A True Story!

Gather round and I’ll tell you a story. It’s a true story, and something of great value can be learned from it. In one sense it’s quite whimsical, but it is also very sad. So here goes…

Once upon a time there were two families who, having been part of a church for several years, suddenly announced that they had discovered together what true fellowship actually was. Having received such a ‘revelation’ of what the Christian life was really about, they had therefore concluded that everyone else with whom they had been in fellowship up to then were just hypocrites who were not following the Lord as they should. God had also, they said, shown them that they must leave the church and start a new life together living in community. So they left behind the brothers and sisters they now believed to be hypocrites and pursued their vision, making all the necessary preparations and arrangements for their new life together. Moving into a shared property they were finally free to experience together the ‘revelation’ of fellowship which they so fully believed the Holy Spirit had given them.

Three weeks later – yes, I kid you not – three weeks later they had a falling out and went their own separate ways, each family having presumably concluded that the other was another example of the same Christian hypocrisy in the church they had left to pursue the vision in the first place.

…and they all didn’t live happily ever after!

So what’s the big lesson here? And I gotta tell you, it’s a really vital one! And it’s the importance of properly understanding the simple biblical principle that if there is un-acknowledged and un-dealt with sin in our lives that we aren’t being honest about, then instead of judging ourselves and repenting of that sin, which is what we should do, we will start to see it in everyone else’s lives and (quite wrongly) accuse them of it instead.

What the two families in our story failed to realise, though it was pointed out to them before they left the church, was that the problem they thought they were identifying in others was actually in them. So when they left to start their new life together they just took the problem with them. And precisely because it was their problem, as opposed to anyone else’s, they inevitably ended up seeing in each other the same ‘hypocrisy’ which they had previously thought they were seeing in everyone else in the church.

When Jesus taught about removing the log in one’s own eye before trying to remove a speck in someone else’s, this is exactly what He was meaning. A Christian who has a tree trunk in their eye is not going to be very good at identifying a splinter in someone else’s. If a believer can’t even identify, and be honest about, their own sin, then how on earth do they expect to be able to think clearly and rationally concerning other people’s?

Many Christians seem to be completely unaware that the anger, resentment and sense of having been ‘offended’ by others which they so readily feel, is actually their reaction to, and therefore evidence of, the Holy Spirit convicting them of sin, but of sin which they aren’t willing to be honest about and repent of. Many believers spend their entire Christian lives going from church to church, group to group, fellowship to fellowship, only ever settling anywhere for any length of time to the extent that their ears are being ‘tickled’ by whatever it is they want to hear, and whilst no-one is likely to advise, correct or admonish them regarding their sin. But even when no-one is advising, correcting or admonishing them regarding sin, they often still eventually fall out with those around them thus moving on yet again, because their unrepentant state means they remain spiritual babies who get easily upset and offended at things which mature believers wouldn’t even notice, let alone allow themselves to be negatively affected by. They only ever think of themselves as being the innocent victims of the wrongdoing of others, whilst never being open to the fact that they might themselves be the guilty perpetrators of wrongdoing! It is sad that so many Christians today think in such a way!

A profound change came about in my own Christian life when the Lord started to work on me in this regard, and when I started to realise that my biggest problem wasn’t other people’s sin, but my own. I started to realise that, for instance, the problem wasn’t that other people were irritating, but rather that I was irritable – and Paul makes clear in 1 Corinthians 13 that irritability is not love, and therefore sin! So what was the big change? It was that I started to at last identify what the real problem was! Me! It wasn’t, as I had always just assumed and taken for granted, that other people were, for instance, irritating, but rather that I was irritable! And man oh man, what a difference that made! It was exactly the same regarding how I would so easily consider other people to be annoying! And what I saw was that irrespective of whether others were being annoying or not, the real problem was that I would so easily get annoyed. And that was because of my own self-righteousness which I was failing to judge.

This is why we need to periodically ask the Lord to show us anew just how sinful we actually are, and just how terrible our sin actually is. We so readily justify our sinful reactions by concentrating on what we perceive to be the wrongdoing of others, and in particular of whoever it is we are reacting against at any one time. I’m not saying there is never a time for legitimate anger or annoyance – as scripture says, “Be angry, but sin not!” – but let’s be clear that so much of what we would like to put down to being righteous anger is really just our own intolerance, peevishness and resentment at having not gotten our own way over something, or with having not been agreed with, or whatever!

The two families in our story got into such a terrible mess because they weren’t willing to face up to the simple fact that the problem they were struggling with was in them and not others, and that it would therefore go with them wherever they went. They were just blaming others for their own un-dealt with sin and disobedience to the Lord. It’s a bit like if someone were to trip over their shoelaces, having not done them up properly, and then shift the blame by accusing others of having pushed them.

