Next Sunday we will conclude our expositional study through the book of James at Christ City Church. I have had the privilege of preaching verse by verse through this epistle each week, and the Lord has used it to to open my eyes to so many important and often overlooked truths. There is a difference between merely reading the scriptures and actually taking them personally. To consider the weightiness in the level of commitment that we as Christ followers are called to as laid out in the book of James is absolutely staggering to the mind. If we consider the implications of what James is actually saying, our proper response should be one of conviction and repentance.
Simply considering the context that the letter was written only serves to increase our clarity of what it means to be a Christian. James writes his letter to Jewish Christians who had been scattered (or dispersed) throughout the Mediterranean world due to persecution.
“To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion:” James 1:1.
During this time period, secular culture was extremely hostile towards Christianity. Believers were being driven from their homes for their faith. And due to this persecution, the churches were tempted to compromise or even depart from the faith. James writes to these persecuted churches in order to strengthen them in their faith and admonish them to remain patient in times of trial. And in his encouragement, James reminds the churches that persecution is allowed in the lives of God’s children in order to mold them more into the steadfast and perfect image of Jesus Christ.
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” James 1:2-4.
The epistle of James is broken up into sections that address important topics pertaining to true faith. James address what true religion looks like in chapter 1:1-27. James examines genuine faith in chapter 2:1-3:12. And he concludes the letter by looking at genuine wisdom in chapter 3:13-5:20. James is passionate about encouraging the saints and pressing them into true Christian living.
When we begin to examine the background to the book of James, one thing is extremely apparent. James never got over seeing the resurrection of his older brother Jesus. This event radically changed his life. So much so that it wasn’t until approximately 70 years after Jesus rose from the grave that James penned his letter to the churches. And 70 years later, James was still a man who could honestly say, “Jesus is my life.” Prior to the resurrection, Jesus younger brother James did not believe in the deity of his older brother. In fact, he once thought that Jesus claims about being the Messiah bordered on insanity.
“For not even his brothers believed in him.” John 7:5.
“When His family heard about this, they went out to take custody of Him, saying, “He is out of His mind.” Mark 3:21.
Then something happened that changed everything about the way James thought. Jesus was crucified, and three days late He rose from the grave.
“Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.” 1 Corinthians 15:7.
History records that James went on to become the first leader of the Jerusalem church. He spent the remainder of his life professing to others how wrong he had been. Jesus was not just his brother, but He is God in flesh! James devoted his life pouring into the church, preaching the Gospel and discipling believers in their faith. James died a martyrs death in his latter years. He was tossed off of a high temple mount after refusing to denounce Christ as Lord. When it was seen that the fall did not kill him, James was beaten to death. Historians say that one of his final statements before death was, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
James never got over the resurrection.
It never became common place to him. It was never just something extraordinary that happened that made little impact on his life. The reality of this event changed every aspect of his thinking. And the same should be true of all believers today. The question we must ask of ourselves is, “Have we gotten over the resurrection?” Or has the phrase ‘Christ is Risen’, become all but common place to us. Is Christianity merely a moralistic code that we begrudgingly abide by in order to avoid the fires of Hell? Or like James, has the reality of the price that Jesus paid impacted every aspect of our lives?
Before the resurrection, James had his doubts. Afterwards, his thinking changed. That is a picture of true salvation. Before we knew Christ, we all thought one way. Our lives were built around the evil trinity of me, myself, and I. But for the person that truly comes to faith in Jesus, they look back on their former life and can say with James, “I was wrong.”
The Apostle Paul is another example of one who never got over seeing the resurrected Christ. Paul thought Jesus was a false teacher. Thats what he thought. Paul thought that what was right was to exterminate and kill all of those who followed Him. Thats what Paul thought. But then Jesus revealed Himself to Paul on the road to Damascus, and everything that Paul once that was proved to be wrong.
In our church culture today, it is quite easy to play the church game and say all the right words. We can even fool ourselves into thinking that we have a real relationship with Jesus based on a few religious things that we do. But the true test of faith, as James pointed out, is seen not in our words, but in our actions. Has the resurrection of Christ totally wrecked your former way of life? Or do you still cling to the ways of the world while you profess that Jesus is Lord?
“‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me;” Matthew 15:8.
For the true believer, it is impossible to get over the resurrection. It shakes us to our very core. It obliterates any trace of pride that formerly existed within our hearts. And the reality of our risen Savior makes it utterly impossible for a believer to walk in a consistent manner of sin. Because our hearts now break at the knowledge of the price Jesus paid for our sin. If you want to know what true Christianity looks like, read the book of James. And do not just give it a passing glance. Take it personally. And allow the God inspired words of Jesus little brother to drive you into repentance, and ultimately into an unearthly joy in fellowship with Christ.
My life looked totally different before I married my wife. I was single and living the life of a bachelor. In college, I stayed out as late as I wanted, I dated around without getting into a serious committed relationship with anyone, and I spent all my money on myself. I was living life for the unholy trinity of me, myself, and I.
Then I met Lacy, and I was immediately captivated by her. Eventually we ended up going on our first date. I was young, selfish, and extremely immature. I remember inviting her to a party I had planned on attending, and she knew that some of the people that I was associating with who would be there were just as self-absorbed as I was.
I remember her answer to my invitation shocked me. She said, “That is not the kind of lifestyle I want for myself.” And then came the punch in the gut as she went on to say, “And I certainly would not want that kind of lifestyle for my future spouse, whoever that may be.”
I immediately felt ashamed. I wanted to be better. I wanted to be that “whoever” that she spoke of in terms of being her future spouse. And I was willing to give up being foot loose and fancy free in order to have her. Whatever it took, I was willing to change, because I wanted a life with Lacy more than my former life.
And I gladly wanted to change my life. Because she brought me greater joy than this bachelor lifestyle I’d been living. In the course of the next year, we began to plan our marriage. And I gave up my former way of life in exchange for a better life with Lacy. And I have never regretted it. Outside of Christ, I have found no greater joy than life with my beautiful wife and our five children.
Now imagine for a moment that I made the decision that I wanted to marry Lacy. We got married, and yet nothing in my life changed. I still went out to the parties. I still wanted to hang out with all the girls Id previously dated. And I still spent my money on only myself. What if as a married man, I still coddled my old bachelor lifestyle and just expected my wife to deal with it? Odds are I wouldn’t be married for long.
Lacy would not have seen me as her husband, but rather as an enemy and a liar. If I were to live an adulterous life, then it would prove that my profession of love for Lacy was never real to begin with. I would have not changed my life or sacrificed anything. I would have just added Lacy to my universe that revolved around me.
In the same way, many Christians have a misunderstanding of what it means to enter into a covenant relationship with the Lord. For some, if you were to examine their lives before Christ, and then after their profession of faith, you would see very little difference. They want to still be friends with world whom was once their mistress, while professing to be in a covenant relationship with God.
Currently we are walking through the book of James verse by verse at Christ City Church. And James addresses this issue in-depth.
“You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” James 4:4.
Earlier in his epistle, James addresses issues in the church such as being a hearer of the word of God and not being a doer as well as mere cognitive belief in God with no active wisdom to follow. James is addressing people who would say they were Christians, but were living their lives as if they were not. And in the verse above, James uses harsh words to call them out. ‘YOU ADULTEROUS PEOPLE!’
Within the spiritual union between God and His church, this doesn’t sound like a happy marriage. In verse 4 of chapter 4, James goes on to say that one that is friends with the world is an enemy of God. This is not talking about being friends with non Christians. This friendship James speaks of is a friendliness with the evil world system. James is addressing the person who would still hold close their sins, with no turning…no repentance, and yet they still confess friendship with God.
However, James states that God does not consider them to be friends, but rather enemies. A person who is labeled an enemy of God does not sound like a person who is saved. This does not sound like a person whom God would consider one of His children.
I once knew a man who lived like this. He was a church goer on Sunday mornings, but during the week he would curse like a sailor, get drunk most days of the week, and live for the sins of his flesh. Yet when the next Sunday rolled around, he was right back in church professing his love for Christ.
This man wasnt trusting in a relationship with Jesus to save him, he was trusting in religion. He was behaving no differently than a married man who would run around on his wife. And according to James, God would look down on this type of person and label him an enemy.
“Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.” James 4:8-9.
James calls this wayward church to repent of their sins and to draw near to God. Claiming to be friends with the world and with God at the same time is called ‘double-minded.’ James commands the church to lay aside their adulterous, sinful ways. And then he presses even further. James says don’t merely lay aside your sins, but also how you feel about them needs to change.
