False Teaching And The Signs That Help Detect It

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I finished reading the book of Galatians this morning. I used to think that it was sort of a mini-Romans. I suppose there’s some truth to that, but as I read Galatians more closely this week, I realized it’s really about false teaching and false teachers and the lies that the churches in the Galatian region were apparently beginning to believe.

Paul handled the problem by drawing their attention to it and by laying out the truth.

As I see it, the Church in today’s western culture is wide open to false teaching. In fact a radio preacher recently said that’s kind of normal—that the Church is prone to take on some of what the culture believes, even things that are false.

I’d say, among the many problems western culture has—things like selfishness and pride and greed and placing a high value on personal pleasure over serving, either God or our fellow humans—is one that might color pretty much all of life. It is the idea that humans are good, not sinful, not in need of a heart change.

People bristle at this idea and many churches no longer preach this truth because they no longer believe it.

Paul was dealing with legalism in Galatia, and that’s something that the Church has faced from time to time. I’d go so far as to say, it’s been an issue in my lifetime, and many preachers teach against it. It’s a works kind of belief, valuing human effort more than the grace God has given us. So it’s sadly alive and well and something the Church must continue to guard against. But so are these other postmodern, post-truth issues. Not that contemporary society invented them, but we have given a new voice to them.

The rest of this article is a re-post, with some revision, of one that appeared here in March, 2010.

I’ve come to believe Christians should uncover false teaching in the church. A believer’s silence in the face of instruction contrary to Scripture can be tacit agreement. By and large, I feel the majority of Bible-believing Christians have been silent longer than we should have been.

I understand why—we are all too aware of what the Bible says about judging. Who am I, then, to say that this person or that ministry is engaged in false teaching?

Well, I don’t think we need to do any finger pointing or heresy hunting. Instead, I think we can see what the Bible has to say about the subject.

I used to think that deciphering false teaching was easy. Not after I read comments to a statement I made: Christians have a set of essential beliefs we hold in common—that’s what defines us as Christians. The push-back shocked me. In essence, the response was, “Who says?” In other words, those who don’t hold to those core beliefs still say they are Christians. Who are you to say they aren’t?

To me that’s comparable to saying, I live in Cuba which is near the US, so I’m a US citizen. Who are you to say I’m not?

Clearly, if we do not agree on an authoritative source or a set of core beliefs comprising Christianity, then anyone can claim to be a “Christian” teacher, even those with a different message, a false message that contradicts what Christian orthodoxy has held to be true.

But who’s to say?

I’d have to give this one to God. He gets to say, and He’s addressed the subject in His Word.

In a sermon at Truth for Life on Nehemiah, Alistair Begg dealt with false teaching. He referenced a passage in Jeremiah about false prophecy:

But, “Ah, Lord GOD!” I said, “Look, the prophets are telling them, ‘You will not see the sword nor will you have famine, but I will give you lasting peace in this place.’ ”

Then the LORD said to me, “The prophets are prophesying falsehood in My name. I have neither sent them nor commanded them nor spoken to them; they are prophesying to you a false vision, divination, futility and the deception of their own minds.

“Therefore thus says the LORD concerning the prophets who are prophesying in My name, although it was not I who sent them—yet they keep saying, ‘There will be no sword or famine in this land’—by sword and famine those prophets shall meet their end! (Jer 14:13-15)

It struck me that these statements are similar to some of the teaching that passes as “Christian” today. I’m thinking in particular of any “universalist” teaching and any “Christianity will make you healthy and wealthy” teaching.

The first promises peace with God. All will go to heaven no matter what faith they embrace here on earth. In fact, there isn’t a hell to even worry about. This is nothing more than the spiritualized version of what the false prophets were saying in Jeremiah’s day.

The second is a peace-in-your-own-personal-world promise. Real believers, this false teaching says, will be rich and healthy. One particular TV false teacher scoffs at Christians who think God might be teaching them through affliction.