There are so many Christians of whom it can be said that nothing is ever their fault! The sin, the mess, the division and contention – or whatever – that surrounds them wherever they go is, so they claim, always due to the wrongdoing of others, and never their own!

May we not, I pray, be numbered among them!

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Is God’s Love Unconditional?

The term ‘unconditional love’ seems to have only appeared fairly recently in human history and is, I think, a product of the modern liberal western mentality which is obsessed with such notions as loving oneself and of always being affirmed and never judged. Past generations didn’t use the term because they simply had no need to. Because they better understood what love is than do people today, the term simply wasn’t necessary. One just talked about love. But because the term is so becoming so increasingly widespread even amongst Christians, we do need to give it some thought. Indeed, a great many believers seem to be incapable of talking about God’s love without needing to be constantly emphasising that it’s unconditional. But is it, though? Is it biblically correct to speak in terms of God’s love being unconditional?

Think of it like this! A coin has two sides and not just one, and many things in life similarly have more that just one aspect to them. So if we talk about something that has various aspects as if it only had one, then although what we say may be true in so far as it goes, it won’t be the whole truth of the matter and will actually be misleading. This is happening more and more in regards to how Christians are increasingly defining God’s love, and the result is not only that they are deceiving themselves, they are also deceiving unbelievers through the unbiblical content of their so-called evangelism.

I concur that it is most certainly the case that love is unconditional; but to merely emphasise that aspect of it’s nature, but to not also represent the other side of the coin, is to completely misrepresent what it is, and to completely fail to properly define it. You can no more have unqualified unconditional love than you can have a one-sided coin. Love that is not unconditional could not be considered to be love, but neither could something be considered to be love which claims itself to be solely unconditional with no further qualification! One-sided coins simply don’t exist, and neither does a love which claims as the only aspect of its nature it’s unconditionality.

Think of parents raising their kids. Any parent worth their salt loves their children unconditionally; but precisely because they love them unconditionally they also, by very definition, desire their ultimate happiness and well-being. Good, decent and responsible parents instinctively know that in order to accomplish this the child must be taught right from wrong and good from bad, and that the parent must be ready, whenever necessary, to actually impose discipline on the child in order to bring about that end. Parents who care nothing about their children’s behaviour, whether it be good or bad, and who care nothing about their developing characters, whether their kids are nice or horrible, and then claim that their lack of concern is because they love their children unconditionally, would not just be extremely bad parents, they would also be talking complete nonsense. Doing whatever is necessary in order to ensure that their childrens’ behaviour is moving from bad to good, and from wrong to right, is one of the necessary evidences that parents do indeed love their children. To then add the (completely unnecessary) caveat that such parents also love their children unconditionally is simply another way of saying that they love their children. A good parent, by very definition, loves their child unconditionally at any and every point in their moral development, but precisely because they do love their children with such unconditional love, they also cannot help but want to see them continually improving in their human and moral development. The ‘other side of the coin’ of love being unconditional is, therefore, that love also seeks to improve, in whatever way it can, the condition and well-being of its object.

The reason that love is, by very definition, unconditional, and why it could never be said to be love otherwise, is because the only alternative would be that it had to be earned. It would need to be secured by ongoing acceptable performance. But of course such could never be said to be love! It is simply the gaining of favour through merit, which is an entirely different thing to being loved! Conversely, however, to claim to ‘love’ someone whilst doing nothing to bring about their improvement is equally a complete mockery. You might as well assure a starving beggar in the street that you love him unconditionally, and then add that precisely because your love for him is unconditional it doesn’t matter whether or not you give him some food. Such would be both a mockery and travesty of any notion of love!

I therefore put it to you that the reason so many Christians are increasingly putting such emphasis on God’s love being unconditional, and going so completely out of their way to assure people that He loves everyone ‘just the way they are’, is because they have been deceived by the prevalent over-emphasis on the unconditional aspect of the nature of love, and the idea that the behaviour of those who are its objects is irrelevant to that love. And what this does, however unintentionally, is to spread the falsehood that the fact that God loves people unconditionally means that He won’t ever judge and punish them. Such is, of course, exactly what unrepentant sinners love to hear! It is a ‘gospel’ of having all the benefits of there being a divine Creator, but a Creator who puts no moral requirements upon those He has created, and Who will never punish them for their rejection of Him! What more could unrepentant sinners want by way of a totally false gospel? All the sin and depravity you could possibly want – with God’s unconditional love thrown in! And it’s Christians who are actually encouraging unbelievers to think like this. But here’s the problem: no such God, and therefore no such gospel, actually exists!

