Archive for the ‘State of the Church’ Category

The State of the Church, Part 14

April 9, 2008

In last week’s newsletter I used some points that Beau Abernathy made in a letter for the religious section of the Lawrence Journal-World and also recently published on p. 3 of the April, 2008 Baptist (www.baptistdigest.com). In it he identified ten factors that have led to the fall of civilizations. Those ten factors are given below:

  1. Increase in lawlessness
  2. Loss of economic discipline
  3. Rising bureaucracy
  4. Decline in education
  5. Weakening of cultural foundations
  6. Loss of respect for traditions
  7. Increase in materialism
  8. Rise in immorality
  9. Decay of religious belief
  10. Devaluing human life

Last week I looked at these points and how they show that the United States is under judgment and that shows that the professing Church is not being salt and light in the society and is also under judgment. Local churches are busy with activities and “church growth” and have forgotten about truth and holiness. What are Churches busy with today? Where is the true concern for the glory of God? Do local churches appear busy with all the trappings of religion while they have in reality forgotten God? Malachi 1:8-10 shows us that a lot of external things can be done and God not be pleased at all. In fact, He does not accept the religious actions of people when they are not truly focused on Him. This is also seen in all the external tradition and morality of the Pharisees.

Malachi 1:8 – “But when you present the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? And when you present the lame and sick, is it not evil? Why not offer it to your governor? Would he be pleased with you? Or he receive you kindly?” says the LORD of hosts. 9 “But now will you not entreat God’s favor, that He may be gracious to us? With such an offering on your part, will He receive any of you kindly?” says the LORD of hosts. 10 “Oh that there were one among you who would shut the gates, that you might not uselessly kindle fire on My altar! I am not pleased with you,” says the LORD of hosts.”

Despite all that the professing Church in America is doing, the signs of judgment are upon it. We must remember from previous weeks that a local church is under judgment when God turns His face from it. Many religious activities and duties are not sure signs of the absence of God’s judgment. In this newsletter we will look at the ten symptoms of a nation headed toward a collapse and apply those to denominations and local churches. We must remember that this is not in terms of a humanistic cause and effect relationship but from a God-centered cause and effect relationship. A symptom is not a sign that He will send judgment, but that He already has. When we see an increase in lawlessness, we must not think that God will send judgment, but that judgment has already arrived. As Romans 1:18-31 so graphically points out; sin is a result of God’s turning people over to a hardened heart.

The 1st factor is an increase of lawlessness. Isaiah 64:7 speaks directly to that point: “There is no one who calls on Your name, who arouses himself to take hold of You; For You have hidden Your face from us and have delivered us into the power of our iniquities.” When we see an increase of lawlessness within a local church or the Church as a whole, we know that the fear of God has been withdrawn (Isaiah 63:17) and that His face is hidden. In the Church today the Law of God is being mocked and made fun of. There is little to no fear of Him and people say that God is all love and would judge no one at all. Still others in their theology have made room for sin either by changing the grace of God into licentiousness or by denying the place of the Law. This is a true sign of judgment.

The 2nd factor (loss of economic discipline) and the 7th (increase of materialism) are closely related in how they relate to the local church and denominations. Churches now prefer large and fancy buildings over hearts that seek the Lord. They now pay salaries to pastors that resemble the way CEO’s of large corporations are paid. Some studies have shown that very few people tithe anything to the local church and some opt for lavish lifestyles. There is a large group within the professing Church who think of the blessings of God in terms of material things. Denominations are guilty of waste and excess in terms of salaries and what they buy. There is little doubt that both denominations and local churches have lost any sense of economic discipline and are given over to materialism in the way buildings are built and decorated and the lifestyles of their adherents.

The 3rd factor is that of a rising bureaucracy. This is seen in both the local church and in denominations. Added staff to do the ministry rather than a ministry that trains disciples to do the ministry adds to this. Denominations have to continue to add people along with increased budgets because of the turn from local churches that do the ministry to hiring professionals who do it. When control is given over to denominations instead of being within the local church, the paper trails, red tape and signatures for permission for anything increases. We can hardly deny that the SBC has indeed grown to become a large bureaucracy.

The 4th factor is a decline in education. This is happening within the local church at an astonishing rate. We have so watered down what we teach in terms of the Bible and theology that we have not trained people beyond the biblical illiteracy stage. Sure we teach people a few verses and give them a few things to do, but people are simply biblically illiterate. Some say that we “dumb down” things in our schools, but this is certainly evident in the churches. Christians are to love God with all of their minds and yet we are teaching at such a low level we can admit to nothing but a severe decline in biblical and theological education. We are in the depths of teaching people nothing more than the most basic of facts. Instead of teaching people the truth of God and teaching them in an effort to have them go to Him in truth, we water things down in order to fill the pews.

The 5th factor (weakening of cultural foundations) and 6th factor (loss of respect for traditions) go together. This is tied in with the professing Church and its betrayal of the truth and of its charge to be the foundation and pillar of the truth. We have lost much of the sense of our need to see how things were truly done in the past and why there were done in the past. When Jesus spoke against traditions in the New Testament there is the sense where it is not contradicting Jesus to say that it is not good to lose a sense of tradition. Having a healthy respect for the traditions of how those who went before us sought God is not the same thing as being captured by traditions as the Pharisees were. In our day we see two extremes. One, we see people who are virtually enraptured by the facts of history and then second we see those who think all history is irrelevant. When we lose our intellectual and spiritual ties with the body of Christ from the past, we have lost the sense of how God has worked in the past and have become loosed from the biblical and theological moorings that we need.

The 7th factor was looked at along with the 2nd factor, so we will look at the 8th factor (rise in immorality) now. This is clearly tied in with the 1st factor where there is an increase in lawlessness. But we see a clear increase in immorality within the local churches and denominations. We have become just like the description of Scripture in this regard: “We have become like those over whom You have never ruled, like those who were not called by Your name” (Isaiah 63:19). The professing Church states that it has become like the world in order to win the world but instead the professing Church is simply like the world. That is a sign of judgment. Studies and surveys show that the morality of the professing Church is virtually the same as the world. God is judging us and we need to seek His face rather than seeking to be like the world.

The 9th factor is decay in religious belief. This is so true in the local church and it is directly linked with the loss of respect for traditions (6th factor) and a decline in education (4th factor). Surveys have shown an absolute rottenness in the quality of religious belief. There are many people who attend something on Sunday mornings but they have no real religious belief. They go because it makes them feel better or they would like to meet a nice person of the opposite gender. In the culture a decay of religious belief would mean that people don’t believe in God, but in the local church it has to do with specific beliefs about God and the Bible. We have a decay of the belief in the character of God and of theology as a whole. We are left with a people who simply do what feels good.

The 10th factor is the devaluing of human life. When people are given over to self-centeredness in which they are turned to lawlessness and immorality along with a rise in materialism and a decay of religious belief, the value of human life degenerates quickly. The only real intellectual reason for the value of a life is that a human being is the image of God. When that belief is gone, all real reason for human life evaporates. When one person values another only for sexual reasons that has devalued human life. Human beings are then only seen as instruments of my personal pleasure. When people are given over to materialism, they are focused on what benefits self and so other people become ways to increase my material possessions. But even more, in the church there must be a concern for the eternal life of people. But when we have been given over to so many things that deny the truth of God or even the importance of God for material possessions and sexual pleasures, the value of the human soul is lessened. The professing Church replaces concern for souls with doing things to relieve the physical aspect of human misery.

It is hard to believe that anyone could look at these ten things and deny that the professing Church is under God’s judgment. They are signs of God’s judgment on the nation which shows the state of the professing Church. These factors are named explicitly in or can be deduced from Romans 1:18-32. We must know that the professing Church is under God’s judgment because Scripture sets this out. We simply have to look at Scripture to determine if we are under God’s judgment or not. We must seek the face of God instead of trying for bigger buildings and numbers. We must know that the ten factors are symptoms of judgment and not the judgment itself. If a person has an appendix that is close to rupturing, dealing with the symptom of pain will do no good apart from dealing with the real issue. The real issue with the professing Church is that God has turned her over to judgment and has hidden His face. We must repent and seek the face of the Lord instead of focusing on the symptoms in our humanistic ways. If not, the nation will burst apart (as an appendix) because the Church would not repent and seek God Himself.

We must also know that it is not seeking God Himself to join hands with people in missions and moral efforts. It is not seeking God Himself to try to do all the things church people try to do. It is not seeking God Himself when we increase our activities and religious duties. We can only seek God Himself when our hearts are broken from all of our own activities and works and our hearts desire Him simply for Himself. We can only seek God Himself when from the depths of our hearts our real desire from love for Him is to manifest His glory in the world. It is only when our deepest desire is to know God and manifest His glory out of a heart that loves Him in truth rather than any other reason that we will be seeking Him. If we are not broken from our selfish religious desires there is no reason to assume that we can be salt and light to a selfish society.

The State of the Church, Part 13

April 3, 2008

For weeks I have been writing in an effort to convince people that the professing Church is under the judgment of God. While I have not presented all of Scripture’s evidence, I have tried to show from passages of Scripture that it is simply beyond argument any longer that we are under the judgment of God. The professing Church in America is simply going about its own business and busyness instead of tending to what it has been called to do by God. In a sense the professing Church is like Nero (either true or a myth) who fiddled away while Rome burned. The nation is falling around us and the professing Church is too busy with its activities and growth plans to notice.

