Archive for the ‘The Seeking Church’ Category

The Sinful Heart 31

October 20, 2012

Alas! Who is humble? We disclaim perfection, and run down the preachers of it, from a general confused consciousness of our unworthiness, but cannot bear to be told of a trifling error in conduct. What management, gentle insinuation, and nice art of address, is necessary to prevent resentment in such cases, even from a friend! (Thomas Adam, Private Thoughts on Religion)

“The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).

How many people really believe that they are less than perfect? How many people believe that they are sinners every day? How many people believe that they are totally depraved? How many people really believe that they are vile in the sight of God in and of themselves? How many people really believe that they are unable to do one good thing apart from Christ? Perhaps there are some to even many depending on the question, but how many people really believe these things about themselves so much that when they are insulted they will know that they ae far worse than the insult? Clearly, then, it is easier to believe and/or attack a theological and/or intellectual doctrine than it is to deal with our own hearts and to believe the truth about ourselves.

It is far easier to desire humility than it is to have it. It is far easier to pray for humility in words than to desire it from the heart. It is far easier to act humble in the presence of others than it is to really be humble. How we want others to treat us so gently and be so nice to us, but we don’t realize that these are the desires of our pride and it is really pride trying to keep itself hidden from others and self. Oh how easy it is to utter words to God in confession of our sin, but when one accuses us of far less than we have confessed we get angry. What is that but a demonstration of the hideous pride of our hearts and of the fact that we have confessed sin in a hypocritical way? What is that but a demonstration that we are little if any better than the hypocritical Pharisee who prayed to himself saying that he was glad he was not like those other people?

Jesus blasted the Pharisees for being whitewashed tombs that were full of the bones of dead men, but isn’t that true of us as well when we are so ready to confess things to God and yet get angry when the least thing is said to us by others? We believe that we are washing our externals (though we may insist they are internals) which is something like the Pharisees whitewashed the tombs while in the depths of our souls we are full of self (dead men’s bones). How filthy are the most beautiful things that are only external while they are death and decomposing bodies in them. Such is the body of a human being that is doing good works and religious things and does them for the wicked goal of self-love, self-fulfillment, and pride. Yet humility is spoken of as a wonderful thing and as a beautiful thing, though indeed it is not humility that is spoken of for the vast majority of the time in the modern world. True humility only comes by suffering and hard things.

The reason that true humility is hated while it is spoken of so highly by the world and by the professing Church is because the truth of what true humility really is has been virtually lost. In the modern world humility is thought of as admitting that we may be wrong or perhaps simply not having as much pride as one could have. So it is thought that the humble person is one that does not assert self or is quiet during unpleasant circumstances. It is thought that a humble person will do nice things for others and praise others. In fact, however, those are things that are not inconsistent with the worst kind of pride. It is pride to admit that one may be wrong about the existence of God and of the Gospel of grace alone. It is pride to be full of self and simply not act prideful. It is pride not to assert self when that is done because of self-love. It is pride to do nice things for others and do them out of self-love. It is pride to praise others when one wants to be thought of as nice or helpful when helping others.

Oh how our hearts are so full of the wickedness of pride and self when we try to hide our pride under the mask of humility, but also when we are so easily offended and provoked. Our hearts are so full of self and pride when people have to strive to make things easy for us to listen to because we are so sensitive and touchy. What a wicked thing it is to react in anger or hurt when someone points out something we have done wrong. When we react in anger or hurt it demonstrates that we are far worse than what has been said to us. Who is humble? Jesus was humble. Only those who have Him as the life of their hearts have true humility, but they have a lot of room for growth. In the modern day true pride is exalted while true humility is not understood and certainly not wanted. In fact, it is despised. How sinful our hearts are to be so full of self and be so touchy based on that self.

The Seeking Church, Part 30

January 28, 2009

In the Fall/Winter issue of The Sovereign Grace Messenger, David Powlison hit the nail on the head in many ways. The professing Church has turned from the Gospel to a therapeutic gospel. The therapeutic gospel is planned around what people want and it is not designed as the true Gospel to change what people want. The therapeutic gospel wants to make people feel better in the midst of their troubles and “mistakes.” It accepts human beings for who they are rather than seek to change them to become like the King of glory. It seeks to convince humans that God loves them like they are and to become better based on that love rather than to receive the true love of God which changes human beings to share in the love of God for Himself.

In the last newsletter article the need to know God as He is was set forth. We must return to a God-centered God with God-centered churches. This newsletter shows us the need to have the true Gospel and how the modern professing Church has turned from a God-centered Gospel to one that is focused on human beings almost apart from God at all. We hear a lot about the need to proclaim the Gospel, but there is no true Gospel apart from the true God of the Gospel. We can ask ourselves a few questions to diagnose the issue. 1). Do I love the Gospel simply because I don’t want to go to hell? 2) Do I think of the Gospel as all about me and my needs? 3) Do I want to feel loved so I can feel better about myself) 4) Do I think of God as being my servant and all about me? 5) Do I go to church because I know people there and get entertained? 6) Do I care little about anything else other than to know God and to make Him known? The latter question describes the heart that has been changed by the true Gospel while the first five questions reflect the therapeutic gospel so popular today. The message of today is one that is so centered upon self that those who love it would reject the preaching of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. We are so concerned that people feel good in their sin that we don’t tell them the true Gospel that leads to true joy.

Powlison lists several things about the middle-class today. He says that today we have a more luxurious and refined sense of self-interest than people did in the past.

  • I want to feel loved for who I am, to be pitied for what I’ve gone through, to feel intimately understood, to be accepted unconditionally;
  • I want to experience a sense of personal significance and meaningfulness, to be successful in my career, to know my life matters, to have an impact;
  • I want to gain self-esteem, to affirm that I am okay, to be able to assert my opinions and desires;
  • I want to be entertained, to feel pleasure in the endless stream of performances that delight my eyes and tickle my ears;
  • I want a sense of adventure, excitement, action, and passion so that I experience life as thrilling and moving.

Let us compare the list above with the Pharisees and then our own hearts:

Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple, that is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple is obligated. “You fools and blind men! Which is more important, the gold or the temple that sanctified the gold? 18 “And, ‘Whoever swears by the altar, that is nothing, but whoever swears by the offering on it, he is obligated.’ “You blind men, which is more important, the offering, or the altar that sanctifies the offering? “Therefore, whoever swears by the altar, swears both by the altar and by everything on it. “And whoever swears by the temple, swears both by the temple and by Him who dwells within it. (Mat 23:16-22).

What did the Pharisees use religion for? They would use religious things to swear by in order to obtain material objects from each other and then others. One person would swear by the temple and then try to excuse that oath in order to get an advantage over another. Another would swear by the altar and then excuse his oath by some trivial excuse that it was not valid. They were attempting to use religion and God for their own personal gain. They used religion to get success, feel pleasure, and to find self-esteem and adventure. They did not worship the true and living God, but instead the tried to use God for their own personal enrichment. But what do we use religion for? Do we try to use God to be entertained or to gain an advantage in business matters? Do we try to get out of our promises if it turns out it will cost us money or time? Do we want God for the sake of God and only for Himself or do we try to use Him to get things for self?

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel! “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. (Matthew 23:23-26).

The Pharisees were quite strict with the external things of the Law, but their hearts were left untouched by the love of God. They were willing to tithe all from their garden, but they were not concerned about justice, mercy and faithfulness. It is much easier to tithe than it is to have the heart cleansed from its selfish practices. The scribes and Pharisees had vile and filthy hearts even while they practiced all the external things of religion. They used religion to gain the esteem of others and to feel good about themselves. They used religion to gain a name and then use that for business practices and to deal with others in such a way that was not consistent with the practice of true justice, mercy, and faithfulness. They used their religion to excuse and cover over their sin. They had cleaned the outside of the person but their hearts were full of pride, greed, and self. But how are we any different? We can desire to be put on a Christian business list or go to church to meet people for various reasons. We can be diligent in all of the outward things and be quite unconcerned about our hearts too.

In the modern day we are quite concerned about the outward person. We want to have the best of clothes, proper makeup, and proper manners. We want to be polite and to appear as loving and merciful. But we like the appearance more than we like the reality. We have become more concerned with the outside of our buildings than the inner parts of our hearts. We have become more concerned with the clay of our body than the reality of our soul. We are more concerned to please people than we are to please God. Our bodies, our plastic smiles, our looks of concern, and our acts of mercy for others to see are of more concern to us than how God sees our hearts. Oh how we want to go to church and appear as righteous when we are under a load of unrighteousness in our hearts. How we want to go to church and talk about the law while our hearts are utterly lawless.