Of course God loves unbelievers unconditionally! Of course He loves them just the way they are! If you don’t love someone just the way they are then that’s just another way of saying that you don’t actually love them. But that doesn’t change the fact that, at the Great White Throne Judgement, this God-Who-unconditionally-loves-everybody-just-the-way-they-are will nevertheless throw those who haven’t repented of their sins, and who haven’t put their trust in Him, into the Lake of Fire for all eternity. However discomfiting to the modern mindset it might be, being loved unconditionally by the God Who actually does exist will avail those who reject Him absolutely nothing. Those who reject Him, and who refuse to repent, will be eternally lost, and the fact that in His love for them He has provided a way of escape, yet a way of escape which they refused to take, will make not the slightest bit of difference to fact of their eternal damnation!

Precisely because of His love the Lord has done everything necessary in order to provide salvation for all, but in order to receive that salvation the sinner must repent and believe, and if they don’t, then eternal judgement is all that awaits them! And the reason the Lord won’t let such into Heaven, even though He does indeed love them unconditionally, is because, as we have seen, there is no such thing as a love which doesn’t seek the improvement of the one loved, and therefore no such thing as a love that can’t be rejected by its object. If someone refuses to be improved by the unconditional love of God (or of anyone else for that matter), then the fact that He does so love them makes no ultimate difference. In refusing to be improved by Him they put themselves beyond anything further He can do. Though loved beyond measure, those who refuse to surrender shut themselves out from that love, and are thereby lost in their sins for all eternity. Moreover, if they so disliked the idea of being morally improved by a righteous God in this life, then just think how much they would hate being in Heaven in the next, where that same holiness and righteousness will be utterly revealed and totally all-encompassing! Don’t get me wrong! I’m not suggesting that they won’t hate being in the Lake of Fire, they most certainly will, but as those to whom God granted their desire to not be morally improved by Him, and to not be set free from their sin, they would also hate being in Heaven, though for completely different reasons!

The notion of a God of love Who just ignores sin, and Who accepts everyone just as they are, and Who is too loving to ever judge or punish anyone, is a complete fantasy! In fact, it is the most ridiculous and full-blown nonsense! There could no more be a God-of-love-but-not-righteousness-and-justice than there could be a coin with only one side. Love is, as we have seen, most certainly unconditional, but unconditional love, precisely because it is love, can never disregard the moral condition of its object.

There are ramifications here for believers too, and they are profound! We need to understand – indeed, be greatly reassured – that, as God’s children, He doesn’t love us any more when we are being obedient and faithful, and neither does He love us any less when we are sinning and in disobedience. When we are being obedient and faithful He smiles on us, but when we are sinning and being disobedient to Him, He still smiles on us, but desires to also discipline us and deal with our rebellion. He will even, if necessary, turn away from us relationally until we properly respond so as to restore our fellowship with Him. I don’t mean that He might not let us into Heaven after all, of course not! The believer getting to Heaven depends solely upon Jesus’ death, and there is nothing that can undo that! No! What I mean is that if we have un-dealt with sin in our lives then we are kidding ourselves if we think He is listening to us any more. He isn’t!

“If I regard iniquity in my heart the Lord will not hear me!” That’s what scripture says!

When we are in unrepentant sin the Lord just patiently waits for us to come clean and get right with Him so He can restore our relationship with Him. In such a circumstance the only thing He is saying to us, irrespective of anything we say to Him is, “Come clean and repent of that sin! You must say you are sorry!” (I have even from time to time found myself desperately repenting of just about everything except the specific thing He is actually convicting me of. Funny old world, isn’t it?)

Married couples understand this principle only too well! A husband who is unkind or disrespectful to his wife before he goes to work can hardly expect his relationship with her to be as it ought to be when he gets home, until he has put things right with her and said the needed sorry. It’s not that he and his wife have stopped being married, but rather that sin has disrupted the relationship between them until things are put right! So even though God’s children, we can nevertheless still be out of fellowship with Him relationally should we harbour unrepentant sin in our lives.

Perhaps we could put it like this: The issue isn’t actually whether God loves us, it’s whether or not we love Him; and Jesus said, “If you love me you will obey my commands.” Being loved is irrelevant unless the one who is loved responds in kind!

So let’s be a bit careful then when we talk about love being unconditional. Let’s make sure that we never, even inadvertently, give unbelievers reason to think that God’s love for them means that He isn’t concerned with how they behave or with their moral condition. Our loving God, precisely because He is love, will one day judge the living and the dead, and unrepentant sinners who have never embraced His salvation will be thrown into the Lake of Fire. That they were loved by Him is ultimately irrelevant to their impending eternal damnation! Their problem is that they didn’t love Him, and therefore refused to obey Him. Any understanding of God’s love that doesn’t take this sobering fact into account is pure, unadulterated deception!

