True Christian Fellowship: Part 2 (Philippians 1:1–11)

Philippians 1.7

In Philippians 1:1–11, Paul describes true Christian fellowship in three ways. In Part 1, we looked at the first way: “I have you in my mind.” Today, we will consider the next two ways.

I have you in my heart (vv. 7–8). We move a bit deeper, for it is possible to have others in our minds without really having them in our hearts (many people today would confess, “I have you on my nerves!”). Paul’s sincere love for his friends was something that could not be disguised or hidden.

Christian love is “the tie that binds.” Love is the evidence of salvation: “We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another” (1 Jn. 3:14). It is the “spiritual lubrication” that keeps the machinery of life running smoothly. Have you noticed how often Paul uses the phrase “you all” as he writes? There are at least nine instances in this letter. He does not want to leave anyone out!

How did Paul evidence his love for them? For one thing, he was suffering on their behalf. His bonds were proof of his love. He was “the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles” (Eph. 3:1). Because of Paul’s trial, Christianity was going to get a fair hearing before the officials of Rome. Paul’s love was not something he merely talked about; it was something he practiced. He considered his difficult circumstances an opportunity for defending and confirming the Gospel, and this would help his brethren everywhere.

But how can Christians learn to practice this kind of love? “I get along better with my unsaved neighbors than I do my saved relatives!” a man confided to his pastor. “Maybe it takes a diamond to cut a diamond, but I’ve just about had it!”

Christian love is not something we work up; it is something that God does in us and through us. Paul longed for his friends “with the affection [love] of Jesus Christ” (1:8). It was not Paul’s love channeled through Christ; it was Christ’s love channeled through Paul: “God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us” (Rom. 5:5). When we permit God to perform His “good work” in us, then we grow in our love for one another.

How can we tell if we are truly bound in love to other Christians? For one thing, we are concerned about them. The believers at Philippi were concerned about Paul and sent Epaphroditus to minister to him. Paul was also greatly concerned about his friends at Philippi, especially when Epaphroditus became ill and could not return right away (Phil. 2:25–28). “Dear children, let us not love with words or speech, but with actions and in truth” (1 Jn. 3:18).

Another evidence of Christian love is a willingness to forgive one another: “Above all, love each other deeply because love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Pet. 4:8).

“Tell us some of the blunders your wife has made,” a radio host asked a contestant.

“I can’t remember any,” the man replied.

“Oh, surely you can remember something!” the announcer said.

“No, I really can’t,” said the contestant. “I love my wife very much and I just don’t remember things like that.” 1 Corinthians 13:5 says, “love keeps no record of wrongs.”

Christians who practice love always experience joy; both come as a result of the presence of the Holy Spirit. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy…” (Gal. 5:22).

I have you in my prayers (vv.9–11). Paul found joy in bringing the friends at Philippi before the throne of grace in prayer. This is a prayer for maturity and Paul begins with love. After all, if our Christian love is what it ought to be everything else should follow. He prays that they might experience abounding love and discerning love.

Christian love is not blind! The heart and mind work together, so that we have discerning love and loving discernment. Paul wants his friends to grow in discernment, in being able to “distinguish the things that differ.” He is praying that they would be able, in the midst of competing issues and concerns, to see what is truly important and deserving of priority, and they would be able to make wise spiritual decisions.

Paul will soon find it necessary to warn them about the ever-present danger of false teachers (Phil 3:2, 18–19). They would make themselves easy prey for such teachers if, in the interest of being loving, they were uncritically to accept everything these teachers were presenting.

We should be keenly aware of this danger. How often the church today has refused to stand against doctrinal error because someone argued that we must be loving! Sadly, in cases like this, love was misunderstood to mean being agreeable and tolerant. No one believed more firmly in love than Paul and yet he did not hesitate to rebuke a fellow apostle for compromising the truth (Gal. 2:11–21). Paul did this because he understood that love and truth are not enemies. The most loving thing we can do is stand for the truth in a loving way.

The ability to distinguish is a mark of maturity. When a baby learns to speak, he or she may call every four-legged animal a “bow-wow.” But then the child discovers that there are cats, dogs, cows, and other four-legged creatures. To a little child, one automobile is just like another, but not to a car-crazy teenager. He can spot the differences between models faster than his parents can even name the cars! One of the sure marks of maturity is discerning love.

Paul also prays that they might have mature Christian service. He wants them filled and fruitful (1:11). He is not interested simply in “church activities,” but in the kind of spiritual fruit that is produced when we are in fellowship with Christ. “Abide [remain] in Me as I also abide in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in Me” (Jn. 15:4). Too many Christians try to “produce results” in their own efforts instead of abiding in Christ and allowing His life to produce the fruit.

What is the “fruit” God wants to see from our lives? Certainly He wants the “fruit of the Spirit” (Gal. 5:22–23), Christian character that glorifies God. Paul compares winning lost souls to Christ to bearing fruit (Rom. 1:13) and he also names “holiness” as a spiritual fruit (Rom. 6:22). He exhorts us to be “fruitful in every good work” (Col. 1:10) and the writer of Hebrews says our praise is the “fruit of the lips” (Heb. 13:15).

The fruit tree does not make a great deal of noise when it produces its crop; it merely allows the life within to work in a natural way and fruit is the result. As Paul reflected on the fruits of righteousness, he undoubtedly called to mind the words Jesus spoke to His disciples on the night before his crucifixion: “I am the Vine; you are the branches. If you abide in Me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing” (Jn. 15:5).

The difference between spiritual fruit and human “religious activity” is this: fruit brings glory to Jesus, not man. Whenever we do anything in our own strength, we have a tendency to boast about it. True spiritual fruit is so beautiful and wonderful that no man can claim credit for it; the glory must go to God alone.

This, then, is true Christian fellowship—a having-in-common that is much deeper than mere friendship. “I have you in my mind … I have you in my heart … I have you in my prayers.” This is the kind of fellowship that produces joy and it is the single mind that produces this kind of fellowship! When we have the single mind, we will not complain about circumstances because we know that difficult circumstances will result in the strengthening of the fellowship of the Gospel.

Posted in Book of Philippians | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

True Christian Fellowship: Part 1 (Philippians 1:1–11)

Philippians 1.6“How about coming over to the house for some fellowship?”

“What a golf game! Man, did we have great fellowship!”

“The fellowship at the retreat was just terrific!”

That word “fellowship” seems to mean many things to many different people. Like a worn coin, it’s losing its true impression, so we had better take some steps to rescue it. After all, a good Bible word like fellowship needs to stay in circulation as long as possible.

True Christian fellowship is much deeper than sharing coffee and pie, or even enjoying a golf game together. Too often what we think is “fellowship” is really only acquaintanceship or friendship. Christian fellowship is much more than having a name on a church roll or being present at a meeting. For it is possible to be close to people physically and miles away from them spiritually.

The word fellowship simply means “to have in common.” We have a tendency to use the word very loosely these days. Any gathering of Christians in which there is a feeling of happiness and camaraderie is called fellowship. We have almost made the word synonymous with good food and a few laughs. But that, of course, makes Christian fellowship no different from what unbelievers often enjoy.

We cannot have fellowship with someone unless we have something in common; and for Christian fellowship, this means the possessing of eternal life within the heart. Unless a person has trusted Christ as his Savior, he knows nothing of “the fellowship of the Gospel.”

Paul’s fellowship with the Philippians was more than merely enjoying each other’s company. It was a partnership. People who by nature had nothing in common found a common life in Christ. Think again of Paul’s ministry in Philippi. Lydia the slave girl and the jailer had nothing in common until they come to Christ (Acts 16). The gospel of Christ made them partakers of the same life and partners in the same cause. One of the sources of Christian joy is the fellowship believers have in Jesus Christ. Paul was in Rome and his friends were miles away in Philippi, but their spiritual fellowship was real and satisfying. In Philippians 1:1–11, he describes true Christian fellowship in three ways.

I have you in my mind (1:3–6). Paul’s relationship with the church at Philippi was a good one and the tone of his letter to them expresses the warmth of his love and the depth of their fellowship in the gospel. Paul could not think of the Philippians without giving thanks to God for their fellowship. Isn’t it remarkable that Paul is thinking of others and not of himself? As he awaits his trial in Rome, Paul’s mind goes back to the believers in Philippi and every recollection he has brings him joy. Read Acts 16 and you will discover some things happened to Paul at Philippi that would have produced sorrow in most people. He was illegally arrested and beaten, was placed in the stocks, and was humiliated before the people. But even those memories brought joy to Paul because it was through his suffering that the jailer found Christ! Paul recalled Lydia and her household, the poor slave girl who had been demon-possessed, and the other dear Christians at Philippi; and each recollection was a source of joy. (It is worth asking, “Am I the kind of Christian who brings joy to my pastor’s mind when he thinks of me?”)

As the apostle gave thanks for their participation in the work of the gospel, he wrote, “He [God] who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (1:6). Paul was very good at slipping little nuggets of breathtakingly glorious truth into the portions of his letters. This verse is one of those nuggets and tells us:

1. Salvation is God’s work. The Philippians did not begin the work of salvation in themselves only to have God come along and add a little to it. It was entirely His work. God provided the way of salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ, and He even enabled the Philippians to receive that salvation.

2. Salvation is a good work. Salvation lifts the sinner from eternal condemnation and ruin and makes that person part of God’s family, and a partaker of God’s eternal glory. Who would dare say this is not a good thing?

3. Salvation is a sure work. God does not begin it and then abandon it somewhere along the way. He does not pull His people from the flames of destruction only to allow them to slip back and be consumed. God completes the work of salvation. We know what it is to plan a work and undertake a work only to see it fail. But it is not so with God. We must not picture God the Father looking over the redeemed multitude in eternity and saying, “I did fairly well. Eighty per cent of the saved finally made it home.” God will not have to say such a thing because all His people will make it home. Not one will be missing! The faithful God will faithfully complete His work!