We want our churches to grow and we are willing to do anything to get that to happen. After all, successful people want successful churches. We know that people want to come to church and be entertained while they have their self-esteem pumped up. People want to be understood and loved while they have their ears tickled. Some also want music and drama that will give them a sense of adventure. All of these things are stressed while we keep forgetting about a few things. We keep forgetting that unless a person is broken from his or her self-centeredness and self-love s/he will not be saved. We keep forgetting that a person must come to know God in truth or that person will perish forever in sin. We keep forgetting that if we don’t preach the true Gospel God will not come to church and our efforts that we intend to find meaningful are of no meaning in the kingdom and are nothing but wicked actions. We keep forgetting that the local church is to be a people that pray, love each other in truth, has true fellowship around the true Christ and ministry, and is a people where the glory of God dwells and is manifested.

In future newsletters the focus will be on the recovery of the Gospel from a man-centered message to one that is God-centered. The reason for this is that there will be no recovery of the church until there is a recovery of the Gospel itself. Also included in that is the true glory of the living God that shines in the Gospel. It is beyond doubt that the professing Church is under the judgment of God. It is also beyond doubt that we are in a deep sleep and don’t recognize the true dangers. If we are not broken from our own efforts and self-sufficiency, we will not see the true working of God through the Gospel. The Gospel is not just a message that we give to people and tell them to make up their minds; it is the power of God for salvation. The Gospel is the power of God to change the hearts and minds of sinners. It is for the glory of God in the Gospel and through the Gospel that we are to pray and labor for. If our message is wrong, then we are praying wrong and we are wrong. If our message is wrong, then we are not telling the truth of who God is. The Gospel is utterly vital to the recovery of the Church and it is utterly vital if we are to see revival in our day. Let us plead with God to turn our hearts from externals to Him in the heart.

The Seeking Church, Part 29

January 22, 2009

We have been going through things that are utterly necessary for the Church to seek God. We have been through prayer, things of the heart, unconverted people in the Church, and the necessity of the Gospel. One thing that permeates all of those things and all else is an exalted view of God. The Gospel is really the Gospel of God which is the Gospel of His glory shining in the face of Christ. There is no Gospel of Jesus Christ apart from the Gospel of God. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the Gospel of the glory of God that shines forth in Christ and is the glory of the grace of God. Whenever the Church steps away from a true focus on God and His glory it is a step away from the Gospel as well. The preaching of the Gospel cannot be done apart from an exalted view of God and how He shines His glory in Christ. So if a church is going to be turned back to God and the Gospel, it must be turned back to the God of all glory. If a church is going to preach the true Gospel, it has to be a Gospel of the glory of God or it is not the Gospel. We can be as nice as people can be and we can do all sorts of nice things for others, but if we are not preaching the Gospel of the glory of God in Christ we are not preaching the Gospel to people at all.

Mark 1:14 “Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God.”

Rom 1:1 “Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God.”

Rom 15:16 “to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, ministering as a priest the gospel of God.”

2 Corinthians 11:7 “because I preached the gospel of God to you without charge?”

The Church can be caught up with many good things, but unless it returns to a thorough God-centeredness it will not return to God. The poor are to be fed, but not from a mere sense of duty and self-righteousness. We are also not necessarily feeding the poor if we just indiscriminately give food out to those who want it. But instead, as Matthew 5:16 teaches us, we are to “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” We cannot simply return to a way of religion or even a stricter way of religion, but we must return to God Himself. “Our Father in heaven” is the only source of grace that there is. The Lord Jesus is the only path of grace that there is. The Holy Spirit is the only One that can apply grace itself to sinners. Human beings have no source of grace in themselves and do not know the path of grace apart from Christ. We also have no way of applying grace itself to ourselves. There is no wisdom, no salvation, and no sanctification apart from Christ who is the shining forth of the glory of God’s wisdom and salvation by grace to human beings.

The problem with Israel over and over again was that they left God. It was not that they always did what we would call wicked things, and it was not that they always left off their religious activity. But they left God and their hearts were turned to other things. Hosea 5:4: “Their deeds will not allow them To return to their God. For a spirit of harlotry is within them, And they do not know the LORD.” Hosea 14:1: “Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God, For you have stumbled because of your iniquity.” The prophets would call to them to repent of their sins and return to God. The way of Christianity and the way of Jesus Christ is not learning some things about the Bible and then to have some form of moral reformation, but it is to know God through Jesus Christ. Salvation itself is being reconciled to God and to know God: “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3). The people who are going to be strong and grow are those who know God: “By smooth words he will turn to godlessness those who act wickedly toward the covenant, but the people who know their God will display strength and take action” (Daniel 11:32).

What follows is a quote from A.W. Pink. It is this God that we must bow in utter awe and reverence before if we are going to see a true revival. It is not that we can work up this awe and reverence, but we must begin to pray for the desire and then to pray that the Lord would grant this desire. God only opens up the eyes and hearts of human beings to His glory by grace. He also only gives them Himself by grace. Let us pray for the grace to know Him and to “behold your God.”

“In the beginning, God” (Genesis 1:1). There was a time, if “time” is could be called, when God, in the unity of His nature (though subsisting equally in three Divine Persons), dwelt all alone. “In the beginning, God.” There was no heaven, where His glory is now particularly manifested. There was no earth to engage His attention. There were no angels to hymn His praises; no universe to be upheld by the word of His power. There was nothing, no one, but God; and that, not for a day, a year, or an age, but “from everlasting.” During a past eternity, God was alone: self-contained, self-sufficient, self-satisfied; in need of nothing. Had a universe, had angels, had human beings been necessary to Him in any way, they also had been called into existence from all eternity. The creating of them when He did, added nothing to God essentially. He changes not (Malachi 3:6), therefore His essential glory can be neither augmented nor diminished. God was under no constraint, no obligation, no necessity to create. That He chose to do so was purely a sovereign act on His part, caused by nothing outside Himself, determined by nothing but His own mere good pleasure; for He “worketh all things after the counsel of His own will” (Ephesians 1:11).

That He did create was simply for His manifestative glory. Do some of our readers imagine that we have gone beyond what Scripture warrants? Then our appeal shall be to the Law and the Testimony: “Stand up and bless the Lord your God forever and ever: and blessed be Thy glorious name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise” (Nehemiah 9:5). God is no gainer even from our worship. He was in no need of that external glory of His grace which arises from His redeemed, for He is glorious enough in Himself without that. What was it moved Him to predestinate His elect to the praise of the glory of His grace? It was, as Ephesians 1:5 tells us, according to the good pleasure of His will.

We are well aware that the high ground we are here treading is new and strange to almost all of our readers; for that reason it is well to move slowly. Let our appeal again be to the Scriptures. At the end of Romans 11, where the apostle brings to a close his long argument on salvation by pure and sovereign grace, he asks, “For who hath known the mind of the Lord? Or who hath been His counselor? Or who hath first given to Him, and it shall be recompensed to him again?” (vv. 34, 35). The force of this is, it is impossible to bring the Almighty under obligations to the creature; God gains nothing from us. If thou be righteous, what givest thou Him? Or what receiveth He of thine hand? Thy wickedness may hurt a man as thou art; and thy righteousness may profit the son of man (Job 35:7,8), but it certainly cannot affect God, who is all-blessed in Himself. When ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants (Luke 17:10)-our obedience has profited God nothing.

Nay, we go further: our Lord Jesus Christ added nothing to God in His essential being and glory, either by what He did or suffered. True, blessedly and gloriously true, He manifested the glory of God to us, but He added nought to God. He Himself expressly declares so, and there is no appeal from His words: “My goodness extendeth not to Thee” (Psalm 16:2). The whole of that Psalm is a Psalm of Christ. Christ’s goodness or righteousness reached unto His saints in the earth (Psalm 16:3), But God was high above and beyond it all, God only is the “Blessed One” (Mark 14:61, Gr.).

It is perfectly true that God is both honored and dishonored by men; not in His essential being, but in His official character. It is equally true that God has been “glorified” by creation, by providence, and by redemption. This we do not and dare not dispute for a moment. But all of this has to do with His manifestative glory and the recognition of it by us. Yet had God so pleased He might have continued alone for all eternity, without making known His glory unto creatures. Whether He should do so or not was determined solely by His own will. He was perfectly blessed in Himself before the first creature was called into being. And what are all the creatures of His hands unto Him even now? Let Scripture again make answer:

“Behold, the nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance: behold, He taketh up the isles as a very little thing. And Lebanon is not sufficient to burn, nor the beasts thereof sufficient for a burnt offering. All nations before Him are as nothing; and they are counted to Him less than nothing, and vanity. To whom then will ye liken God? or what likeness will ye compare unto Him?” (Isaiah 40:15-18). That is the God of Scripture; alas, He is still “the unknown God” (Acts 17:23) to the heedless multitudes. “It is He that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers; that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in: that bringeth the princes to nothing; He maketh the judges of the earth as vanity” (Isaiah 40:22,23). How vastly different is the God of Scripture from the god of the average pulpit!