For us as believers though what matters is simply this: precisely because the Lord loves us just the way we are, He wants to also improve us so that we don’t stay just the way we are. He wants to mature us, and to move us forward in Him into ever greater fulness of the Spirit and holiness of life.

As scripture so simply and clearly says, “Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth.”

Biblical Evangelism – Part 5

The final thing we must consider regarding biblical evangelism is that in the New Testament the apostles and the early church taught and practised that baptism was part of the actual conversion process. Throughout the New Testament evangelism consisted simply of the declaration to unbelievers that they should repent of their sins, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be baptised. That, and that alone, is the biblical gospel. And if you read the Acts of the Apostles you will find that, entirely consistent with that assertion, converts were baptised immediately upon profession of faith in the Lord.

Fundamentally, for two thousand years, the Christian Church has gotten baptism completely wrong, and two errors have dominated regarding it since the emergence of the false teachings of the Early Church Fathers. The first error is when baptism occurs when it shouldn’t (infant baptism), and secondly, when it doesn’t occur when it should; that is, when it is delayed after conversion for the purpose of any kind of baptismal preparation.

We must be clear that, if we go by scripture as opposed to unbiblical Christian tradition, baptism has nothing whatsoever to do with such things as whether your parents are existing church members and themselves baptised, or with joining a church, or with the ministrations of priests or church pastors, or with special church ‘services’ to inaugurate new converts into the Christian life. Absolutely not! None of those things have anything whatsoever to do with baptism! In the New Testament, whether someone was saved publicly in a crowd, or privately with hardly anyone else present, converts were baptised immediately upon profession of their repentance and faith and Jesus. No special meetings were required, and there was certainly no need for church leaders to be present for the purpose of presiding over proceedings and performing the baptism. Biblically, baptism was simply understood to be part of the conversion process. If you were with someone who had just believed in Jesus and gotten saved, then you baptised them as soon as possible – pure and simple!

I’m not suggesting that if someone believes on the Lord but doesn’t get baptised as part of that process they aren’t saved. Of course not! But I am saying that for two thousand years, as with evangelism in general – and many other things pertaining to our discipleship and church life – the Christian Church has followed the false teachings of mere men as opposed obeying the teaching of the New Testament. Or, to put it another way, whether it be evangelism, baptism, church life, or a myriad other things, the Christian Church continues, virtually monolithically,  to go against the teaching of scripture.

So let me summarise what we have seen in our consideration of biblical evangelism:

  1. Nowhere does scripture command that all believers are to engage in proactive evangelism.
  2. Nowhere does the New Testament instruct us to pray for the salvation of unbelievers.
  3. There is not one example in the entire New Testament of an evangelistic declaration that includes the proclamation of God’s love to unbelievers.
  4. The gospel message is the communication of the fact that God’s wrath abides on unbelievers, and that they are commanded to repent, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be baptised. By so doing they will receive forgiveness of their sins, the free gift of salvation and eternal life.
  5. The New Testament teaches that baptism is part of the conversion process and that converts should therefore be baptised immediately upon repentance and profession of faith in the Lord. There is no biblical requirement for the presence of church leaders, neither for special church ‘meetings’ during which baptisms are performed. Whether the evangelism had taken place in a public or private setting, the early church baptised converts immediately simply upon their profession of faith.

I do appreciate how unnerving and mind-blowing all this is, but hey, don’t blame me for the fact that the Christian Church is in so much serious error and continues to go against the Bible so much. As an Ephesian 4 pastor-teacher I am mandated by the Lord to teach what scripture says and to refute error, and I must therefore expose the unbiblical and man-originated doctrines and traditions that most other Christian leaders teach, and to which most Christians resultantly adhere. But let me end with this: If you disagree with what I have said and want to counter it in any way, then I think that’s great! Indeed, I positively welcome it! Please feel absolutely free to challenge what I have said and to correct me all you will! (Indeed, feel absolutely free to challenge anything I have ever taught anywhere!) But here’s the deal! You must do so from the text of scripture itself and not on any other basis. You are free to fire all the unscriptural theology, personal opinions and so-called ‘prophetic’ declarations at me you want, but be warned that I will only take notice of arguments and reasonings that are formulated from the text of scripture itself. I have no desire to upset or offend anyone, but when it comes to issues of doctrine, ethics and practise, I only accept as authoritative the teaching of scripture itself.