Jeremiah’s message to the people of Israel was that God was in fact teaching and punishing them through the drought they were experiencing and the war that threatened them, even though the false prophets said otherwise.

Which leads to the real sign of false teaching, according to Pastor Begg and his exposition of Nehemiah 9: God’s word—teaching that is true—will call His people to repentance. Here are two key verses in the passage:

While they stood in their place, they read from the book of the law of the LORD their God for a fourth of the day; and for another fourth they confessed and worshiped the LORD their God …

However, You are just in all that has come upon us; For You have dealt faithfully, but we have acted wickedly. (Neh 9:3, 33)

In contrast, look at what Jeremiah says in Lamentations:

Your prophets have seen for you
False and foolish visions;
And they have not exposed your iniquity
So as to restore you from captivity,
But they have seen for you false and misleading oracles. (Lam 2:14; emphasis mine)

God’s word read—the people confessed.

False teachers spoke—iniquity remained unexposed.

Does universalism prompt confession? Does the health-and-wealth teaching expose iniquity? Does any false teaching do so?

I’m Stuck: Knowing The Bible Is True

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I know I sound like a broken record. The thing is, there is so much “fake news” when it comes to Christianity, it seems important to keep saying the same thing in as many different ways as possible. So I’m camped on an important theme: the Bible is true.

In fact, it is so true, it is reliable for life and godliness. In other words, it speaks to our eternal destiny and it speaks to the way we live our lives in the here and now. Kind of important, both those things.

Once again I’ve encountered the idea that the Bible is not in any way helpful because anyone can make it say anything.

That’s partially true, as so much fake news is. Yes, anyone can make the Bible say anything if they distort what it is actually saying. I’ve made that case myself. People can say the Bible proves there is no God because there are a couple places in Scripture that say it just like that: there is no God. Problem is, the first part of the verse says, “The fool has said in his heart, there is no God” (Psalm 14:1 and also Psalm 53:1). In numerous places throughout the Old Testament, the phrase appears in a different context, all similar to one another. Here’s the idea from 2 Chronicles 6:14: “O LORD, the God of Israel, there is no god like You in heaven or on earth . . .” (emphasis mine).

The first point to remember when looking at the Bible is that context matters. Lifting a verse or part of a verse from its context can actually shatter the meaning, not reveal it.

The second thing to remember is that the historical details about the text also matter. Who wrote the passage? Yes, God did, but He used humans and they wrote from their own personality and sometimes for their own purpose. So David wrote some of his Psalms as laments, others as praise. The Law of Moses—the first five books of the Bible—preserve the history of the Jewish people and God’s involvement with them. Paul’s letters were to encourage or correct people or churches.

Not only is the writer important but so is the audience and the circumstance that occasioned the writing. The laws that God gave to the Hebrews as they wander in the wilderness for forty years, are not ones God expects the Church to obey. Yes, we actually can learn some important things from reading about God’s interaction with His chosen people, but God in no way intends for the Church today to sacrifice lambs and celebrate the feasts He instituted for Israel.

The third thing to remember is that “the plain things are the main things.” That quote which I’ve heard Alistair Begg say more than once, helps sort out some of the stuff that can be confusing and controversial from the stuff that is essential. After all, the Bible is God’s revelation. He’s not hiding. He made Himself known because He wants to be known.

Another thing to remember is that the Bible does not contradict itself. If it appears to, then we simply aren’t understanding things clearly. Most of the time, we try to oversimplify by taking a particular verse and making it the cornerstone of some doctrine. In fact, there might be other people who have selected a different verse that seems contrary, and they make that the cornerstone of a conflicting doctrine. Most likely, however, both “cornerstones” are true. We are just not understanding how they fit together. Or one group or the other might be misunderstanding the verse they have made ultra important.