The Seeking Church, Part 28

January 15, 2009

This newsletter will primarily be another piece taken from Arthur Pink’s work on Saving Faith. Where there are truly weak churches, regardless of the size, many times there is a problem with what is understood as the Gospel. The solution for many churches, then, is to go back to Scripture in prayer for God to open the eyes of souls to the light of His glory that shines in the Gospel. It is possible and even easy to believe in words that the Bible uses but still not use those words as the Bible does. It is possible and easy to be orthodox in the external parts of the Gospel while the heart is far from the truth of the Gospel. The words of Pink below should help all who read them to be more serious about the Gospel and the background of the Gospel. The background of the Gospel is necessary to understand what the Gospel really is and to place it in its proper context. We live in a day where superficial Christianity has won the day. We must repent of this and have the Word driven to the depths of our hearts. May this article be used to provoke our thinking, our praying, and the whole of our evangelism.

It is generally recognized that spirituality is at a low ebb in Christendom and not a few perceive that sound doctrine is rapidly on the wane, yet many of the Lord’s people take comfort from supposing that the Gospel is still being widely preached and that large numbers are being saved thereby. Alas, their optimistic supposition is ill-founded and sandy grounded. If the “message” now being delivered in Mission Halls be examined, if the “tracts” which are scattered among the unchurched masses be scrutinized, if the “open-air” speakers be carefully listened to, if the “sermons” or “addresses” of a “Soul-winning campaign” be analyzed; in short, if modern “Evangelism” be weighed in the balances of Holy Writ, it will be found wanting-lacking that which is vital to a genuine conversion, lacking what is essential if sinners are to be shown their need of a Savior, lacking that which will produce the transfigured lives of new creatures in Christ Jesus.

It is in no captious spirit that we write, seeking to make men offenders for a word. It is not that we are looking for perfection, and complain because we cannot find it; nor that we criticize others because they are not doing things as we think they should be done. No; no, it is a matter far more serious than that. The “evangelism” of the day is not only superficial to the last degree, but it is radically defective. It is utterly lacking a foundation on which to base an appeal for sinners to come to Christ. There is not only a lamentable lack of proportion (the mercy of God being made far more prominent than His holiness, His love than His wrath), but there is a fatal omission of that which God has given for the purpose of imparting a knowledge of sin. There is not only a reprehensible introducing of “bright singing,” humorous witticisms and entertaining anecdotes, but there is a studied omission of the dark background upon which alone the Gospel can effectually shine forth.

But serious indeed as is the above indictment, it is only half of it-the negative side, that which is lacking. Worse still is that which is being retailed by the cheap-jack evangelists of the day. The positive content of their message is nothing but a throwing of dust in the eyes of the sinner. His soul is put to sleep by the Devil’s opiate, ministered in a most unsuspecting form. Those who really receive the “message” which is now being given out from most of the “orthodox” pulpits and platforms today, are being fatally deceived. It is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but unless God sovereignly intervenes by a miracle of grace, all who follow it will surely find that the ends thereof are the ways of death. Tens of thousands who confidently imagine they are bound for Heaven, will get a terrible disillusionment when they awake in Hell. What is the Gospel? Is it a message of glad tidings from Heaven to make God-defying rebels at ease in their wickedness? Is it given for the purpose of assuring the pleasure-crazy young people that, providing they only “believe” there is nothing for them to fear in the future? One would certainly think so from the way in which the Gospel is presented-or rather perverted-by most of the “evangelists,” and the more so when we look at the lives of their “converts.” Surely those with any degree of spiritual discernment must perceive that to assure such that God loves them and His Son died for them, and that a full pardon for all their sins (past, present, and future) can be obtained by simply “accepting Christ as their personal Savior,” is but a casting of pearls before swine.

The Gospel is not a thing apart. It is not something independent of the prior revelation of God’s Law. It is not an announcement that God has relaxed His justice or lowered the standard of His holiness. So far from that, when Scripturally expounded the Gospel presents the clearest demonstration and the climacteric proof of the inexorableness of God’s justice and of His infinite abhorrence of sin. But for Scripturally expounding the Gospel, beardless youths and business men who devote their spare time to “evangelistic effort” are quite unqualified. Alas that the pride of the flesh suffers so many incompetent ones to rush in where those much wiser fear to tread. It is this multiplying of novices that is largely responsible for the woeful situation now confronting us, and because the “churches” and “assemblies” are so largely filled with their “converts,” explains why they are so unspiritual and worldly. No, my reader, the Gospel is very, very far from making light of sin. The Gospel shows us how unsparingly God deals with sin. It reveals to us the terrible sword of His justice smiting His beloved Son in order that atonement might be made for the transgressions of His people. So far from the Gospel setting aside the Law, it exhibits the Savior enduring the curse of it. Calvary supplied the most solemn and awe-inspiring display of God’s hatred of sin that time or eternity will ever furnish. And do you imagine that the Gospel is magnified or God glorified by going to worldlings and telling them that they “may be saved at this moment by simply accepting Christ as their personal Savior” while they are wedded to their idols and their hearts still in love with sin? If I do so, I tell them a lie, pervert the Gospel, insult Christ, and turn the grace of God into lasciviousness.

No doubt some readers are ready to object to our “harsh” and “sarcastic” statements above by asking, when the question was put “What must I do to be saved?” did not an inspired apostle expressly say “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved?” Can we err, then, if we tell sinners the same thing today? Have we not Divine warrant for so doing? True, those words are found in Holy Writ, and because they are, many superficial and untrained people conclude they are justified in repeating them to all and sundry. But let it be pointed out that Acts 16:31 was not addressed to a promiscuous multitude, but to a particular individual, which at once intimates that it is not a message to be indiscriminately sounded forth, but rather a special word, to those whose characters correspond to the one to whom it was first spoken. Verses of Scripture must not be wrenched from their setting, but weighed, interpreted, and applied in accord with their context; and that calls for prayerful consideration, careful meditation, and prolonged study; and it is failure at this point which accounts for these shoddy and worthless “messages” of this rush-ahead age.

Look at the context of Acts 16:3 1, and what do we find? What was the occasion, and to whom was it that the apostle and his companions said “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ?” A sevenfold answer is there furnished, which supplies a striking and complete delineation of the character of those to whom we are warranted in giving this truly evangelistic word. As we briefly name these seven details, let the reader carefully ponder them. First, the man to whom those words were spoken had just witnessed the miracle-working power of God. “And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one’s bands were loosed” (Acts 16:26). Second, in consequence thereof the man was deeply stirred, even to the point of self-despair: “He drew his sword and would have killed himself, supposing that the prisoners had been fled” (v. 27). Third, he felt the need of illumination: “Then he called for a light” (v. 29). Fourth, his self-complacency was utterly shattered, for he “came trembling” (v. 29). Fifth, he took his proper place (before God)-in the dust, for he “fell down before Paul and Silas” (v. 29). Sixth, he showed respect and consideration for God’s servants, for he “brought them out” (v. 30). Seventh, then, with a deep concern for his soul, he asked, “What must I do to be saved?”

Here, then, is something definite for our guidance-if we are willing to be guided. It was no giddy, careless, unconcerned person, who was exhorted to “simply” believe; but instead, one who gave clear evidence that a mighty work of God had already been wrought within him. He was an awakened soul (v. 27). In his case there was no need to press upon him his lost condition, for obviously he felt it; nor were the apostles required to urge upon him the duty of repentance, for his entire demeanor betokened his contrition. But to apply the words spoken to him unto those who are totally blind to their depraved state and completely dead toward God, would be more foolish than placing a bottle of smelling-salts to the nose of one who had just been dragged unconscious out of the water. Let the critic of this article read carefully through the Acts and see if he can find a single instance of the apostles addressing a promiscuous audience or a company of idolatrous heathen and “simply” telling them to believe in Christ.

The Seeking Church, Part 27

January 6, 2009

In this newsletter we will take a look at a few things A.W. Pink said on the subject of truth and the church. We face a great battle as indeed all people of all time periods have. We have deceitful hearts that are more deceitful than all things (Jer 17:9). There is also the deceitfulness of sin (Heb 3:13) and the devil is the deceiver as well. The human heart is depraved and is in the slavery of love to its lusts and pleasures. We have been looking at how the spirit and deeds of the Pharisees are alive and active in the modern professing Church. Pink has some powerful things to say on this subject and we will do well to read them with great care and solemnity. What his writings do at this point is show us the great danger we are in of being like the Pharisees in principle while standing against them in our own minds. Satan, as the great imitator, has indeed transformed himself into an angel of light. He has replaced many of the core teachings in the churches with his own teachings. He has replaced true love with niceness, politeness, and a refusal to say anything that would make another uncomfortable. He has replaced true grace with that which we think only helps us to do what we cannot do by ourselves. He has replaced true humility and brokenness of heart with simply thinking that we may not know everything or be right about anything. He has done this by shifting our definitions and hearts from being centered on God to being centered on man. This has been brought into the churches by psychology and man’s wisdom.