 

Biblical Evangelism – Part 4

It is nothing short of unbelievable just how much the Christian Church has got wrong when it comes to evangelism and mission. As if we haven’t seen enough that needs to be corrected already there is nevertheless more to come. And it’s not minor stuff either, because we have now got to address the fact that the very content of the gospel message that normatively goes out is,  yes you’ve guessed it, significantly unbiblical! Please underline this next point three times in red ink: Nowhere in the New Testament is there the slightest indication that the early church preached to unbelievers that God loved them.

The biblical gospel is that men and women are under God’s judgement as sinners, and are commanded by Him to repent, believe in Jesus and be baptised. In so doing they are forgiven their sins and brought into eternal life. It is not that God loves them! Indeed, in the New Testament it was only when someone had been saved that they were then schooled in an understanding of the Lord’s great love for them. Nowhere was God’s love included in the content of the evangelism of the apostles and New Testament believers. The closest thing we have in scripture to what we might think of as a manual of evangelism, a how-to-do-evangelism-type piece of literature, so to speak, is the Acts of the Apostles, written by Luke, in which the story of the evangelistic mission of the apostles, and then of their converts, is graphically presented. Understand, however, and this is so important to grasp, that the word ‘love’ doesn’t appear anywhere in the whole book.

If the evangelistic message for unbelievers is, even partially, that God loves them, then the apostles of Jesus, plus the entire early church, were apparently completely unaware of it. Repentance toward God, faith in Jesus and baptism is what they preached, pure and simple. Notice too that when it came to methodology there was nothing that even closely resembled what we would today think of as an ‘evangelistic rally.’ There was preaching to crowds, certainly, but organised evangelistic events, and so-called evangelistic crusades, nowhere featured in scripture as part of their strategy. And if someone responds by saying that such evangelistic crusades are just the best way to do evangelism today, and are just our equivalent of what the early church did then, then answer me this: why do such rallies and crusades revolve around stirring music, whether of choirs or rock bands, and why dies it all lead up to the total biblical travesty of the practice of the altar call, or ‘appeal’ as some call it. The closest thing to anything like that in scripture was that on the day of pentecost Peter was actually interrupted by folk who were so convicted of sin that they didn’t even want him to finish preaching. They just wanted to get baptised, there and then, and be saved from their sins.

The choirs and the rock bands and the music, along with the carefully staged altar calls, are really about one thing and one thing only, the manipulation of people’s emotions. Hence all the unbiblical evangelistic preaching about God’s love for sinners. In stark contrast, New Testament evangelism never aimed at the emotions, but rather the will and conscience. Biblical evangelism has as its aim causing sinners to feel bad about themselves, not good! People may get genuinely emotional as a result of hearing the truth gospel, and that isn’t a problem as long as it is the genuine gospel being proclaimed, but that isn’t what it is trying to achieve.

One of the things that really does stand out in the pages of the New Testament, and which is so totally different to the whole ‘seeker-sensitive’ nonsense of todays so-called evangelicalism, is that both Jesus and the early church made it difficult to become a believer, not easy! Much of the evangelism we see today is designed to get people saved no matter what, but the very opposite is the case in scripture. Jesus would warn people who expressed a desire to follow Him that it might mean they would end up homeless like Him. The stories He told illustrating the importance of counting the cost of following Him are salutary here. Whether it be assessing whether or not one can afford to build a tower, or deciding whether one has the necessary resources to win a war against an enemy invader, the cost has to be first be thoroughly taken into account. Far from assuring potential converts that following Him would be all blessing (by which most Christians mean mean the pleasant things in life which make one smile) Jesus told them up-front that it would mean that they would be hated and persecuted, often even by one’s own family, and that potential converts would need to hate their lives so as to come to know His instead. I gotta tell you, not very much of this features in most so-called evangelism going on today.

One further example of this! We have already seen that, biblically speaking, church gatherings are for believers and not unbelievers, but Paul does instruct how to proceed should, for whatever reason, unbelievers ever be present. And what he says in 1 Corinthians is that the result of them being present should be that the secrets of their heart are revealed, thus causing them to be convicted of sin, repent and fall on their faces before God. It is unnerving but clear, whichever part of scripture we turn to regarding unbelievers and evangelism, it is always the command to repentance being put to them and not any kind of proclamation of God’s love for them.

Crumbs, that’s got to be it now…surely! Surely there can’t be anything else biblically wrong with how Christians evangelise, can there? Well yes, there’s one more thing we must yet cover…and it’s absolutely major! I’ll see you bright and early in the morning then!

A Revelatory Drive!