I’ll give an example, and I realize I may be stepping on some toes here. In advance, I apologize. Some churches, my own included, take a position that the “ecstatic gifts”—speaking in tongues, healing, prophecy, and such—were only for the first church people. They base this idea on 1 Corinthians 13 that talks about tongues and prophecy being done away with or ceasing. Toward the end of the chapter it states, “For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away” (vv9-10). They reason that the Bible is the “perfect” since it is complete and will not be added to. Hence, in their way of thinking, the perfect has come.

The problem with that idea is that the chapter—which was never intended to be part of a discussion about what has or hasn’t ceased; it’s a clarification of what God’s love is—goes on to say that when the perfect comes “I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.” I don’t know about anyone else, but I don’t know God or the things of God or even this world the way He knows Me. Not yet. That’s still future.

But that’s a little beside the point. The plain things in Scripture dealing with these “ecstatic gifts” is that they are to fall under the orderly governance set down by Paul in the previous chapter of 1 Corinthians, that they are not to be considered as more important than other gifts, and more. In other words, there are extensive passages about spiritual gifts, where as there is one part of one chapter that would see to contradict all those other verses—but only if you understand “perfect” to mean “Bible.”

Even something like this that separates churches that believe in speaking in tongues from ones that don’t, actually does not separate believers from one another. It’s not an essential. It’s not of the same foundational nature as, Jesus is Lord. Or Jesus is both God and man. Or Jesus died for our sins.

All this to say, the Bible is true. Only people who misuse it or add to it or delete portions of it, will come up with strange and contradictory ideas from those that are the essentials of Christianity—things that the first disciples believed.

Example: Joseph Smith, whose followers sadly suffered much persecution and were chased out of more than one place, added many things to his cult, not the least of which was that marriage had to be polygamous—though today the Mormons have generally stepped away from that particular position. The fact remains that to be a Mormon requires a person to take positions that are not consistent with the Christian essentials.

The basic truth is this: someone outside looking in may not be able to distinguish true Christians from pretend Christians who rely on fake spiritual news, or may not be able to distinguish what the Bible actually says versus what some people claim it says. That’s likely because they have not read the Bible, and if they have, they have done so without understanding the principles of interpretation that apply to all written communication.

Published in: on June 7, 2019 at 5:41 pm  Comments (8)  
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Feminism In The Church

Today I heard part 2 of an excellent sermon by Alistair Begg on his radio program, Truth for Life. He spoke from 1 Corinthians 11 and addressed the issue of gender and what God has to say about the role of men and women. It’s worth the listen.

I haven’t addressed this issue in a long time, in part because my position hasn’t changed and in part because what I say is, frankly, unpopular. People don’t want to hear that in God’s perfect economy women have a different part to play than do men. In terms of a stage play, we are the leading ladies, not the leading men. Both are significant, and both are needed, but both are not identical.

Anyway, this article is one that I have edited from—are you ready for this?—seven years ago. And I still believe what I wrote. Largely because the Bible is still the authority, no matter what various people try to make it.

– – – – –

Times, they are a-changin’, you may have noticed. This is true in any number of fields, but not less so in the Church.

Sadly, ungodly cultural proclivities seem to be creeping into churches—even my Bible-believing evangelical body. We are not immune. No one is. And for that reason, it is important for us to continually examine Scripture to see if these things are so.

The “things” I’m referring to today is feminism in the Church.

Of necessity we need to define terms. When I use “feminism” I have in mind the belief that women are equal to men in all respects, if not superior. Hence there should be no distinction in role or function between men and women.

One blogger [article no longer available] wrote “we overwhelmingly are affected by the outside world’s view of women and their role in the church and society rather than that of Jesus or the Bible.”

Interestingly, the majority of this article gives a justification for taking the teaching of Scripture about women and their role in the church and placing it in a cultural context. In other words, what was true in “that culture” isn’t true today. While there is some truth to this thought, there are firm principles by which we should stand.

Further, this place that we give to the thinking of our culture, over and above the Bible, disturbs me. Seemingly we are playing the “keep up with the Joneses” game, and the Joneses are those that make up the mainstream of our culture.