There is a growing trend in our world today for some professing Christians to make extremely light of sin. I saw a t-shirt from an online Christian store that had written across the front, “I’m a Christian….I just cuss a little.” This is making light of sin. More than that, this is borderline boasting in it! This is laughing at sin. This is spiritual adultery.
But James says that is not the appropriate reaction to our sins. At least not for the true believer. He says when we sin, and we surely will, our hearts should be broken. James says our sins should not be something we joke about, but rather we should mourn over.
A friend of mine called me a months ago broken-hearted. He went on to tell me that he had been unfaithful to his wife. He was not bragging to me that he had been with another woman. He was devastated at his betrayal. He didn’t call me to make light of it. He was in a state or mourning. Because he truly loved his wife, and he had messed up badly. The next day, he immediately confessed his transgression to his wife, and through tears vowed to do anything it took to mend the relationship.
This is the picture James paints of our own transgressions against God. When we sin against the God that we proclaim to love, James says that it should break us because the true Christians love for Him is so strong that the reaction to their sins is extreme shame and repentance. To not be broken over our sins is to prove that we never truly love Him to begin with. It is to be seen as enemies of God.
The apostle Paul calls for us to examine ourselves to see if we are truly in the faith (2 Corinthians 13:5). One of these self examinations is to consider how we treat sin in our lives. Is sin something that we make light of? Do we laugh at it as if it is some trendy badge of honor all the while professing to have committed our lives to Christ? Or when we fall into sin, does it cause us to mourn and weep because we know that we have transgressed against the God whom we love?
“No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God,” 1 John 3:9-10.
John says it very plainly. No one who has truly been born again makes a practice of sinning. That is to say, no one born of God can willingly continue to coddle a sinful life void of repentance because God’s Spirit now abides in them. The people who fall and are broken over their sins make it evident that they are born of God. And those that laugh at sin and continue to intentionally walk in them prove that they are not. We are all sinners, but it is only the broken-hearted that prove their election as being sure and are pleasing to the Lord.
If our hearts have truly been captivated by the love of God, then we will see that the joy He brings is far greater than the fleeting happiness that was gained from a life of sin. When we truly see God in all of His splendor, it is no longer a task to put to death sins in our lives (Colossians 3). Because pursuing this greater love in Christ has now become our passion.
“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” Psalm 51:17.
Octavius Winslow once said that of all the idols, man finds the worship of himself the hardest one to abandon. Marriages are under extreme attack in our world today. And the root problem is two fold. First, there is a wide spread lack of the understanding of the holiness of our Lord. And secondly, we prize our selfish desires far above our friends, family, and God. The heart of man is by default so wicked and self centered that in his sin nature, he cares not who is hurt by his sin, so long as he get what he wants.
This is seen most clearly in the low value our society places on marriage, even among professing Christians. Within the past two months, five couples whom my wife and I are close with have decided to call it quits on their marriage. We love these couples dearly. And because we love them, our hearts break with them.
Some of these couples say the reason is that they never really loved the other. Others say that they are not treated like they want to be treated. Still others claim that they have been unhappy for way too long. But all of these claims are merely ways of skimming the surface without addressing the painful truth.
All of these statements could be wrapped up in a more truthful statement. In essence, they are basically saying, “I am the center of my own universe, and you are not meeting the expectations of my universe.” Not only is the marriage destroyed, but so are the lives of potential children and family members. Divorce leaves a trail of heart ache that spans generations. It creates a ripple effect of destruction.
Divorce exists because a proper knowledge of God and the Gospel does not.
The Apostle Paul paints a breath taking birds eye view of God’s intentions when He created marriage. In Ephesians chapter 5, Paul says that wives are to submit to their husbands as the church submits to Christ. In like manner, the husbands are charged to love their wives as Christ loves the church.
Suddenly, we begin to see that the union of marriage has much bigger ramifications that merely being about the happiness of two individuals. Marriage is not about our happiness. Marriage is not about our satisfaction. It never was. Marriage is a living portrait. It is a three dimensional sketch of Jesus Christ and His church.
What did Christ do for His bride, the church? He died for her. While she was in her worst state. While she was unattractive. While she was undeserving. He kept no score card, and He took not into account how He was being treated by her. Putting the good of His bride before Himself, Jesus gave His life for her.
On that final day, at the wedding supper of the Lamb, how will the church respond to the sacrifice of her husband? In glad submission that has been birthed from a heart that is overwhelmed with His love for her despite the hideous way she had treated Him. This is not a forced submission.
As Christians, are the church. We are collectively His bride. We have no doubt been unfaithful. We have served other Gods and worshipped mortal idols, mainly ourselves. And Christ took our place, and instead of rejection offered instead mercy and grace.
“But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” Romans 5:8.
Marriage is a radiant picture of the Gospel. It is the very image of this mysterious union between God and the church. It is a portrait of very lengths that Christ went to in order to secure and love His bride. The word ‘Christian’ literally means “little Christ’s.” And God takes marriage and divorce extremely seriously. Because to destroy the union of marriage is to quite literally spit on the cross of Christ.
If we truly understand and have been pierced by what Christ has done for us through the cross, then we will view our marriage very differently.
Selfishness will be unheard of, because we understand His grace.
Falling out of love would not be a question, because we understand that His love was not a feeling, but a choice.
Hardships in marriage would not warrant abandonment of giving up, because He forgave us.
The feeling of entitlement would be abolished. Because we understand He gave up everything to die for us.
So in the trials and imperfections of marriage, we begin to be molded into the very image of this God we worship. We learn to forgive, as He has forgiven. We learn to show grace and mercy, as Christ has show it to us. Through marriage, we learn how to die to self in favor of our spouse, and thus we become like Jesus Christ! The point of marriage is to conform us to the image of Christ.
The reason divorce exists is because we no longer have a proper understanding of the Gospel. The reason divorce exists is due to self worship. We look down upon the Israelites when we hear the story in Exodus of them making a golden calf to worship in place of God. But we do the very same thing today. Only we place our own feelings and fleeting emotions in place of the golden calf. It is self that we worship. And it is this perverted worship of self that the forces of darkness use to destroy the beautiful image of the Gospel.
For those couples who are going through hardships, Satan will plead with you to put your feelings center stage. The Gospel says take your eyes off of yourself and place them on Christ. Gaze upon the bloody cross, and the price that was paid by the Savior, knowing that it was we who should have been hanging there. Choose to mirror Jesus. Choose to love when love is not deserved. Choose to serve when you are not being served.
For those couples who are considering divorce, do not buy into the lie. It is the same lie Satan placed before Adam and Eve in the garden. It is the lie that happiness will be found outside of the will of God. Instead, place your eyes upon Jesus. John Piper once said that the one way to know if you married the right person was to look at the marriage certificate. God does not make mistakes.
“What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” Mark 10:9.
And when you are rejected or hurt, know that this is an image of how you have treated Christ. Yet His choice to love His bride never wavered. That is the example folks. That is the mystery of marriage. And when you have a husband and a wife who are both looking to Christ as to how they should treat one another, divorce would be an impossibility. Before you cast stones at your marriage, look to the glorious Gospel. He can make all things new. Don’t give up.
Towards the end of last week, I sat in my office, numb with disbelief. Within 48 hours, I had received news that two different couples who are dear friends of ours were having serious marital troubles. In both cases, there were outside influences involved. In both cases, marriage had become routine and dull, and eyes began to wander to entertain thoughts of being with other people.
My heart is broken for these families.
In Ephesians 5 we see Paul making the connection that the husband represents Christ and the wife represents the church in the marriage relationship. Marriage was not created for our personal happiness, but rather to be a mirror image to the world of Jesus Christ. Therefore, marriage was created by God to be an image of Christ to the world.
Satan has declared war on marriages. Why?
Because he desires to destroy the very image of Christ.
From the very beginning, Satan has declared war on marriage, seeking to destroy this living image of God. It began with Adam and Eve. God gave the commands for them to live by to not eat of the fruit of the tree. And Satan the first husband and wives eyes off of the commands of God and placed them on themselves. Satan approached the woman first.
“He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.” Genesis 3:2-6.
Adam and Eve had a good life before the fall. They had everything they could ever want. But the fruit that is forbidden is always the most tempting. Regardless of all that Adam and Eve had in the garden, Satan began to take their eyes off of everything that was good and began to make Eve think that something forbidden would make her happier than she currently was.