I was out driving the other day and a most striking thing happened. It actually happens a great deal, but for some reason, probably the Holy Spirit’s inspiration, the situation spoke to me rather powerfully.

I was driving through a non-dual-carriageway section of road through the beautiful forest that surrounds where I live. The sun was shining (doesn’t happen quite so much here as this other thing I’m going to describe) and, as usual when driving on my own, I had my music on full blast. (Some wonderful old 70’s classics if I remember correctly! You know, that whole Bubble-Gum music thing!) In other words, I was as happy as Larry and having a total blast; and because that rather long stretch of road has a 40 mile an hour speed limit I was driving – yes, you’ve guessed – at a sedate 40 miles an hour.

I then noticed that the gentleman driving the car behind me was not having the same great day that I was. In fact, from his waving arms and quite un-mistakeably less than polite gesticulations – all clearly visible in my rear view mirror – he was having an extremely bad one. And it was very clear why! He was angry because he was wanting to go faster than 40 miles an hour, but couldn’t because I wasn’t going faster than 40 miles an hour and because he couldn’t, for a few miles, get passed me. I was quite clearly the cause of some considerable disquiet in his life. But let’s just think about this a bit and ask some questions as to why I was driving at 40 miles an hour and causing someone such great distress.

Was I, for instance, driving at 40 miles an hour in order to be offensive? Well, no! I was driving at 40 miles an hour because that is the speed limit on that particular stretch of road, and because it is my understanding that God’s Word teaches that we should obey the governing authorities. Might it have been because I am a self-righteous person who just wants to show everyone how well I obey the law, and who wants to oppress anyone who doesn’t see things my way? Again, no! It was because that’s the speed limit on that stretch of road! So could it be that I am just a rather unpleasant individual who takes pleasure in upsetting people? Er…this is getting boring…no! It was just because I believe I should drive that section of road at 40 miles an hour irrespective of what others think of me for doing so or how it makes them feel.

It might also be worth asking whether it might be the case or not that I have got the speed limit wrong myself on that stretch of road, and that it might be 60 miles an hour and not 40 miles an hour. after all, should such be the case then one could, I suppose – but it would still be a stretch – say that this guy then at least had a point. Doing 40 in a 60 area for some distance when it’s difficult to overtake is, arguably, a bit annoying. But my answer here is simply this: Having lived in this area for over 50 years all told, I am pretty sure that I have repeatedly seen the signs that set the speed limit of that stretch of road at 40 miles an hour.  I could, of course, be wrong. (I could be wrong about absolutely anything!) My eyes may well be deceiving me. So if anyone thinks that might be the case, and has a beef with me for driving the road at 40 miles an hour instead of 60 miles an hour, then all I ask is that they show me the evidence. Just prove to me that I am wrong! Show me the sign that has the number 60 on it and not 40! I would then be more than happy to acknowledge that I have been getting it wrong all this time, being then free to drive that stretch of road at 60 miles an hour knowing that I am within the law in so doing.

So what it boils down to is this: I made someone extremely angry because my right-doing got in the way of their desire to do wrong. For absolutely no other reason than that I was doing the right thing, someone who had been doing the wrong thing (speeding), but who had been stopped in their tracks and forced to slow down and do the right thing because I was in now front of them, got angry with me and wasn’t holding back showing it. I wonder if you can see where I’m going with this!

I cannot tell you how many times Christians have gotten angry at me for no other reason than that I simply believe, teach, live and practise things that God’s Word seems to pretty clearly teach which, for whatever reason, they don’t happen to like. I have, for example, had Christians get angry with me again and again because I believe that wives should submit to their husbands – just as I believe that husbands should love their wives to the moon and back – and that women should not be in a leadership function in the church, or do teaching to the gathered body of saints. I have also had Christians get angry with me, again and again, because I believe, teach and practise that churches should be small, home-based and non-hierarchical. I have even had brothers and sisters in the Lord get angry with me, and on a good many occasions too, simply because I make clear that I believe all Christians should go purely by God’s Word and not in any way by extra-biblical man-made traditions which go against it.

But of course the very worst of the anger happens when one has, through whatever means, become a focal point of sin being revealed in believers lives. I have been slandered to the ends of the earth and back for trying to encourage believers with whom I have had to do to be honest about such sins in their lives as greed, immorality, resentment, slander, un-forgiveness, dishonesty, lying, hatred…and so the list could go on! When put like this it is easy to see how – just as with someone who wants to break the law regarding speeding, but who finds someone getting in their way – simply doing right can cause Christians who are doing wrong to get angry, just as the same right-living causes believers who are living wrong to be convicted of their sin. The anger and resentment is because they aren’t willing to come clean and simply put their hands up, be honest and repent.