I believe this is the kind of false teaching that the New Testament writers warned against. Paul said to the Colossians that he was laying down doctrine about Christ “so that no one will delude you with persuasive arguments,” and that they were to “see to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the traditions of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.”

Today we seem all too happy to give in to the persuasive arguments of those who discount Scripture. We seem happy to be captivated by the traditions of men.

But I want to look at the BIBLICAL role of women in Christianity.

I believe, as another blogger said beautifully in “Christianity v. feminism,” that “Christianity allows women to be women. Allows them their femininity. Allows them their freedom.”

But the culture has said, No, Christianity has taught men to oppress women and keep women from doing and being all they can be.

I don’t doubt that down through time there were religious leaders who taught error in regard to women’s roles. However, that’s true about error in a lot of areas, such as indulgences and renting pew space.

We ought not look at tradition, as Paul said in Colossians, whether that tradition comes from religious or irreligious people. We need to align our beliefs with the sure Word of God.

The Bible is not murky about women and our role:

1) We are equal with men in ministry (see Philippians 4:3b “…these women who have shared my struggle in the cause of the gospel, together with Clement also and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life”)

2) We are equal in salvation (see Galatians 3:28 “there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus”)

3) We are unique in our roles. In this respect we are not less than but different from men. (see 1 Cor. 14:34a “The women are to keep silent in the churches”).

Athletes understand this perhaps better than anyone else. In football there are “glamor” positions—quarterback, running backs, and receivers. But without linemen, the guys who literally do the heavy lifting, those in the glamor roles go nowhere. The quarterback gets sacked, the running backs get thrown for a loss, and the receivers never see the ball.

The point is, women are biologically different from men and as Scripture reminds us, we came into the creation process after Man. In God’s perfect plan, He therefore assigned men to the “glamor” positions in the Church. Not all men, of course.

Some men are to be pastors and elders, and other men are to be parking lot attendants or library volunteers or servers in the coffee shop. Are these latter to be filled with envy because they don’t have the glamor positions? Clearly not.

Why, then, should we assume that it’s OK for women to covet the glamor positions? And covet is exactly what it is.

Our culture has told us we women should have something Scripture says is not meant for us. This all sounds so Garden of Eden-ish, doesn’t it?

The Son, the Child

Christmas presentsI confess that there have been years when I feel a little jaded about Christmas. No, not because of the commercialization of it all, though I’ve had years like that, too. More it has to do with hearing Christmas sermons that seem … less than enlightening.

I suppose some pastors do struggle with what to say five or ten years into their ministry when they’ve already delivered messages about the shepherds, the angels, the wisemen, the innkeeper, Joseph, Mary. What’s left?

Well, the Son is, and it seems to me there is limitless material for sermons about Jesus Christ. I have to say, I’ve had years when my former pastors hit homeruns with their special Christmas series. I’m thinking of one particular year when his sermons were timely, Christ centered, enlightening, Biblical. Good, good stuff.

But one of the new insights I gained some years ago came from a sermon I heard on the radio, delivered by Alister Begg (Truth for Life). The particular message came from a series based on the Messianic prophecy in Isaiah 9:

The people who walk in darkness
Will see a great light …
For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us;
And the government will rest on His shoulders;
And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.

A familiar passage, to be sure, not unusual for a Christmas time sermon or series. So what new thing did I learn? Not a new thing, really, but something I didn’t realize this passage upholds.

It has to do with the line, For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us. I’ve always looked at that as an example of Jewish poetic redundancy (also known by it’s actual name, parallelism), something you often see in the Psalms and in Proverbs (ie, “Do not let kindness and truth leave you/Bind them around your neck”).

But here’s the point I was reminded of: When God inspired the writers of Scripture, He delivered exactly the words He wanted that would communicate truth, nuanced truth that allows us to uncover layers and layers and layers of His revelation throughout our whole lives.