What we must also learn is that the Gospel of Jesus Christ has been replaced as well. When sin is denigrated to be that which harms man rather than that which is against God, the Gospel becomes something totally different. Sermons will no longer be on the horrid nature of sin and on the greatness of the new birth, but instead they will be on moral behavior and on religious excitement. Where doctrine is taught it will be to the intellect alone and leave the heart untouched. Regeneration and the new birth will be replaced by a walk up the aisle, a prayer, or perhaps an intellectual agreement to a doctrine. Perhaps we have the information of these things in our heads, but we must have the Spirit open our eyes and drive these deeply into the depths of our hearts so that we will be awakened from our slumbers. If the professing Church is going to see reformation and revival in our day, it must be awakened to its great danger. The gospel that is going about in our day, if we follow the thought of Pink, is much like what he called the “Gospel of Satan.” We must see this and cry to the Lord for His mercy. Perhaps He will grant us repentance and perhaps He will send revival. But we must have our hearts broken over these things.

Satan is not initiator but an imitator. God has an only begotten Son-the Lord Jesus, so has Satan-“the son of Perdition” (Thessalonians 2:3). There is a Holy Trinity, and there is likewise a Trinity of Evil (Revelation 20:10). Do we read of the “children of God,” so also we read of “the children of the wicked one” (Matthew 13:38). Does God work in the former both to will and to do of His good pleasure, then we are told that Satan is “the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2). Is there a “mystery of godliness” (1 Timothy 3:16), so also is there a “mystery of iniquity” (2 Thessalonians 2:7). Are we told that God by His angels “seals” His servants in their foreheads (Revelation 7:3), so also we learn that Satan by his agents sets a mark in the foreheads of his devotees (Revelation 13:16). Are we told that “the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God” (1 Corinthians 2:10), then Satan also provides his “deep things” (Revelation 2:24). Did Christ perform miracles, so also can Satan (2 Thessalonians 2:9). Is Christ seated upon a throne, so is Satan (Revelation 2:13). Has Christ a Church, then Satan has his “synagogue” (Revelation 2:9). Is Christ the Light of the world, then so is Satan himself “transformed into an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14). Did Christ appoint “apostles,” then Satan has his apostles, too (2 Corinthians 11:13). And this leads us to consider: “The Gospel of Satan.” Satan is the arch-counterfeiter. The Devil is now busy at work in the same field in which the Lord sowed the good seed. He is seeking to prevent the growth of the wheat by another plant, the tares, which closely resemble the wheat in appearance. In a word, by a process of imitation he is aiming to neutralize the Work of Christ. Therefore, as Christ has a Gospel, Satan has a gospel too; the latter being a clever counterfeit of the former. So closely does the gospel of Satan resemble that which it parodies, multitudes of the unsaved are deceived by it. It is to this gospel of Satan the apostle refers when he says to the Galatians “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from Him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: which is not another, but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the Gospel of Christ” (Galatians 1:6-7).

This false gospel was being heralded even in the days of the apostle, and a most awful curse was called down upon those who preached it. The apostle continues, “But though we, or an angel from heaven preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.” By the help of God we shall now endeavor to expound, or rather, expose this false gospel. The gospel of Satan is not a system of revolutionary principles, nor yet a program of anarchy. It does not promote strife and war, but aims at peace and unity. It seeks not to set the mother against her daughter nor the father against his son, but fosters the fraternal spirit whereby the human race is regarded as one great “brotherhood.” It does not seek to drag down the natural man, but to improve and uplift him. It advocates education and cultivation and appeals to “the best that is within – It aims to make this world such a comfortable and congenial habitat that Christ’s absence from it will not be felt and God will not be needed. It endeavors to occupy man so much with this world that he has no time or inclination to think of the world to come. It propagates the principles of self-sacrifice, charity and benevolence, and teaches us to live for the good of others, and to be kind to all. It appeals strongly to the carnal mind and is popular with the masses, because it ignores the solemn facts that by nature man is a fallen creature, alienated from the life of God, and dead in trespasses and sins, and that his only hope lies in being born again.

In contradistinction to the Gospel of Christ, the gospel of Satan teaches salvation by works. It inculcates justification before God on the ground of human merits. Its sacramental phrase is “Be good and do good”; but it fails to recognize that in the flesh there dwelleth no good thing. It announces salvation by character, which reverses the order of God’s Word-character by, as the fruit of, salvation. Its various ramifications and organizations are manifold. Temperance, Reform Movements, “Christian Socialist Leagues,” Ethical Culture Societies, “Peace Congresses” are all employed (perhaps unconsciously) in proclaiming this gospel of Satan-salvation by works. The pledge card is substituted for Christ; social purity for individual regeneration, and politics and philosophy, for doctrine and godliness. The cultivation of the old man is considered more practical than the creation of a new man in Christ Jesus; whilst universal peace is looked for apart from the interposition and return of the Prince of Peace.

The apostles of Satan are not saloon-keepers and white-slave traffickers, but are for the most part ordained ministers. Thousands of those who occupy our modern pulpits are no longer engaged in presenting the fundamentals of the Christian Faith, but have turned aside from the Truth and have given heed unto fables. Instead of magnifying the enormity of sin and setting forth its eternal consequences, they minimize it by declaring that sin is merely ignorance or the absence of good. Instead of warning their hearers to “flee from the wrath to come” they make God a liar by declaring that He is too loving and merciful to send any of His own creatures to eternal torment. Instead of declaring that “without shedding of blood is no remission,” they merely hold up Christ as the great Exemplar and exhort their hearers to “follow in His steps.”

In addition to the fact that today hundreds of churches are without a leader who faithfully declares the whole counsel of God and presents His way of salvation, we also have to face the additional fact that the majority of people in these churches are very unlikely to learn the Truth themselves. The family altar, where a portion of God’s Word was wont to be read daily is now, even in the homes of nominal Christians, largely a thing of the past. The Bible is not expounded in the pulpit and it is not read in the pew. The demands of this rushing age are so numerous, that multitudes have little time and still less inclination to make preparation for the meeting with God. Hence the majority who are too indolent to search for themselves, are left at the mercy of those whom they pay to search for them; many of whom betray their trust by studying and expounding economic and social problems rather than the Oracles of God. (Another Gospel by Arthur Pink)

The Seeking Church, Part 26

December 29, 2008

While talking about the seeking church sounds so negative to many, it is not. If we accept as fact that the Lord has turned His face from the professing Church, then all that is needed to seek Him in order for Him to turn His face toward us and shine His glory in us is positive. Repentance sounds so negative to people, but it is the heart being turned from sin and toward God. There has been and continues to be a massive problem with liberalism in the professing Church in our day, but there has been and continues to be some of the same problems in our day that the Pharisees had when Jesus dealt with them in His day. Sure we call them by other names, but the principle is the same. It is not even that one has to be a Pharisee to imbibe some of the principles of the Pharisees. But one can certainly take on one or more of the principles of the Pharisees by reacting to liberalism and simply by trying to be conservative rather than biblical. We must always be on the alert to the dangers from both sides of issues if we truly desire to seek and worship the Lord in spirit and truth.

Matthew 23:13 – “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from people; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in. 14 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you will receive greater condemnation. 15 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.”

In this passage we see some great dangers. In verse 13 (above) we see the terrible danger of adding to the Gospel and of subtracting as well. In one sense the Pharisees added to the Gospel by giving people many things they needed to do to be saved, but in another sense they subtracted from the Gospel by not telling the people that their hearts needed to be changed by God Himself. Whenever a person arrives at some sense of self-assurance about his or her state of conversion that person has shut him or herself off from the kingdom and then begins to teach on that experience. When a false experience is taken to be the standard for conversion, then the kingdom is in one sense shut off from others. A person that has assurance in some way and yet is not converted will be teaching other people the way of salvation and yet be seeking for more confirmation of his or her own. If a person began to seek a true conversion according to Scripture the one that is trusting in a false conversion would try to change the other person back to the false view since it is the way s/he trusts in for conversion.

The scribes and the Pharisees came up with their own ways of interpreting Scripture and their own ways of seeking salvation. Indeed they had plenty of academic and biblical support, but they were lambasted by Jesus on their approach to virtually everything. They had developed a view and they had their verses, their academics, and then they had their experiences to back them up. But all of these things came together and kept the scribes and the Pharisees from entering in and a zeal for those things kept others from entering in. We must not separate the zeal of the scribes and the Pharisees for their positions from their pride and their own way of salvation. It is hard for people to admit that they are wrong and unconverted when they have some verses of Scripture, many academics, and their own experience on their side. It is hard for people to admit that their hearts are not changed when they have changed their opinions on so many things and they have made many moral changes. The human heart is more deceitful than all things (Jeremiah 17:9) and it wants to deceive itself about its own salvation. When it has the support of others, it will leap at the opportunity to deceive itself.