Beau Abernathy wrote a letter for the religious section of the Lawrence Journal-World. I read his article when it came out in the paper. It was also recently reproduced on page 3 of the April, 2008 Baptist Digest (KNCSB http://www.baptistdigest.com). The whole article is worth reading. I am not reproducing the whole article but simply getting at the essential points that point to the decline of the United States. Jim Nelson Black identified ten factors that have led to the decline and fall of civilizations. He said that as few as three or four of these factors are enough to bring a society to the point of collapse. Dr. Black stated that “the United States is the first nation in history where all ten symptoms are present in one society at one time!” Those ten factors are given below:

  1. Increase in lawlessness
  2. Loss of economic discipline
  3. Rising bureaucracy
  4. Decline in education
  5. Weakening of cultural foundations
  6. Loss of respect for traditions
  7. Increase in materialism
  8. Rise in immorality
  9. Decay of religious belief
  10. Devaluing human life

One the one hand I would like to point out that a nation like that is a nation where the professing Church is simply not being light and salt in its society. Christians are to be salt and light where they are (Matthew 5:13-14). Interestingly enough, as you see the ten points of decline in a nation what you see is really a moral decline in terms of how people relate to God. 1. A people do not respect God when they are given to lawlessness. Our nation has assuredly seen a lot of lawlessness and the professing Church in many sections seems to be joining society in the abandoning of the Law. 2. The loss of economic discipline demonstrates the presence of selfishness and covetousness/greed without self-control. 3. A rising bureaucracy demonstrates a need for control when people step away from obeying laws and are given over to covetousness. It is also true that when religious belief gives way to secularism people want somebody to blame and somebody to provide for them. 4. A decline in education is a rather interesting point. In early America it was Christians that led the way in pushing for education. The founders of the early and great universities were Christians. Learning should be valued among Christians as all things are to declare the glory of God to us. But a society that is given over to lawlessness and greed without self-control will not value things that without the glory of God it cannot value in the proper way. 5. Cultural foundations can be taken many ways. However, the foundations of any culture have to do with moral and spiritual issues. The weakening of the moral and spiritual foundation is a shaking of the very foundations of this nation.

6. A loss of respect for traditions can be seen in different ways. There are many traditions that should be given no respect at all, yet a loss of respect for traditions is a sign of a people given over to selfishness of the moment. When a self-centered person that is only concerned with the moment finds a tradition, it is judged by how convenient it is and how it helps with the present moment. That person does not realize that the tradition may be there for a good reason. 7. The increase in materialism is a sign of self-centeredness and people desiring things to fulfill an empty heart. It is the pursuit of self through technology and the things of the world. 8. A rise in immorality is seen in the lack of self-control and a putting off of the law of God and is linked with lawlessness and the decay of religious belief. 9. The decay of religious belief is a sign of a people that want to rule themselves and live as they want without the inconvenient truth of the sovereignty of God and that He will judge them on the last day. 10. When human life is devalued, then nothing is important to a person but self. Other human beings are only good to the degree that they do something good for me. Therefore, if I do not want the child it can be killed. If a person is old or sick, they have lost their value to me and they should die in order not to cause me any distress or discomfort.

All of those things show a terrible problem in our nation as we race down the hill into the fall of another civilization that refuses to listen to God or history. But where is the Church? Oh, we are so concerned about being a social club that we don’t notice or care what is going on. Where is the Church? We are so concerned about being gracious that we don’t do what we should. Where is the Church? We are so concerned about offending others that we continue what we are doing while the nation and the professing Church drown. Where is the Church? It is more concerned about its programs and busyness to take note of the downward slippage. As long as the programs keep working and people keep coming, the other things do not matter. Where is the Church? It is over in the corner thinking of how to get people in the building rather than truth and love. Where is the Church? It is more concerned with its properties and money than it is the Gospel of Jesus Christ in truth. Where is the Church? It is figuring out how to water down the Gospel even more so it can get more people in its doors. Where is the Church? It is fiddling away while the nation drops into eternal burnings. It is guiltier than Nero if he really did what some say he did.

The professing Church has dropped the ball as to what it is really supposed to do and be doing. Evangelism is not about getting more people in the door and extracting money from their bank accounts. True evangelism is about declaring the glory God and making true disciples who are truly the salt and light of God in the society. The Church is not a business and it cannot be run on business principles. The Church cannot be run on the very principles that are symptoms of the problems and ills of society. The problem with our nation is the professing Church. It is under the judgment of God and it is just like the world. What is the problem with the professing Church? It is so much like the world that it has nothing to say to the world. The professing Church is so much like the world that it is run like a business and judges success like a business. The world judges success by its income, the number of adherents and then the influence one has. That is exactly what success within the professing Church has been reduced to. We are told to practice the same leadership and business principles that the world follows. What has happened to the Church when this happens? It means that the professing Church is no longer following the Word of God and His wisdom but is following the world and its wisdom instead.

When a local church or a group of churches has slipped so far as to be more like the world in the way the church is run and in how it counts success, you can know that the judgment of God upon that church or group of churches is far advanced. What is different from that church than the world? Nothing but some of the content, but in truth one is not following God any more than the other. Both are following after their own ways with their own standards of success. What does the Church have to say to the world when it is like the world and not following Scripture? It has nothing of real value to say at all. As Isaiah 66:3 shows, a people can do things commanded by God and yet be choosing their own ways.

Isaiah 66:3 – But he who kills an ox is like one who slays a man; He who sacrifices a lamb is like the one who breaks a dog’s neck; He who offers a grain offering is like one who offers swine’s blood; He who burns incense is like the one who blesses an idol. As they have chosen their own ways, And their soul delights in their abominations,

I John 2:15 – Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. 17 The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.

Loving the world is more than loving the obvious things of the world; it is accepting the ways, opinions, goals and methods of the world. The Church is to love God and know that Christ is the Head and Lord of the Church. He calls us to follow Him and His ways. If we are not following Him as He teaches about the Church, then we are following our own wisdom and the ways of the world. The United States is going down the hill into the pit because the professing Church has been going down for a long time and has been and is under judgment. Next time I want to show how these ten factors apply to the professing Church as well. We are under judgment and only God can reverse the trend. Until we are broken and humbled and repent of our worldly ways and hearts that dishonor God, nothing will change for the better. Until we learn that the love of money and property is a sin for the Church too, we will not see the return of the glory of God. Until we learn that God is holy and demands that His people are to be set apart for His purposes, we will not know what it means to know God. Until we learn that busyness is not the same as loving God and doing His commands we will continue on in our spiritual coldness and judgment. Until we learn to quit passing judgment on the nation and look to the planks in our own eyes, we will be judged. Until we learn that the professing Church is the real problem in this nation, we will not understand the true problem. We need to be seeking the Lord for humility and grace. We must be given over to prayer seeking the desires and heart of God or we will be given over to His wrath. How can we keep ourselves from pouring out our hearts to Him?

The State of the Church, Part 12: The Judgment of “Religious” Activity

March 26, 2008

I have been asserting for several weeks that the professing Church in America is under judgment. One way of seeing this is in terms of what we think a successful church is. We think of successful churches as having lots of things going on and lots of activity. We think of success in terms of money and people. Jesus was certainly not a success in life or religion if those things are the standards. When He died virtually all of His followers left Him and He had no building or money. Regardless of how provocative this is, we must judge ourselves before judgment.

True success is not found in activities and things going on. The biblical church is one that seeks the Lord as their chief love and dwells in His presence. The Bible speaks of fruit as being love, joy, peace, patience and so on rather than nickels and noses. The Scriptures also speak of suffering. Let me join these points in a plain way. The church of Jesus Christ will not advance and have true fruit without suffering. Being part of a church with many activities and easy things to do is far easier than suffering and following Christ. Jesus did not command His people to gather together and do many activities; He commanded them to take up the cross and follow Him. In churches today there are many activities taking place but little suffering and following Christ. Why is that? Because it is easy to keep people busy with building programs and activities that have little or nothing to do with the kingdom of God. It is easy to appear religious when people are kept busy with external deeds. It is far easier to keep people busy in religion doing things in their own power, telling them that it is the grace of God, than it is to teach people the truth about themselves that they are helpless sinners and in utter need of grace to do anything spiritual at all as Jesus taught (John 15:4-5). It is hard to teach people the truth about depravity and their utter need of grace in their most solemn duties. We can encourage people to pray, but it takes the grace of God to truly pray. We can encourage people to seek the face of God, but God alone can show Himself to the hearts of sinners which happens by grace.

Of the seven churches in the book of Revelation, the phrase “I know your deeds” was spoken to five of them. The fact that a church has many deeds and many things going on does not mean that it has life. To the church at Sardis He said this: “I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead” (Revelation 3:1). To the church at Laodicea He said this: “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. Because you say, ‘I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,’ and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked” (Revelation 3:15-17). To put it in graphic terms, a chicken with its head cut off has more activity than a live chicken but it does not have life itself. When people mistake activity with life, they are like a chicken with its head cut off and are sadly mistaken as the Pharisees were. They traveled across land and sea to make a convert. They tithed the herbs in their gardens. They prayed a lot, gave alms and fasted. They had a magnificent building but it was not used for the true worship of God. In the Old Testament the Jews had the tabernacle and then the temple and they thought they were blessed. But God judged them and turned them over to hardness of heart. They had a lot of religious activity going on with the feasts and special days and even the daily sacrifices. But even in the midst of all their activity, they did not know God and were turned over to hardened hearts and even gross idolatry. What they thought of as worship of God actually provoked God to anger.