Satan blinded her eyes from the blessings in her life with the lie of a more fulfilled life if only she would ignore the commands of God. And Satan does the same thing today. There is no reason for him to change his strategy because humanity keeps falling for the same deception over and over again. Satan’s plan for wrecking marriages has not changed one bit. Because we keep falling for the lies.
In the garden, it was the lure of forbidden fruit that Eve thought would promise a better life. Today, it is the lure of other people outside of marriage. Satan begins to dull a husband or a wife to the blessings of family, and begins to elevate an awareness of selfish needs that they falsely think will make them happier.
As in the garden, but more in a 21st century context, Satan lies and whispers to a husband or wife, “Did God really say, “What God joins together let no man separate?” Surely there is a loophole for your situation. Surely God wants you to be happy, and right now you are not happy. Not to mention your spouse is currently not living up to your expectations in marriage! And you deserve better!” Then ever so coincidentally, Satan will guide the eyes to someone else with the lie that this person will make their world complete.
And just as our first parents in the garden, so many couples buy this lie…hook, line, and sinker. With no regard or thought to the devastating consequences that will follow. They don’t consider the emotional scaring that will be inflicted upon their children. Ive spoken with many adults who were products of parents who divorced, and all of them that Ive met have admitted that they were negatively and emotionally effected by divorce even up to their adult years. They don’t consider the consequences because in their spiritually blindness, the can see nothing but the flaws of their spouse and the lust of their flesh.
“So these nations feared the LORD and also served their carved images. Their children did likewise, and their children’s children—as their fathers did, so they do to this day.” 2 Kings 17:41.
Carved images are anything other than God and His Word that we look to for fulfillment. And when a husband and a wife replace the commands of God with their own carved images, they set an example for their children, and their children’s children. The choice to destroy a marriage has a ripple effect that has the power to span generations. If Satan can destroy one marriage, then he potentially scars the image of Christ within the family line for years to come.
At its core, Satan deceives husband and wives by distorting their image of the cross. Jesus prayed in the garden in regards to His impending crucifixion, (Matt 26:39) “Father if you are willing take this cup from me. Yet not my will, but yours be done.” There was nothing in Jesus that felt like taking upon Himself all the sins of the world and then enduring the wrath of God that you and I deserved. It has been said that if Jesus were to have called upon the Father to just take Him to Heaven and had refused to die for our sins, He would have been justified in His actions and we would have been deserving of our damnation. Yet Jesus said, “Not my will, but yours be done.” Not what I feel like. Jesus made the choice to give His life for sinners who did not deserve it.
The irony in the christian life today is that everyone says they want to be like Jesus. Every Christian would attest that we should seek Christlikeness.
We worship God for His mercy upon us. Yet we refuse to show our spouse mercy.
We worship God for His forgiveness to us. Yet we refuse to forgive our spouses for hurting us.
And we worship God for His grace and faithfulness. Yet we refuse to show grace to our spouse and hinge faithfulness upon the hook and measure of our own fulfilled happiness.
The question every couple must ask is this. Am I growing more Christlike on the easy days of marriage when my spouse is meeting all of my expectations. Or am I growing more Christlike in the hard seasons. When Im having to dig deep.
God gives you an imperfect spouse so you will learn how to give grace.
God gives you a spouse that will need to be forgiven so you will learn forgiveness.
God will give you a spouse who does not meet all of your expectation so you will learn how to love unconditional. Thus, you become like the God you Worship!!
The lie in the culture is that the vow of “For better or for worse” really only means, “Until Im not happy anymore.” The gospel truth is that marriage was designed by God and was never created for the purpose of fulfilling your happiness. Marriage is a grace of God and a means of sanctification. Marriage was designed by God to point to His own relationship with His people and to grow us in Holiness. Marriage was designed by God to make us more like Jesus.
I heard a pastor once say that if the grass ever begins to look greener on the other side, its only because you haven’t been there yet. Because what is the common denominator of every soiled field you have lived upon….it is you.
For all of those reading who are going through a rough patch in marriage, I plead with you not to give up. And if you are a Christian and know someone who is believing the lies of Satan pertaining to marriage, fight will them through using prayer and the word of God. To give in to the lies of Satan is to doubt that God can indeed make all things new for those who are in Him. The saying “Put your trust in Jesus” has become so cliché in our world today that it has literally been gutted of its meaning.
Do we really believe that Christ has the power to heal all things? Do we really believe that our marriages, especially in the hard times, are God given graces to make mold us more into the image of Christ? Do we look at marriage, as the apostle Paul did, as being a glorious mystery that embodies the marvelous truths of the Gospel? Or is marriage merely a worldly contract designed to meet our ever changing desires. Will we as believers give in to the Satanic lies of self centeredness and therefore willingly sacrifice every previous blessing as well as any future graces God desired to bestow to us in marriage? Or will we choose to love our spouses, even on the hard days.
If you are letting your feelings lead your actions, you are allowing the enemy to deceive you as was Eve in the garden. And your actions will lead to heartache and misery. Your emotions will follow your actions. If you choose to love even when your feelings may tell you otherwise, then in time, loving emotions will follow. And if you put your trust in the all powerful King and Lord of all things, your scars from the hard patches will serve as beautiful reminders of truth of the Gospel, thus making your marriage stronger than it ever was. Don’t give up, and put your hope in Christ. For He is able.
“He (Satan) was a murderer from the beginning. He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies.” John 8:44.
When you are a pastor, pressure and anxiety can come in numerous forms stemming from many varying circumstances. Preaching the funeral of an unsaved person, or delivering a sermon in front of a larger than normal audience both rank at the top of the list. Not to mention the day to day problems that may or may not arise. However, Ive recently found that one of the greatest pressures Ive had to face in my career in ministry is….wait for it….delivering a message to kids during the week of Vacation Bible School.
Some may snicker at this fear of mine. Many pastors would view the week of VBS as a place of relaxed down time on the yearly calendar. At surface level, the duties of the pastor during this week are very minimal. They usually are asked to give a very short closing sermonette on the theme verse or saying of the day that is stated in the VBS workbooks. Seems simple enough, right? Then why the pressure?
Because as preachers and teachers of the word, we always have two choices. The first choice is the most popular. That is to make the lessons as fluffy as possible. When I say this, I don’t mean relatable. I believe even the most complex truths found in scripture can be taught to children in an easy to understand manner. What I mean by fluffy is that in an attempt not to be offensive, we end up watering down the gospel. And when this happens, we paint the picture to the children that are listening that they are the apex of the Gospel story, and Jesus sort of like their biggest cheerleader or a genie in a bottle. This is the easy way.
The second choice is actually the road less taken. Because it requires more thought, and because it is anything but fluffy. The second choice is that we stand on truth. The second choice requires that we take our children out of the center of the story and place Jesus front and center. And the second choice is offensive to our flesh.
Case in point, we are in the midst of VBS week as I write this blog. We are using a great workbook to provide lessons and activities for our teachers to go by this week. Our parents and teachers are, aside from Jesus, the heroes of this week. They are outside in the hot sun playing games and teaching the Gospel to our children all week long for four to five hours a day. Our volunteers and teachers are amazing and I am so thankful for them!
My only job this week is to give the closing sermonette to the children at days end.
Each day, there is a theme statement being taught to the kids along with a Bible story that highlights that statement. Yesterdays theme statement that I had to teach is actually what prompted many of my thoughts. The theme statement yesterday that I was to each on was this; “Jesus Knows Your Worth.”
At first glance, I thought this would be easy. I would just stand in front of the kids, and I would tell them that they Jesus saw them so worthy that He gave his life for them. It sounded great. It sounded encouraging and sweet. And just as soon as the thought had entered my mind, an alarm bell went off in my soul letting me know that I was about to make a grave error. Unfortunately I was about to focus on tickling the ears instead of expounding Gospel truth. You see, the easy way would have been to elaborate to the children of their great worth to God. The harder route would be telling the truth as given in scripture.
It is absolutely true, Jesus does indeed know our worth. But this truth should humble us, not elevate us. The truth is that by nature, we are children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3). The truth is that because of our sin we are separated from our Holy God.
“but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.” Isaiah 59:2.
And due to the fall of Adam and sin nature we inherited, we are separated in sin from the womb.
“The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth, speaking lies.” Psalm 58:3.
The person who is apart from Christ can be a model citizen who does nothing but good works and helpful deeds, but without Jesus, he is worthless.
“And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment;” Isaiah 64:6.