We will not go astray if we apply these verses to the work of salvation and Christian living. We are not saved by our good works (Eph. 2:8–9). Salvation is the good work God does in us when we trust His Son. This work will continue until we see Christ and then the work will be fulfilled: “We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 Jn. 3:2).

It was a source of joy to Paul to know God was still working in the lives of his fellow-believers at Philippi. After all, this is the real basis for joyful Christian fellowship, to have God at work in our lives day by day.

“There seems to be friction in our home,” a concerned wife said to a marriage counselor. “I really don’t know what the trouble is.”

“Friction is caused by one of two things,” said the counselor and to illustrate he picked up two blocks of wood from his desk. “If one block is moving and one is standing still, there’s friction. Or, if both are moving, but in opposite directions there’s friction. Now, which is it?”

“I’ve been going backward in my Christian life and Frank has really been growing,” the wife admitted. “What I need is to get back to fellowship with the Lord.”

In Part 2, we will look at two more ways Paul describes true Christian fellowship.

Posted in Book of Philippians | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Cooperation: Should We All Get Along? (Part 2)

Unity-in-the-Body_T_NVIn Part 1 of this article, we saw why all people claiming to be Christians cannot be joined together for the advancement of the Kingdom of God. Now, I will wrap up by pointing out three ways where all true Christians can and should get along.

First, we are united in truth. The fellowship of the saints is not based on some type of sentimental feeling or on what the world would describe as doing good deeds. Our fellowship, that thing which initially and most substantially unites us, is the truth about Jesus Christ, not just believing it is true, but having trusting in Jesus and having His Spirit live within us. This is the foundation of our unity, the truth about Jesus, which we have believed, and His Spirit living within us, who is in the process of transforming us into the image of Christ. 

There are many superficial things which divide us, man-made things which have no eternal significance. But the foundational thing which unites all Christians, regardless of their age, race, color, language, or social standing is that we all believe the same truth about Jesus; the truth revealed to us in the pages of Scripture, that He is the preexistent immortal God incarnate, born of a virgin, lived a perfect life, died a vicarious death, rose from the dead, and is coming again to judge the living and the dead. He is the one and only Savior of the world and there is no salvation except through His blood.

Second, we are united in the love of Jesus. There are numerous passages throughout the Scriptures, which command us to love one another, not merely in word, but in deed. We are to love one another reverently and with a pure heart (having the right emotions and right motives): “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart. For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring Word of God” (1 Pet. 1:22-23). 

When we hold the same truth, then we are all bound to the same commandment Jesus gave us in John 13:34-35 where He says: “I give you a new commandment: love one another. Just as I have loved you, you must also love one another. By this will all people know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

This love is not only a commandment Jesus has given us; it is the essential identifying mark of an authentic believer. The person who does not have this love for his brother is not a true Christian: “This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister” (1 Jn. 3:10). If we are really and truly in love with Jesus, that love will inevitably flow over into our relationships with one another. We will love one another and it will be evident to those around us.

Third, we are united in the work of Jesus. 1 Corinthians 3:9 tells us that we are God’s co-laborers. We are to join together to further the Kingdom of God. Cooperation in God’s kingdom is working with people who share our faith, our values, and our worldview.

What do your relationships look like? Who are you close to and how are they influencing you? Are they drawing you closer to Jesus or pulling you further away? Are they encouraging you in the work of the Kingdom or pulling you towards the things of this world?

Posted in Spiritual Maturity | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 48 Comments

Cooperation: Should We All Get Along? (Part 1)

cooperation-images-871Have you ever wondered, “How should Christians work together to accomplish the work of the Kingdom of God? Why do there have to be so many things which divide us? Why can’t we all just get along?” For the purpose of our study, we are not going to delve into discussions of denominational structure or church governance, but rather we are going to look at what the Bible has to say about those things which unify or divide us, both in our personal relationships and our Kingdom endeavors. These truths apply to our lives, not only as a church, but as individual Christians.

Why can’t all people claiming to be Christians be joined together for the advancement of the Kingdom? When looked at on the surface, it would seem this is a valid question. After all, don’t we all love Jesus? Don’t we all want to do His will on this earth? Aren’t we all His children? Why can’t we all just get along?

Perhaps more than any other day since the first couple of centuries of Christianity, we are living in a day of religious pluralism; a day when the most highly touted virtue is tolerance. Tolerance and acceptance are the mottos of the day. These fit hand in hand with the philosophy of the day, postmodernism, which sees all truth claims as being equal. So, when we, as New Testament Christians, because of deep doctrinal differences, refuse to join forces with others who also call themselves Christians, we come off as being intolerant, narrow minded, and elitist. They mock and scorn us, calling us fundamentalists and extremists.

There are those within nearly every church, who in their spiritually adolescent naiveté, question why we cannot simply join hands with anyone who calls themselves a Christian. But, for all their sincerity, they fail to recognize we are bound, not by what seems right to us, not by what the world would dictate as being tolerant, but we are bound by Scripture itself. We are bound by the Word of God.

The Scripture has a lot to say about unity; about with whom we are to associate. But it also has a great deal to say about who we should avoid, about with whom we should intentionally disassociate ourselves.

There are basically two realms in which we are called to be circumspect, vigilant, and cautious about our relationships. One is in the area of personal relationships and the other is in the area of our religious practice. Interestingly enough the two have a way of influencing one another.

Beginning back in the Book of Exodus and throughout the Old Testament, God is clear that His people should not corrupt themselves by allowing themselves to be in fellowship with the pagans around them. As God is making a covenant with the Israelites, He warns them against being in fellowship with the nations who occupied the Promised Land: “Be careful not to make a treaty with the inhabitants of the land that you are going to enter; otherwise, they will become a snare among you. Instead, you must tear down their altars, smash their sacred pillars, and chop down their Asherah poles. You are to never bow down to another god because the Lord, being jealous by nature, is a jealous God. Do not make a treaty with the inhabitants of the land, or else when they prostitute themselves with their gods and sacrifice to their gods, they will invite you, and you will eat of their sacrifice. Then you will take some of their daughters [as brides] for your sons. Their daughters will prostitute themselves with their gods and cause your sons to prostitute themselves with their gods” (Ex. 34:12-16).

God has always warned His people to keep themselves from being in intimate fellowship with those who are not believers. Invariably, when we are too close to the wrong people, they have a tendency to draw us away from the Lord. Psalm 1:1 tells us, “Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers.” Proverbs 4:14-15 instructs us saying, “Do not set foot on the path of the wicked or walk in the way of evildoers. Avoid it, do not travel on it; turn from it and go on your way.”

Go through the Old Testament and you will find that the Israelites were consistently disobedient at this point and the compromise God warned would occur should they be in fellowship with the nations around them was the very thing which led them into sin. There’s no greater example of this than Solomon himself, whose foreign wives caused him to compromise his walk with God and brought the practice of idol worship back into the land.

The New Testament carries this thought forward, warning us against being in league with the lost who surround us. 1 Corinthians 15:33 says, “Do not be deceived: bad company corrupts good character.”  2 Corinthians 6:14 says, “Do not be yoked [mismatched] together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?” This speaks to who we are in business with, it speaks to who we marry; it speaks to every intimate relationship in our lives. Young people, before you start dating someone, one of the first conversations you have should be about what that other person believes about Jesus. If they don’t believe in Jesus like you do, if they don’t hold to a sound doctrine about who He is, don’t date them. The Bible does not advocate “missionary dating.” You say, “But Pastor that’s rather radical, don’t you think?” Actually, it’s not only radical, it’s also Scriptural. Don’t be unequally yoked.

The Scripture does not tell us we cannot befriend lost people or be acquainted with them, rather it tells us that our intimate relationships should not be with anyone unless they are committed to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and to His truth revealed in Scripture. In 1 Corinthians 5:9-11, Paul writes to the church at Corinth about this issue. If there was ever a church which faced this issue, it was the church at Corinth. He says, “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister [believer], but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.” In 1 Timothy 6, Paul says: “If anyone teaches other doctrine and does not agree with the sound teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ and with the teaching that promotes godliness, they are conceited, understanding nothing. They have an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between people of corrupt mind…”

Again, in 2 John 9-11, Scripture clearly directs us not to be in fellowship with those who claim to be Christians, but do not hold to sound doctrine: “Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take them into your house or welcome them. Anyone who welcomes them shares in their wicked work.” The clear teaching here is that we are not to be in fellowship, much less join in Kingdom endeavors with those who do not hold to sound doctrine.

This is the very reason doctrine is important. Some people call themselves Christians, but they don’t mean what we mean (or better yet, what the Bible means). Some people do not believe Jesus is the Christ, the only begotten Son of God. Some people do not believe Jesus shed His blood to atone for the sins of the world. Some people do not believe Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, but rather Jesus is a way, a truth, and a way of life.

I ask you, would you want to belong to a church that embraced such heresy? As Christians we cannot join in Kingdom activities with those who do not believe the truth about Jesus. What would we do together? How could we evangelize together when they don’t believe the basic doctrines of the Christian faith (i.e. the atoning work of Jesus Christ)? How could we build churches with those who don’t see the Kingdom of God as we do? Who would we reach and what would we preach if Jesus were merely one of many ways?

This is why we can’t all get along. Fundamental views of truth and falsehood separate us. Foundational differences over the nature of Scripture, the person of Christ, the nature of salvation, the eternal destiny of man, and the end of the ages will forever be the line of distinction between those of us who hold to biblical truth and those who are willing to compromise with the spirit of the age. While the world may call us rigid; while they may accuse us of intolerance and of being narrow minded; our concern should always lie with what Jesus tells us, not with what others say about us.

Maybe what we need in religious circles today is not more union, but some wise and courageous division. The reason we can’t all get along is because we weren’t meant to. Jesus Himself said this in Matthew 10:34 when He said, “Don’t assume that I came to bring peace on the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” We are the light of the world and were not meant to be mixed with darkness. That does not give us a license to be malicious for Jesus or to have a holier than thou attitude; we are still called to speak the truth in love, but at the same time we must be prudent in our relationships, both personal and ecclesiastical.