Isaiah 1:13 – “Bring your worthless offerings no longer, Incense is an abomination to Me. New moon and sabbath, the calling of assemblies– I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly. (14) I hate your new moon festivals and your appointed feasts, They have become a burden to Me; I am weary of bearing them. (15) So when you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you; Yes, even though you multiply prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are covered with blood.”

Amos 5:20 – “Will not the day of the LORD be darkness instead of light, Even gloom with no brightness in it? (21) I hate, I reject your festivals, Nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies. (22) Even though you offer up to Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them; And I will not even look at the peace offerings of your fatlings. (23) Take away from Me the noise of your songs; I will not even listen to the sound of your harps.”

In light of the texts above, it is possible there are “churches” in America with thousands on Sunday morning and yet are under the judgment of God. It is possible there are churches conservative in theology and morality that meet each Sunday lamenting liberalism and yet are under the judgment of God. Doing the religious rituals even in outward conformity to the commands of God is no sign that people are not under the judgment of God. The Pharisees were very conservative and moral and yet were children of the devil (John 8). They gave money to the poor and practiced evangelism, yet they were children of the devil. As noted earlier the churches in the book of Revelation had deeds and yet were under judgment. Perhaps what churches really need to do is stop all that they are doing other than preaching, singing and praying and seek the face of God. Perhaps everything needs to stop at times in order to seek the Lord in truth and spirit. Without the truth and spirit, we are not seeking Him at all.

Charles Finney was a famous evangelist. He went from town to town and evangelized in a way that was not in line with what the Church had practiced previously. He had many that professed conversion. When later evangelists went through the areas Finney had evangelized they found people hardened to the Gospel. Finney’s method was activity and high pressure. He pressured people who were not truly converted into making a commitment. They would tell the later evangelists that Christianity did not work for them. The area where Finney evangelized has been called “the burned over district” to refer to the fact that where he went the area was as burned with fire and people were hardened to the Gospel. Churches need to be aware of the same issue. Getting people involved in lots of activities without truly seeking the face of God by grace will lead to people being burned over. It is so easy to get people involved in the activities of the church but it has to be an act of grace for people to seek the Lord in truth and in spirit. Human beings gravitate toward busyness and activity rather than brokenness/helplessness and seeking the Lord from the heart. It is easy to get people busy, but impossible apart from grace to seek the Lord.

Let me be provocative here. Where do we see organized evangelism in the Bible? Where do we see block parties in the Bible? Where do we see a church as a whole doing evangelism in the Bible? The Bible does not give a command to do these things and it gives us no examples either. Why is it that people are so engrossed in these things and churches are said to be alive when they do these things? Because these things keep people busy in doing religious things and people like busyness. What we do see in Scripture is that God adds to the church. We are to evangelize, but that is a daily activity of people rather than a program. We must recognize the fact that the Gospel is far too great a thing to dump on a person in one meeting and is far more than a simple message. People need to hear of the terrible state that they are in regarding their depravity and what repentance really is. Repentance is not moral reform; it is to be turned from self being the center of all I do to do all out of love for God. Many of the things that we take for granted might be nothing more than traditional ways built on false theology and practice which means our busyness in religious activities actually provoke the Lord of glory. That is a sign of judgment.

Let us continue being provocative. If we are doing works of service or giving people things, does that really make them more open to the Gospel as we have heard? Most likely it makes them open to selfishly receiving free stuff and might harden them to the Gospel. Doing things for people does not make them more open to the Gospel and this is demonstrated by the fact that Jesus gave free food to people and when He taught them the truth they went away. Of all the people Jesus fed and healed how many do we know of that were converted? Were any of them? If even Jesus did not see conversions and disciples made by miracles and good works, then what makes us think we will? Remember the story of the poor man and the rich man. The rich man died and lifted us his eyes in torment. He cried out to Abraham to send someone to his brothers. Boiled down, the rich man thought that if someone would rise from the dead then his brothers would listen. Abraham said this in reply: “‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead'” (Luke 16:31). No miracle or anything else we can do will ever persuade anyone of anything if they will not listen to the Word of God.

It is a sign of judgment when churches are busy in their religious activities in the name of God and yet are not truly seeking the face of God. Isaiah 66:3-4 speaks to this: “But he who kills an ox is like one who slays a man; He who sacrifices a lamb is like the one who breaks a dog’s neck; He who offers a grain offering is like one who offers swine’s blood; He who burns incense is like the one who blesses an idol. As they have chosen their own ways, And their soul delights in their abominations, 4 So I will choose their punishments And will bring on them what they dread. Because I called, but no one answered; I spoke, but they did not listen. And they did evil in My sight And chose that in which I did not delight.” These were sacrifices that were commanded to be done, yet they did them as they pleased and lived as they pleased. They followed their own ways. The Lord is calling today for people to repent of following themselves in their religious ways and seek His face. Where are those who will listen? If no one listens, then the very religious duties and activities they trust and delight in are an abomination. Perhaps we use religious busyness and activity to keep out the true convicting work of the Holy Spirit. That is judgment.

The State of the Church, Part 11

March 22, 2008

We are in a series on the judgment of God on the professing Church which is a statement on the state of the Church. As has been said several times, we must not judge the state of the professing Church by our feelings or the level of numerical growth. What should determine the state of the professing Church in our estimation is the character of God and the Church as set out by Scripture. It is absolutely imperative that we abandon all hope in our own methods and strength or we will continue to spiral downward while trusting in our methodologies. God will not be mocked. As set out in previous newsletters, God has turned His face from the professing Church in this nation and has delivered us into the power of our iniquities. One sign of God turning His face from the professing Church is the state of the ministry in the professing Church. When God turns His face from the professing Church, He turns them over to their own ways. Part of this is when He does not give understanding and power to the ministers who then turn to methods gleaned from the world rather than Scripture. When the power and truth of God are not present, many turn to other things in an effort to mimic what God alone can do.

Jeremiah 3:12 “Go and proclaim these words toward the north and say, ‘Return, faithless Israel,’ declares the LORD; ‘I will not look upon you in anger. For I am gracious,’ declares the LORD; ‘I will not be angry forever. 13 ‘Only acknowledge your iniquity, That you have transgressed against the LORD your God And have scattered your favors to the strangers under every green tree, And you have not obeyed My voice,’ declares the LORD. 14 ‘Return, O faithless sons,’ declares the LORD; ‘For I am a master to you, And I will take you one from a city and two from a family, And I will bring you to Zion.’ 15 “Then I will give you shepherds after My own heart, who will feed you on knowledge and understanding.

This text gives us a principle that we must take to heart. When a people turn from their sin and are seeking the Lord in truth, He gives them shepherds after His heart and from the heart of God they feed the people on knowledge and understanding. We know that part of the famine that God has sent on America is a famine of hearing or understanding the Word (Amos 8:11). The famine is not that of having people stop their business or religious things, but of not hearing the Word. Over and over we read in Scripture where God hardens hearts and blinds people to His Word. John 12:39-40 has a powerful word to us on this: “39 For this reason they could not believe, for Isaiah said again, 40 “HE HAS BLINDED THEIR EYES AND HE HARDENED THEIR HEART, SO THAT THEY WOULD NOT SEE WITH THEIR EYES AND PERCEIVE WITH THEIR HEART, AND BE CONVERTED AND I HEAL THEM.” This text tells us why people could not (the text does not say “may”) believe. The word “can” is a word of ability or power. When a person can lift 500 pounds, a person has the ability and power to do so. Here the text tells us that the reason that the people did not have the power or ability to believe. It is because God had blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts. They had not stopped being religious, but they were blinded and hardened and so had no true knowledge and understanding. That is a hard judgment.

We must hear this and pray for God to open our eyes to these things as well. John 17:3 defines eternal life as knowing God. I John 5:20 says that Jesus came to give us understanding so that we may know Him who is true. II Corinthians 4:6 speaks of the Gospel as being the light that God shines in the hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. In the context of spiritual judgment, this is devastating. Blinding and hardening the heart from the knowledge of God means that people are not converted. No matter how many people are coming in the doors of the church buildings and filling the pews, when God does not give shepherds after His heart who will feed the people on knowledge and understanding, those people will not be converted. The few that are converted will not grow beyond infancy. If God is not giving shepherds who are seeking the Lord, then He is not giving people those who will feed them with the knowledge and understanding that is necessary to know Him and so be saved. Salvation is not a matter of uttering a prayer or responding to an altar call, it is coming to know God and He alone can give us understanding and knowledge of Himself. When He does not grant those things, the Church is in dire straights. Instead of responding with organizations set up to fill the pews, we must seek the Lord from the heart as that is the only real answer.

Jeremiah 10:21 For the shepherds have become stupid And have not sought the LORD; Therefore they have not prospered, And all their flock is scattered.