We have no bargaining chips with God. Apart from Christ, our worth is absolutely bankrupt. God saw nothing in us that He would send His one and only son to die in the place of wretched sinners like us. There was no redeeming qualities that we had to cause the Lord to look our way. Salvation is a sheer act of His amazing grace and mercy towards undeserved sinners like us. That is the amazing truth of the Gospel! That we have no worth before God.
But God sent His Son Jesus to die in the place of sinners so that we might have His righteousness. Jesus takes our sins upon Himself, and places His sinless, spotless record upon the believer. Therefore, when God looks upon those who are in Christ, He sees no worth innately within the person. Rather, when God looks on a justified sinner, He sees not the sin, but the blood of His son covering that sinner.
“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Corinthians 5:21.
It’s not merely that Jesus knows our worth. Because again, we have no worth to boast of in and of ourselves. Rather, Jesus IS OUR WORTH!! It is Jesus who cleanses our wicked hearts and makes us a new creation that is WORTHY of right standing before our Holy God!
Lets go back to our two choices in presenting to children the statement, “Jesus is our Worth.” The first choice is to tell our children that God saw something worthy in them, and therefore just had to have them because of their great value. This sounds nice, but it actually steals glory from God and places that Glory upon us.
The second choice is to paint the picture of the Biblical far-reaching consequences of sin, and how due to our rebellious nature we are rightly criminals before God with no worth within ourselves. Yet in our spiritually dead and worthless state, God made a way to justify sinners through the sacrifice of His son Jesus.
God doesn’t save sinners because of the great worth in us. God saves sinners IN SPITE of the lack of worth in us. God didn’t save us because we are so great. He saves sinners because he is so great. His own grace and mercy were the only catalysts for God choosing to save spiritually dead sinners like us.
And this great truth not only humbles, but it rightly teaches our children to ascribe endless thankfulness, praise, and Glory to our Lord Jesus Christ! By taking them off the throne, we show them Jesus truly as Lord of all! This creates a yearning and desire within them for the worthiness that only Christ can bring! And it magnifies the amazing grace of God, that saved not a worthy man, but a wretch like me. Soli Deo Gloria!
“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.b But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved” Ephesians 2:1-5.
Preaching is not something that requires skill so much as it requires faith. As soon as I knew that God had called me to be a preacher of His precious word, I became a connoisseur of sermons. I couldn’t get enough of listening to other preachers. Proof of the new creation Paul spoke of in 1 Corinthians 5:17 can definitely be seen in my conversion. Where as before God called me I was reading and listening to sports related books and shows, my life as a new creation in Christ consisted of books on preaching and listening to sermon podcasts.
I was desperate and hunger for the knowledge of God. But I was also a student of the art of preaching and communication. I wanted to be polished. I wanted to develop a preaching style that would captivate my future congregation with engaging stories that could be applied to the Word of God.
I wanted people to know this great God of the Bible and I wanted them to marvel at the wonderous grace of God. And as a new preacher, I felt the full weight of this high calling. More than that, I trembled at the thought of it, because I felt that it was up to me to make God successful. If I wasnt polished enough, or entertaining enough to captivate the attention of my hearers, then I would have failed God.
Did I not believe in the sovereignty of God? I absolutely did! But there was a disconnect between what my head knew and my heart believed. Even early in my conversion, I could recite to you the Five Sola’s of the reformation and easily defend the providence of God over all creation as easily as breathing. But when it came to the ministry that God had given me, I doubted the Biblical truths that I vowed to defend with my life.
And so, early in my ministry I began to mold my preaching style. At times, I sought to be relevant and captivating at the expense of being scripturally orthodox with my exegesis. Life application would often times overshadow the spoken word of God. And being culturally relevant in order to pander to my audience became a crutch for my lack of faith in the sovereignty of God in and through salvation.
Although God had instilled within my heart a love for the in-depth yet applicable unveiling of scripture, the nominal Christian world seemed to be shouting for entertainment rather than exposition. I had seen many successful pastors lean more on comedy to get the attention of their congregations. Or perhaps they would read one verse at the beginning of their sermon and spend the next forty minutes telling personal stories as to how the verse tied in. As a new pastor, I naturally assumed that in order for people to be saved, God needed my help. So therefore, I better use my own skills to get the attention of the church was my thought.
But if God was truly sovereign, wouldn’t it stand to reason that He alone would save through the preaching of His word? If God is truly sovereign, would this reality not eradicate the need for human eloquence? For if the salvation of men were dependent in part on the flesh, then salvation would not be of the Lord as Jonah 2:9 says, but of God and man together in partnership.
This was the tension I lived in during the first few years of my time in ministry. And due to this man centered burden I carried, my preaching style began to focus more on what would entertain rather that simply relying on God to work through focusing mainly on the text at hand. When I preached a sermon that was less than up to par, I took it very personally. And as any entertainer would do, I simply worked on ways to change my act before the next Sunday.
That was my folly. My error was not in my lack of love for the scriptures or belief in the sovereignty of God. Because I loved the word with all my heart and staked my claim upon the hill of total divine sovereignty. My error was in trusting more in myself than in Gods power to accomplish His will. My error was a lack of faith. I was fully trusting in me, and partially trusting in God. Then I stumbled upon this verse;
“For they say, “His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account.” Let such a person understand that what we say by letter when absent, we do when present. Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding.” 2 Corinthians 10:10-12.
Paul was speaking these words in verse 10 about himself. The writings of Paul were a force to be reckoned with. However, Paul was no great preacher in and of himself. He didn’t even have a commanding presence. The same words Paul wrote by letter, he spoke in person. But it was not his commanding presence that captivated his hearers. It was not his ability to entertain the masses or be culturally relevant that aided men in coming to faith. It was strictly the spoken and written word of the Lord! Paul literally had nothing to boast in! Paul could not pat himself on the back after a sermon, because by the worlds standards, he was nothing to look at or listen too! There was no pandering for an audience or reliance upon self! Paul put his sole trust fully and completely in the word of God!
What a comfort this was to my soul! What a relief! It became utterly apparent that through attempting to entertain, I may captivate a room of hundreds of people. But if they themselves were not drawn by the word of God alone, then my words were falling on dead ears. If my listeners preferred a captivating sermon over the exposition of Gods word, then my efforts were done in vain! And the biggest breath of fresh air came from the realization that the salvation of men doesn’t depend on the preacher delivering the perfect sermon. But rather, only the faithful attention to the text of scripture. It is the word of God that supernaturally saves, not the eloquence of man!
“Doctrinal preaching certainly bores the hypocrites, but it is only doctrinal preaching that will save Christ’s sheep. The preachers job is to proclaim the faith, not to provide entertainment for unbelievers. In other words, to feed the sheep rather than amuse the goats.” -J.I. Packer.
To echo Paul’s words from the above verse, I was full of head knowledge, but without understanding when I based my ministry upon the reaction of man rather than faith. The best explanation of how God saves is found in a passage that I’ve referred to many times in this blog. Ezekiel 37 in the Valley of Dry bones experience of Ezekiel. Ezekiel did not play a part in bringing the dead bones to life. He couldn’t rely on human eloquence or cunning to give them breath. Ezekiel simply read the word of the Lord, and God through His spoken word, supernaturally brought them to life.
In Nehemiah chapter 8, it was Ezra who stood on the platform above the people getting ready to preach. He didnt open with an amusing story or personal antidote. Ezra opened the scriptures as the people stood in reverance and recited the word of the Lord.
“And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people, and as he opened it all the people stood. And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.” Nehemiah 8:5-6.
As preachers, we are merely the messengers. We are due no glory of our own. Our job as JI Packer so richly put it, is not to entertain, but rather to it is to feed the sheep His food that He has required, which is His word. Is it wrong for a preacher to be relevant? To resort to a comedic comparison every now and then? Absolutely not! Paul and even Jesus used comedic sarcasm in order to make their points at times. The prince of preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon was known for his relevance to the common man and witty preaching style.
Spurgeon, arguably the greatest preacher since the apostle Paul, would actually tremble as he stepped into his pulpit each Sunday. He knew how weak and fallible he was. And as he would climb the steps into the pulpit, he would recite to himself, “I believe in the Holy Spirit”, to remind himself that he was totally dependent on the Spirit of God speaking through him.
There is nothing wrong with relating to our audiences. However, the thrust and purpose of our message is not so that we may reap the accolades of men. Rather, we use relevance only as a means to drive home their point. God uses the personality traits of men to communicate His word. And it is the raw, unaltered word of God alone that saves the souls of men.
“So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” Romans 10:17.
It is important for a preacher to relate to his audience. But that relevance in and of itself has no power to save. God does not need our help in accomplishing His saving purposes.