Could it be that there are many in our churches today that are deceived? Could it be that there are many conservative people trusting in their conservatism to be saved? Could it be that there are many who are trusting in their Reformed theology as an evidence of their salvation? Could it be that there are preachers who are trusting in their own preaching to be saved? Could it be that there are many academics that are trusting in their academic qualifications to be saved? Could it be that there are many who are trusting in a false gospel to be saved that has been argued well by the academics and is supported with verses of Scripture? These things happened to the Pharisees and they have happened throughout the history of the Church as well. Are we so arrogant to think that we cannot be deceived as well? We can trust in so many things without having a new heart and convince ourselves that we believe in Christ. What if what we think about what it means to believe is wrong? The Lord has turned His face we must begin to search our hearts and the churches with broken hearts desiring Him no matter where it leads.

The scribes and the Pharisees were united together in their thinking in what it meant to be saved. The Pharisees then went out (see Mat 23:15, quoted above) and traveled across the land and sea to make one convert. Their zeal in their evangelism was very impressive. They were “soul winners” and perhaps missionaries of sorts. The problem, however, is that they were also unconverted and going about with great zeal with a false gospel. When their great efforts were rewarded with a proselyte all that happened was that the person became a son of hell. That may sound harsh to our ears, but they are the words of Jesus. Great attention has been and is still given to evangelism and missions. Would Jesus say the same things about our efforts as He did about the efforts of the Pharisees? Could it be that He would tell us that we are going across land and sea to make converts but all we are doing is turning others into sons of hell? While we look down our noses at the Pharisees are we similar to them in that we are doing the same things though perhaps in a different way? How can it be that our church buildings can have people coming in and yet the power and presence of God not be among us? How can it be that we have so much of our own planning and activity and yet we do not see the activity of God? How can it be that we are so eager to tell others of the Gospel and yet we don’t see the power of the Gospel? It is explained by the fact that God has turned His face and has withdrawn His presence from us leaving us to our own wisdom and efforts.

If God has withdrawn understanding from us, then we may have wrong ideas of what sin really is. The Pharisees, who were very conservative, were also very wrong on the nature of sin. Could it be that we have turned from what true repentance is. After all, if we have been led astray on the nature of sin we will not understand what it means to turn from sin either. If we are wrong on the nature of sin and true repentance, then we might also be wrong on the nature of true conversion from sin to Christ. The Pharisees had their Bibles, the academic opinions, the correct doctrines (they thought), evangelistic experiences and were admired by the people. But they did not know the way of salvation and God was fighting them rather than giving them Himself. They had converts, though they were not converted to Christ.

The modern professing Church needs to go back to its very foundations and do that from the heart. Prayer meetings are few and far between and do not seem to be marked by a seeking of the Lord Himself with the desires of the heart. The gospel that is going out is an intellectual message that depends on the power of man to respond. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the Gospel of God and it is the power of God for salvation to all who believe. We have turned from God as being our focus in worship and in evangelism and instead have resorted to a man-centered focus using man-centered means. Men and women must know what their sin is in order to seek God who alone can turn them from their sin and give them new hearts. The churches must seek the Lord from the heart and yet in true evangelism the hearts of the people must be changed. We must deal with God in the churches and we must teach others in our evangelism that they must deal with God too.

In a theoretical world we can imagine what would happen if no one had Bibles. People would be blind to the true nature of sin and they would be blind to the Gospel. Yet in the real world the Pharisees were blinded by God in His judgment on them to the true nature of sin and to the Gospel. They read their Bibles (so to speak) and studied them with great diligence, but they were blinded to it. Perhaps they were blinded to the words of God by their own conservatism (pride in not being liberal) and their own scholars. Perhaps they were blinded by their own outward morality. But they were deceived and they were blinded. Let us not assume that God cannot blind us today as well. Let us seek the Lord to give us the light of His glory in the face of Christ and to show us where we are blinded. We also can be deceived by our conservatism, our morality, and our scholars. Having a gospel in name is not the same thing as having the true Gospel. Having the true Gospel in theory is also not the same thing as having the true Gospel change our hearts. For churches that want God in truth it will require a lot of seeking from the heart. It might even require a change of heart. Jesus was severe in His denunciations of the Pharisees. If we have their principles as ours even though in a different name, His denunciation of us is fact. We must learn that our views of conservatism, our evangelism, our morality, our view of sin, and our Reformed theology may not be biblical in truth and will not save. Perhaps even what we think is the gospel will not save. Only the true God working through the true Gospel of Jesus Christ can save. People must be converted by God and not just change themselves. The light of truth must break through our sacred cows and our deceitful hearts. We are truly in the hands of God whether we hate it as the Pharisees did or not. We must bow in utter submission to the true and only Sovereign.

The Seeking Church, Part 25

December 23, 2008

The modern professing Church in America is in dire straights. The Lord has turned His face and is giving it over to the plans and activities of men. There are conferences and methods galore and yet He is not coming to His people in power. For several weeks we have been looking at how the professing Church is to return to the Lord. It must seek the face of the Lord rather than the things the Lord gives. It must not settle for religious activity and be deceived by that activity. It must not be deceived by busyness and by external successes. It must not settle for anything but God Himself. Our hearts are so deceitful that we can believe that virtually anything is a sign of the Lord’s hand upon us. Instead of looking to ourselves trusting in our own hearts, we must seek the Lord to give us hearts that desire Him above all things. We must begin to look at the nature of true conversion instead of receiving mere outward professions. We must examine what justification is and what true faith is. We must search the Scriptures on what the Bible teaches about justification by faith alone. We must also look and ask ourselves how much like the Pharisees we really are. This might be something we have deceived ourselves about too.

In Matthew 23 we see several teachings of Jesus about the Pharisees. It is easy for us to read over these quickly as things no relevant to us. However, there are principles here that we must be aware of. Could it be that the spirit of the Pharisees is not just something that we read about that happened in the past but is also descriptive of something that is present now? “Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples, 2 saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; 3 therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them. 4 “They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger. 5 “But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries and lengthen the tassels of their garments. 6 “They love the place of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues, 7 and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called Rabbi by men. 8 “But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 “Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. 10 “Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ. 11 “But the greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.”

Let us pray that we will be very honest with our own hearts as we read passages like this. We usually read this and don’t give it much thought as we don’t see people doing this today. However, if we think through this there may be some application to our day. We have people in our day that are seated in the chair of Moses. What we must be careful to do is distinguish between those with the true gift of teaching and the right heart and those who do not. There are some in the academic circles and there are those who are leaders in the churches who are teachers and use the position for something other than the honor of Christ. There are leaders who indeed lay heavy burdens on the shoulders of others by teaching stringent things about duties. There are heavy burdens placed upon men and women by placing all the stress of life on their shoulders. Women are told that they should have many children and they must school all the children at home while they must keep the house clean and at all costs they should wait on their husbands to make sure he is pleased each moment. This is dangerous territory but we must enter it.

Husbands are told that they are to rule the house and all things that go on. They are told by some that they are the only ones that are to teach the children. Some will tell the husband that if there is a problem in the marriage or home regardless of what it is that the problem is with him. What a burden these things are to some people (and there are others). Are these specific duties that the Bible sets out for people or are they deductions that people have made from a few verses? People are being greatly burdened today by things that the Bible does not set out with a great deal of clarity. Jesus also said that His burden was easy and His yoke was light (Mat 11:30). It is not that the Christian life is to be easy, but it is not to be an overwhelming burden on people. However, many men and women are burdened by all of the rules that are being placed upon them by those with big names and those in the local church. We must examine everything by Scripture and not just because another says it is a law of the Bible.

Is the Church free from those who do what they do to receive honor and be noticed by others? Without denying an appropriate place for academic success, is there a better way to do this than to heap accolades on people? How do people broaden their phylacteries and lengthen the tassels on their garments today? Perhaps they write books and have radio programs where they tell people of their successes. One man used to have a television show where he and his wife would (seemingly) brag about how many verses he had memorized. What does it mean to love the places of honor today? It could be as simple as wanting to be noticed at meetings or to receive honors from the denomination. These things can be done under the guise of helping others in the kingdom. Who is it that desires to be known and to wield power? Can it be that people love to receive respectful greetings and to be called “rabbi” or teacher under the name of professor or pastor? It is one thing to seek to please God from the heart to teach and it is quite another to teach about God and His Word while desiring honor from others.