But we need to bring balance to this truth about division: “There is a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing” (Ecc. 3:5).

In Part 2 of this article, we will consider three broad areas where we as Christians are to be united.

Posted in Spiritual Maturity | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 92 Comments

Jesus Wants Loving Obedience: Part 3

footsteps-of-christPreviously, we looked at our reception and response to Jesus’ sermon in Matthew 7:24-29. Today, we will consider the results of an obedient response to His message.

Look again at what our Lord says:

Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.

The results are clear. There is a stark contrast between those who hear and obey, and those who hear and disobey. Those who hear and obey have eternal life, nothing can take it from them. Their lives are built on the solid rock. Those who hear and disobey are building their houses on sand. Whatever they have built will not stand the test of time.

In the world in which you and I live, everyone is building something. Some are building lives that will last, they are walking in obedience to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. They are in constant fellowship with Him, sensitive to His Spirit’s voice, listening carefully, leaning not on their own understanding, but in all their ways acknowledging Him. Their lives are being built with solid, indestructible materials.

But others are building their lives with things that cannot last. Their houses may look similar, externally they may be similar in appearance to those built of rock, but structurally they are different. They are built upon a shoddy foundation, upon the ever changing sands of human efforts and self will.

There is a mournful danger in every age that men will hear Christ’s servants preach and will themselves read in His written Word, and stop at that, without doing anything about what they read or hear. Jesus is asking each of us, “Are you doing what I have said?”

To what degree are you and I obeying the teachings of our Lord, and to what degree are we making excuses for our disobedience? Upon what are you building your life today? Are you building your life on the solid rock of God’s Word? Are the building materials of your life made of acts of obedience? Will what you are building stand the test of time?

Or, perhaps you know, deep within your heart that there is a difference between what you profess and what you possess – that when all things are revealed, you will be found out to be a fraud. Perhaps you are reading these words and deep within your heart you know that you are not walking in obedience to what Jesus has said. Others may think you are a fine upstanding Christian, it’s not really that difficult to fool others. It is, however, impossible to fool God.

Right now, God is calling you to Himself. He is calling you to become a true disciple, an authentic follower of His. He is calling you to commit yourself to Him and to His kingdom.

Maybe you’ve never given your heart and life to Jesus and for the very first time, you want to confess Jesus as your Lord and Savior, you want to know forgiveness of sins and the peace that only He can give you.  Or, perhaps there are some areas of your life where you know you are not walking the talk, not living the Christian life others think you live.

This is a time of decision, a time to do business with God. This is the hour, this is the day; the time for you to change your eternal destiny is now. Today, you can choose to hear and obey. If you need to give your heart and life to Jesus, I want you to do that.

Perhaps you have accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, but you need to be obedient and follow Him in some course of action He has been calling you to do. Perhaps you’re reading these words and the Spirit of God has convicted you, showing you there is a discrepancy between what you say and what you do. And He is leading you to say that you will recommit yourself to become the disciple Jesus has called you to be, to follow Him wherever He leads, to do whatever He says, to hold nothing back, but to follow Him with total abandon, to surrender everything you are and have to Him, to walk in perfect obedience.

This is a time for each of us to examine our own walk with God to see whether or not we have a winning witness or a waning witness: “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?” (2 Cor. 13:5).

Posted in Spiritual Maturity | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 34 Comments

Jesus Wants Loving Obedience: Part 2

obedience-is-actionPreviously, we looked at our reception to Jesus’ sermon in Matthew 7:24-29. Today, we will consider our response to His message.

Throughout Scripture, we are commanded not merely to hear, but to obey. James 1:22-25 says, “Do not merely listen to the Word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the Word, but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.” Notice, the emphasis is not on knowing, but on responding positively.

We know a lot more than we practice. Like those who are ever learning, but are never able to come to the knowledge of truth, there are many professing Christians who are ever learning, but because the knowledge of truth comes by applying the truth to their lives, they have never really come to understand it on a practical or experiential level.

It never ceases to amaze me how many of the Christians I read about in third world countries, who are fortunate to own a Bible, much less any other religious material, who are far more committed in their discipleship than western Christians who have vast libraries of biblical material at their disposal. The issue here is not on what we know, but on how we respond to or act on what we know.

Jesus says there are two responses to His message: (1) to hear and obey; (2) to hear and disobey. There is no middle ground; either we hear and obey, or we hear and disobey. Jesus makes it absolutely clear. Knowing is not sufficient, giving mental ascent to His message, in and of itself will not do, even being a church member is not going to get us to heaven. If we are really His disciples and if we really follow Him, we will do what He has said. That is the line of separation, the difference between those who authentically are His disciples and those who merely claim to be.

Those who hear and obey are likened to the wise man who builds his house upon the rock. When the rain falls, wind blows, and flood comes, his house stands. But those who hear and for whatever reason fail to obey, their lives will not stand. The rain, wind, and flood will destroy them.

The foundation of our lives is truth. This is the truth we find in the Word of God. The building blocks of our life are to be found in obedience to His Word. When our lives are transformed by His power, when the indwelling of His Holy Spirit forever changes our hearts, our actions will consequently change as well.

Those who hear and obey are building with solid rock. Those who hear and disobey are building with sand. The quality of the material with which we build our lives will always be tested and will ultimately be tested on judgment day when the books are opened and the truth of our lives are examined before all of creation.

Jesus is telling us here that the authenticity of our discipleship will be readily evident in how we respond to what He has told us. If we do not love our neighbors as ourselves, if we do not forgive as we have been forgiven, if we are hypercritical and judgmental, if we hold anger and resentment in our hearts, if we do not love as we have been loved, in spite of what we profess, irrespective of what we might claim, we are not His disciples. His disciples practice what He has preached.

They are not practicing what He preaches in order to become His disciples, but rather they are practicing what He preaches because they have been transformed; they love Him and have been enabled through His power to keep His commandments. Salvation is not through works, but is evidenced by our works.

Jesus is clearly calling for a positive response to His message. He is calling us to hear and to obey. He is asking us to take a long hard look at our lives to see where we are spiritually. Jesus is summing up His sermon by asking us to examine our lives, to see if we are building our lives on the solid rock of His truth or on the sinking sands of false philosophies. He does this because there are results or consequences to our choices. That’s the final thing I want you to note from this text. Jesus is calling us to a serious time of self-examination because the results of our response to His message are eternal.

In my next article, we will consider the results of an obedient response to Jesus’ message.

Posted in Spiritual Maturity | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 27 Comments

Jesus Wants Loving Obedience: Part 1

ObedienceEvery true Christian wants to have a winning witness, a testimony that demonstrates Jesus makes a difference in their life. They want the world around them to see Jesus in them. But unfortunately, that is not always the case. All too frequently the image the world has of Christians is one of hypocrisy and compromise.

I have found many people today who profess to be Christians are living lives that are not significantly different from the world around them. I have read survey after survey, which demonstrates evangelical Christians are as likely to embrace lifestyles every bit as hedonistic, materialistic, self-centered, and sexually immoral as the world in general. Divorce is more common among born again Christians than in the general American population. Noted Christian apologist Josh McDowell has pointed out sexual promiscuity of evangelical youth is only a little less outrageous than that of their non-evangelical peers.

As much as I would love to discredit these observations, I cannot. If my experience as a pastor has taught me anything, it has taught me this is true. You and I don’t have to look outside the church to find adultery, spousal abuse, crooked business practices, gossip, jealously, and strife. Sadly, all of these things are often found among God’s people. And it is so obvious that you don’t have to be on the inside to notice it. The world around us has become keenly aware of the inconsistencies in our witness.

You might say, “We’ll that’s fine and good pastor, but we’re not the only religion which has hypocrites, all religions have people who profess one thing and practice another.” And while you would be right, I would point out we are the only religion that has the truth. We are the only ones who serve a risen Savior who has the power to transform our lives, to enable us to overcome the world.

If the world around us does not see a difference in our lives, how are they to know that Jesus is real? If we don’t live a different life, a transformed life, what hope do they have that they can be delivered from sin, set free from its power and transformed into a newness of life? Is it any wonder that many people say Christians are the biggest reason they don’t want to accept Christ? Did Jesus know this would happen within His church? Interesting and prophetically, Jesus addresses this very issue in today’s text.  Look with me at Matthew 7:24-29:

Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.’ When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at His teaching, because He taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.

As we have discussed previously, every good sermon is geared towards application. It is not enough we should merely know truth; truth must be put into practice if it is to be beneficial to us. Remembering that we have not been given Scripture simply to make us smart, but primarily to instruct us in godliness, Jesus sums up His great sermon by calling us to action; by telling us the reason He has taught us is so that we might be obedient. He says hearing without doing is foolish and wisdom dictates we will practice what He has preached. There are three things we find in these verses that demand our attention.

Our reception to Jesus’ message. The focus here is on what we have heard Jesus say. There are a variety of things people want to attribute to Jesus, but as we look back over this sermon what have we heard Jesus say?

We have heard Him teach on how we are to live as Christians. The beatitudes show us we must become humble, or poor in spirit, we must mourn over our sin, meekly accepting God’s view of us as sinners in need of a Savior, we must hunger and thirst after righteousness and find that only Jesus can satisfy our hunger and thirst. Then, we will be filled, transformed by the renewing of our hearts and minds.

Jesus has taught us to let our light shine before men, so that they will see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven. We have heard Jesus say that it is not keeping the law externally, but rather what goes on in our hearts that He sees. Sin is not something we merely do externally, but something that begins internally, in the realm of our thoughts and desires.

We have heard Jesus say our words matter and if we are His disciples, we will live our lives ever cognizant of the reality that God knows our hearts and sees our every action. We will be loving, forgiving, compassionate, faithful, trusting; and we will make His righteousness and kingdom the priority of our lives. This is what we have heard Jesus say.