“He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” Luke 19:40.
I have much to learn as a preacher of God’s word. And I know that this learning process will not come to an end under I have drawn my last breath. Any preacher that would deny this about himself is self decieved. But I am thankful that still as a young man, God has relieved me of the burden of self reliance. What a joy and relief it is to know that my job as a pastor is simply to be obedient to delievering Gods word. And in this, the joy of seeking Him more fervently daily is mine to be had. It is the hearing of scripture that God uses to save. So when it comes to preaching, I am in agreeance with the words of John the Baptist. My sermons should always be filled with more of Him, and less of me.
“He must increase, but I must decrease.” John 3:30.
There is a disconnect between most of modern day Christianity in our culture and Biblical and Historical Christianity. I really began to be bothered by this extreme many years ago. I was raised in the church. Taught the scriptures. And had an understanding that Jesus Christ is Lord. I had the correct information regarding the Gospel. And I looked like most other Christians in my church at the time. I tried to be good, went to church on Sundays and Wednesdays, and listened to Christian music and wore Christian t-shirts. I said my prayers before eating and bedtime, read my Bible when there was literally nothing else to do. But that was the extent of my Christianity! Other than these staple moments during my day, I rarely thought about God. Yet I didn’t see this as abnormal, because again, almost every other Christian in my life operated the same way.
But although I didn’t yet realize it, there was a problem. And the faith that I was living was more or less routine rather than genuine. This is the current state of Christianity for the most part in our country present day. We’ve come to believe that if we do certain things or have our names written on a church role, then we are Christians. We have slowly let culture define what it means to be a Christian rather than studying the scriptures and church history. Pragmatism has become a substitute for passion.
It wasn’t until I began truly reading my Bible that serious questions began to arise. Particularly from reading the many definitive statements in the scriptures. Take for instance Psalm 105:4.
“Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually!” Psalm 105:4.
Surely God doesn’t mean exactly what He says! Surely what God means by “seek His presence continually” is once or twice a week attendance to the church building and trying to be a good person! Continually would mean to have God at the forefront of my mind in all that I do throughout my day. I would have to be obsessed with God! In order to seek God in that way I would have to be enamored and captivated by His beauty so much so that He was my ultimate desire above and beyond all worldly things!
What about 1 Corinthians 10:21?
“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10:31.
Do all things to the glory of God? Surely all things doesn’t mean ALL THINGS! But Paul gives very detailed directions. No matter if you are eating a sandwich, or drinking a glass of wine, glorify God. Paul then concludes by saying whatever you do it is to be done to the glory of God! Again, this is a far cry from twice a week Christianity! The commitment level is extremely high! I once heard a pastor ask his congregation, “When is the last time you simply thanked God for the air that you are breathing?”
What about Jesus final command to His disciples before the ascension?
“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.” Matthew 28:19-20.
If Jesus final command was for His followers to go and make other disciples, and to teach others all of the commandments of God, why isn’t this happening on a large-scale? Shouldn’t disciple making be the one of the utmost goal of our lives in seeking to glorify Christ? Sadly, most professing Christians have never made a disciple in their lives. And it’s because they fear man more than God, and because they cannot teach others what they don’t know themselves.
Why don’t we think about God like this? Why doesn’t an examination of Biblical Christianity cause us to examine ourselves? Why is He not our all-encompassing obsession? Why do most professing believers associate Christianity with a church building, moral activities, or their personal denomination?
If the description of a true believer is one that is called to be in a constant, imperfect as it may be, pursuit of God, why does present culture redefine a Christian as one who merely attends church? In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus described the Christian as being like a man who stumbled upon a treasure in a field. And upon finding this treasure, he went and sold all that he had in order to get the treasure (Matt. 13:44).
But that is not the description of a Christian today. Christ is seen not as a treasure, but a burden. Most professing Christians cannot fathom talking to their next door neighbor about Jesus, because their treasure is acceptance and not God. They can’t entertain the thought of going overseas on mission, because their treasure is comfort and not God. They easily suppress the need to pray and press into the scriptures daily, because their treasure is social media and not God. We refuse to gaze upon the treasure that is Christ because we are too mesmerized by the things of the world.
To tell this to a professing Christian living in this manner would greatly offend them. “You can’t judge me” seems to be the mantra of our world today. But even this is taken out of context. In Matthew 7 when Jesus commands believers not to judge, the context is to look down upon a person due to their sin. We should never do that because we all fall into sin. However, this verse is not talking about knowing if a person is saved.
“You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.” Matthew 7:16-20.
Jesus said that it is possible to tell if a person is truly a believer or if they are one who is merely going through the motions. We can have this type of discernment or judgement. How can we tell if a person is a genuine believer? By their fruits. By comparing the fruits of their lives by what the scriptures say about a true believer. There is an old saying, “If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck.” In the same way, the Christians nature is defined by the Bible, not culture.
There was a time in my life where, by cultures standards, I would have been considered a Christian. I attended church, professed to love Jesus, and tried to be good. But there was no passion for Christ. There was no desire to seek Him in His word. There was no real burden for the lost. There was no hunger for the Knowledge of God in my life. I was merely satisfied that I had been baptized and had a Bible. Yet this description of a Christian was not found in the Bible!
The Apostles sacrificed having a life of ease in exchange for proclaiming the Gospel. They gave their lives for this, because Jesus was the whole point of their existence. Throughout history, men like Polycarp, John Hus, William Tyndale, John Rogers, and countless others were killed because they devoted their lives to proclaiming the Gospel. Men like Martin Luther sacrificed reputation and risked death so that Christ would be glorified over the traditions of men. These men echoed the words of the apostle Paul with their lives.
“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” Philippians 3:8.
A few verses before this one, Paul tells a bit about His life before becoming a follower of Jesus. He details his religious accomplishments and accreditations. Paul was highly respected as a religious teacher in Jerusalem, and had the admiration of the most devout Jews in the land. And when he dedicated his life to Christ, Paul lost all of that respect, fame, and adoration. Paul was despised and hated for his proclamation of Jesus as Lord. And looking back and comparing his former life of worldly accolades to His new life of persecution in Christ, Paul says this…..
“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.” Philippians 3:7.
Where are these types of men today? If this is the Biblical and historical model of Christianity, why do we seem to live out such a watered down version? And if one is living a passionless Christianity where in they are more enamored with the things of this world than the word of God, can they truly call themselves a follower of Christ? If our standard of measure is other so-called Christians around us, then we have nothing to be concerned about. But if our standard of measure is the Bible, and we find ourselves looking nothing like the original followers of Christ, we prove to be living in ignorance and without understanding.
“But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding.” 2 Corinthians 10:12.
There is a reason as to why our culture no longer holds a high view of God. And it is because we no longer measure ourselves by the scripture, but rather we measure ourselves by one another. We fill our lives with materialism and worldly things and call them the blessings of God upon our lives rather than seeing that they are actually robbing our affections from God.
Charles Spurgeon once said, ““I believe that one reason why the church of God at this present moment has so little influence over the world is because the world has so much influence over the church.”
These words are an accurate description of our culture today. Satan doesn’t mind that we go to church, that we live moral lives, or that we proudly claim to be a Christian. As long as our profession doesn’t match up with Biblical Christianity. He is perfectly content for us to live deceived lives and treasuring all of the many distraction of the world. Satan is fine with a person saying they love Jesus. As long as they love themselves more. And the proof of self-love is seen in our lack of pursuing the knowledge God. And it is seen in our pursuit of comfort rather than mission.
When is the last time you read the Bible? I mean really, intentionally read it? Francis Chan once posed the question that if you were stranded on a desert island with nothing but the Bible to read year after year, and then suddenly you were rescued and brought to America to witness Christianity in our culture, would what you see in American Christianity match up with what you had read? We are not called to live lives of perfection. But we are called to live with a passion for Christ. And this passion is to be so strong because of the thankfulness we have in our hearts due to the grace of God, that it makes all other loves pale in comparison. Don’t compare yourselves with each other. Don’t gage your Christianity by what other so-called Christians do. Measure yourself by the scriptures.
True Christianity is not defined by Christian culture, but by Christ alone.
“‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me;” Matthew 15:8.
We live in a postmodern culture, now more than ever. The postmodern world view is built upon and supported by the assumption that there can be no absolute truth in the universe. Everything boils down to individual opinions, therefore truth is ever-changing and completely subjective. Crucial topics of our day such as abortion, sexuality, and religion are no longer black and white issues, but rather are grey and blurred. Truth is no longer defined by reality, but it is now defined by emotion and personal feelings.