There are multitudes of books on leadership of stores that sell “Christian” books. But the clear words of Jesus as given in Matthew 23:10 and quoted above is that no one is to be called a leader. The word for “leader” in this verse is translated by some as “teacher.” It is also used in more modern times as the Greek word for professor. This is looked at in various ways, but we must be very careful if we want to be thoroughly biblical. Regardless of how this word is used, because of the context it cuts into several areas. A teacher was and is a leader in some way. Jesus was a teacher and a leader. One leads in some way by teaching and one teaches in some way by leading. But if we look at this verse in its context what we must see is that a true leader and true teacher is one that points to the one Leader and one Teacher who is Christ. It is Christ alone that is to be pointed to rather than self. Jesus commanded us to make disciples of Himself rather than disciples of any human being. It does not matter how great a scholar or author a man or woman is, that person is to point to Jesus Christ alone. True teachers desire to point people to the true Teacher to be taught. True leaders are those that lead people to the true Leader to be led.

It is one thing to speak of the spirit of what the Bible teaches and it is another to place laws on people. It is my belief that if one looks at the text of Matthew 23:1-12 very closely at all s/he will see that the spirit of the scribes and Pharisees is alive today. Let us not forget the words of Jesus, but also let us examine our own hearts by them: “But the greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted” (Mat 23:11-12). The scribes and Pharisees were marked by interpreting the Bible and making rules and then by their desire for the honor and attention of others. Can we say that these things are anything less than rampant today? The mark of true greatness is true humility which is seen in being a servant. It must also be the attitude of the heart. One can do many outward things in an effort to deceive him or herself. What Jesus does is to set out a contrast of attitudes of the heart for us. The contrast is between seeking honor for self, even in outwardly good things, or in pointing others to Christ as the true teacher as a true servant will do.

In academic and denominational circles and in the local churches what we must be willing to see is that everyone must point others to Christ and for that to be the intent of the heart. All believers and unbelievers alike must be pointed to Christ Himself. We can teach with great honor and distinction out of nothing but love for self. We can evangelize in order to make a name for ourselves or in an attempt to fill the churches with numbers. We can do each and everything required by external standards in academic circles, in denominational leadership, and in the local church and yet do it without an ounce of true humility and love. How can we expect the living and true God who will do nothing but what is for the glory of His name to come down and give Himself to us in power when all we do is for the honor and glory of ourselves? How can we expect God to do anything but continue to withdraw Himself from us when we are not concerned first and foremost to humble ourselves before Him? If we are not truly humble before God regardless of our station in life, then we are nothing but men and women who seek the interests of self rather than the interests of God (Phil 2:21). In light of Philippians 2:21 and its context, would Paul have anyone to send in our day to a seminary to teach or to a church to pastor if he required the person to only be concerned about the interests of Christ so as to be one that was concerned about the spiritual welfare of the people?

Denominations and local churches must begin to study Scripture with new eyes and to look at their own hearts apart from self-love and self-esteem. We must look to the Word of God rather than standards brought in by the world and imposed upon the Bible and then the people in the churches. We must beware of the leaven (teachings) of the Pharisees (Mat 16:6). It matters not how big or small a person may have, we are to beware of his or her teachings if they have the spirit of the Pharisees in them. It does not matter the academic or denominational position a person may have, Jesus tells us to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees. It does not matter if the person is a favorite conservative or not, Jesus tells us to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees. The Church, a church, and all individuals need to know that not only is there a danger from liberalism, but there is also a great danger from the spirit of the Pharisees that is very much alive in our day. The “beware” of Jesus is part of the inerrant and infallible Word of God that sets out and describes the truth for all ages. That part is inerrant as well.

The Seeking Church, Part 24

December 19, 2008

For the modern Church to be turned from judgment will require it to recognize where it is seeking itself rather than God. We will not be turned to the Lord until we are seeking Him from the heart as our greatest love in truth. This will require us to wake up and see that we have replaced God with trust in things. God only blesses by grace and grace alone and not on account of works and morality. This must be understood from the depths of our souls. True morality does not result in the blessing of God, but is in fact the blessing itself. True works do not result in the blessing of God, but is a blessing of God. The false idea that God will bless us if we do certain things has so saturated the churches of today that it is accepted without question. What is less understood, however, is that if we seek the blessings of God by our works and by our morality we are doing nothing more than the Pharisees did. Like the Pharisees, then, we might have a religion set up based on self, morality and works rather than grace. It can be a subtle thing because of our use of orthodox words and cry out a salvation by grace and say that it is by faith apart from works. Yet we can still trust in a salvation that is not truly by grace and is not by a true faith.

In previous newsletters I have used the wooden peg analogy. As a reminder, or to someone that might not have read it, the picture is of four large pegs at the bottom of a peg tower. On top of the four pegs is a board and on top of the board there are eight pegs. On top of the eight pegs there is another board and on top of that board there is a group of sixteen pegs. This goes on and on until there are hundreds and thousands of pegs at the top level. Each peg represents a belief. To replace a belief at the very top is not a major deal. But to replace one of the lower pegs is a major trauma because so many other beliefs rest and rely on it. If we change a lower peg belief all the beliefs that rest on it have to totally change or at the least change in a significant manner. The Gospel of Jesus Christ must be one of the bottom pegs on which all other pegs and beliefs rest. If we teach a gospel that simply requires grace and faith in the upper tier, then we have a gospel that rests on other beliefs and loves rather than all other things resting on the gospel. The true Gospel is one where all of our life and beliefs rest on Christ alone.

What can happen, then, is that individuals and churches can have orthodoxy (right belief) and to some degree orthopraxy (right practice) and have all of it in the upper tiers. They can believe in something called grace, and indeed have some right ideas of grace, but the true bottom tier belief can still be a trust in self. The bottom tier faith is in self to trust in grace and in self to do the works that should come by faith in Christ and His grace. We maintain these beliefs in the upper tier of the belief system while the beliefs that support all the other beliefs remain the same. That is also what the Pharisees did. The Pharisees had many true beliefs and many true practices. But the bottom pegs in their belief system on which all of their beliefs and all of their practices came from was self. They were indeed living by faith, but it was a faith in themselves. They were indeed living a moral life, but it was a moral life that they had come up with rather than finding it in Scripture in all of its parts. Indeed they founded their beliefs and morality in some way on Scripture, but they were not fully from Scripture and they were certainly not living by grace. They had the right beliefs and a stringent morality. However, we can do the same things. We can also have moral practices that we find in the Bible if we made the right deductions from the right verses. We can also tell ourselves that we are living by faith, and indeed be living by some form of faith in something, when we are not living from what is received by faith in Christ. We can also tell ourselves that we are being blessed by God and yet be totally confused on what a blessing of God really is.

Individuals and churches must learn to take faith and grace as the Bible sets them out rather than interpret them in non-biblical ways. This is exactly where many of those who have gone astray in history have missed it. It is also where we miss it so badly in our day. The Bible demands a true faith and belief in Christ. By that, using the wooden peg analogy, it means the deepest level of belief in the human soul on which all other beliefs and practices rest and come from (John 8:31-32; Mat 22:36-40). We have replaced that type of belief with an upper tier peg belief. It is just one belief among many and does not threaten the true system of trust and love we have in self. The Bible tells us that unless a person is converted that person will not enter the kingdom (Matthew 18:3; John 3:3-8). We have settled for uttering a prayer or making some sort of choice. The Bible tells us that our righteousness must exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees or we will not enter the kingdom (Mat 5:20). But we have settled for many outward acts that make us comfortable in our external morality. The Bible tells us that all we can do, even giving all we have to feed the poor and giving our bodies to be burned, is of no profit apart from love (I Cor 13:1-3). Yet we have replaced true love with external actions and a general form of niceness. In other words, we have the same principles of the Pharisees in that we have lowered the commands of God so that we can keep them apart from a total reliance upon the grace of God. The human heart is always trying to do this despite the teaching of Jesus in John 15:5 that apart from Him we can do nothing (spiritually). Any true spiritual fruit must come from Jesus the vine to us or the fruit is of our flesh and is not true spiritual fruit. Our deceitful hearts must learn this daily.

In order for the modern Church to be turned again to the Lord will require much searching of our hearts. Individuals and churches must search and get to the very bottom of the heart and hearts. The judgment of God remains on our nation and on the churches and yet we are satisfied with greater numbers. Like the Pharisees we will travel over land and sea to make a convert (Mat 23:15). However, has that person been converted by the methods of men to unbiblical standards (in the name of the Bible) or has that person been converted by and to the Lord? There are many people who are converted in a sense but are not converted to God. When we have changed the standards and call them biblical, we are in dangerous territory and are in dangerous times. We must always remember that the Pharisees and virtually all heresies have used biblical language. However, they did not have the biblical intent and the biblical meaning with that language. We must search our own hearts in prayer and earnestly desire the truth about ourselves and God rather than just assume that all is well in Zion.