The text above gives us some insight. Regardless of the ministers education and qualifications, he has become stupid if he is not seeking the Lord. It is in that state of stupidity and not seeking the Lord that they have not prospered. The idea of the word “stupid” is that one has become senseless and brutish. Again, there are many highly educated men in the ministry that are senseless and not seeking the Lord. Regardless of the numbers they are reporting, the true flock has been scattered because the true sheep will not hear a man that is not really preaching the Word of God. Yet, in the name of religion many men have gathered quite a crowd.

The opposite of Jeremiah 10:21 is that a man can not be seeking the Lord in reality and prosper in worldly methods without any true spiritual fruit. A religious man that is not seeking the Lord might still gather a great number of people who want to be religious and yet not seek the Lord in truth but seek in their own way. After all, in order to have true worship it must be in spirit and truth (John 4:24). There are many in the world seeking to gain prestige and money that are doing so in the name of the Lord. But false shepherds will have to answer to God for all the damage they are doing even though the judgment is from God Himself. If true ministers will face a harder judgment, then what are we to say about those who are false and go around deceiving?

There are texts of Scripture that should make us tremble when we think of the judgment of God who draws back and does not send shepherds who will feed His sheep with knowledge and understanding. What happens is that the vacuum is filled with those who have their own motives and ways. The problem that went on in the days of Jeremiah and Ezekiel is with us today. There are many false teachers going around crying out that people have peace with God when there is no peace at all. This leads to large numbers in the pews with increased offerings, but God has never given us a standard of those things in the Bible. It seems in our day that the larger the numbers in the pews the greater the deception that is going on. Listen closely to these texts:

Jer 6:14 “They have healed the brokenness of My people superficially, Saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ But there is no peace

Jeremiah 8:11 “They heal the brokenness of the daughter of My people superficially, Saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ But there is no peace.

Ezekiel 13:10 “It is definitely because they have misled My people by saying, ‘Peace!’ when there is no peace. And when anyone builds a wall, behold, they plaster it over with whitewash;

Ezekiel 13:16 along with the prophets of Israel who prophesy to Jerusalem, and who see visions of peace for her when there is no peace,’ declares the Lord GOD.

We have seen in this newsletter that the judgment of God comes on a people when he does not give them shepherds to feed them. Without food for the soul people lose discernment and are given over to hardened and cold hearts. At some point a lack of understanding and knowledge will lead to people being given over to becoming like the Pharisees which comes from and leads to spiritual hardness which comes from not following God. They will be given over to selfish things in religion and seek God for selfish purposes. They will use the name of God and His Word in order to build large congregations but instead of feeding the people they will be feeding on them and deceiving them to the truth. This is a sign that the judgment of God is upon us.

Ephesians 4:10-13 is a scary set of verses when read a certain way: “He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things.) 11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.” It is Christ that gifts men as shepherds for the purpose of feeding and equipping. When the saints are hungry and people are not being equipped spiritually, that is a sign of judgment because Christ is not giving His people what is needed for spiritual maturity. Much of the modern church growth movement is simply worldly ways in a church dress. There will be no true growth of the true Church apart from the true Gospel. True growth of the true Church will not happen apart from knowing God. Regardless of the methodologies that men use to fill the pews, the Church cannot be built on anything but the knowledge of God gleaned by sound preaching. The professing Church is seeking numbers thinking that pleases God. That is a sign of judgment.

The State of the Church, Part 10

March 13, 2008

We are in the middle of a series on the judgment of God on the professing Church. We must not judge this by our feelings or even by what we see. This must be determined/judged by holding up what is going on in the professing Church and judging that by Scripture and the character of God. I think it is simply imperative that we stop deceiving ourselves about our religious games, plans and activities and begin to seek the Lord as He has set out that He should be sought. God alone knows how He is to be truly sought. Man cannot come up with some way of worship in His own wisdom and expect that God will accept whatever fallen man desires. In modern America we think that not only should the entire world fall at our feet but God Himself as well. Modern America is in such spiritual darkness that it does not realize that the judgment of God is upon it. It is in such darkness that it does not realize that greater darkness is falling upon it at an alarming rate. What is the real problem? God has turned His face from the professing Church in this nation and has delivered us into the power of our iniquities.

For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. 7 There is no one who calls on Your name, Who arouses himself to take hold of You; For You have hidden Your face from us And have delivered us into the power of our iniquities (Isa 64:6-7).

A nation is only as great as its spiritual state. The salt of the nation is the Church and when it begins to sink into the pit, the nation does as well. When the professing Church falls under the judgment of God and begins to be turned over to the power of its own iniquities, then the very means that God uses to preserve a nation from moral decay is itself in decay. The only result will be that the nation as a whole will rush down the hill into moral decay and will soon become a much weaker nation if it exists at all. The professing Church is under the judgment of God and this is the real reason of the moral decay of our nation. We must also not think that moral decay is just one part of the nation, but we must recognize that morality is the very fabric of a people. Whether it is the government, business, education or whatever other line there might be morality is the very fabric of all those things. Nothing can stand apart from morality. The highest and only true morality is the character of God in human beings. So when God withdraws from a Church and a nation, nothing is left to hold them up and they will go down.

Some might argue that we are not the worst nation on earth and we still have strong churches. When one says things like that there are many things that must be demonstrated in order to show those things as true. What standard are we going to use to determine which nation is the worst in the world? What standard are we going to use to determine what a strong church is? We can look (if we can bear even a glimpse) at the mega-churches in our country. Wow, look at Joel Olsteen in Houston, Texas. There is a really strong church since it has over 30,000 people in attendance each Sunday. Since when does Scripture determine the strength of a church or even if it is a church or not by the number of people that attend? If the Gospel of Jesus Christ is not preached from the Scriptures a group of people meeting together is not a church. If we want to take a close look at Scripture and then the content of the messages of Joel Olsteen, we would have a more accurate way to judge. From the so-called sermons that I have heard him “preach” and from what I have read of his books, I think that the judgment of God is upon him and what he is doing. There is no Gospel preached and one looks in vain to see anything of the glory of God in Christ. Instead there is a mixture of man-centeredness and positive thinking presented to make people feel good about themselves. You see, the power of iniquity is not just that people are given over to external acts that are immoral, but it is when people focus on and worship themselves rather than God. This is done when people do religious acts as an effort to gain something from God for themselves. It is very deceptive since it is done in the name of God, but it is really an effort to use God and manipulate Him to obtain something for self. When that is done, all is done in the worship of self. Let us take the time and effort to think through this issue from II Timothy 3.

But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. 2 For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, 4 treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these.

We must understand that this text describes religious people and not just those in the world. This is a sign that God has hidden His face and turned a people over to the power of their iniquities. People are not only taught in public schools that they should love themselves, but now they are taught that in local churches and by famous psychologists within Christendom. Scripture tells us over and over that we are to deny ourselves and to love God with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength, yet we are taught over and over in our day within the professing Church that we should love ourselves. But the text in II Timothy 3 tells us that this is a sign of difficult times. This text also tells us that men will be lovers of money. In reality men do not love money but they love what money does for them which is just another form of self-love. Is there anyone alive today who would deny that the love of money is rampant in America? But even worse, can we deny that the love of money is rampant within the professing Church in America? Again, how do we judge a strong church? It appears that conventional wisdom tells us that we are to judge this by nickels and noses or money and people.

When God is with a people, He is loved by those people and they want to please Him and not everybody else. When God has withdrawn Himself, there is no power to withstand sin and temptation. Human beings do not have the power to be absolutely free. They will always love God or themselves as their chief love which is what the devil does. When he stopped loving God with all of his being, he loved himself with all of his being. There is no middle ground. If God withdraws from a people, then those people will pursue themselves in love. When we see people who love themselves and money, we can know that God has withdrawn and has turned those people over to their sin. The sin of seeking self in love is rampant within the professing Church. Judgment is here!

II Timothy 3:1-5 goes on to describe other ways that people act when they are in the bondage of self-love. They are boastful since those who love themselves want to talk about what they love the most (self) and desire others to talk about them too. They are arrogant since they love themselves rather than God. They are revilers since anyone who does not love them as they love themselves will be spoken against. They are disobedient to parents because they love themselves and not others or God. They are ungrateful since out of self-love they think they deserve what they get. They are unholy since holiness goes no farther than love for God does and these people love themselves which is unholiness. They are unloving because they love themselves rather than God and have no true love. They are irreconcilable because others will not be reconciled to their self-love. They are malicious gossips because they want to speak against others to build themselves up in their self-love. They are without self-control because they are controlled by self-love. They are brutal because they have no true love for others or God and so are brutal to the souls of others and at times the bodies of others. They are haters of good because they love self which loves what is evil. They are treacherous because they are not faithful to anyone but themselves in their self-love. They are reckless since they are given over to themselves. They are conceited because they love themselves rather than God or anyone else. They are lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God which simply describes what it means to be a person that loves him self supremely. When a person is a lover of self, that person loves his or her own pleasure rather than God. They will have a pretence of love for God as long as He does what they want and gives them what they want. After all, those who are full of self-love will appear to love as long as people love them.