In the verse above Pastor Begg pointed out that Scripture does not say, “For a Son will be born to us, a child will be given.” The Son is preexistent. He was with the Father in the beginning. He was not born that first Christmas day. But a Child was—God incarnate, the Son, come down.

A small word order, but it carries a wonderful truth!

This post is a revised and edited version of one that first appeared here in December 2008, when I used to write short posts. 😉

Published in: on December 5, 2016 at 7:03 pm  Comments (5)  
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The Difference Between Religious People And Christians

horse_and_carriageThis is not rocket science. In fact, I’ve written about the difference between people of other religions and Christians on other occasions, but I’ve generally left the door open when someone professes to be a Christian. I mean, I can’t look into their hearts. I don’t know what their relationship with God is. If they say they have been redeemed by the blood of Christ, then who am I to say they haven’t been?

Some time ago on the radio broadcast Truth for Life, Pastor Alistair Begg gave the clearest, simplest way of identifying the difference between religious people and Christians.

Someone who is religious believes and obeys in order to be accepted by God. A Christian, on the other hand, believes in order to be accepted by God, and obeys as a result. Put in slightly different terms, a religious person works to be justified with God, whereas a Christian works because he is justified with God.

The differences seem small and even hard to tell apart, but the two positions actually are diametrically opposed to one another. It’s the cart before the horse idea. One man has a cart and a horse, the other man has a horse and a cart. What’s the difference? Everything. The first man goes nowhere. The second has a wonderful conveyance that takes him wherever he wishes to go.

So too the religious person is stuck with his own inadequate efforts trying to make himself acceptable to God. It will never happen, in the same way that a cart will never pull a horse. The Christian, on the other hand, confessing his inability to measure up to God’s standard, and accepting the completed, redemptive work of Jesus Christ, receives a full measure of God’s grace and is accepted by the Father. As a result, he obeys God in the strength and through the power of that grace.

So who’s a Christian? Not the person who believes his work is in any way meritorious in bringing reconciliation between him and God. It really is that simple.

Faith vs. Reason

A_starry_sky_above_Death_ValleyToday Some years ago I heard a sermon by Alistair Begg on the life of Abraham (actually, at the time still using the name Abram). At one point Pastor Begg said something like, When faith comes up against questions, then the questions have to go.

He was referring to 75-year-old Abram, having believed God when He promised to give his descendants the land He’d brought him to, confronting questions ten years later: How long do I have to wait? Is this really going to happen? Maybe I misunderstood and this nation will be built through my servant who stands to be my heir.

No, God said, your descendants will be as numerous as the stars.

So, another thirteen or so years pass, with missteps along the way. And when Abram knows it is impossible for he and his wife to have a child, God renews His promise.

What’s Abram to believe? His rational understanding of the way the world works (he knew his body was as good as dead when it came to procreation and he knew his wife was past her child-bearing years), or the promise of God? His reason, or his faith?

“And Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness, and he was called the friend of God” (James 2:23).

Abraham believed God.

He didn’t hope something into existence without cause and against all odds. Rather, he believed God was powerful and completely true to His word. He believed God was not limited by what Abraham had heretofore experienced. (I’ve never seen a 99-year-old man father a child, so it can’t happen.)

Oddly, this kind of faith is out of vogue. Well, I suppose it isn’t so odd. After all, Satan, a liar and the father of lies, has been lying about God and His work and plan since those days in Eden. Then along came modernism, buoyed by rationalism. And we have professing Christians saying things like this:

Our earlier understandings of Creation and of most Christian doctrines no longer make sense because we now know more about Creation, that is, we know more about God’s acts as Creator. We’re capable of higher understandings.
– Acts of Being: Updating Thomistic Existentialism

So why, I wonder, wasn’t Abraham justified by reason instead of by faith?

Published in: on August 19, 2015 at 6:00 pm  Comments (1)  
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walk-away-739834-mI’ll admit, apostasy—leaving the faith—has been something I’ve thought about a great deal. When I was young, I had the false idea that if I sinned I might not be a Christian. And I sinned. So I worried about how I could be sure I was a Christian.