How are modern churches like the Pharisees rather than Christ? How many professing believers are like the Pharisees rather than Christ? Do we really want to know? Do we really care as long as the numbers and the money comes flowing in? If we desire the presence of God in Christ in our churches and in our hearts, we must search our hearts with all diligence. We must begin or continue ransacking our own motives and intents. We must learn to look at what the Bible says is the blessing of God rather than assume He is blessing what we do. The blessing of God is when He gives Himself and not when He gives us things. God gives riches and material things to those His wrath is on, but He does not give Himself to those His wrath is on. What we must ask and seek from the Lord in His Word and in prayer is if He is in our hearts in reality and if it is truly His glory that we desire and seek.

As we continue in our praying, thinking, and searching of our hearts, we must know that God is different than we are. The way to return to the Lord is to become like Him by His grace and not seek Him to become like us. We can certainly pray and ask God to bless our plans rather than seek Him for His plans. We can pray asking for Him to give us His plan and then just assume that our plans are His. We can pray and ask Him to give us what we need to carry out our own plans and indeed those plans may be fulfilled. But unless God gives Himself He has not blessed a person or a group of people. We must learn to understand the deceptive nature of our own hearts (Jer 17:9) and know that our own hearts are more deceitful than all else. Our hearts have a high opinion of ourselves and we are so prone to think that God is in whatever we do. But we must learn to seek God to open the deception of our hearts to us and to give us grace in order to seek Him in truth and love.

In the 1920’s the stock market crashed and our nation was plunged into a depression. The market crashed because of certain influences and certain practices that had been carried on for many years. In our day our nation has been plunged into another economic crisis. This was also precipitated by years of corruption and bad (and perhaps illegal) business practices. Corporations had leaders cook the books (change the numbers around) in order to give the impression that they were making more money and had more money than they did in reality. These things can only go on so long before a crash occurs. This is also true in the professing Church. We can practice many so-called “biblical” things and give the appearance that great things are going on. We can pad the church roles with false converts and give the impression that great things are happening. We can give ourselves to many activities and many moral practices and give the impression that great things are happening. But when we do those things apart from the presence of God we are just like the corrupt businesses that set themselves up for a great fall.

The professing Church in our day has been cooking the books and giving an impression that things are going well when in fact the judgment of God is upon us. God has withdrawn His presence from us and yet we are going along in our programs as if nothing has happened. The crash is happening and there may be a final crash in the days ahead. God judged Israel many times before He sent them away a final time. It is time to search our hearts with the Word of God and on our knees. We have settled for so many things without God and deceived ourselves into thinking that God is surely blessing us and is among us. That leads us to think that things are okay. They are not okay and we are blinding ourselves to the reality. We must repent from seeking things to seeking God in truth and love. We must see what we are doing and what is happening. May God grant us all eyes that see and ears that hear.

The Seeking Church, Part 23

December 12, 2008

The great burden of this particular series is for people to realize that the judgment of God is spiritual and what must be done in order to return to God. We cannot be satisfied in doing our religious duties and practices. We must not be satisfied in simply doing the externals of religion. We must begin to seek the face of the Lord in spirit, truth, and love or the judgment will continue. The church will never do anything of spiritual significance apart from seeking the face of the Lord out of true love for Him. It has been said that at times younger children will unwrap a present and play with the box rather than appreciate the present. The professing church appears to be doing the same thing. It is playing with music, preaching, teaching, prayer, Bible study and so on (the box and the wrapping) rather than seeking the face of the living God. Music is not to be appreciated as music alone, it is to be used to worship the living God or we are satisfied with the box. Preaching is to be a means to seek the face of God or we are satisfied with the box. Bible study and prayer are means to seeking God, and yet if we develop religious duties around them rather than using them as means of seeking God we are playing with the box.

The issue of a seeking church is a church that is seeking God from the heart. A church that is seeking God is seeking the face of God in truth from the depths of the heart. Seeking God is not the activity or activities in and of themselves; those are simply the boxes (so to speak). We must pray for the Lord to take our hearts from the boxes in order to seek Him by means of the box. The Pharisees were satisfied with the externals of religion. We like to think we are not and so we say and write words that condemn the Pharisees for what they did. Yet how many people in the churches are truly seeking God from the desires and longings of their hearts? How many churches have prayer meetings where God Himself is the true object of desire? How many churches have prayer meetings where no one is prayed for but God Himself is sought and anything that is prayed for is a means of seeking God Himself? When we pray for others without a primary love for God we are seeking something other than God. We are to love Him with all of our beings. The greatest thing that we can pray for another, after all, is for them to know God day in and day out which is eternal life.

The evangelism and discipleship of the churches must be to make true seekers and lovers of God. We must not be satisfied with external morality and an easy religious life. We must not be satisfied that people say prayers and walk aisles, but instead we must seek God and do what we do in such a way to see hearts changed. If a church is going to seek the face of God in its meetings, then the individuals that the church consists of must be seeking the Lord in that way. After all, the church is the body of Christ. What does the life of Christ in His body do? That life of Christ will always seek the face of the Father and to seek to please Him in all it does. We must know that what Christ did on earth He will work to fulfill in the hearts of His people. All that He did was to please the Father and to seek His will. What He will do in our hearts as our life is to seek to please the Father and seek His will. The same Christ who was sweating blood in His prayer to the Father and said “not My will, but Yours be done” is the Christ that will not rest satisfied until His people are seeking the will of His Father to be done on earth as it is in heaven. He is the Lord of the heart and His kingdom reigns to the degree that it reigns in the hearts of His people.

For a church to function as a body of Christ seeking the Father through and by the life of Christ, that will require a people to have hearts that love God. The goal of evangelism and discipleship is not to have people pray a prayer and profess to be delivered from hell; it is to have a people united to Christ with the same heart of Christ. It is to have the people be saved from the power of sin on this earth so that the living God will dwell in their souls. The blood of Christ does not deliver from hell alone, but it cleanses the soul so that the living God may dwell in that soul as His holy temple. The church must learn to pray for the glory of God to dwell in the souls of the people and to pray for others in that manner and with that goal. That is, after all, how Paul prayed (Ephesians 3:14-21).

What we must begin to see with renewed eyes is that the church is not just a group of people that meet together to perform religious things together. It must meet together as a body of Christ to do what its Head directs it to do. It must meet together as a bride in order to love and please its Husband. The church is not just an organization, it is the very dwelling place of the living God and it is from His dwelling place that His glory will shine. The tabernacle in the Old Testament was where the glory of God dwelt. The tabernacle in the book of John we the physical body of Jesus Christ because that is where the glory dwelt. The tabernacle or temple after Christ is the Church because the true Church is the body of Christ. Its purposes all relate to being an instrument in shining out God’s glory.

All of these things are related to the peg analogy from the past few newsletters. Each local church has to revisit what it means to be a church. The present belief of what a church is may be pegs in the upper levels, but the beliefs of what a church is must be at the deepest roots. Local churches must wake up to what a church is. The following two verses show this: “He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything” (Colossians 1:18). “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions” (Colossians 1:24). What does Christ think of a local church that gets involved in activities without having Him as its first love and having first place in everything? What He said to the Pharisees in Matthew 7 is a clue: 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.'”

Here we have a picture of busy people who were busy in their religion on judgment day. These were not just the nominal believers as we call them. These were not just those that attended once a month or most of the time except when they were busy with other things. These were people who had their theology correct (called Jesus “Lord”) and went about preaching or proclaiming the name of Christ. These were also those that not only cast out demons and did miracles, but they did them in the name of Jesus. Yet they were sent away because they practiced lawlessness. This text should send chills down our spines as well. Here were orthodox people doing outwardly great things and even doing them in the name of Christ. Yet they were told that Christ never knew them. They were told to depart because they practiced lawlessness.

Let us imagine a local church that can be described by Matthew 7:22-23 and is busy about getting people busy. That is a church growth technique in our day. The things these people were doing are done in the name of the Lord. The things these people are doing are thought to be great. The things that people are doing orthodox and perhaps even miraculous. Can there be local churches that have great evangelistic practices that Christ would call lawlessness on judgment day? Can there be local churches that have discipleship programs that are seen by Christ as lawlessness now and will on judgment day? Are there local churches with great and thriving music programs that Christ sees now as and will term then as lawlessness on judgment day? Are there local churches that are having large numbers come through its doors for things that Christ sees as practices of lawlessness? Could it be that people will flock to conservative churches to have their ears tickled with conservative morality that is lawlessness because it is morality apart from love for Christ? The Pharisees were also conservative in their morality. Could it be that people flock to hear certain people preach because they like to have their ears tickled with a theology that they agree with? The Pharisees were conservative with their theology too. What does the Word of God teach us is the ultimate lawlessness? It is violating the Great Commandment of loving God with all of our beings. Conservative theology and morality do not guarantee a judgment where Christ will declare all as well done. Those are also things that can be declared as lawlessness.