It is beyond question that these things are true of modern America and the professing Church in America as well. II Timothy 3 does not tell us that these things describe the world, but he specifically tells us that these things describe professing Christians. Here is verse 5 again: “holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; avoid such men as these.” The people that were behaving like this held to a form of godliness and denied the power of godliness. These were religious people and we see this same thing alive and active in the professing Church today. The professing Church is full of theologies that allow for such things rather than seeing these things as evidence that a person does not have the life of Christ in him or her and when it is widespread it shows that the judgment of God is upon us. Romans 1 specifically tells us how the wrath of God is revealed each day: “Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. 25 For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.” When people have exchanged the truth of God for a lie and serve the creature, the wrath of God has arrived. The love of self which is a love for pleasure (internal, physical, spiritual Goosebumps) is nothing but living in the service of self which is to serve a creature. God, who is love itself, has withdrawn from a people when they are lovers of self and of the pleasures of self. It is a clear and specific sign that God is not among a people when they love self rather than Him. Without question we are under judgment if we judge by Scripture.

The State of the Church, Part 9

March 4, 2008

We are continuing on in the series on the judgment that is upon the professing Church. If we look at Scripture and the character of God, it is no longer an option to think that we are not under His judgment. We must begin to recognize that we are under His judgment and why we are under His judgment. If He does not enlighten our eyes to these things, we will remain under His judgment. It is really that simple. In our day many seem to recognize that something is wrong, but a program or an event is thought to be what is needed. The only thing we can do is to begin to seek the face of the Lord in humility and with broken hearts, though even those are His work in the soul and not something that can be worked up by human effort. But until the Lord shines His face upon us to some degree we will not see the sin or our dark hearts and the reasons why the Lord has turned His face from us.

For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. 7 There is no one who calls on Your name, Who arouses himself to take hold of You; For You have hidden Your face from us And have delivered us into the power of our iniquities (Isaiah 64:6-7).

Last time we looked at several passages of Scripture in an effort to see something of how Scripture uses and what it means when it speaks of the face of God. We saw that Scripture uses the phrase to speak of the presence of God. When His face is turned toward a people or a person, it is His favorable presence to do good to them. When His face is hidden from them, it is a judgment upon them. Other texts speak of the face of the Lord being set against a people to do harm to them. We then saw from our text that the judgments of God in Isaiah 64:6-7 are all linked to God hiding His face from the people. When God hides His face from a people, they are without power to resist or stand against evil and so they are delivered into the power of their iniquities.

Another thing that we must point out here is that no denomination or theological position is distinguished here. If people are unclean, then their theology is unclean as well. If there is no one who calls on His name, then regardless of their theological position they do not call on His name. We should not think of this text as saying that no one ever calls on God at all, but that no one calls on His name in truth. Throughout the Old Testament we see people calling upon their gods in order to deliver them and to do something for them. In Scripture, however, a person’s name stood for who they were. The name of God, then, is not just a word that distinguishes Him, but refers to His whole character and what He is. In other words, if no one calls on “Your name” then no one is calling on the true God. Remember that eternal life is to know Him and that one must know Him in order to love and be like Him.

Another aspect of calling on the name of God is to arouse ourselves and to take hold of Him. This is suggestive and powerful language. In some ways it is almost blasphemous if we take this in a literalistic sense, but it speaks volumes when we understand that it refers to the zeal and desires of the soul to know God and to seek Him for who He really is. Hosea 7:7 teaches us something when it sets this out: “All of them are hot like an oven, and they consume their rulers; all their kings have fallen. None of them calls on Me.” We see heat in some people in their political and financial dealings, but when that is true those same people are not calling on God. Many times people get frustrated with their political rulers and they forget who is really in control and so they forget God.

What does it mean to take hold of God? Genesis 30 gives us one picture: “Then Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. 25 When he saw that he had not prevailed against him, he touched the socket of his thigh; so the socket of Jacob’s thigh was dislocated while he wrestled with him. 26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking.” But he said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” 27 So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28 He said, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed.” Luke 22:44 gives us one picture of Christ who was taking hold of God in prayer: “And being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground.” Hebrews 5:7 gives a second picture of Christ in this: “In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety.” If this is what it means to take hold of God, then certainly the professing Church is under the judgment of God. We give canned prayers and ask for blessings rather than take hold of God in prayer and in faith in other parts of life. We offer prayers that are at best with a small percentage of our desires and hearts. Is there any real reason to deny that God has turned His face and we are not seeking Him in our day? Sure we have commentaries and books galore. But where is God? His face has been turned away and He has hidden Himself from us. When God hides Himself, there is no way to find Him apart from His grace.

In times past (biblical and then in history after the NT times) when God was going to send a revival “He set His people a prayin.” True prayer is not to be seen as man trying to wrest something from an unwilling Deity, but it is actually God working a desire for Himself in the hearts of people before He grants them the desire of their hearts. When people are not being broken for their sin and from their own efforts and sufficiency, God is not working a desire for Himself in them. When people are not truly seeking God, a blessing of God Himself is not close. The account that Luke gives us in the book of Acts is generally the pattern that true revivals have followed.

Acts 1:4 – Gathering them together, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised, “Which,” He said, “you heard of from Me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” “12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. 13 When they had entered the city, they went up to the upper room where they were staying; that is, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas the son of James. 14 These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers. Acts 2:1 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.

Here we see a pattern. The people were told what was going to happen and to wait for what the Father promised. They went to Jerusalem (as commanded). But notice what they were doing after being told directly by Christ what was going to happen. Instead of just waiting around doing nothing, they “were continually devoting themselves to prayer” (v. 14). The idea of being devoted to something in this context was to attend constantly. It was not that they devoted part of a week or a day to prayer, but they were constantly being devoted (continually) to prayer. They did not go and give themselves to religious duties as such, but they were given over to constant prayer. It was not a ritual sort of prayer or a duty prayer, but it certainly appears to have been several people given over to a true seeking of God. What were they praying for? It is more than a guess as to what they were praying for.

Jesus told them to go to Jerusalem and wait for what the Father had promised. He spoke of the New Covenant just before being handed over to be crucified. They knew Jeremiah 31:31-33 where God had promised to write His laws in them and write it on their hearts and of the promises in Ezekiel 36:26: “Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.” They were in the upper room praying for the Spirit to be given as we can see what was said after the Spirit was given: “Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear” (Acts 2:33). It was also the Old Testament promise that Paul spoke of in Galatians 3:14. When these people heard the words of Jesus regarding the Father’s promise of the Spirit, they devoted themselves to prayer and a true revival came.

Where are these things today? Where are those who are burdened and wrestling with God? Where are those who are devoted to seeking His glory, His face and the Spirit to be poured out in true revival? These things are talked about but don’t happen when people are under judgment. We get caught up with projects and religious activities but we are not given over and devoted to seeking God as the sole desire of our hearts. It is easy to utter words, but true prayer requires broken and humbled hearts which is beyond human power. True prayer is a supernatural work that God alone can work in the heart, drawing the souls of His people to Himself and giving them a desire for Himself above all. When this is not being done, God has withdrawn and His face is hidden from a people while they go on in their religious ways. We are under a terrifying judgment while the professing Church goes about doing its religious duties. That is exactly what happened to Israel too. We must learn this.

There is simply no way out from this judgment if the professing Church continues the things below and many more:

  1. Looking to itself and its own practices, methods and means.
  2. Being content to be religious without broken hearts, or perhaps just a measure of sorrow.
  3. Being content with the external works of self instead of the internal work of the Holy Spirit.
  4. Being content to find its wisdom in and from itself rather than His wisdom found in prayer.
  5. Being content to listen to the scholars instead of seeking brokenness from God.
  6. Having any hope in self and the efforts of self and so will not seek His face alone.
  7. Confusing their religious efforts with seeking God.
  8. Being more afraid of the opinions of men than pleasing God.
  9. Preaching against sin as a moral evil rather than that which is against a holy God.
  10. Seeking idols because of not knowing the true God.

We are so used to trusting in programs, methods, scholarship and our own efforts that we think we are seeking God when in fact we are seeking ourselves and are under judgment. We are so used to thinking that the judgment of God is physical rather than spiritual. We think that the Old Testament people were judged because of their outward sin and if we avoid those we are okay. But God also judges with spiritual judgment and a withdrawing of His face. We must give up all other things, even religious things, in order to seek His face. If not, the judgment will be irrevocable. While these words are hard, that does not mean that they are not true. We live in dark times.

The State of the Church, Part 8

February 29, 2008

We are continuing on in the series on the state of the professing Church. While there is much going on in the professing Church these days that appears good, we can see from the churches in Revelation that some of them were doing many good things too. We must learn to look beyond the externals and see things with the spiritual eye or look for the work of the Spirit of God as He works spiritually in and through things. Last time we looked at Isaiah 64:6 and noted how it was in the context of judgment. When a person, a people or a church is under the judgment of God, they are turned over to a hardened heart. Most of the time people are not aware that they have a hardened heart and so they continue on in blindness. A hardened heart can simply mean that a person is not walking in the wisdom and power of the Spirit and so tries to create the work of the Spirit by the works of the flesh though s/he may give credit to the Spirit for this. This comes from pride and leads to more pride which is also from the spirit of the Pharisee and leads to more of the same. It is a dangerous place to be.

For all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; and all of us wither like a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls on Your name, Who arouses himself to take hold of You; For You have hidden Your face from us And have delivered us into the power of our iniquities (Isaiah 64:6-7).

