with deadly accuracy in spite of the blitz, even if he has to use shotgun. With short bullet passes and long bombs, he marches his troops into enemy territory, balancing this aerial assault with a sustained ground attack that punches holes in the forward wall of the enemy’s defensive line.”
In a sense, Carlin was right. In order to be triumphant, the coaches and players must approach their game preparation with the perseverance and mentailty of someone who is getting ready to enter the battlefield. And the responsibility of equipping the team with the knowledge and training that will lead them to certain victory falls heavily upon the head coach. There is no doubt that at times grumbling and complaining can be heard within the locker room.
Battle worn and wearied from the grueling days of practice, perhaps there have been players who wished that their coach would be easier on them. That the practices were more fun and relaxed instead of being so intense. But a good coach knows that to watering down the team’s preparation even to the tiniest degree would be as good as waiving the white flag of defeat come Saturday. To those who play football, it is not just a game, it’s war.
When it comes to preparing for battle, the training can never be easy. In Ephesians 6:12, the Apostle Paul writes that Christians are in a battle not against flesh and blood, but against the demonic rulers and principalities of darkness. Believers in the first century held the pulpit in the highest esteem for this reason. The preaching of the Word of God was not viewed as entertainment for the family, but as a means for teaching, reproof, and training in the ways of the Lord (2 Timothy 3:16).
In the years of the Reformation, reformers such as Martin Luther made it a point to gather the family and teach them Biblical doctrine through the use of Catechisms. And preachers like John Bunyan were so dedicated to training saints through exegeting the scriptures that he had sooner rot in a prison cell than to water down or abandon the preaching of the Word. This was because the primary focus of the pulpit was to equip the saints with the knowledge of God, not to pacify the crowds.
This war time mentality has historically always been the approach taken regarding the gathering of the church and the preaching of the Word. However with the societal introductions of ideologies such modernism, postmodernism, secular humanism, many of these man centered philosophies have slowly crept into the church. So much so that the modern view of the pulpit has been warped and distorted. For a great majority of American churches, the pulpit is no longer seen as a place for doctrinal training, but a place for social acceptance.
It is no longer seen as training for engagement with the enemy, but a place for the appeasing the masses. Rebuke has been traded for encouragement. Spiritual correction exchanged for cool relevance. Exegesis has given way to devotionals. And Spiritual enlightenment swapped for entertainment. In short, equipping the saints with deep doctrinal truths that will press them forward into greater sanctification has been shunned in hopes of filling up the sanctuary with cutting edge motivational speeches.
Preaching is not fundamentally the pastor giving his opinions on the text, but rather an act of war. There have been preachers who have used the analogy of taking the cookies off of the top shelf called doctrine and putting them on the bottom shelf for easier accessibility. When our six year old son Luke was four years old, we employed this very tactic regarding cookies. He was beginning to grab them off of the bottom shelf of our pantry every time he walked past.
So in an effort to curb his constant sugar high, we moved the cookies to the top shelf. I was shocked and a bit proud the day I walked into the kitchen and saw Luke so determined to get those cookies that he had taught himself to climb each shelf in the pantry until he could reach the cookies on the top. Believe me, it was a tough climb for a child of four years old. But his perseverance paid off in the end.
After decades of low shelf preaching, can we agree that its time to raise the shelf? Young people will go to school and learn hard subjects such as calculus and chemistry each week. Adult men and women go to their respective places of work daily and handle many complex situations. Yet these same intelligent people will tune out if what is preached from the pulpit is not taught on a very elementary level. We are people who can memorize multiple songs on the radio and learn the complex plays of our favorite football team. Can we not also learn Biblical doctrine?
I am by no means in favor of preaching so far above the heads of the congregation that the sermon feels like a lecture in Greek or Hebrew. But I do believe that proper Biblical orthodoxy can be taught and explained in such a way that even a child can understand. God does not need our help in editing or repackaging His Word. He doesn’t need us to make it more relevant or add entertainment to the message in order to draw others to Himself. Dr. Owen Strachan rightly said, “People don’t need a Tony Robbins course and they don’t need a pastor who is trying to be a comedian. People need to hear about the sufferings of Christ and His subsequent glory.”
Unfortunately still there are many ministers who forsake exegetical and doctrinal preaching on Sunday mornings in exchange for modern day fire side chats. And most of the time it is due to external pressures and a desire to grow people in numbers rather than grow people in sanctification. Many times the excuse is that the ministers are trying to reach people on their level. But the implication in saying that is that the Word of God as it is not sufficient without undergoing a 21st century makeover.
There is a supernatural element to God’s Word that has been forgotten by many ministers to their detriment. We have forgotten that the power of salvation does not lie in our ability to say the right words, use the right examples, or captivate our audiences. As ministers of the Gospel, we are totally incapable of drawing anyone to Christ in and of ourselves. Only Christ has the power to bring the spiritually dead to life. Only Jesus has the power to open the eyes of the blind. The only duty of the preacher is to preach the Word of God. As Steven Lawson once said, apart from His Word we have nothing to say. We see this example clearly in the book of Acts.
In Acts 16, the Apostle Paul was preaching in Philippi to a group of women. One of the women in the crowd was a lady named Lydia. We don’t know much about her, but what we do know is that she was a business woman. She was a dealer in purple cloth the scripture says. Purple was a color worn primarily by the rich in the 1st century due to the difficulty in making it, therefore her wares would have been pricy. We also know that Lydia was ‘a worshipper of God. This implies that she was religious, but had no true relationship or knowledge of Jesus Christ as Lord.
Lydia was like many professing believers today. She came to church and most likely endured the message with little interest each Lord’s day so that she could check it off her weekly to do list and feel justified in her salvation. But this day as Paul preached, the text doesn’t say Paul told a funny joke that got her attention. It doesn’t say that Paul preached the perfect sermon that opened her eyes. Rather, it says that the Lord ‘opened her heart to receive the message and to respond.
Again, the implication is that prior to the Lord doing this, Lydia had no power to revive or respond to the message of the Gospel. Paul only preached the Word. It was the Lord who captivated her heart. And this is the biggest relief to the pastor. Because we have the assurance that if we preach His word faithfully, God will call to Himself who He pleases in spite of our many flaws.
In training his young protege and son in the faith Timothy, Paul said these Words to the aspiring preacher;
“Preach the Word, be ready in season and out of season. Reprove, rebuke, and exhort with complete patience and teaching.” 2 Timothy 4:2.
There was no lesson from Paul on eloquence or contextualization, because Paul himself was not a great speaker (2 Corinthians 11:6). The Apostle simple said to Timothy ‘preach the Word.’ As modern day pastors, this still holds true today. We are to preach the full council of God’s inherent Word in love and complete faith. Notice that Paul first told Timothy to preach the Word. What follows is reprove, rebuke, and exhortation. These are not so much things that Timothy does, but rather the effects of the Word being preached upon the hearts of the people.
Christian, you are a Royal Priesthood. And preaching is the means that God has ordained that He work through in order to bring people out of darkness. 1 Peter 1:10-12 says that the angels are amazed at how God brings salvation through those whom He has ordained to preach the Word. If the angels stand in awe of this high calling to preach, so should the minister be all the more captivated and emboldened in their reliance upon Holy scripture and proclaiming the truths of who God is with the greatest of passion. Preacher, equip the saints with the only thing that can sustain them in the day of trial. Preach the Word of Christ.