Later, when I learned my Bible better, I discovered there were some apostates. Solomon was the one that continues to haunt me. I mean, the wisest person in the world? If he could doubt and question and go his own way, who couldn’t?

In the end, it’s been a good thing that I learned about him because it’s pushed me to my knees, pleading with God to keep me from straying from Him. I don’t want to be Solomon—I don’t care how rich he was or famous or powerful. He knew God’s secrets about child rearing, but look at how his son Rehoboam turned out! He knew that the beginning of wisdom was the fear of the Lord, but look how he strayed from God and even sought to have a prophet of the Lord put to death for confronting him about his sin. It’s a sad, sad end to his life, even though it appears from Ecclesiastes 14 that he did finally repent.

But I’ve been thinking recently about apostasy because of that atheist I’ve had conversations with and whose video explained how a young man headed for the ministry ended up believing God doesn’t exist. “Coincidentally” Alistair Begg, the pastor I listen to on the radio, has a 1 Timothy sermon series airing.

He’s reached chapter 3 where he addressed apostasy. Interestingly, Paul first brought up the subject when he mentioned something to Timothy late in chapter 1:

fight the good fight, keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith. (vv 18b-19)

Paul goes on to name a couple of these shipwrecked former followers of Christ, but he gives more detail about apostasy in chapter 3:

But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons.

Pastor Begg equates apostasy with what Jesus said in the parable of the sower. Some seed fell on rocky soil and it immediately sprang up only to quickly wither away. Luke records Jesus’s explanation:

“Those on the rocky soil are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no firm root; they believe for a while, and in time of temptation fall away.” (8:13)

They are Solomon.

It’s kind of amazing to me to hear any number of atheists or “Progressives” tell how they once believed as I do.

Well, no, they didn’t, because if they did, they’d still believe, more now than when they first believed. Paul explained it like this in his Colossians letter:

And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach—if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel. (Col. 1:21-23a; emphasis mine)

This continuing in the faith is both the means to counter apostasy and the sign proving actual relationship with God. The idea is that when the word of Christ richly dwells within us (Col. 3), we won’t turn our backs on God.

This topic is something we Christians don’t talk about much because of a doctrine known as eternal security. There are lots of verses that say we are sealed by the Holy Spirit, engraved the palm of God’s hands, held where nothing can snatch us from Him, loved in such a way that nothing can change or interrupt or redirect God’s care for us.

But there are a handful of other verses like these Sower verses from Luke and Matthew that seem to indicate some people embrace faith, then walk away. The passage in Hebrews 6 is the one that describes apostasy in the most chilling terms:

For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame. (vv 4-6)

I understand God’s nature (as much as I can understand what He’s revealed), and ultimately I trust Him to do right. So if someone who once professed faith, and really thought he was a Christian, walks away from God, I have to say, I believe in eternal security, and I believe in apostasy. I’m not sure how the two work together.

Most say those who walk away never truly believed. Others who walked away, come back, as did the prodigal son in Jesus’s parable, so I’m not sure the verses in Hebrews 6 say what they seem to be saying.

Here’s where the whole counsel of God needs to come together. There can’t be any pulling verses out of context to use as proof texts for the doctrine of choice while ignoring others that seem to call in question that doctrine.

I heard a sermon once that was dealing with passing on our faith. I forget who the examples were, but let’s say David, Solomon, and Rehoboam. The first knew God, trusted Him with his life, literally and lived for Him. His son knew God and trusted His gifts, the wisdom he’d received and the wealth, fame, and power. His son didn’t know God and trusted his own desires.

The preacher said, we often worry and fret over how to move that third generation “Christian” away from his apostasy. Instead, he said, we ought to be focused on whether or not we’re in the place David was—living for God wholeheartedly, trusting Him with our lives. If every Christian prayed to become that kind of Christian in which the word of Christ dwells richly, apostasy would be a non-issue.

For those who have walked away, I pray God’s mercy on them.