There are many, however, who do not take what Jesus says seriously. They are like those in the parable of the seeds and the sower, who hear the Word but soon forget what they have heard; who allow other things, material things or temporal things, to drown out the words of our Lord.

Contrary to what many think of our Lord’s teaching, His message has not been one of lofty, warm fuzzy platitudes, but a serious call to discipleship; a message which calls us to abandon our selves and submit our wills, our hearts, and our lives to His Lordship. It is a solemn call to devout and committed discipleship that will separate us from the world around us. Make no mistake about it; this is what we have heard Jesus say.

In my next article, we will look at our response to Jesus’ message.

Posted in Spiritual Maturity | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 124 Comments

The Doctrine of Election

election-free-will-predestinationMy sheep listen to My voice; I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of My Father’s hand (John 10:27-29).

Election is, without a doubt, one of the most difficult doctrines for us to comprehend. Simply put, election means everyone who comes to faith in Christ does so because God, in His grace and mercy, chose them to be saved. Election to salvation is an act of grace, rooted in the purpose of God. Election starts with God, not man. Election is rooted in grace, not works. It is unmerited and undeserved.

While there is no question this is what the Bible teaches, there are many questions as to what it really means. At the heart of the difficulty with this doctrine is the tension between God’s election and the free will of man. Libraries of books have been written on this subject and no one has ever been able to sufficiently settle the myriad of questions surrounding the tension. Those of the Reformed view would say it is the tension between God’s sovereignty and human responsibility.

Now, a word is in order about what exactly I mean by the term “reformed.” I am speaking of what is commonly known as Calvinism. I have found it difficult to identify a universal definition of Calvinism because everyone I have met who claims to be a Calvinist wants to define exactly what they mean by that. So for the sake of our discussion, we will simply overview the basics.

Calvinism stems from the teachings of the great reformer, John Calvin, who lived between 1509 and 1564. Calvin emphasized the sovereignty of God, the sinfulness of man, and the necessity of grace for salvation, all which are foundational to my theology and many other Bible-believing Christians as well. Some years after he died, his followers systemized his theology and went beyond what Calvin himself taught. This system is classified with the now famous acronym T-U-L-I-P.

The “T” in Tulip stands forTotal Depravity.”Man can do nothing to save himself, not even exercise faith.  Faith is a work.  Since the fall, man is born with a natural bent toward sin. Every part of him has been infected with this disease of sin, so he cannot save himself, nor can he seek God without the prompting of the Holy Spirit through His grace. The Bible clearly teaches we cannot come to God on our own. It takes God drawing us to Himself: “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him” (Jn. 6:44).

The “U” in Tulip stands for “Unconditional Election.”God alone initiates salvation; it is not based upon man’s exercise of faith.  God, in His grace and mercy, unconditioned on anything else, by His own sovereign desire, chose some for salvation and left others to suffer the full consequences of their sins: “For He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight” (Eph. 1:4).We did not influence God’s decision to save us; He saves us according to His plan.

The tension here arises from the Scriptures which say no one is saved apart from God’s plan, yet anyone who repents and trusts Jesus Christ will be saved. Which is it? The Bible teaches both: God chooses us and we must choose God. It teaches God will hold us responsible for our decision to choose or reject Jesus, and yet it also says we cannot come to Him unless He enables us. It says God has His elect and it also says He is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. This is one of the great tensions in Scripture.

I have found many Christians are preoccupied by the doctrine of election and how it affects salvation. Friends, we don’t know who is elect and who is not. All we know is we have a responsibility before God to go out into the world and share the gospel with everyone we can to become a member of the family of God. God does the electing. He chose us to do the evangelizing. The emphasis for us should be on “doing.”

The “L” in Tulip stands for “Limited Atonement.” This can be a confusing phrase, so some prefer the term “particular redemption.”Not everyone will be saved. The benefit of the work of Christ is limited only to those who trust Him. Jesus died for the sins of the whole world, but the only ones to benefit from His atonement are those who receive, by their personal faith in Christ, the free gift of salvation offered to them: “I am not praying for the world, but for those You have given Me, for they are Yours” (Jn. 17:9).

The “I” in Tulip stands for “Irresistible Grace” (or some prefer the term “effectual calling”).Those God has chosen to be saved, He will make willing to come.  They do not want to resist.  Those who are predestined to be saved will ultimately be saved. The elect will not be forced to be saved against their will, but will come to Christ of their own choosing because God’s grace is irresistible. His call on their life will be effective: “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose… and those He predestined, He also called; those He called, He also justified; those He justified, He also glorified” (Rom. 8:28-30).

The “P” in Tulip stands forPerseverance of the Saints.” Those whom God saves He saves eternally; they cannot lose their salvation: “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6). This is referred to as eternal security or once saved always saved, but this doctrine is often misunderstood. The perseverance of the saints is not a license to sin and live however we want; rather, if we are truly saved we will display actions which give evidence to the fact we have truly been saved.

All true believers will endure in faith to the end. Those whom God has accepted in Christ, and sanctified by His Spirit, will never fall away from the state of grace, but will preserve to the end. Believers may fall into sin through neglect and temptation, whereby they grieve the Spirit, impair their graces and comforts, and bring reproach on the cause of Christ and temporal judgments on themselves; but they will be kept by the power of God through faith to salvation.

Election is the gracious purpose of God, by which He calls, regenerates, justifies, sanctifies, and glorifies sinners. It is consistent with the free will of man. It is the glorious display of God’s sovereign goodness. It is unchangeable; therefore, it excludes boasting and promotes humility. Salvation begins and ends with God. It is by His grace and mercy. Man can have nothing to do with it.

Here are three practical ways to put this truth in practice:

1. Recognize salvation is from God alone and we must rely on His grace to be saved. He chooses us and we also choose Him.

2. Resist the temptation of trying to know what we simply cannot know (Deut 29:29).

3. Rest in the assurance that because God saves, we cannot un-save ourselves. We cannot be saved by grace and kept by works. It is simply not compatible with the plan of God.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

Posted in Doctrine | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 47 Comments

Knowing God

knowing_godPreviously, we looked at The Doctrine of God and examined 10 Attributes of God, which are revealed to us in Scripture. In today’s message, we will consider what impact these truths have on our lives.

What difference does it make? It makes all the difference in the world; not only in this world, but in the world to come. Unlike the pagans of old, we are not left to our own imagination as to what God is like, what He demands from us, and who He is. Graciously and lovingly, in keeping with His character, God has revealed Himself to us. He wants us to know Him, love Him, be in fellowship with Him, serve Him, and bring Him glory through our lives.

Knowing God gives us purpose. It adds reason and rational to our lives. It tells us there is a God in heaven, seated on His throne, and not only does He care for us, but He created us for a purpose. Think of how hopeless the man or woman is who has no God in whom to trust. Consider the emptiness and vanity of life lived without knowledge of the God of the Bible. Knowing God assures us that to everything there is a season and a time, to every purpose under heaven. Life is no accident. We didn’t merely evolve. God made us. Wondrously and gloriously have we been made. Not in the image of an ape, but in the image of God Himself.

While there remains a certain mystery to God, that is, there is much about Him we do not understand; there is much about Him we can and do know. He is a person and we can know Him personally. We may not be able to know Him fully, but we can know Him truly. Indeed, we can know Him for who He is.

God’s sovereignty assures us there is nothing too hard for Him. He is always in control. Nothing is too difficult for Him. He can do anything He desires, and Scripture tells us when we pray, He hears and answers our prayers. That ought to charge your batteries this morning! The God of the entire universe, the one for whom nothing is impossible and everything in creation is held accountable, has given you and I permission to come and make our requests before His throne. Not only does He hear us, but He has promised to answer our prayers!

God’s holiness assures us He is neither capricious nor malicious, but is pure and good. He cannot be corrupted. He cannot be bribed, nor can He be persuaded to go against His nature. God’s holiness tells us He is not like us, but that as His Spirit works in our lives, we can become more and more like Him.

God’s eternal nature assures us He is infinitely different than we are. Unlike the gods of the pagans who were carved in stone and had to be awakened and cared for, our God is self sustaining and needs nothing from us. It is we who are needy and because He is without beginning or end, because He is everlasting, the Alpha and the Omega, He can meet our every need. The fact He is infinite assures us there is life beyond this earth. When Jesus promised He would go and prepare a place for us, we can take Him at His word. Knowing our God is without beginning or end, that He knows all things, can do all things, and is always everywhere at all times should bring great comfort to our souls.

God’s omnipresence assures us He can keep His word to never leave us nor forsake us. Our God is not limited to time and space. He cannot be confined to some image or statue. He is not a prisoner to some temple we build for Him. He is everywhere, at all times forever. There is no place we can escape Him and there is no place where He is not already there before we arrive.

God’s omniscience assures us He has everything under control. Nothing will ever take Him by surprise, nothing will ever catch Him off guard, no circumstance we encounter in life, regardless of how difficult or sudden it may be, will ever find our Lord unaware or unprepared. He who created all things knows all things and has made provisions for us before we ever need them. This is what Jesus says of His Father in the Sermon on the Mount. He knows what we need before we even ask!

God’s righteousness gives us knowledge that someday all wrongs will be made right, that while injustice may reign on this earth, He will be the final judge. All things will be set right and every man will give an account. We can live with this world, knowing that it is but for a while. God’s righteousness tells us He will punish sin, not just the sin of others, but our sin as well. It tells us we must make things right with Him.

God’s mercy gives us insight into His patience and willingness to wait for us. While He has every right to punish us, instead He chooses to pursue us, to call us to Himself. Withholding His wrath, in His Mercy, He extends His goodness and grace to us.

God’s love for us assures us He is always looking out for our best. Nowhere was this more clearly seen than on Calvary’s cross: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16). While God is just, He is also loving; so much so that He gave of Himself to pay the just penalty for our sin. He extended His love towards us in that while we were yet sinners in rebellion against Him, He sent Jesus to die for us. This is the ultimate fulfillment of God’s love.