And to any who do find themselves angered by what I teach (and not just me of course, it could be anyone), or what I practise, or even perhaps anything I have ever said to you personally, then I simply say this! Just show me the road sign that says the speed limit is 60 miles an hour and not 40 miles an hour, and I will change my driving accordingly. In other words, if you think I am wrong – and about absolutely anything too – then just show me that I’m wrong from scripture. Don’t get angry and skulk off into the shadows to do the whole bad-mouthing thing about me to others behind my back, or directly sound off at me in anger! Let’s talk! Let’s reason together, just like the Lord wants to do with us! Let’s open the Bible together and ask prayerfully, “What saith the scriptures?”

One last thing! Having established that I was driving at 40 miles an hour the other day simply because it’s what the law of the land says, and not because I wanted to upset the guy behind me, or because I want to do anything to upset or anger anyone, so too with what I believe, teach, live and practise. I can assure you that I have never wanted to upset anyone. Neither have I ever desired to make anything harder for anyone than need be. Yet I have been accused by other Christians of living how I live, and teaching what I teach, and saying what I say from every vile motive they seem to be able to think of. But of course the reality is that they are just angry and resentful because sin has been exposed in their lives to which they don’t want to admit. That guy in the car behind me the other day was having a veritable fit, and I have no doubt that he was calling me every unpleasant name under the sun. But not because I was doing anything wrong, but precisely because I was doing right. I had simply, though quite un-desiringly and inadvertently, become a stumbling block to him in his wrongdoing.

Christian, the next time you find yourself angry with someone and doing that whole “How dare they say that to me! They offended me!” thing, just ponder that the odds are that it is most probably evidence that you are being convicted by the Holy Spirit of something in your life which you don’t want to recognise and own up to. In your desire to avoid the message you just want to shoot the messenger. In order to deny and wriggle out of the sin that is being revealed in you, and in order to try to justify yourself in both your own eyes and eyes of others, you are seeking to discredit the person God is using to convict you. You can then tell yourself that you don’t have to listen to someone who is so discreditable and wrong.

Just remember though that the Pharisees did this to the Lord Jesus all the time!

 

The Christians biggest problem!

The more years I spend with the Lord the more struck I am by how few of the many believers I have had to do with understand how sinful and wretched they are. Oh yes, they realised at the point of their conversion that they needed forgiveness so as to make it to Heaven, but what I’m talking about here isn’t that initial conviction of sin when coming to know the Lord in the first place, but rather that increasing awareness and growing knowledge, day by day, week by week, year by year, of not merely the sins of which we have been guilty, but the all-pervading sinfulness of who we are in and of ourselves.

For myself I came to know the Lord as a result of a deep conviction of sin quite out of the blue and immediately cried out to be forgiven, truly desiring to follow the Lord in utter earnestness. It was a deep and genuine conviction of sin, of that there is no doubt, and it caused me to be completely undone before both Heaven and earth, but as years of discipleship passed I began to realise more and more that it had been merely the tip of an almost infinite iceberg. I came to see more and more clearly that my biggest ongoing problem as a disciple of the Lord wasn’t merely my sins, but rather my sheer unbridled sinfulness!

But don’t think for one moment that I’m talking about a Christian life lived in some kind of unremitting self-condemnation! Heavens no! Quite the contrary, in fact! Jesus made the point in regards to a woman of dubious reputation that to be forgiven much is to precisely love much! (Luke 7:36-50) And of course that is the key! The more one realises one’s utter sinfulness and depravity of both heart and will, the more one drinks in the sheer wonder of the Lord’s grace and love that took Him to the cross to die for it all. The more sinful I realise I am the more I appreciate His grace, forgiveness and acceptance, and the more I experience the unbounded love my Father in Heaven has for me. I cannot tell you how sad I am for the sinfulness of who I am, and that the Lord of glory had to suffer so greatly because of it; but neither can I tell you how happy I am that not only does such condition not come between us, it is actually the very means He uses to keep me hanging on to Him for dear life, and to keep me living closely to Him in ongoing repentance and trust.