Sadly, this extremely popular world view is even seeping into the church. Many professing believers are now claiming that Jesus is not the only way into the Kingdom of God. They say there are many ways. It’s the old, “All roads (or God’s) lead to paradise” ideology.
“For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,” 1 Timothy 2:5.
They would rather deny the truth of God’s word than to be offensive in any way. Political correctness and social acceptance have become the golden calves of our day. Modern day culture has molded God into their own image. It is an image that is not offensive and is accepting of sinful rebellion. And it is not the God of scripture.
Truth has become arbitrary. Even within the most orthodox churches, there are professing Christians who will say things like, “Well we can never truly know the mind of God, so therefore we cannot make absolute statements about God.” This way of thinking is most predominately seen in Bible Studies or sermons in which the teacher will ask his listeners what they think a verse means to them rather than telling them what the scripture is actually saying.
To justify their lack of reliance of solid truth, many will misquote verses like Deuteronomy 29:29 saying, “Well remember ‘The secret things belong to the LORD our God,’ so we can’t really understand what the scripture is really saying.”
But they neglect to continue reading the verse;
“The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”
There are secret things that God has not revealed to man and we cannot know. However, the revealed things belong to us, that being His Holy Word. We can know the Word of God and we can understand the truth within it. Verses like Deuteronomy 29:29 are used as an excuse for people having a lack of Biblical insight or understanding. Because when we press into the scriptures, seeking the knowledge of God with all our hearts, His truth will be found, and it is in no way ambiguous or up for interpretation.
Lets take for example the miracles of Christ. In the Gospel of John, only seven significant miracles of Christ were recorded. However, there were countless other miracles that Jesus performed that were not recorded.
“Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” John 21:25.
John claimed that if all the great things Christ did were to be recorded, the world could not contain all the books that would have been written. So why were the seven miracles John recorded the ones chosen by the disciple from all the countless miracles to be included in his Gospel? For the sake of brevity, lets examine just two of these miracles. Namely Jesus turning water into wine and the feeding of the five thousand.
What was so important about Jesus turning the water into wine in John 2:1-11 and Jesus feeding the five thousand in John 6:5-14? Were these miracles done randomly just to impress the crowds? Was Jesus merely showing off with magic tricks? Or was there a purpose and intent behind these miraculous works?
To answer these questions, one would have to be a student of their Bible. Back in the days of Jesus, most of the Jews differed from our modern-day Christians in that they actually studied and were familiar with their Old Testament, which was all they had at the time seeing that the New Testament was currently being fulfilled in Christ. The first century Jews didn’t rely on pop Christian radio and pithy religious t-shirts for their theology, but rather they were seekers of God’s truth, and not allergic to reading.
When Jesus turned the water to wine at the wedding in Cana, He was intentional about what He was doing. First of all, the pots Christ had the water drawn from were for ceremonial cleansing, and not for drinking. The Pharisees and all the Jews did not eat unless they carefully wash their hands, thus observing the traditions of the elders; and when they came in from the market place, they did not eat unless they cleansed themselves; and there are many other things which they have received in order to observe, such as the washing of cups and pitchers and copper pots. (Mark 7:3–4)
The Jews used stone water pots to hold the water used for ritual purification because they believed that, unlike earthenware pots (Lev. 11:33), they did not become unclean. Unlike the smaller one used by the Samaritan woman to draw water from a well (4:28), these pots at the wedding were large pots, containing twenty or thirty gallons each. Such a large amount of water was needed not only to accommodate the guests, but also because the cooking and eating utensils had to be washed (Mark 7:4).
But Jesus cleansed the water, purifying it and turning it into wine. It was a subtle way of Jesus saying that there was no longer a need for these religious and ceremonial cleansing methods. Because soon He Himself would become the only method of purification required for cleanliness before God.
So why did Jesus turn the water to wine? Why not milk or grape juice? And while we are on the topic of food and drink, why did Jesus feed a feast to five thousand people up on that mountain? Both of these questions can be answered by the prophet Isaiah. Four hundred years plus prior to the birth of Jesus, Isaiah prophesied about the coming Messiah.
“On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples; a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.” Isaiah 25:6.
This would have reminded the witnesses of these miracles about the Lord who was written about in Isaiah 25. When Jesus turned the water into wine at the wedding and multiplied the fish and loaves into a feast on the mountain, this would have drawn His audience’s mind to the scriptures. The Jews were awaiting the fulfillment of the Torah and the coming of the Messiah that had been foretold by the prophets like Isaiah.
The miracles of water turned to wine and an abundant feast being prepared for the people were both fulfillments of the words written by Isaiah centuries before. Isaiah was telling the people what to look for clearly as signs pointing to Messiah. Both of these miracles were fulfillments of the Isaiah 25 prophecy. Jesus, in performing these miracles was letting the Jews know that the Messiah you have awaited is here. These were not merely impressive magic tricks. These were Christ’s statements of His Divinity.
When we take the time to be seekers of truth, we go way beyond the scriptures being nice little Sunday school type stories and the reality literally shakes us to our very foundations. Truth becomes undeniable. Bible stories we have heard all of our lives we begin to see as being less about us and more and more about Him. The Bible is not a self-help book, but the revelation of Christ and the very breath of God. And the authority and purpose behind every action of Jesus becomes a clearly seen message given to reveal His foretold Deity. All scripture is absolute truth. And absolute truth can be found only in Christ alone.
“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me,” John 5:39.
This can also be said of our view of God. That in which we find our pleasure tells us much about how we personally view God. It is quite easy to determine if a person holds a high view of God or a low view of God based on the kind of entertainment they seek. A person that claims to love God yet fills their leisure time with television shows and movies that glorify sensuality, vulgarity, and self exaltation exemplifies holding a very low view of God. There is no pursuit of righteousness in desiring the things of the world more than God. And there is no love and fear of the Holiness of God.
This is not to say that all television and movies are bad. But the question we must ask is within our seeking of pleasure, is there any desire to fill our leisure time with the pursuit of the Lord? All good Christians verbalize that they aspire to be like Christ, but do we really mean that? The world today captivates our minds and robs us of our time with television, movies, social media, and material pursuits. Is there ever a time in your day when you simply disconnect from all the lures of our culture and joyfully devote time to pursuing the knowledge of God?
John Piper once said that the best way to combat sin in your life is to love God more. The implication is the more you love God, the less you will love the things of the world. But in order to cultivate a love for God, there must be a natural separation from the things of the world. Intentional changes must be made in the things we pursue on a daily basis. You will never cultivate a love for God if you avoid filling your mind with the things of God.
The Apostle Paul had a love of books. In fact, when he was imprisoned in Rome, Paul wrote to young Timothy and asked him to bring some things to comfort him. His books were one of a few things listed.
“When you come, be sure to bring the coat I left with Carpus at Troas. Also bring my books, and especially my papers.” 2 Timothy 4:13.
Besides the Bible and communion with the Lord, there is no better way to ignite a flame for the love of God than reading about things of God. Martyn Lloyd Jones once said that next to daily Bible reading, there was no better way to spend time than reading a good Christian Biography. In choosing a book, not just any “Christian” book will do. In our selection choice, we want books that will point us to scripture, and direct our affections towards the Lord Jesus.
I want to issue a challenge and an invitation to those who are reading this blog.
My wife Lacy and I are about to embark on a journey in hopes of intensifying our passion for and knowledge of the Lord. We have chosen a few books to begin reading weekly, and have laid out a reading schedule to follow. We will attempt to read these books together, and hold one another accountable for our readings if our weeks get busy.
The goal is to read one chapter or in some instances two a per week, and to discuss them together at week’s end. If you choose to join us on this journey in seeking the Lord, I will list below the schedule we have devised as well as the name and author of the books we have chosen thus far. You can order all of the books from Amazon.com.
Reading List & Calendar
The Gospel Focus of Charles Spurgeon: Steven Lawson
August 1 – Chapter 1
August 8 – Chapter 2
August 15 – Chapter 3
August 22 – Chapter 4
August 29 – Chapter 5
Sept. 5 – Chapter 6
What He Must Be To Marry My Daughter: Voddie Baucham (Family Discipleship)
Sept. 12 – Chapter 1
Sept. 19- Chapter 2
Sept. 26- Chapter 3
October 3- Chapter 4
October 10- Chapter 5
October 17- Chapter 6
October 24- Chapter 7
October 31- Chapter 8
November 7- Chapter 9
November 14- Chapter 10
The Holiness of God: R.C. Sproul
November 21- Chapter 1
November 28- Chapter 2
December 5- Chapter 3
December 12- Chapter 4
December 19- Chapter 5
December 26- Chapter 6
January 2- Chapter 7
January 9- Chapter 8
January 16- Chapter 9
January 23- Chapter 10
January 30- Chapter 11
Of course, we will add on to this reading plan as the months progress. Again, these are books that my wife and I desired to read and hold each other accountable for together to aid us in our joyful pursuit of the Lord. Granted, no book should ever take the place of the Bible. With any book we read, we are to be sure to have our Bible on hand as these books press us into and towards scripture.