As stated last time about Isaiah 64:6, verse 7 is also in the context of judgment. The context of the judgment of God and His causing them to stray from His ways and hardening their hearts from fearing Him (Isa 63:17). It is in the context of a judgment where the people had become like those over whom God had never ruled (Isaiah 63:19). While these do not have the appearance of a fearful judgment to people, these things are severe judgments. As we continue on with the judgments in Isaiah 64:7, this is again something that will not scare many people. It is nothing to the world and scarcely of any concern to most people within the religious realm. As long as we can get people into the church building and get a few people to make a profession of faith all is thought to be well. But within this verse (Isa 64:7) a most frightening judgment is seen. It is one that takes some spiritual discernment to see, but not a vast amount of it. It is one that spells doom to a professing Church and then to a nation as well.

In Scripture the face of God stands for His presence and then for His presence in the sense that He is pleased. When the face of God is turned away, it pictures what Americans know of as turning your back on another and walking away. When God turns His face and walks away, there is no strength to stand against the strength and wiles of Satan and his deceptions. It is truly a frightening picture once this way of looking at things begins to set in. Look at this passage from II Chronicles 30: “For if you return to the LORD, your brothers and your sons will find compassion before those who led them captive and will return to this land. For the LORD your God is gracious and compassionate, and will not turn His face away from you if you return to Him” (v. 9). When God has turned His face or has hidden His face from a people, those people are under a severe judgment. They must repent and return to the Lord or they will be cut off permanently.

We can see from Isaiah 59:2 that sin makes a separation from God and He hides His face and does not hear. In other words, He does not hear the prayer of those people. “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.” We see from Jeremiah 44:11 that the Lord can also set His face against a people: “Therefore thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, ‘Behold, I am going to set My face against you for woe, even to cut off all Judah.” We read in Psalm 27:9 that the Lord’s hiding His face is seen as abandoning and forsaking the person: “Do not hide Your face from me, Do not turn Your servant away in anger; You have been my help; Do not abandon me nor forsake me, O God of my salvation!” Another part of this is seen in Jeremiah 21:10 where the Lord sets His face against the city for harm and gives it into the hand of an enemy king. “For I have set My face against this city for harm and not for good,” declares the LORD. “It will be given into the hand of the king of Babylon and he will burn it with fire.”‘

What is it that has driven the Lord’s servants to their knees in prayer over and over? Is it all the temporal judgments of property and the lack of ease? No, it is when He hides His face. The judgments come from that. This is seen in the life of David in Psalm 13:1: “For the choir director. A Psalm of David. How long, O LORD? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me?” We see it again in David in Psalm 30:7; “O LORD, by Your favor You have made my mountain to stand strong; You hid Your face, I was dismayed.” When the Lord hides His face, all good is gone. The soul dries up and the person no longer has the strength to stand against the onslaughts of the enemy. On the other hand, the desire of the person that loves God is to behold His face as seen in Psalm 11:7: “For the LORD is righteous, He loves righteousness; The upright will behold His face.”

The great text from Numbers 6:25 that pastors have used for centuries to pronounce a blessing on the congregation is wondrously instructive: “The LORD make His face shine on you, And be gracious to you.” The greatest thing that can be sought is the face of the Lord. Without that nothing else has any satisfaction for the soul. We are told by David in a Psalm of thanksgiving when the ark was being returned to “Seek the LORD and His strength; Seek His face continually” (1 Chronicles 16:11). What is it that we see in the Psalms several times that is a sign of restoration or that which brings restoration? “God be gracious to us and bless us, And cause His face to shine upon us” (Psalm 67:1). “O God of hosts, restore us And cause Your face to shine upon us, and we will be saved (Pa 80:7). Or Daniel in his prayer in 9:17 of the book in his name: “So now, our God, listen to the prayer of Your servant and to his supplications, and for Your sake, O Lord, let Your face shine on Your desolate sanctuary.”

While the New Testament does not focus on this in the same way, we do have a few instances where this thought is found: “FOR THE EYES OF THE LORD ARE TOWARD THE RIGHTEOUS, AND HIS EARS ATTEND TO THEIR PRAYER, BUT THE FACE OF THE LORD IS AGAINST THOSE WHO DO EVIL” (1 Peter 3:12). What we must being to see is that it is in Christ where the face of God is now seen. It is Christ who is the outshining of the glory of God (Heb 1:3) and it is Christ who is the way, the truth, and the life and apart from Him there is no way to the Father (John 14:6). II Corinthians 3:18 sets this out very well: “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” Christ, as taught in II Corinthians 4:4-6, is the very image of God and it is in His face that the glory of God is seen. We must not forget that eternal life is in knowing God (John 17:3). If the Lord has His face turned from us, we cannot know Him. Using the Old Testament language, it is in Christ that the Father shines His face upon us and is gracious to us.

When we see the way that the Old Testament uses the concept of the face of God, the judgment of God in this light is understood to be very hard for all under it. Let us look at our text from Isaiah once again.

For all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; and all of us wither like a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls on Your name, Who arouses himself to take hold of You; For You have hidden Your face from us And have delivered us into the power of our iniquities (Isaiah 64:6-7).

We do not have time in this newsletter to develop the connections and the thoughts other than to point some things out. Verses 6 and 7 are linked in the list of things that are signs and evidences of the judgment of God. Why have people become like one unclean and why are their righteous deeds like a filthy rag? Why is it that our iniquities have blown us away like the wind does to a withered leaf? Why is it that there is no one who calls on His name? Why is it that there is no one who arouses himself to take hold of God? Is it because no one has tried hard enough? Is it because no one has exercised his or her free will enough? Is it because of any other humanistic or human oriented reason? No, the text tells us that all of these things have happened because God has hidden His face from us and has delivered us into the power of our iniquities.

When we look at the professing Church today, where are those who are truly calling on His name? I am not speaking of things like tacking the name of Jesus on the end of a prayer, but where are those who really pray according to the character and glory of God? I am not talking of those who repeat words over long lists of requests, but where are those who wrestle with God for the sake of His name? Where are those who are aroused to take hold of God? We see many programs and many of man’s efforts at doing this or that and even prayer, but where are those who have taken hold of God? We have preachers and we have scholars, but where are those who truly have taken hold of God? The fact that we don’t really see these things in ourselves or in others is clear and startling evidence that God has hidden His face from us and has delivered us into the power of our iniquities. Until we are broken from our own efforts at all of these things and are given light from God to see what is truly going on, our judgment and darkness will deepen with each passing today. We need to be broken and seek the face of the Lord.

The State of the Church, Part 7

February 23, 2008

We will be continuing the series on the state of the professing Church. There is much going on in the professing Church these days that has the appearance of much good. We see large numbers and exciting music according to some reports. We hear of large numbers of confessions of faith in certain quarters. These things are not inconsistent with the judgment of God. When the Lord of all glory hardens hearts and withholds understanding, people try to fill the void with activity and make things happen in their own power. Some even believe that those things are real. The deception is even greater for those that are deceived by much religious activity. We must learn to look beyond the externals and know that religious activity is not always synonymous with the blessings of God.

“For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away” (Isaiah 64:6).

This text is still in the context of judgment. This statement is still in the context of Isaiah 63:17 where the people were under the judgment of God and He caused them to stray from His ways and hardened their heart from fearing Him. It is also in the context of Isaiah 63:19 where the people had become like those over whom God had never ruled. This verse (Isaiah 64:6) is also in the context of 64:1 where the plea is for God to come down and make His name known. When God judges a nation, a people and even those who are called by His name, the judgment is not always about hard times in the financial realm or of “natural” disasters though He does use those at times. But instead, we should look at this in a different and more biblical light.

While most think of the judgment of God as coming in a terrifying storm or of things happening that they don’t like, there is a judgment that is far more awful than that. If the greatest good that God can give a person or a people is Himself, then the greatest judgment that He can send is the withholding of the greatest good. That would be true especially if withholding the greatest good leads people to a hardening and then to the awfulness of His expressed wrath for eternity. When God withholds Himself from a professing Church, they are given over to duties and activities instead of doing all with a heart for His glory. When God withholds Himself from a professing Church, those people don’t have the life of God in their souls and are instead doing things from their own strength which is nothing but religious pride. Indeed, this shows how it is that all of their righteous deeds are as a filthy garment.

These things should remind us of the passage in Matthew 7: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.22 “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ 23 “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.'” We must not forget that the judgment of God was upon the nation of Israel when Christ came. Indeed He was the promised Messiah, but He also preached and His preaching was attended with the judgment of God because eyes were closed and hearts were hardened when He preached.

We should also hear the words of God in Matthew13 with the thought of judgment in mind: “Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.

14 “In their case the prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled, which says, ‘YOU WILL KEEP ON HEARING, BUT WILL NOT UNDERSTAND; YOU WILL KEEP ON SEEING, BUT WILL NOT PERCEIVE; 15 FOR THE HEART OF THIS PEOPLE HAS BECOME DULL, WITH THEIR EARS THEY SCARCELY HEAR, AND THEY HAVE CLOSED THEIR EYES, OTHERWISE THEY WOULD SEE WITH THEIR EYES, HEAR WITH THEIR EARS, AND UNDERSTAND WITH THEIR HEART AND RETURN, AND I WOULD HEAL THEM.’