The single greatest factor that accounts for the weakness and sheer worldliness of modern western Christianity is simply this: that so few believers understand and realise just how sinful and wicked they are! They conduct their discipleship in blissful ignorance of, and blindness to, the endless swathes of sin and self in their lives which the Holy Spirit wishes to deliver them from, but to which they hardly give a second thought, or judge themselves concerning. Selfishness, pride, materialism, presumption, resentment, un-forgiveness, slander, unkindness, dishonesty….and so the list could go on! I have known so many believers down the years for whom such things remain second nature, yet who reject entirely any thought that such is the nature of their character, let alone showing willingness to be honest and to actually come clean and repent. Not for them one of the most important prayers in the whole of scripture through which King David cried out to the Lord, “Search me, O God, and know my heart!  Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23-24)

The more we truly taste of our sinfulness, and allow the Holy Spirit to search us and reveal all that is in us which isn’t of Him, the less we will even desire to be unkind, or cruel, or dishonest, or greedy for gain, and for the simple reason that to know how infinitely much we have been forgiven leads to the inevitable increase of love for both the Lord and our fellow man. As surely as night follows day, he who is forgiven much will love much. Yet the converse is equally true! And the reason so many believers are so unloving (and I’m talking here about real love, not just the ‘nicey-nicey–never-doing-anything-that-could-possibly-upset-anyone’ version) is because they haven’t been forgiven very much because they don’t think they’re sinful enough to particularly warrant it.

Show me a man who sorrows daily before the Lord for his sinfulness and I will show you a peaceful and contented man who lives close to Him and who can therefore be trusted in every possible way. And should this make the reader aware of any lack in their lives regarding this, then let me suggest that you get before the Lord and ask Him to truly show you the sin He wishes to deal with in you. I guarantee you some very difficult times indeed if you do, but I guarantee you too a walk with the Lord you never even guessed was on offer!

 

Creation: From Chaos to Order!

When I consider the account of creation as reported in the early chapters of Genesis it seems to me that the first thing the Lord did was to create ‘raw’ energy which He then ordered, step by step, into the finished product. It took 6 days! And if that is a problem to you then be assured that the only reason He didn’t do it in 6 minutes was because He knew no-one would believe Him! But that aside, what’s happening here is that order is being systematically formed out of the initial chaos of raw energy, each day of the creation process establishing greater order until on the sixth day, with the crowning creation of a man and a women, the process was completed. Creation: from chaos to order, one step at a time!  Further, at the end of each part of the process; that is, at the end of each individual day of creation, the Lord declared the process up to that point to be good. But once Adam and Eve had been created, once the process was fully completed, the Lord then declared the finished product to be very good!

So we see in the physical creation of the universe that the Lord worked from chaos to order, declaring each stage as being good in and of itself, but with the completion of the final stage being declared very good! And of course this is extremely encouraging news for those of us who have been made a new creation in Christ Jesus. As with the physical creation, we have been newly-created at conversion in the chaos of our unbridled sinfulness (justification), immediately followed by the ongoing process of then being progressively set free from the power of that sin in our lives (sanctification), thus bringing about more and more the order of the increasing holiness of the life of Jesus within us. Sanctification is simply the process of the Holy Spirit progressing the newly born-again believer (the new creation) from unbridled sinfulness to increasing holiness, but doing so progressively one step at a time! And the encouragement we take from this is that, as with the creation of the universe, the Lord doesn’t view the process in terms of the remaining chaos of sin in our lives being bad, but rather that the order thus far attained is good!

We can therefore be greatly encouraged in our struggle against sin. We obviously mustn’t ever turn a blind eye to the sinfulness that remains in our lives, or pretend that it isn’t there, or that it doesn’t matter! Of course not! I have no encouragement whatever for carnal Christians who are blasé about their sinfulness, and who are not in repentance and sorrow regarding it! No! But for those believers who are Heaven-bent on living godly in Christ Jesus, and who are therefore prone to being overly sorrowful concerning the sin that remains, and who therefore don’t sufficiently rejoice over that which the Lord has already accomplished in them by way of sanctification, I bring the encouragement of affirming that the Lord sees the discipleship of such a one as being fully good, and not in any way bad. He doesn’t merely see the sin that yet remains, but rather with joy in His heart, and with great pleasure in us, sees the godliness now present in us which was once absent. And when we are with Him in glory on the other side of death, He will pronounce the very good concerning us, given that we will then be free of sin entirely.

If you are a carnal Christian who is lax concerning your sinfulness and not living in vital and careful repentance of it, then the Word of God to you is:

“You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us? But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” (James 4:4-10)

You don’t hear those verses taught on very much, eh? But if you truly are living in humility and repentance before God, then His Word is somewhat different:

“In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says, “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.” Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews12:4-11)

I don’t imply for one moment that I never need that rebuke from James, but my aim is to more and more to be counted worthy of the affirmation and encouragement from the writer to the Hebrews. If you aren’t serious about struggling against sin then sentiments such as these will merely seem negative and overly introspective to you: but if you are serious about your struggle against sin they are a veritable lifeline of hope from the Holy Spirit!