Once again, I invite you to join us in this endeavor. And if you are led, devise your own reading plan with your spouse and commit to a reading plan and hold one another accountable. We all lead very busy lives, and the thought of reading a 200-300 page book can seem overwhelming. But as the old adage goes, the best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. It may cut down your television and social media time, but reading one chapter a week is extremely doable. Godliness is never attained without a conscious effort. Let’s strive together towards the goal of the knowledge of the Lord.
“I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
The great news of the Gospel is that we have a God in Christ who supernaturally saves sinners. One of the clearest pictures of the relationship between the preacher’s responsibilities in evangelizing and God’s bringing sinners to new life can be seen in the vision of the prophet Ezekiel in the Old Testament.
In Ezekiel’s vison, he stares out across a lifeless valley of dead, dry bones. These skeletons had no hope of putting themselves back together. They had no hope of recreating a new heart within their decaying chest cavity. Furthermore, these bones had no desire for life. They could not decide that they wanted to life and give themselves breath because they were dead. As Ezekiel gazed out at this valley of dead bones, the Lord asked him a question.
“And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Ezekiel 37:3.
God asked Ezekiel how it could come to pass for the dead bones to have life in them. Ezekiel did not pretend to have the answers. Ezekiel was smart enough to realize that he could not pull off the supernatural. His only response to God was, “Only you know God.” For there is nothing man can do to bring that which is dead to new life. God’s question to Ezekiel is followed by a startling command to the prophet.
“Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.” Ezekiel 37:4-6.
God told Ezekiel to prophesy or speak the word of the Lord over these dead bones. This is the only job given to the prophet. From there, through the spoken word of the Lord, God pulls off the supernatural. The Lord covers the once dead bones with skin and gives them new life. Again, the bones did not pray a prayer, and then God respond to their prayer. God alone was the catalyst to this new life.
The vision of Ezekiel was not randomly placed in the pages of scripture. As Jesus himself said after His resurrection of the writings of the Old Testament prophets;
“These are the words I spoke to you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about Me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms.” Luke 24:44.
Everything in the Old Testament points to Christ. Everything in the writings of the prophets, the Psalms, and the books of Moses are God telling us something about Himself. In the vision portion of Ezekiel, God is giving us a glimpse of the spiritually dead state of sinful man and the supernatural nature of salvation that only God can bring.
Ezekiel plays the part of the Christian evangelist. He has no secret formula to restore life to the dead. He has no reliance on anything in himself to give these bones hope. His only reliance is on the Lord as he proclaims the word.
God’s supernatural work in salvation as well as the minister’s total reliance on the Spirit have been historically acknowledged throughout the ages. However, as the centuries progressed, man began to think that he needed to help God out in this supernatural work of salvation and employ methods that never existed Biblically or historically before the 20th century.
Prior to the 20th century, evangelist were ecstatic if only 10 percent of people who came forward for prayer were actually saved at the alter. However, in many churches today, everyone who comes forward after a sermon and repeats a form of salvation prayer is told by the minister that they are now born again Christians. Either we have improved the Gospel over time, or our methods of evangelism are producing a staggering number of still births.
Here is a modern day snap shot example of how many churches have come to view the salvation process.
Step one; a sermon is given followed by a time of response. The listener is told to stay in their seat and raise a hand or perhaps come forward if they would like to be saved.
Step two; once the person has either raised a hand or come forward to the alter, a salvation prayer is repeated. Many ministers believe that if only a person prayers this salvation prayer once in their life, then they will go to Heaven upon their death regardless of how they live their earthly lives. This widely used two step process of evangelism gives the person coming forward a false idea of what salvation is, and it gives the minister undue bragging rights he and God saved another one.
Barna Christian Research recently reported that 84-97 % of professing Christians in the United States eventually fall completely away from their faith. They have a form of Godliness, professing to be saved due to once praying the salvation prayer, and they live a life apart from God. They deny that salvation is fully a supernatural work of God and claim that they are saved due to what they did at the end of a service.
“But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.” 2 Timothy 3:1-5.
There is nothing wrong with an alter call that is done with reverence to the Lord. Charles Finney is such an example. Finney would ask seekers to come down after the service to a designated room where they could receive council and guidance on how one could attain salvation in the Lord. Granted, Finney never used the sinners prayer tactic nor told anyone that they were saved due to their profession of faith. Finney knew only God could see the true intentions and the heart of man. This is why Finney is called the father of the alter call.
Finny once said, “Never tell as sinner anything, or direct him to do anything that will stop him short of absolute submission to God. Suppose you tell an unbeliever to pray a prayer or teach him anything less than God’s absolute hand in saving repentance, and then that night he falls and breaks his neck. Whom will God blame when the man stands unjustified before God because he trusted in a prayer rather than in Christ? It makes the hearts of the faithful bleed to see how many people delude the hearts of anxious sinners.”
The perversion of the sinners prayer came onto the scene for the first time ever in the early to mid 1900’s beginning with an evangelist named Billy Sunday. Sunday was an American athlete who, after being a popular outfielder in baseball’s National League during the 1880s, was converted to Christianity and became a full time evangelist.
Billy Sunday became frustrated with the alter call methods of ministers who had long come before him. Sunday was once quoted as saying, “Some people do not think that they can be converted unless they go down on their knees in the straw at a camp revival meeting or unless they labor in prayer all hours of the night. What I want to preach is that a man can be converted without all of that fuss.” Due to this, Billy Sunday would plead for sinners to come forward, pray a prayer, and then shake his hand as a seal of their new found commitment to God. Sunday would then declare that person to be saved right then and there with no further questions asked. After Billy Sunday, this quick and easy method of evangelism became extremely popular.
“And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” Acts 16:31.
Ministers such as Billy Sunday would incorrectly use a verse like this to justify their sinners prayer type evangelism. They would wrongly claim that the verse states that all that is required is mere cognitive belief that there is a God. But as evangelist R.A. Torrey rightly said, “Saving faith is believing God, not just believing in God.”
Believing God involves a revelation of God that can only come through the direct influence of the Holy Spirit. Just believing in facts about God or treating salvation like a flu shot via praying a one time sinners prayer is not saving faith.
“The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” 1 Corinthians 2:14.
This is why ministers before Billy Sunday never presumed to tell people they were saved based on anything they had done. Sunday preferred to never leave a person with a doubt in their mind that they were saved. In essence, Sunday’s evangelism eliminated the wrestling with the Spirit, and the professing Christians need for constant personal examination of the soul as the apostle Paul called for in 2 Corinthians 13:5. If they ever found themselves doubting their salvation due to a love of sin in their lives, they were told to recall the moment they prayed the sinners prayer and look to their past actions for assurance of salvation.
Starting with Billy Sunday, ministers began to feel pressured to take grievous short cuts in their evangelism to assure and boast of higher numbers of converts. Conversion to Christ began to be seen as being as easily attained as buying an item at a local mall. The term “Sunday Conversion” caught on during this time and eliminated the Biblical exhortation of Christ for the sinner to count the high costs that accompanied true salvation such as turning from sin and facing worldly persecution.
“Sunday Conversion” could be easily attained by anyone willing to come forward and shake his hand. This was a radical departure from what the Bible says regarding true salvation. Throughout history, ministers and preachers of God’s Word have taught the necessity of regeneration.
Regeneration is the supernatural process in which God causes the sinner to actually begin to hate the sins that he once loved and love the righteousness of God that he once hated. 2 Corinthians 5:17 describes this as become a totally new creation. Regeneration does not mean that the persons is now sinless, because as long as we have flesh we will fail. It does however mean that it is impossible given the new nature for that person to walk in a continual, deliberate, practice of sin.
Before the 20th century, believers fully taught that salvation was a mysterious event orchestrated only by a sovereign God. The pre 20th century method of salvation lined up with the Bible. All evangelicals, including Jonathan Edwards, George Whitfield, and John Wesley taught the born again experience as being definite, complete, and accompanied by identifiable marks in the persons life.