16 “But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear.”

When we read texts like this being and we see that the reason that people do not understand and do not perceive, we should be greatly humbled and broken before God. We can know that the professing Church is under the judgment of God precisely because it has so many scandals and because of its great sin in holy things and in being like the world. Some within the professing Church are worried that God will judge us because of the things that are going on within the Church, but those things are a sure sign that judgment has already arrived. We must become acutely aware of what the judgment of God is and what it is not. God sends trials and hard times on people because He loves them and is training and disciplining them. This can be seen in many passages, but especially in the following two passages: “those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent” (Revelation 3:19). In this text Christ specifically says that His love will lead to reproof and discipline. In other words, He is calling upon the church at Laodicea to beware of what He is going to do if it does not repent. The hard things were going to come upon them because He loved them. We simply must understand that when things are easy and that for quite a period of time that this is not a sign of the blessing of the Lord.

A second passage on that theme is Hebrews 12:4-10. Again we will see that God disciplines His children and trains them with trials. “You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin; 5 and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, “MY SON, DO NOT REGARD LIGHTLY THE DISCIPLINE OF THE LORD, NOR FAINT WHEN YOU ARE REPROVED BY HIM; 6 FOR THOSE WHOM THE LORD LOVES HE DISCIPLINES, AND HE SCOURGES EVERY SON WHOM HE RECEIVES.” 7 It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness.”

The recipients of this letter were going through many trials and hardships. They were getting discouraged and were looking toward Judaism. But the writer of Hebrews, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, encourages them in a very non-American way. He quotes to them a text of Scripture (Proverbs 3:11-12 is the quote given in Heb 12:5-6)) that is so different to our way of thinking and evidently theirs as well. He tells them that Proverbs 3:11-12 should encourage them! While we look upon hard things as the judgments of God, the author is telling them that their hard times should encourage them because that is the way that God treats His children and those He loves. When a church or an individual is going through hard times, it should not necessarily think that it is being judged by God but perhaps is loved by God. If a church or a person has no training from God which comes by the way of trials, then that person is not loved in a saving way by God and is not a child of God.

Look again at Hebrews 12:9-10 (given above). Many times I have heard people say how much they appreciated the strong discipline of their parent or parents when they were younger though they hated it at the time. They really respected the parent or parents once they were old enough to see what was really going on. While it is true that in human beings strong discipline may not always be in love, yet with God it is. When discipline is in love, though it may be hard, it is still for good to those who receive it. God disciplines His children out of true love and He does it so that they may have the greatest good that there is. That greatest good is to share in His holiness. God commands His people to be holy as He is holy (Leviticus 11:45; 19:2; I Peter 1:15-16). But the good news is that we don’t have to find our own holiness and it does not come by our works, but instead it comes as a result of sharing in His holiness. God brings us trials and hard things in order to make us share in His holiness and become like Himself which is the greatest good. Holiness is a blessing which means that being turned over to sin is a judgment.

From the Scriptures above it is evident that the professing Church in America is under judgment. Instead of trials designed by God so we can share in His holiness, our trials have come from our foolishness. We have become like those who are unclean and our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment because we do all in our own power and our own planning and wisdom. Our iniquities have taken us away like a withered leaf. In the pride of our own wisdom and strength we think that God is blessing because of large buildings and increased wealth. We think we are holy because we see changed lives and people living according to our standards of morality. But we don’t see people in our day with broken hearts for their sin while they increase in the holiness that God shares. We see methods for obtaining humility and holiness while ignoring God’s method of submitting to His trials that He brings on to train us in these things. Our very desire to work things out for ourselves and to obtain pills and easy methods of numbered steps has turned us from God and His methods. The professing Church is under the judgment of God and most appear to love it as they go around concocting more methods of success. That way of success just leads to a deeper blindness in the ways of God. It is part of being driven away by our sin of pride instead of seeking humility and so sharing in His holiness. God continues to resist and oppose the proud while giving grace to the humble (I Peter 5:5). Humility is only obtained by God granting a broken heart in the midst of trials. Resisting that and seeking religious ways is to be carried away by the sin of pride which is judgment and leads to more.

The State of the Church, Part 6

February 13, 2008

We will be continuing the series on the state of the professing Church. It is not easy to do but it has never been easy. We see so much going on that looks good, but what is the core of these things? We see much religion that is nothing but man-centered activity. This can take the form of theology, higher education, projects for the poor and even missions. The past two weeks we have focused on Isaiah 63:17 and the judgment of God in causing people to stray from His ways and hardening hearts from fearing Him. To repeat, much religious activity can take place in the name of God and be nothing but enmity against Him. Conservatives may think that liberals and the user-friendly folks are under judgment. However, those things are signs that the judgment of God is upon the professing Church as a whole. Conservatism can be nothing more than moralism and to be like the Pharisees. What we must understand is that the judgment of God is not just upon groups within the professing Church, but upon the professing Church as a whole. We must begin to see the problem and cry out to God for repentance.

Isaiah 64:1-4: Oh, that You would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at Your presence –as fire kindles the brushwood, as fire causes water to boil– to make Your name known to Your adversaries, that the nations may tremble at Your presence! When You did awesome things which we did not expect, You came down, the mountains quaked at Your presence. For from days of old they have not heard or perceived by ear, nor has the eye seen a God besides You, Who acts in behalf of the one who waits for Him.

In verse 1 we see the cry of the heart. It is not for a return of morality or the return of conservative religion, it is the cry for God Himself. This is the heart that we must learn to strive for which will only come by grace. We cannot work up a heart like this with a program or by self-effort. The heart that truly desires these things can only be worked in us by grace and the object desired (for God to come down) will only happen by grace. Texts like this must not be seen as something to make us work harder, but as that which should show us our hard hearts and to weep harder. The desire to see the glory of God must not be for the selfish purposes to make our local church grow or for the sensory pleasure of being in His presence, but must be the true desire to see Him in His glory.

The cry of the heart in verse 1 is for God to come down. It must not be for God to put on a show in order to increase the tithes or activity of the local church, it must be a pure desire to see God Himself. It is a desire that the mountains themselves would quake at His presence which they will only do in the presence of the true God. It is a desire that is spoken of in verse 2 which is to make His own name known to His adversaries. Notice that the text is not a cry for the salvation of the nations, but that they would tremble in His presence. All too often we want to use God to carry out our own desires and programs rather than bow in humble resignation for Him to carry out His. We pray and carry out missions as if God’s glory depends on the salvation of the nations rather than to do missions with the desire that He would make His name known to His adversaries. We pray for the salvation of His enemies when in this text we see that the prayer is for the nations to tremble in His presence.

This is not heartless and not a denial that we are to proclaim the Gospel to all creatures, but an effort to show us the real focus in how we do that. We must not do evangelism and missions with our chief desire to see sinners saved. If we do that we will always be tempted to water down the message and try to get the people to agree to certain things. We must realize that our chief love must always be God Himself and our message must primarily be out of love for Him. It is only when our chief love is for God that we will ever truly love others as well. It is only when we love God (1st Greatest Commandment) that we can love our neighbor as ourselves (2nd Greatest Commandment). Until we desire for God to come down and for His name to be made known and the nations to tremble at His presence we will not truly desire what is good for other people.

The previous paragraph may puzzle some people, but let us go back to last week’s newsletter and review just a bit. The judgment of God is seen (Isaiah 63:17-19) when He hardens people’s hearts from fearing Him. The cry in this verse is for God to come down and bring the fear of Himself to people. Until people fear the Lord, they will not return unto Him but will keep on serving themselves and doing what they please as they rush on to destruction. While it is not politically correct in the professing Church today, there is no true Christianity where the fear of God is not present. The professing Church goes on and wants to make everybody comfortable when what is needed is for people to become uncomfortable and even terribly afraid. If people are comfortable in our churches, that means that God is not there. If our desire is for them to be comfortable, then we don’t have a true desire for God to be there. When the Lord comes down people are terrified to be in His presence. When the Lord comes down in His blazing light and glory, people are struck with a sense of the awfulness of their sin and the horror of judgment.

We must begin to be broken for our easy approach to “doing church” and getting people comfortable. The worst crime in the professing Church these days is to offend someone or to be something less than gracious or winsome. What has happened that we are so unlike the prophets and the apostles who were terribly afraid of offending God? What has happened to us that we have become the exact opposite of Paul who declared that if he or even an angel preached a different Gospel then that person was to go to hell forever under the wrath of God? We must begin to think of the Gospel as the declaration of the Holy One rather than as a message that by being nice we can talk people into believing. Certainly the judgment of God is upon us and we truly don’t desire God in truth when we think that being gracious and winsome is more important than reverence before God. Until we begin to be more concerned about offending the Almighty rather than those with breath in their nostrils how can we claim to desire the presence of the Holy One? As the prophet instructs us in Isaiah 2:22, “Stop regarding man, whose breath of life is in his nostrils; For why should he be esteemed?”