Published in: on March 5, 2015 at 6:29 pm  Comments (9)  
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The Difference Between Religious People And Christians

horse_and_carriageThis is not rocket science. In fact, I’ve written about the difference between people of other religions and Christians on other occasions, but I’ve generally left the door open when someone professes to be a Christian. I mean, I can’t look into their hearts. I don’t know what their relationship with God is. If they say they have been redeemed by the blood of Christ, then who am I to say they haven’t been?

But today on the radio broadcast Truth for Life, Pastor Alistair Begg gave the clearest, simplest way of identifying the difference between religious people and Christians.

Someone who is religious believes and obeys in order to be accepted by God. A Christian on the other hand believes in order to be accepted by God, and obeys. Put in slightly different terms, a religious person works to be justified with God, whereas a Christian works because he is justified with God.

The differences seem small and even hard to tell apart, but the two positions actually are diametrically opposed to one another. It’s the cart before the horse idea. One man has a cart and a horse, the other man has a horse and a cart. What’s the difference? Everything. The first man goes nowhere. The second has a wonderful conveyance that takes him wherever he wishes to go.

So too the religious person is stuck with his own inadequate efforts trying to make himself acceptable to God. It will never happen, in the same way that a cart will never pull a horse. The Christian, on the other hand, confessing his inability to measure up to God’s standard, and accepting the completed, redemptive work of Jesus Christ, receives a full measure of God’s grace and is accepted by the Father. As a result, he obeys God in the strength and through the power of that grace.

So who’s a Christian? Not the person who believes his work is in any way meritorious in bringing reconciliation between him and God. It really is that simple.

Published in: on December 7, 2012 at 6:59 pm  Comments (4)  
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Who Believes In Sin These Days?

I don’t believe in coincidence. As I’ve mentioned from time to time, I listen to Alistair Begg’s radio program Truth for Life. Currently they are airing sermons on the book of Luke, specifically about John the Baptist. Pastor Begg pointed out that John’s approach is contrary to what we experience today.

When large crowds went to hear him preach, he didn’t welcome them, tell them he was glad they came, try to make them feel at ease with a few warm-up jokes, or entertain them with some gripping stories. Instead, he started off by calling them a brood of vipers.

He then chastised them for their repentance … well, actually for not living in accordance with repentance. He warned them about the wrath to come and the axe ready to cut down trees not producing good fruit. He said the Messiah was coming and that He’d have a winnowing fork in His hand, ready to separate the wheat from the chaff and that the latter would be burned up with unquenchable fire.

Luke’s account ends with this: “So with many other exhortations also he preached the gospel to the people” (Luke 3:18). The gospel! That would be, the good news.

Where’s the announcement of God’s love? Of His acceptance and wonderful plan for their lives?

Which brings me back to the non-coincidence. On Sunday my church hosted a guest speaker — Ray Comfort, an itinerant preacher who gave away copies of his small book God Has A Wonderful Plan For Your Life: The Myth of the Modern Message. His sermon centered on how evangelism today looks nothing like evangelism in those days after Pentecost.

Today we try to reach people at the level of their felt needs, and we explain how Christ can bring meaning and wholeness to their broken lives. In Comfort’s book he expanded on this point, saying that we have made happiness the chief end of Man.

The problem, of course, arises when people expect God to behave like a genii and He does not. They are disillusioned and angry and end up leaving the faith. Comfort calls these people false converts.

What should be our approach to evangelism instead? I’ve only begun this section, but Comfort says our starting point should be the Law. The Ten Commandments, to be precise.

Which brings us to sin. As I suggested in my post yesterday, Christians have acquiesced to the culture, reducing any talk of sin to a minimum.

Who really believes in sin any more?

People at large reject the idea that Mankind has a sin nature — that something in us keeps all of us from living a perfect life. Some Christians deny that we have a sin nature though they admit we all do sin. Call it a weakness of the will, then, that prevents any of us from standing up to temptation one hundred percent of the time.