As Whitfield said, “The new creation is not a mere metaphor. It is as self evident as a tasteless pallet suddenly brought to life at a sumptuous feast. Everyone who has the least concern for his immortal soul should never cease striving after the Lord until he has experienced a real saving inward change wrought in his heart, and therefore knows of the truth, that he dwells in Christ and Christ dwells in him.”
From the teachings of Christ, the Apostle Paul, and throughout the ages preceding the 19th Century, evangelicals taught that salvation was accompanied by a born again experience. This experience being that the Holy Sprit had actually entered into a person, and the proof of that was that their life and desires began to conform to the will of God. The Spirit of God is seen in how they now live out their lives as God’s new creation. When a person is truly saved, God’s Holy Spirit inhabits their soul and literally begins to change their nature from the inside out.
“Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.” But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit.” 1 Corinthians 6:16-17.
Johnathan Edwards once remarked that a love and pursuit of holiness and happiness in God’s righteousness were new attributes of the former sinner once they have been saved because God now dwells in them. Edwards identified five different stages in which God prepares the heart of person who will come to know Christ.
The first stage is the awareness within that person that he or she is eternally lost. For this to take place, this person much acknowledge that they are a sinner, and because of that God owes them nothing but His wrath and separation from God in Hell.
The second stage is when the seeker tries in his own power to stop sinning and to remove his guilt anyway he can.
The third stage is when the seeker comes to realize that only God can save him from sin. And only God can give new desires, turning a heart of stone into a heart of flesh.
The forth stage is when the seeker begins to see themselves as rightly deserving sinners in light of the Holiness of God. They see the reality that we have broken all of God’s laws, and that God would still be just and right if we were to never be saved. He knows that God doesn’t have to save him, and he is at the mercy of God.
The fifth stage is when the seeker begins to have religious affections for God. He no longer sees the law of God as a burden, but rather as King David said, as honey on the lips. There is now a deep appreciate for the atoning work of Christ on the cross, dying in our place and for our sins.
It was not the practice, as it seems to be in our day and age, of the early ministers to tell people that they were now saved based on a confession they made or prayer they prayed. It wasn’t that they didn’t believe God could save, but rather they did not presume to know that which only God can know. They didn’t know who was truly repentant in their hearts and who had merely experienced an emotional moment and made a false profession that weeks later, they would abandon.
John Wesley knew more than any other evangelist the deceitfulness of the human heart. He served as a priest and missionary to the indians all the while knowing that he was not truly saved. After twenty three years of seeking God and striving to come to grips with his own sinfulness, he was finally born again.
Wesley said, “Saving faith is the gift of God. He can as easily give this faith in a moment as in a thousand years. We know not why he bestows this on some even before they ask for it, and on some after they have sought it for a few days. And permits other believers to struggle with it for many years.”
Modern seeker sensitive theology teaches predominantly that salvation is as easy as praying a prayer and signing your name to the back of a card. But most people go through a struggle of faith and self examination when God truly begins to change their heart. The prophet Isaiah was a righteous man and believed in God. But it wasn’t until Isaiah saw himself as a sinner in light of the Holiness of God that he fell to his knees in true repentance (Isaiah 6). Jacob literally wrestled with God (Genesis 32). And Job in like manner was a righteous man. It wasn’t until Job saw the Lord through affliction that he could say at the end of the book;
“I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you;” Job 42:5.
Most people experience a struggle of faith and a soul seeking examination of self prior to God saving them. Franklin Graham is a great example of this. When he was eight years old he made a decision for Christ and was told he was saved. But according to Graham, it was not until he was 22 that he was truly born again.
Before the Billy Sunday’s of the world changed the salvation paradigm, people know that making a mere decision for Christ was not the same as being born again. This struggle of faith began when seekers became concerned for the welfare of their souls, and ended when they knew without a doubt due to the extreme change God had wrought within their hearts, that they were born again.
John Calvin’s struggle of faith lasted twelve years. George Foxes struggle of faith lasted 12 years as well. John Wesley’s struggle of faith lasted 23 years. John Whitfield’s struggle of faith lasted 1o years. Jonathan Edwards struggle of faith lasted 5 years. David Brainard’s struggle of faith lasted 9 years. John Newton’s struggle of faith lasted 6 years, and Charles Spurgeon’s struggle of faith last 4 years.
Charles Spurgeon gave an example of someone who merely wanted salvation and a person who had genuinely experienced salvation. Spurgeon said, “For years as a child I tried to learn the ways of salvation. And either I did not hear it set forth, which I believe could not have been the case, or else I was spiritually blind and deaf and could not see it and could not hear it. Had I read my Bible? Yes, and read it earnestly! Had I never been taught by Christian people? Yes I had, by my mother and father and others. Had I not heard the Gospel? Yes I think I had. Yet somehow it was like a new revelation to me!”
Edwards, Whitfield, Spurgeon and most all evangelist before the 20th century taught that true saving faith was supernatural. Just agreeing to some facts and walking through a man made process is not salvation. Edwards once said, “Those who aren’t saved think it disastrous to enter into a period of self examination since their faith is based solely on hope. If a person has nothing but hope to prove he’s saved, then to question that hope would ruin his entire position. Those who insist on a person living by faith when they have no experience of struggle are very absurd in their notions of faith. What they mean by faith is believing that they are in good estate. Hence they count it a dreadful sin to doubt of their state, whatever frames that they are in. If this be faith, the Pharisees who committed the unpardonable sin against the Holy Spirit would have to be seen as having an extraordinary faith.”
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1.
Theologians historical have known that faith is not the same as hope. Faith comes by and through the Holy Spirit. This is especially true for the faith that is necessary for regeneration.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not of yourselves, but the gift of God. Not by works, so that no man may boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9.
Saving faith is a gift from God. We are totally dependent upon Him for the born again experience. We cannot do anything to earn this gift, or decide to give it to ourselves, for that would lead to boasting. As Jonah 2:9 states, “Salvation is of the Lord.”
Oswald Chambers made a clear distinction between the Billy Sunday type of convert and those who had been truly born again. Chambers said, “When a man fails in personal Christian experience, it is nearly always that he never really received anything. However, when a man is born again, he knows it because he has received something as a gift from almighty God and not because of his own decision.”
“children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” John 1:13.
In the 1930’s, Dawson Troughtman started a group called The Navigators to combat the Billy Sunday type of evangelism. He taught his Navigators, “You can lead a man to Christ in a couple of minutes to a couple of hours, but it takes 20 hours to a couple of years to follow him up.” In essence, Troughtman was saying that true salvation is seen over a lifetime of little by little conformity to Christlikeness.
Christ can save in an instant. But the proof is seen in the life that follows, not in the prayer that was prayed or card that was signed. I am by no means saying that a person who was led to salvation by the means of a sinners prayer is not saved. However, it that be the case, God saved you in spite of the methods used, not because of them.
This Billy Sunday type of evangelism that is still very popular in our world today is called decisionism. And it is idolatry because it exalts the tactics of man above the work of God. It is to place the decision of the believer as the catalyst of salvation, and minimize the supernatural work of God in bringing a spiritually dead soul to new life. Decisionism gives partial bragging rights to the preacher in saving sinners, and it gives opportunity for partial boast from the one who had received salvation, because they can say they were saved due to the decision that they made.
Jesus said only two things were required for salvation. Repentance and belief (Mark 1:15). Christ never utilized a sinners prayer. Rather, He called for a life change as proof of salvation. Decisionalistic evangelism does not stress the need for repentance and reliance upon God, but rather rushes seekers through a few man made hoops in hopes of seeing quick and struggle free conversions that require little to nothing from the convert.
Again, the Lord can save a man instantaneously. The struggle of faith comes not from the Lord’s salvation, but in the truly regenerate man’s process of sanctification that follows. Paul never said “Say a one time prayer and then just rest in your salvation and enjoy your earthly desires. Rather Paul said to struggle, to search, and to work out this salvation through constant examination of self through the lenses of the Word. We rejoice in our salvation, but we never get lazy in our pursuit of righteousness. The pursuit of the Holiness of God becomes our new life long quest.
“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,” Philippians 2:12.
However, it is not for a man to tell another man that he is saved based on a moments decision that was made. God is the only one that tells a man that he is saved based on the change in their hearts, and that pursuit of Holiness that follows the many years afterward. We would do well to learn about true salvation from the scriptures as well as hundreds of years of church history that followed.
“Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” 2 Corinthians 13:5.