I pity the soul who has no God like ours in whom to trust. I pity the self-sufficient man who scoffs at our religion, calling it a crutch for simple minded weaklings. There will come a day when those who refuse to submit to the Lord will wish they had. There will come a day when their strength fails them and their flesh gives way to the ravages of time. That is why we who know Him must tell all who will hear of the one true and living God who offers forgiveness of sins and eternal life to all who will receive.

As you contemplate the majesty and wonder of our God the obvious question is not, “What do you know about Him?” But rather, “Do you know Him?” Have you ever come to a point in your life where you’ve placed your trust for forgiveness of sins and eternal life in Jesus Christ? If not, what would keep you from doing so right now?

Posted in Doctrine | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 19 Comments

10 Attributes of God

attributes_of_godOur theology about God is rooted and grounded solely in Scripture. All we can ever know about God is what He has chosen to disclose to us. What, then, does God reveal to us about Himself? Here are 10 things God tells us in Scripture.

1. He is the only true God. The Scripture is clear, there is only one true and living God: “I am the Lord, there is no other; there is no God but Me” (Isa. 45:5). As Christians, we are monotheistic, that is, we believe there is only one God. Polytheism believes in many gods. Pantheism believes god is in everything and everything is god. Atheism says there is no God, but biblical theism says there is only one God and there is no other god beside Him. Our God is unique. The Bible tells us He is a person. He is intelligent, knowable, and has a personal will.

2. God is Sovereign. He is omnipotent (all powerful) and able to do all His holy will. He tells us in Jeremiah 32:27 that there is nothing too hard for Him. God’s sovereignty speaks to His rule or reign over all things. It would not be fair to say God can do anything because His sovereignty is consistent with His holiness and all His other attributes: therefore, God cannot lie, He cannot sin, He cannot deny Himself, He cannot be tempted with evil, and He cannot cease to exist. Simply put, God’s sovereignty means He is able to bring His will to pass however He wills. While God’s freedom speaks to the fact that there are no external constraints on His decisions, His sovereignty speaks to the fact that by His own power He can do whatever He pleases: “Our God is in heaven; He does whatever pleases Him” (Ps. 115:3).

3. God is Holy. The word holy is often used in Scripture to speak about the Christian being separated from sin and separated to God. But when Scripture uses the word holy to describe God, it is speaking not only of His righteousness and perfection, but of the reality that He is separate and different from us. This word speaks to His transcendence or the fact that He is infinitely exalted above all of creation. Isaiah 6:3 tells us of the angels around the throne, “They were calling to one another: ‘holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of His glory.”

4. God is Infinite.He is eternal. He has neither beginning nor end; He has always been and will always be. Time and space do not limit God as they limit us. God is not subject to the special laws of time and space, which confine us. He is timeless: “With the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day” (2 Pet. 3:8). He can act within time or outside of its limitations. Truly, this is incomprehensible to us. As limited, finite beings, who ourselves are confined by time and space, it is difficult for us to even conceive of this aspect of God, but Scripture tells us He is eternal.

5. God is Omnipresent.There is no place He is not. He is everywhere at all times. There is no place where we can escape the presence of God (Ps. 139:7-10). Furthermore, He is in no way diminished by His being in all places at all times. He is present everywhere in all His fullness. This too is difficult for us to understand, so we must say with the Psalmist, “This extraordinary knowledge is beyond me. It is lofty; I am unable to reach it.” Suffice it to say that God is all places at all times and there is never a place where He is not.

6. God is Omniscient. He knows all things, past, present and future, the possible as well as the actual. There is nothing which escapes His knowledge or understanding: “Before a word is on my tongue, You know all about it, Lord” (Ps. 139:4). Even the thoughts of our hearts are known to Him. From the beginning, He knows the end and from the end, He knows the beginning. His knowledge is simultaneous as opposed to successive. That is, He knows all things at all times. He is never learning or in the process of learning, as Open Theists would have us think. God has always known all things and always will.

7. God is Unchanging. The technical term is “Immutable.” When we speak of the Immutability of God, we are talking about the fact that He is not capable or susceptible of change, either by increase or by decrease, by development or by self-evolution. He is unchangeable, invariable, and permanent. God does not change: “I the Lord do not change (Mal. 3:6). Not only does God not change, but His moral principles do not change. He is who He has always been and will always be who He is. “You remain the same and Your years will never end” (Heb. 1:12).

8. God is Righteous. He is the standard by which fairness and justice are measured. God’s righteousness means He always acts in accordance with what is right and is Himself the final standard of what is right: “His works are perfect and all His ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is He” (Deut. 32:4). What a wonderful thing to know that God is righteous and just! We know that someday, every wrong will be made right and everyone of us will stand before Him and give account. Although we may be surrounded by injustice on this earth, in the end, justice will prevail because our God is the personification of what is right and just.

9. God is Merciful. While God is just, He is also gracious and merciful. This speaks to God’s patience and His longsuffering with His fallen creations: “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love” (Ps. 103:8). Mercy speaks to God withholding punishment that we do deserve, while grace speaks to His giving us good things we do not deserve. God is indeed merciful.

10. God is Love. This means God is about the business of giving Himself to others: “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 Jn. 4:8). Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:45 that God’s love is for all of His creation, as He causes the sun to shine and rain to fall on the just and the unjust. God loves all of His creation, and does so with a selfless and sacrificial kind of love. Volumes have been written on the love of God. While many try to explain it, God is always about the business of inviting us to experience it. Throughout Scripture, we see the evidence of God’s love, ultimately fulfilled in the giving of His Son Jesus to pay the penalty of our sins.

Perhaps as you’ve been reading this article, you’ve thought about other things you would like to learn about God. Things like His wisdom, His goodness, His self-sufficiency, or His glory. Maybe you’ve thought about His beauty, His peace, or His faithfulness. All of these things are topics about which books have been written. We’ve only scratched the surface.

In Part 3 of this article, we will consider what impact these truths have on our lives.

Posted in Doctrine | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 30 Comments

The Doctrine of God

Bible 3If I were to ask you if you believed in God, I am confident almost all of you would respond in the affirmative. But if I were to follow that question up by asking you to describe God to me, to give me a list of His attributes or to speak to me about the essential qualities of His nature, the answers would not be as forthcoming. While most people claim to believe in God, they are not really sure who He is, what He is like, and how we can know these things about Him with certainty.

As I sat down to write this message, it occurred to me the task before me was next to impossible. How do I say all I need to say about God? I cannot. So this is a disclaimer upfront. I can neither be exhaustive nor comprehensive in my treatment of this topic. Our purpose today is not to learn all there is to know about God, that would be impossible. Rather, my hope is to stir your heart and whet your appetite for more, so you will continue to study and learn more of these truths on your own.

First, let’s consider who God is not. While most people claim to believe in God, it is clear they do not believe in the God revealed in Scripture. The question, then, should not be: “Do you believe in God?” The question should be: “In what god do you believe?” You see, when different people talk about God, they are not all speaking of the same person. Many well intentioned Christians are simply ignorant of this truth. For example, when the topic of Islam is raised, you will hear people say something like, “Well, we all worship the same God, don’t we?” The answer is unequivocally no. The God of Scripture is not Allah, worshiped by the Muslims. Christians and Muslims do not worship the same God. To say we do just because we use the same generic name for God is like saying all references to the name “Mike” must refer to the same person.

The same is true of all the other gods worshiped by other religions. The God of the Bible is not the god of the Mormons; He is not the god of the Jehovah’s Witnesses; He is not the god of the New Agers; and the list could go on. While many people believe in a god, they do not all believe in the God who is revealed in Scripture.

If we look just a little below the surface we can see who God is depends on who you ask. How, then, do we know who our God is and on what authority can we claim to found our beliefs?

This brings us to our second consideration.

Who is God and how can we know Him? Our theology about God is rooted and grounded solely in Scripture. We believe there is one and only one living and true God. He is an intelligent, spiritual, and personal Being. He is the Creator, Redeemer, Preserver, and Ruler of the universe. He is infinite in Holiness and all other perfections. He is all powerful and all knowing. To Him, we owe the highest love, reverence, and obedience. The eternal triune God reveals Himself to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit with distinct personal attributes, but without division of nature, essence, or being.This is a summation of our theology of God. Fundamental to our faith is the understanding that God has revealed Himself to us in Scripture.

This is an important truth we need to be clear of. If we are not clear about where we get our knowledge of God, then whatever knowledge we have of Him will be suspect. The Scripture is the only certain word we have about God and it tells us that we are made in His image. This is important because when many people think about God, they try to think of Him in human terms. They try to think of Him in sentimental ways or understand Him through the lens of their personal experience, always trying to envision Him within the confines of how they would understand another human. But instead of understanding God within the confines of human personhood, we need to recognize that we are a finite and fallen replica of His infinite, divine, and perfect person. We are created in His image. He is the Creator; we are the creature. All we can ever know about God is what He has chosen to disclose to us in Scripture.

What, then, does God reveal to us about Himself?

In Part 2 of this article, we will look at 10 things God tells us about Himself in Scripture.

Posted in Doctrine | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 49 Comments

How Can I Recognize a False Teacher?

false_teachersWatch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves (Matthew 7:15).

Jesus warned us that “false christs and false prophets” would come and would attempt to deceive even God’s elect (Mt. 24:23-27; 2 Pet. 3:3; Jd. 17-18). The best way to guard ourselves against falsehood and false teachers is to know the truth. To spot a counterfeit, we need to study the real thing. Any believer who “correctly handles the Word of Truth” (2 Tim. 2:15) and who makes a careful study of the Bible can identify false doctrine. There are three specific questions to ask of any teacher to determine the accuracy of his or her teaching:

What does this teacher say about Jesus? Beware of anyone who denies Jesus is equal with God, who downplays Jesus’ sacrificial death, or who rejects Jesus’ humanity: “Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist—he denies the Father and the Son” (1 Jn. 2:22).