If we reflect back on the wooden peg analogy we can see that the people in Matthew 7 had their religious beliefs and practices built into what they were. However, what they did not have was Christ as their very foundation and life. Each church must know that there is no other foundation other than Christ and that there is no life other than Christ. The church must begin to look and examine itself to see if what it is doing goes to the deepest supports in all it is doing. We can do many things to please people and keep people coming in the door, but if in bringing them in we are, so to speak, driving God out the door what we are doing is lawlessness. We must be preaching, teaching, and evangelizing in a way that God will use to convert people. All of this is pictured by the deepest levels of the wooden peg analogy. We must not be satisfied with our own professed belief or the professed belief of others. Many profess belief but are not converted in truth. A professed belief may be just one of many beliefs that a person has. A saving faith is a faith that is the deepest conviction of the soul and comes from being united to Jesus Christ. If we are to be faithful people and faithful churches, we must learn to get to the deepest issues of the heart. Until Christ has converted the deepest issues of the heart, people do not truly believe and are not truly converted. Until Christ has converted the deepest issues of the heart, all that we do is lawlessness because He is not dwelling there and His Spirit is not working in us the fruit of love. We can know the facts that God opposes the proud, but until we are deeply humbled we will not understand that He opposes the most we can do and the very best we can do in His name apart from true love. We must be converted in the deepest recesses and parts of our hearts.

The Seeking Church, Part 22

December 6, 2008

We have been setting out a peg analogy and the idea of a dominating belief in order to show that there can be major problems in a church even among people that profess to believe. If people believe they are converted and are not, that means that a professing church is functioning according to unbelief. This is destructive to individuals and would not be a biblical church. This is certainly a sign of the spiritual judgment of God. When the Lord withdraws and leaves a people to themselves, they come up with their own idea of what faith and salvation really are. If justification comes through faith and the idea of faith is not biblical, then the results would be obvious. If salvation is not just a deliverance from a future hell but involves a true conversion of all the aspects of the human soul now, then we can see how utterly disastrous that would be to individual souls and to churches. There would be people deceiving themselves into thinking that they were delivered from hell while they were not new creatures in Christ. A person will not be delivered from hell if s/he is not made into a new creature in this life.

In a recent conversion with a person (referred to as person A) these things became very apparent. I was talking to person A about the need to receive grace for salvation. The person became angry. Person A said that they had been told that all a person needed to do was believe in order to be saved. They then said that now I was telling him or her that s/he needed to be saved by grace and that God had to do that. In other words, instead of being taught that salvation comes through faith, that person had the belief that s/he only needed to exercise some form of belief that came from him or her. No change of heart was required for that. The biblical teaching that a person is saved by grace alone through faith alone was not considered. Perhaps this person would have went on thinking that s/he was saved because of an intellectual belief when in fact s/he did not even know the Gospel of grace alone and that it was a work of God. If that person would have joined a church at a later date, it would have been an unconverted being allowed into membership on the profession of faith but it would have been an unbiblical faith. That is deceptive to the individual and harmful to the church. These are important matters.

If the professing church is going to be turned from its present judgment, it must look at the teaching of Scripture on conversion. We need to hear about conversion and we need to think deeply and pray about what conversion is. We need to understand that there is the message of the Gospel, but there is also the conversion of the sinner. A person must be converted from being a child of the devil to a child of the living God. A person must be converted from being one that hates God to one that loves God. Conversion is when a person is turned from a self-centered mind to having the mind of Christ. Conversion is when the heart is turned from being a heart where even the intents of the thoughts of the heart are evil and nothing but evil to one that has intents that love the true God. Conversion is when the whole inward person is changed from living out of pride to one that receives all it obtains from the grace of God. Conversion is when a person is turned from doing all for the honor of self to doing all to the glory of God. Conversion is when a person is turned from the self-life to the life of Christ in the soul. Conversion is when a person is turned from bearing the fruits of the flesh to bearing the fruit of the Spirit. Conversion is when a person is turned from sharing in the life of the world to sharing in the life of God. Conversion is when a person is turned from such self-love that other people are only loved for the sake of self to being enabled to even love enemies. Conversion is when a person is turned from being a temple of idols to being the temple of the living God.

The above list is not exhaustive, but it is an attempt to show that we must learn to take the teaching of the Bible on conversion very seriously. The Bible speaks of people who are truly converted as being new creatures in Christ (II Cor 5:17). The Bible does not know of a salvation from a future hell apart from a person becoming a new creature in Christ. At the risk of sounding arrogant, until churches return to the teaching of Scripture on conversion they will be weak and inept in the spiritual realm. It is God who changes people rather than people changing themselves as the Pharisees evidently believed. People cannot change their own hearts and instill the life of Christ in themselves. People cannot make themselves new creatures. People cannot sanctify themselves because Christ Himself is our sanctification (I Corinthians 1:30-31). As long as the professing church continues to teach of a salvation from hell apart from the conversion of sinners by God Himself to being saints in Christ Jesus the church will continue to be a place where people are damned through the church. How deceptive it is when churches are full of people who hate the true God while they are deceived about loving Him because they have been taught that they are saved from hell while having no idea of what true conversion really is. We should not be surprised that the wrath of God has come upon us in a terrible spiritual famine.

When the focus of modern evangelism is to get people to pray a prayer or walk an aisle in order to escape from hell, we will say things and do things to get them to do that. But if the focus of the church is to see men and women truly converted and become true disciples of Jesus Christ, then the focus in proclaiming the Gospel will be much different. If our focus is on greater numbers in the church and greater numbers through the baptismal waters, our evangelism will be watered down and be nothing but an attempt to get people to go through certain acts. But if we proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ in a way that knows that people have to be truly converted and to become disciples, then we will preach and teach on sin, true repentance, and what a changed heart and life is really like.

The situation in modern America is dire in the spiritual realm. An analogy from the medical realm might be very useful in pointing this out. Let us imagine that the vast majority of doctors in America stopped treating diseases and began to only treat the symptoms. They begin to think that patients are going to stop coming to them if they tell them the truth about their diseases. So they decide that they will have more patients if they make people feel better and not tell them the truth about their diseases. The patients will be given medication to make them feel better and will receive counseling in order to have a positive outlook on life. They would do nothing but make the patients feel better with promises of what this would mean for the future. The patients would be deceived about reality because of how they felt which when combined with promises of the future they will go on in a deceived state. The symptoms are dealt with so the patient thinks all is well. They patients are given promises about the future based on how they feel rather than the nature of the disease. It would be easy to see that the results of something like this would be catastrophic to the health of the nation as well as trust in doctors.

We live in a time when this is exactly what is going on in the churches of today. People began to feel a bit guilty or think something is wrong and so they attend a local church where the pastor or leaders are concerned about the numbers of people coming. So the person is told positive things and encouraged to keep coming back. Sure enough the person begins to feel better and might even make a profession of faith. After all, s/he feels better and knows new people. What is the problem? The symptoms were dealt with to some degree but not the disease. The disease is still there and is growing though the person feels better. The person thinks that all is well for the future based on the fact that s/he feels better now. Whenever some doubt begins to creep in, they are told to remember a prayer they prayed or a decision they made at some point in the past that inoculates them against all doubt.

The professing church (orthodox ones also) is taking people and is only treating (though not in truth) their symptoms. But the radical disease of sin is not being dealt with by the teaching of true repentance and true conversion. We can imagine what we would do if a doctor told us that we have a disease and it must be cut out if we are going to live. We might get a second opinion, but we would not settle for a person that told us to just take a few pills and live better. Yet when the Great Physician of souls tells us that unless we are converted and become like little children we will not enter the kingdom (Mat 18:1-3), we are satisfied with a few pills of a prayer and perhaps some behavior modification. The Great Physician of souls tells us that we must be born again to enter the kingdom of heaven and we are again satisfied with a few prayers and some behavior modification.

The professing church in the modern day is much like a helper to a physician that would tell the patients that come to the office that all that they needed was in the office and they needed to apply it to themselves. The medicine is set out and they are told to believe that the medicine will work and they need to learn to apply it themselves. The patient might wonder about this since the physician is trained to apply medicine and the patient is utterly ignorant of these things. But the patient is simply told to believe and it will be applied that way. What if a patient went to a heart surgeon and was told to give him or herself a new heart? In much the same way people are being told that about salvation today. Instead of telling them that they need to go to the Physician of souls who alone can change hearts and who alone can apply the balm to the souls and salve to the eyes, people are told to apply salvation to themselves. They are told just to believe that the Physician can do it and to believe that He has done it. What they need to do is to go to the Physician and ask Him to treat their diseases. He alone can cut out that old heart and give them a new one. He alone can take out their old mind and give them a new one. He alone can begin to treat their disease by causing them to die to the disease itself. Sin is not to be suppressed but it is to be cut out by the Physician. Until the professing church learns to point people to the Physician for radical surgery and not tell people that they are to cure themselves by the medicine made available, the disease of sin will be rampant.