Funny thing, but no one will argue the truth of that condition. Everyone admits to doing wrong at some point in time. And yet, our culture tells us that condition is not a problem. I suppose the rationale is, if everyone’s doing it …

While we say we believe I’m OK and you’re OK, in reality we know … all of us know … the statement should read I’m (mostly) OK and you’re not quite as good. For those who have been sucked into some kind of destructive lifestyle, we tweak the statement yet again: I would be OK if it weren’t for __ (fill in the blank) and you’re OK if you do something about it.

And sadly, Christians pander to this kind of thinking. We are NOT OK. We are sinners. Translated (because that word has lost all meaning in our culture) that means we do wrong things because we can’t stop ourselves from doing wrong things.

Until a person understands this about himself, why would he ever want the grace and forgiveness of God?

Published in: on February 15, 2011 at 6:31 pm  Comments (10)  
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Sickness And Sin

I have to admit. This is an uncomfortable topic for me.

Today I read I Samuel 4-6 about the Philistines taking the ark of the LORD in battle, then suffering some horrible disease for seven months that apparently killed a number of people.

Later I heard Alistair Begg preach from this passage in James:

Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him.

Is there a connection between the two? Just that sin and sickness may be connected. We know from the book of Job that they are not always connected, but I think our contemporary, science-and-medicine-oriented society largely dismisses the idea that sickness may have a spiritual cause.

I wonder if sickness caused by sin doesn’t look like any other sickness. When I was reading about the symptoms the Philistines suffered, I couldn’t help but wonder if they didn’t have small pox. Or not. God could have given them their own special “don’t touch the ark” disease, just as He could give us a special because-of-sin virus.

But interestingly, the Philistines connected the dots, albeit a little shakily, so that they determined to return the ark to Israel, complete with their version of a guilt offering. They weren’t completely sure the presence of the ark in their midst was to blame for their plague, so they devised a test—a convincing one.

The implication is that their act of repentance stopped the disease, though Scripture doesn’t say this directly.

The James passage does connect sin with sickness, and repentance with healing, however. In fact, as I thought about it today, I think it might be making a stronger statement about sin and sickness than we may realize. Take a look at the next five verses—all the way to the end of the book.

Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.

Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months.

My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

Here’s what I realized for the first time. The example of effective prayer James gives is Elijah praying that it would not rain—in essence praying for famine. The Old Testament account of this incident is recorded in I Kings 17. But here’s the part I hadn’t thought about before: toward the end of chapter 16, God says this about Ahab, the king at the time of the prayed-for drought: “Thus Ahab did more to provoke the LORD God of Israel than all the kings of Israel who were before him. ”

Clearly, Israel’s physical suffering was connected to the sin of their king—and the sin they indulged in by following his example.

My point is this. While it seems like James turned a corner and stopped talking about sin and healing when he mentioned Elijah, I don’t think he really did. I think the Elijah story actually amplifies the point. And he brought it home in the last two verses.

Of course, the danger is that Christians turn this concept into an excuse to judge others. Instead, I think we should focus on our own condition and ask first if God might be using sickness to wake us up to sin in our lives even before we call the doctor.

Is it not possible that our quick reliance on doctors and medication—for which I thank God most sincerely—veils what God might want us to see? Instead of concerning ourselves with our spiritual condition (am I sick because God wants to get my attention about some sin in my life?), today we focus more on how to bring an end to the illness.

When someone asks us to pray because they or someone they care about is sick, do we ever wonder what it is they wish us to pray? No. It’s a given that they are soliciting prayers for healing.

But might we not serve them better if we also pray that God will use the illness in their life to accomplish His purposes? Such purposes could be to build their trust in Him, to put them in a position to witness to someone else, to glorify His name by healing them with His powerful hand or to glorify His name by submitting to the suffering the illness brings. Or even to get their attention about some sin in their lives.

Published in: on November 10, 2010 at 7:02 pm  Comments (6)  
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