Does this teacher preach the gospel? The gospel is the good news concerning Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection (1 Cor. 15:1-4). As nice as they may sound, the statements “God wants you to be wealthy, God wants to heal you of all disease, and what you speak is what you create” are not the message of the gospel. Paul warns in Gal. 1:7, “Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.”

False teachers are often people-pleasers (Gal. 1:10; 1 Thess. 2:1-4). They preach more to please the ear than to profit the heart. But no one, not even a great preacher, has the right to change the message God gave us: “If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned” (Gal. 1:9). False teachers strive more to win over men to their opinions, than to better their souls. They busy themselves most about men’s heads: “Then the Lord said to me, ‘The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I have not sent them or appointed them or spoken to them. They are prophesying to you false visions, divinations, idolatries, and the delusions of their own minds” (Jer. 14:14).

Does this teacher exhibit character qualities that glorify the Lord? Referring to false teachers, Jude 11 says, “Woe to them! They have taken the way of Cain; they have rushed for profit into Balaam’s error; they have been destroyed in Korah’s rebellion.” A false teacher can be known by his pride (Cain’s rejection of God’s plan), greed (Balaam’s prophesying for money), and rebellion (Korah’s promotion of himself over Moses). Jesus said to beware of such people and we would know them by their fruits (Mt. 7:15-20).

It is often difficult to spot a false teacher. Satan masquerades as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14) and his ministers masquerade as servants of righteousness (2 Cor. 11:15). Only by being thoroughly familiar with the truth will we be able to recognize a counterfeit. For further study about false teachers, review those books of the Bible that were written specifically to combat false teaching within the church: Galatians, Colossians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, 2 Peter, 1 John, 2 John, and Jude.

Posted in Spiritual Maturity | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Overcome Evil with Good

love stops hate“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:17-21).

In this day of constant lawsuits and incessant demands for legal rights, Paul’s command sounds almost impossible, but these verses summarize the core of Christian living.  If we love someone the way Christ loves us, we will be willing to forgive.  If we have experienced God’s grace, we will want to pass it on to others.

This command relates primarily to believers’ relationships with unbelievers.  The Old Testament principle of justice was “eye for eye” (Ex. 21:24), but we are told, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil… live at peace with everyone.”  Recognizing that limits exist, however, Paul includes the words, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you” (v. 18).  Harmony with others may not always be achievable, but believers should not be responsible for that lack of peace (Matt. 5:9).

Paul exhorts us not to take revenge after we are misused.  Rather, we should leave room for God’s wrath.  God has promised to avenge His people: “It is Mine to avenge, I will repay” (Deut. 32:35; Heb. 10:30).  David’s refusal to kill Saul on two occasions when it seemed God had delivered Saul into David’s hands is a classic biblical example of this principle.

When someone hurts us deeply, instead of giving him what he deserves, Paul says to forgive him.In light of God’s promise to execute vengeance, we are to feed our enemy and quench his thirst—in short, respond to his evil with Christian love.By giving our enemy a drink, we are not excusing his misdeeds; rather, we are recognizing him, forgiving him, and loving him in spite of his sins—just as Christ does for us.

What does it mean to “heap burning coals” on someone’s head?  This refers to an Egyptian tradition of carrying a pan of burning charcoal on one’s head as a public act of repentance.  By referring to this proverb, Paul was saying we should treat our enemies with kindness, so they will become ashamed and turn from their sins.

Grace is undeserved favor.  Even if our enemy never repents, forgiving him will free us of a heavy load of anger, resentment, and bitterness.Jesus wants us to pray for those who hurt us (Mt. 5:44).  By returning evil with good, we are acting as Christ did to us and trusting God to be the final judge.

Did you enjoy this article? Read more in my new book, Back to the Basics: A Guide for Christian Living.COVER

Posted in Spiritual Maturity | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

What Happens When I Die?

What-Happens-After-Death-1024x585There is a significant amount of confusion regarding what happens after death.  The existence of life after death is a universal question.  Job asked God, “If a man dies, will he live again?” (Job 14:14).  Like Job, all of us have been challenged by this question.  What exactly does the Bible says happens after we die?  Does everyone go to the same place or do we go to different places?  Is there really a heaven and hell?

Christ most certainly affirms there is an afterlife in a number of biblical passages.  The Bible says there is not only life after death, but eternal life so glorious that “no eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).  Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, came to earth to give us this gift of eternal life.  Jesus took on the punishment that all of us deserve and sacrificed His life to pay the penalty for our sins: “He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).  Three days after His crucifixion, Jesus proved Himself victorious over death by rising from the grave: “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification” (Romans 4:25).  The resurrection of Jesus is a well-documented event and is the cornerstone of the Christian faith.  Because Christ rose from the dead, we too can have faith that we will be resurrected.  The resurrection of Jesus is the ultimate proof of life after death.

Although all people will eventually die, not everyone will go to heaven.  A choice must be made by each of us in this life, and this choice will determine our eternal destination.  Those who have been made righteous by faith in Christ will have eternal life in heaven, but those who reject Christ will be sent to eternal punishment in hell (Matthew 25:46).  God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but desires all men to turn from their ways so that they can live eternally with Him (Ezekiel 33:11).

One aspect of the afterlife worth noting is that there is no intermediate state for those who die; they go directly to their eternal destiny.  For believers in Jesus Christ, the Bible says after death their souls/spirits are taken immediately to heaven because their sins are forgiven by having trusted Jesus as Savior (John 3:16-18, 36).  For believers, death is to be “away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:6-8; Philippians 1:23).

On the contrary, for those who do not trust Jesus as Savior, death means everlasting punishment.  Hell, like heaven, is not simply a state of existence, but a literal place.  Luke 16:22-24 describes a rich man being tormented immediately after death: “I am in agony in this fire.”

The Bible devotes much less space to describing eternity than it does to convincing people that eternal life is available as a free gift from God.  Most of the descriptions of eternity would be more accurately called hints, since they use terms and ideas from present experience to describe what we cannot fully grasp until we are there ourselves.  These references hint at aspects of what our future will be like if we have accepted God’s gift of eternal life.

How can we receive eternal life in heaven and avoid eternal wrath from God?  There is only one way—through faith in Jesus Christ.  The Bible is clear on what determines our eternal destination—whether we have faith in Christ and trust Him to save us from our sins.

Salvation by faith in Christ sounds too easy for many people.  They would rather think that they have done something to save themselves.  Their religion becomes one of self-effort that leads either to disappointment or pride, but finally to eternal death.  Christ’s simple way is the only way, and it alone leads to eternal life.  Jesus said, “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).

Enjoyed this post? Read more in my book, Back to the Basics: A Guide for Christian Living. COVER

 

Posted in Doctrine | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 105 Comments

Jesus’ Method of Making Disciples

following_christ the ultimate adventure“When Jesus had finished saying these things the crowds were amazed at His teaching because He taught as one who had authority and not as their teachers of the law” (Mt. 7:28-29).

The crowds of people following Jesus were amazed at His teaching, for He taught as a Spokesman from God—not as the teachers of His time who were simply reflecting the authority of the Law. Jesus had just demonstrated the inadequacies of the Pharisees’ religious system. The righteousness they knew was not sufficient for entering His kingdom.

Like the Jewish rabbis, Jesus was gathering His own group of disciples and was training them. We are reminded of His words to Simon and Andrew in Mark 1: “Follow Me.” It was a simple phrase, yet one loaded with meaning. When Jesus called the twelve disciples (and many others who followed Him during His earthly ministry), His command demanded a response. In His call to discipleship, Jesus challenged the disciples to three things.

First, Jesus challenged the disciples to live with Him. The call “Follow Me” had a very real physical application. Jesus did not say these words and then walk away never to be seen by the disciples again. He expected them to leave what they were doing in order to physically walk after Him.

For three years after this call the twelve disciples lived with Jesus. They travelled to many different places with Him, seeking food and shelter in a host of ways. They saw Jesus in the morning when He got up and at night when He laid down. They watched Him pray, heal, preach, and teach. They observed Jesus in His dealings with difficult people. Through all of their experiences with Him, they learned that Jesus’ lifestyle was radically different from the one they had learned from birth. They were challenged to live a new life.

Second, Jesus challenged the disciples to learn how to live as His disciples. This new life did not come easily to them. They were naturally brash, selfish, and uncaring. Jesus had to teach them to be gentle, giving, and compassionate. On many occasions, He took the disciples aside in order to instruct them. When He told parables, He would explain the meaning to them after the crowds had departed. The disciples were often as “deaf” as the crowds when it came to understanding parables. Jesus asked questions of them, taught them, admonished them, prodded them to take steps of faith, nurtured them, and loved them.

Theirs was a special relationship that went much deeper than the one Jesus had with the crowds that followed Him for two reasons: First, Jesus had committed Himself to the disciples in every way. He made Himself accessible to them and confided in them. He had great expectations for them and occasionally showed frustration with them. You might recall the time the disciples were crossing the Sea of Galilee with Jesus asleep in the boat when a great storm came. Jesus chided them for their lack of faith. Jesus had committed Himself to His disciples, so He had great expectations of them.

Second, theirs was a unique relationship because the disciples were committed to Jesus in return. They had a growing love for Christ, and a desire to be obedient and loyal in everything. At times, they struggled with their faith, sin, and weaknesses, but they wanted to be faithful. They loved Jesus and were willing to give up everything (eventually most of them even gave up their lives) for this Man from Galilee.

Third, Jesus challenged the disciples to prepare others to hear the Good News. One of the marks of good students is they are able to do what the teacher has instructed them to do—even when the teacher is not present. Knowing this, Christ trained His disciples by encouraging them to take steps of faith on their own.

As the disciples travelled with Jesus, they spent most of their time observing their Master at work. Then, when they were ready, Jesus sent them out two-by-two to prepare towns for His coming. The disciples preached as they had seen Jesus preach. They sought faithful God-fearing people in the towns as Jesus had done. They healed the sick and comforted the bereaved as Jesus did. They learned what ministry was all about by spending time with Jesus and imitating their Master.