We read about revivals and the writings of the Puritans and admire them for all the wrong reasons. Perhaps we see the numbers that the churches gained from the revivals and admire the learning of the Puritans. But do we want the God that came down in those revivals? Do we desire to be shredded from all of our comforts, intellectualism, and easy-going religion? If not, then we don’t desire true revival. When our text from above tells us that “For from days of old they have not heard or perceived by ear,” that is also speaking to us. We have only heard what God can do. We don’t know that God for ourselves. If we only read on the surface of the revivals or the Puritans these things sound so good and easy. But these things come at a cost which is too much for the modern professing Church. If a true revival is to come in America it will require suffering and self-denial. True revival will not come to a people that desires for God to do things and to do them in a way that does not disrupt their easy and moral lives. But we must notice that this is part of the judgment that is upon us. We are satisfied with our lives and look to morality and politics as the way to protect these things. Do we truly desire God for the sake of God? Do we really want Him to come down if that means we will be homeless with poor clothes and living in caves? That is what happened to prophets and to the believers in the 1st century. That is what Hebrews 11 describes.

The judgment of God is upon the professing Church in America and we don’t recognize it because things are going so well. We are comfortable, make money, have health care and we have what we think is religious freedom. We go about our lives, go to church on Sunday, try to be moral and say our prayers that God will save some lost and protect our lands. But that can be nothing but selfishness and a desire to protect the status quo. Where is our desire for God to come down and for God to kill our self-centeredness and self-love? Where are the prayers coming from broken hearts that desire God and His glory above all? Do we really think that our easy-going and self-focused religion bears much resemblance other than name only to that of the prophets and the apostles? Are we not guilty of an Americanized way of doing Christianity? Have we not gutted the heart of Christianity and kept the shell?

We must learn to come to God with nothing in our hands with no programs for Him. We must learn to begin to seek the face of God with no desire but to see Him come down and exalt His own name. We must learn that we can do nothing apart from grace and so seek the Lord for grace to seek His face in reality. We can perform all sorts of outward actions that demonstrate nothing but the fact we think we can work these things up on our own. The issue has to do with the heart. If we think we can read a text of Scripture and then simply go out and perform the external actions, we have missed the point completely. We must do the external actions from hearts that love God and desire His presence above all things. Until we have a desperate desire for God out of love for Him and are willing to set aside all programs and activities to seek Him, we will remain under judgment. Until we are ready to have God shred us from all hope in anything but Himself, we will remain under judgment. If our hope is in a denomination or a program, we have no hope. Until God Himself becomes our only real desire and one that aches within us and breaks out in cries from broken hearts, the judgment of God will remain despite “easy” lives. It will be easy to read this and go on with no change like we do when we read Scripture. That is the judgment of God.

The State of the Church, Part 5

February 7, 2008

We have been looking at the state of the professing Church in modern America. While it is not a pretty sight, if we look at Scripture with all honesty, the truth of the terrifying judgment that is upon us should drive any hopes of man-centered activity as a method of delivery far from us. Last week we focused on Isaiah 63:17 and the judgment of God causing people to stray from His ways and hardening hearts from fearing Him. While the world and worldly people in the professing Church gives but little thought to such things, this continues to give us an awful picture of the professing Church in America for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear. This week we will focus on verse 19.

17 Why, O LORD, do You cause us to stray from Your ways And harden our heart from fearing You? Return for the sake of Your servants, the tribes of Your heritage. 18 Your holy people possessed Your sanctuary for a little while, Our adversaries have trodden it down. 19 We have become like those over whom You have never ruled, Like those who were not called by Your name (Isaiah 63:17-19).

When the professing Church becomes like the world, the professing Church is under the judgment of God because the world is under the judgment of God and His wrath abides on them. The professing Church has many people crying out that we must become more like people in order to win them over. We are told to water the teaching down and stop being so different. We are told not to preach against sin and to lighten up on so many things. We are told that people must be comfortable when they come to church and so that becomes the goal. We are told that it is a horrible thing if people are uncomfortable at church. Fine, but is God comfortable? Do we offend God by trying not to offend people? The heart of love for God is to strive to be in His presence rather than try not to offend people at a meeting of the church. We should fear offending God rather than men. The unbeliever hates God and will never be comfortable with the ways of God until s/he is converted. When we try to please men and make them comfortable at church, it is simply another way the church has become like the world and is not pleased with standing for the truth of God.

When a church (and the professing Church) becomes like those over whom God has never ruled, it has become like those who are His enemies. The command of God is to be holy as He is holy (I Peter 1:16). We are commanded to love God with all of our being in the Greatest Commandment. We are told that the world will recognize believers as disciples because they love one another (John 13:35). We are told that only believers truly love since they alone are born of God and know Him (I John 4:7-8). The true believer strives by the grace in him to love God in keeping with the Ten Commandments which tells us specifics of how to keep the Greatest Commandments. The believer has the love of God shed abroad in his heart (Rom 5:5-8). When we take these verses together, and there are many others, we see something that is very interesting. Believers are known by their love for God and other true believers. The world is known by its love for things other than God though it will dream up many idols to love and call it “God.” When a professing church becomes like those that God has never ruled over, it is simply a group of people loving what the world loves and being like the world.

When a church loves what the world loves, though it may use different terms and express it in different ways, it is simply another aspect of the world. The world is much like ancient Rome in which believers would not be persecuted as long as they were not exclusive about the claims of Christ. It was okay to worship Christ as long as one was willing to offer a little incense to a Roman god. The world does not mind if people are professing Christians as long as the professing believer does not speak of sin, the exclusive claims of Christ, and the sovereignty of God. We must be very clear that the world hates the biblical teaching on sin, the exclusive claims of Christ, and the sovereignty of God rather than the freedom of man. When a professing church waters down its teachings on sin, the exclusive claims of Christ, and then the teaching of the sovereignty of God, it has taken out that which is unique to Christianity and what is hateful to the world. When it takes away these things, it has become like the world and though the world might love it, the wrath of God is upon it. It is a terrifying judgment of God upon the professing Church when He hardens the hearts and people become like those in the world. The world is set up to run in a certain way by the prince of the power of the air (Eph 2:1-3) and he works in the hearts of the disobedient. To become like the world is to say that one is in slavery to sin and the devil just like the world.

What are the things that the world loves? I John 2:16: “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.” We see three things that are set out in this text that could be considered as heads over myriads of sins. The lust of the flesh could be seen as all the things that the fleshly person desires for the flesh (sinful self). Ephesians 2:3 speaks of “indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind.” In one sense it could be the desires of the body, but the flesh in Scripture often times means the sinful self. What we must see from this is the order that God has set in the world has been overthrown by the sin of man. God has put certain desires within man and yet that was all regulated by man being made good and so all these desires were regulated by love for God. When man fell into sin these desires were no longer regulated by love for God and now man is driven by things he should not have and also lawful things beyond moderation. So this lust of the flesh refers to the desires that are inward and come from the fleshly or selfish person. The believer is regulated by love and so not governed by the lusts of the flesh. When a “church” is under judgment, it looks like the world in this.

The second thing is the lust of the eyes. The eye looks at outward things and desires them. When man fell into sin and the inward love for God didn’t rule him, external objects now had power over him. When man desires many things and is denied them, he is given over to all manner of things. The coveting eyes leads man to many conflicts and problems. The eyes lead the person rather than the heart of love for God. James 4 shows this: “1 What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? 2 You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. 4 You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”

The third thing is the pride of life. This refers to the things that refer to how we go through life rather than life itself. So we boast about our status or rank in life, our wealth, power, and educations. We may boast about our talent, intelligence or athletic ability. In the professing church, there is religious pride. There is nothing that a person cannot be proud about instead of desiring the glory of God in that talent or gift. We must see that all of these three things listed in I John 2:16 describes the world in a person and what happens to a person and “church” when God judges that person or “church.” He turns them over to become like those over whom He has never ruled and they become just like the world. In being a friend of the world that person has become an enemy of God.

The world loves prestige and money. So does the “Church” and this is seen by all of the money schemes of preachers and religious leaders. The world does outwardly good things to be seen by men, but so did the Pharisees and so does many religious groups who are like the world (Mat 23:5). The world loves places of honor and the important seats at meetings, but so did the Pharisees (Mat 23:6) and so many religious groups in our modern world.

The world loves respectful greetings in public places, but we see many religious groups wanting the honor and respect of the world too (Mat 23:7). The world loves to be called Rabbi or teacher, but so did the Pharisees (Mat 23:8) and many people now who love to be scholars and professors. The world loves to be honored in many ways, but so does the professing Church in modern America. I John 2:16 describes the world, but it also describes the Church in America. One problem with this mindset is that it is at enmity with God. Another and related mindset is the focus on the things that are passing away (I John 2:17). All the desires for honor and status in the world is simply a mind that is focused on the now rather than eternity. That is a judgment of God.

It does not take a great deal of insight to see that the professing Church in America is in lockstep with the world in so many ways. This is seen by the carnal ways of the professing Church which is seen in what it does and what it does not do. This is seen in what is important to the professing Church in that scholarship is more important than the Spirit of God. It is more important to have peace than it is to stand firm for the truth of God. It is more important to be gracious and winsome than it is to stand for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The structures of denominations are thought to be important to preserve and yet the purity of the Gospel is not. Education is more important than spiritual understanding. External morality has replaced true holiness. Relevance has become more important than truth. Entertainment has become more important than reverence. Telling stories with humor has replaced preaching the glory of God in Christ. Professing churches are judged by the numbers and financial stability. These things are widespread in America. We are like the world and we are under the judgment of God.