Questions for Discussion

1. How did Jesus make disciples?

2. Why was Jesus’ method of teaching so effective?

3. In what ways is our disciple-making like that of Jesus? In what ways is it different?

Posted in Spiritual Maturity | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

The Process of Making Disciples

4.1.1What do we mean when we talk about “disciples?” A disciple is a committed follower of Jesus who seeks to live a life marked by continued growth in understanding and obedience.

How, then, can we continue the process of making disciples in this century? The following are three key principles for today’s disciple-makers to follow:

First, disciples are made intentionally. Just as children don’t grow up without personal care, so discipleship will not occur without faithful Christians being intentional about it. The word discipleship is a catchphrase in the church today, often without meaning. As a result, some people think of discipleship when they think of Bible-study workbooks or adult Sunday school. What they forget is that the process of making disciples is a dynamic relationship between fellow Christians and their Lord, and it is marked by continued progress.

Making disciples must be intentional in order for small groups to take root and grow. You and I cannot pay “lip service” to disciple-making or look at it as one aspect of ministry. It must be the goal of all ministry. Our goal is that people will come to faith in Christ and then grow to maturity as His disciples.

Second, disciples are to be like Christ. Have you ever watched a group of people, perhaps children, who are devoted to a particular celebrity and dress, talk, and walk like the individual they idolize? It is only natural to emulate someone you respect and look up to. And since “disciple” means “imitator,” disciple-makers become models to those who are learning to follow Christ. We must be careful not to duplicate ourselves, though. It is very easy to cross the line from being respected to being idolized. Instead, our task is to help develop partners in discipleship. We must strive to be able to say (paraphrasing Paul), “We first imitated the Lord and then you learned from us how to imitate the Lord” (1 Thess 1:6).

It is often difficult, however, for modern Christians to picture themselves as disciples. We ask people if they are “Christians” instead of if they are “disciples,” as if a person could be a Christian without being a disciple. In the early church, followers of Christ were called disciples until someone in Antioch thought of the term Christian (Acts 11:26). There is nothing wrong with using the word Christian when it is properly understood because “Christian” means “little Christ” or “belonging to Christ.” A disciple imitating Christ does belong to Christ.

But who decides what it means to be like Christ? Is there anywhere to go for answers? Yes! We can go to the textbook for discipleship: the Bible.

One of the disciple-maker’s key tasks is to direct disciples to the Word of God. Growing disciples must spend time in God’s Word on a daily basis. If we want to make disciples the Bible can show what it means to be like Christ. The Bible is the only reliable source for knowledge on how to live an obedient and meaningful life. Luke wrote his Gospel “so you can know the certainty of the things which you were taught” (Lk. 1:4). John wrote “so you may believe Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name” (Jn. 20:31).

Third, disciples are made in relationship. From the beginning of our lives, we learn by watching others and then imitating them. Children learn to walk and talk (among other things) by watching others. As you think back over your life, you can no doubt think of many things you learned by watching, learning, and then imitating. This is how we learn to ride a bike, drive a car, and play an instrument. It is also how we learn to “act cool” in high school, move up the social ladder in adulthood, and age gracefully in older years. In short, we learn about life in community by watching others and then imitating them.

The Christian life is exactly the same. There is no example in the Bible of a lone ranger disciple. Even Paul, after his dramatic conversion and long stay in the desert, went to Jerusalem and associated himself with the apostles and later with the church at Antioch (Acts 9:26-30; 11:25-26). When he planted churches, he always travelled in the company of others. He had a team-relationship at different times with Barnabas, Silas, and Timothy. The relational, community-based model of disciple-making had been demonstrated by Jesus and the disciples, and it provided the necessary support for Paul and the early church in the turbulent period after Pentecost.

Since we learn best in relationship, we most effectively learn to be disciples that way. But disciples produced through loving community in churches today are too rare. The self-sufficient individualism of Western culture has seeped into the church and led to situations in which individuals are trying, often without notable success, to mature alone as disciples. Many resources—Christian books, videos, conferences—are available for these lone disciples to increase their knowledge about Jesus, but an accumulation of facts and ideas is only the beginning of Bible-based disciple-making.

It takes a community of fellow disciples who can help each other learn to live a life transformed by the Holy Spirit. The aspect of “growing in community” is such an important concept in this process of making disciples. Without a community in which we can learn, practice, fail, and eventually move out from as agents of change, we are left without a secure foundation. Without a foundation of community, it is difficult to grow in our walk with Christ.

Questions for Reflection

1. What are the most important things to keep in mind when we make disciples?

2. In what ways does your church help people grow in their understanding of and obedience to Jesus Christ?

3. What other things do you think the church might try that could help people grow?

Posted in Spiritual Maturity | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Go and Make Disciples

MakeDisciples_m“Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw Him, they worshipped Him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age’ ” (Matt. 28:16–20).

Imagine you are one of the eleven disciples who met Jesus on the mountain. Three years ago, you received the call to follow Christ and you left your family, friends, and livelihood to do so. You have been fascinated by this Man who can heal the sick, raise the dead, and preach with an authority that draws multitudes to hear Him. You have lived with Him, trying desperately to understand this Man who is so different from everyone you have known before. You were present on the night He was taken by the mob to His crucifixion and you ran. Three days later, while you were still in hiding, you heard He had risen, and you were terrified and relieved at the same time. You have seen Him a number of times since His resurrection and now as you meet Him on the mountain, you realize He is preparing you for yet another good-by.

In these last words of Jesus—which you will reflect on many times in the coming days—you receive your final instructions or formal “commissioning.” There is no mistake about it that Jesus is giving you a command that is to be followed. As His disciple, you are to respond in obedience.

But what is He telling you?

There is one thing Jesus says that is crystal clear. It is His command to “go and make disciples of all nations.” As His disciple, you know very well what He means.

The Early Church and Discipleship

The original disciples learned how to think and act based on their relationship with the master disciple-maker: Jesus. They in turn began to duplicate His kind of ministry after Jesus went back to heaven.

In the book of Acts much can be discovered about the history of the church. Following Christ’s ascension into heaven, the promised Holy Spirit manifests in power at Pentecost, and the disciples start carrying the Good News to all people.

It was an exciting time for the church, a period of rapid growth in spite of tremendous persecution. Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 brought three thousand new believers into the church in one day! These new believers combined with other disciples to worship in the temple each day. Their lives were so different that they were viewed favorably by others and the church grew rapidly.

From the beginning the church met together in larger groups for corporate worship, but small groups also had a place in the life of the church. The apostles not only taught large groups, but they also went from house to house, visiting small groups in homes as they taught and made disciples (Acts 5:42). People met together in homes to break bread together and to encourage each other to live out their faith in ever greater obedience. There were home prayer meetings like the one held while Peter was in prison (Acts 12:12) and Paul’s letters speak of “house churches” (Rom 16:5).

Whether house churches were independent groups of believers or were part of larger churches is uncertain. It is likely, however, that small house fellowships were the building blocks of the church in each city or region. The early disciples met in groups small enough to fit into normal homes.

The church needed the “house church” for its survival. There were periods of intense persecution for the first few centuries after Christ, so the early church was often not able to meet openly, nor were they allowed to purchase large buildings for gathering. They relied on the more protective environment of the home to nurture and protect the gospel in the lives of believers. Miraculously, the church was able to multiply without large buildings, mass meetings, and a plethora of “how to” books!

A fascinating aspect of discipleship is that Christians in the twentieth century are in the direct line that can be traced back twenty centuries to the original twelve disciples. In 2 Timothy 2:2, Paul illustrates the process of making disciples: “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.” All disciples of Christ have been entrusted with the gospel message, which we are to continually invest in the lives of others. Rather than ending with us, the process must begin again with us, as with each new generation.

Learning to live as a child of God in our culture is a formidable challenge. Many people feel uncertain, others overwhelmed. While there are many people who can teach others how to flip pancakes or play sports, it is even more vital that there are people who can show others how to live the Christian life.

Questions for Reflection

1. Why do you think we need help learning how to be a disciple?

2. Who has been the most important influence in your spiritual life to help you grow? What characterizes that person’s life?

Posted in Spiritual Maturity | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

The Tribulation

Tribulation2“For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again. If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened” (Mt. 24:21-22)

Both Christians and non-Christians are interested in the future. Everybody has questions. Some of us are motivated by curiosity, others by fear and anxiety. For the most part, our questions will remain a mystery, but certain future events have been revealed in the Bible.

I would add a word of caution to anyone who attempts to study this topic. We cannot know everything about the future, but we can know certain things. In our attempts to discern what the Bible says about the future, we must be careful our conclusions come only from the truth of Scripture and not our own interpretations. Only God and His Word are infallible, not you or I.

To answer our questions about the Tribulation, it is important to look at God’s purpose for this world during that period of time: to pour out judgment on unbelieving peoples and nations (Isa. 26:21; 2 Thess. 2:12; Rev. 14:7; 15:4; 16). The Tribulation will be characterized by false christs; wars in which nations will rise up against each other on a global scale; unusual disturbances in nature including famines and earthquakes. The world will see terrible times of societal degeneration.  People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, and having a form of godliness but denying its power.  Wickedness will increase, causing the love of most people to grow cold.  The very nature of the Tribulation is that of wrath. It will be a time of “great distress” (Jer. 30:7). Things will get bad and then they will get worse. The suffering will be greater than anything the world has ever seen before.  This is why Jesus points out how difficult the time will be for pregnant women and nursing mothers (Mt. 24:19).

When I think about the suffering in the world today, it is easy to understand why so many people think we are in the midst of the Tribulation now. While we can conclude a number of things about the Tribulation, it is important to realize our conclusions are tempered by where we stand – with Christ or without Him. If we are among those who have confessed Jesus as Lord and Savior the Bible affirms we will be raptured before the Tribulation and will not be present during that time. If we are believers, God will provide for us today and tomorrow. It is clear Jesus does not appoint the church to wrath, but to salvation. With that in mind, those who know Christ have nothing to fear. Whatever the future holds, God is in control.

However, the application of this Bible truth is far different for the unbeliever. A choice must be made by each of us in this life and this choice will determine our eternal destination (and if we will enter the Tribulation if it occurs while we are still living on earth). Those who have been made righteous by faith in Christ will have eternal life in heaven, but those who reject Christ will be sent to eternal punishment in hell (Mt. 25:46). God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but desires all men to turn from their ways so that they can live eternally with Him (Ezek. 33:11).

How can we avoid eternal wrath in Hell and receive eternal life in heaven? There is only one way—through faith in Jesus Christ. The Bible is clear on what determines our eternal destination—whether we have faith in Christ and trust Him to save us from our sins. Christ’s simple way is the only way and it alone leads to eternal life. Jesus said, “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).

Posted in Doctrine | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 19 Comments

Assurance of Salvation

salvation_insideTo Him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before His glorious presence without fault and with great joy (Jude 24).

It would be a terrible thing for children (or adults!) to wonder how they fit in their families. While that is terrible in an earthly family, it is even more unsettling in the spiritual family. Many Christians live with the thought that they are just not sure how God sees them. Is He in a good mood or a judgmental mood? Are they in the family or has their Father decided He has had enough?

What a horrible way to live! How incredibly sad for children of the King to live as beggars! I am surely not being critical. I find it heartbreaking for people whose sin debt has been paid in full to squirm under the uncertainty of whether they belong in the family of God. Let’s look at some basic reasons why people tend to doubt their salvation:

The first reason is because of sin in their lives. Sin brings a feeling of estrangement from God, a feeling of isolation. John warns Christians to take a close inventory of their salvation if they continue to sin and do so merrily, often, and long: “No one who is born of God will continue to sin because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning because he has been born of God” (1 John 3:9). If sin is the constant bent of our lives, we should worry about our salvation. The non-Christian can sin all day long and not sense any isolation from God; only His children experience a lack of harmony with their Father.

The second reason people doubt their salvation is because of false teaching. This false teaching is primarily in two camps. The first camp includes liberal pastors who do not hold to the view that the entire Bible is the Word of God. They discount certain parts, verses, and authors. False teaching that deletes portions of the Bible certainly leads to doubts of salvation. The other camp includes teachers who strongly believe the Word of God from cover to cover, but overemphasize human performance.

The third reason people doubt their salvation is because of an overemphasis on emotions. There are those who place a lot of importance on “feel good” religion. Now, I am all for joy in the Christian life, but when the entire Christian life is based on emotions rather than doctrine, assurance of salvation is rare. Heartaches will come. Financial setbacks come. Sorrows come. Disappointments come. This is the reality of living in a fallen world. We can’t live on feelings. The Christian life is not always going to feel euphoric.

The fourth reason people doubt their salvation is because of failure to take God at His Word. Sometimes, I meet people and they say, “Well, I used to be saved.” I ask, “How did you get lost?” They name something they’ve done or thought. Then, I remind them what John wrote, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). If we take God at His Word – and He is indeed trustworthy – we will not wonder if we were bad enough to lose our salvation (or good enough to keep it, for that matter!). Let me put it another way: if I came up to you and said, “I am very happy you’re reading my book,” and you responded, “Oh, I don’t really believe you mean that!” you would be doubting my sincerity. That is exactly what we do when we doubt what God has promised about our salvation in His Word. We doubt His trustworthiness.

The fifth reason people doubt their salvation is because of satanic attacks. Satan will be happy to whisper, “Look at you. Look how you’re acting. A Christian doesn’t act like that.” Not only will Satan whisper that, but he often uses others as his unsuspecting agents. A mother scolds her child, “A Christian girl wouldn’t behave like that!” What conclusion is the little girl supposed to reach? And the mother can’t understand why her daughter doesn’t have assurance of her salvation.

Satan is the accuser of the brethren. We need the Word of God to answer Him. There are two truths God wants us to understand to counter the enemies of assurance.

The first truth God wants us to understand is His will for our salvation. “He desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). God’s desire is for us to be saved, not for us to be condemned. Peter tell us He is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). God is standing with open arms, just like the father of the prodigal son, to welcome us into His family.

The second truth God wants us to understand is the provision He has made for our salvation. He gave “His life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). “He Himself bore our sins on His own body” (1 Peter 2:24). He paid the price for our salvation. Jesus died in our place, so we could belong to God.

What earthly father would provide everything his child needs, only for the child to wonder, “Are you sure you want me to have it, Daddy?” Of course, that is what he wants. He is grieved his child is so insecure of his love. Your heavenly Father is the same way. He has provided everything you need for salvation and is grieved when you think otherwise.

We still have a responsibility, though. Jesus did not die, rise again, and ascend into heaven to automatically save us. The Bible does not teach universal salvation (that is, all people by virtue of the fact they’re created are Christians). We need to believe in Christ and receive Him as our very own. There must be a personal and definite decision. Jesus said, “Whoever hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life” (John 5:24).

Those who were saved very young often need to reaffirm or make sure of their salvation later in life. This does not insult God. Teens, especially, go through a long process of making sure they are making their own choices and not resting on their parents’ decisions for them. They may need to resettle the issue. Don’t be alarmed. People are different and God deals with us where we are.

One of the most frequently asked questions I hear is, “How can I know I’m saved?” That is the dilemma of many people. Maybe you are wondering about your salvation. You have prayed, you have read the Scripture, you have done everything you know to do, but you still don’t have any assurance of your salvation. John wrote his epistle so his audience could know without a doubt they were part of God’s family. You can know as well. Tell God you are ready to settle this issue once and for all. Tell Him you are taking Him at His Word. Salvation is not a feeling; it is a fact based on the finished work of Christ at Calvary.

Enjoyed this post? Read more in my book, Back to the Basics: A Guide for Christian Living.COVER

 

Posted in Doctrine | Tagged , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

Free Book Giveaway!

COVERFor a limited time, I am giving away free copies of my new book, Back to the Basics: A Guide for Christian Living. Read the book’s description below and let me know if you would like a copy.

Do you every find yourself wondering, “Why must there be consequences to actions? What are the benefits of waiting for God’s will and how would I even know what that is? How can I stand strong in my faith against society’s ungodly pressures? How does my relationship from the past affect my relationship with God now? Is there a secret to contentment? How can I be secure in my salvation? What happens when I die?”

Back to the Basics addresses all these questions and more. It is not a lofty theological work, nor is it an academic commentary. Instead, Pastor Joe Quatrone, Jr. has prepared a friendly, easy-to-use help system for every believer. This practical and easy-to-apply book will show you how to put God’s Word to work in your daily life. This book will enhance your understanding of the way life was meant to be lived.

Don’t let your present condition rob you of the joy of knowing Christ or keep you from growing closer to Him. God will most certainly continue on to completion the good work He began in you!

Posted in My New Book | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 63 Comments

What Do You Know For Sure? Part 2 (1 John 5:6–21)

victory-in-jesusIn Part 1 of this article, we saw the life that is real is built on the divine certainties that are found in Jesus Christ. The world may accuse the Christian of being proud and dogmatic, but this does not keep him from saying, “I know!” In these closing verses of John’s letter, we find two more Christian certainties on which we can build our lives with confidence.

CHRISTIANS DO NOT PRACTICE SIN (1 John 5:16–19)

“Anyone born of God does not practice sin” (1 Jn. 5:18). Occasional sins are not here in view, but habitual sins, the practice of sin. Since a believer has a new nature (“God’s seed,” 1 Jn. 3:9), he has new desires and appetites, and is not interested in sin.

A Christian faces three enemies, all of which want to lead him into sin: the devil, the world, and the flesh.

Our first enemy is the devil. The world “is under the control of the evil one” (1 Jn. 5:19), Satan—“the god of this age” (2 Cor. 4:3–4) and “the prince of this world” (Jn. 14:30). He is the spirit who works in “the children of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2). Satan has many devices for leading a believer into sin. He tells lies, as he did to Eve (Gen. 3; 2 Cor. 11:1–3), and when men believe his lies they turn away from and disobey God’s truth. Or, Satan may inflict physical suffering, as he did with Job and Paul (2 Cor. 12:7–9). In David’s case, Satan used pride as his weapon; he urged David to number the people and in this way defy God (1 Chron. 21). Satan is like a serpent who deceives (Rev. 12:9) and a lion who devours (1 Pet. 5:8–9). He is a formidable enemy.

Our second enemy is the world (1 Jn. 2:15, 17). It is easy for us to yield to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life! The atmosphere around us makes it hard for us to keep our minds pure and our hearts true to God.

Our third enemy is the flesh: the old nature we were born with and which is still with us. True, we have a new nature (the divine seed, 1 Jn. 3:9) within us, but we do not always yield to our new nature.

Then how does a believer keep from sinning? 1 John 5:18 gives the answer: Jesus Christ keeps the believer, so the enemy cannot get his hands on him. “He [Christ] who was born of God keeps the believer safe and the evil one cannot harm him.” Of course, it is true a Christian must keep himself in the love of God (Jude 21), but it is not true he must depend on himself to overcome Satan.

Peter’s experience with Satan helps us to understand this truth. “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat.  But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers” (Lk. 22:31–32). To begin with, Satan cannot touch any believer without God’s permission. Satan wanted to sift all the disciples and Jesus gave him permission. But Jesus prayed especially for Peter and His prayer was answered. Peter’s faith did not ultimately fail, even though his courage failed. Peter was restored and became a mighty and effective soul-winner.

Whenever Satan attacks us, we can be sure God gave him permission. And if God gave him permission, He will also give us power to overcome because God will never permit us to be tested above our strength (1 Cor. 10:13).

One of the characteristics of “spiritual young men” is their ability to overcome the evil one (1 Jn. 2:13–14). Their secret? “The Word of God abides in them.” Part of the armor of God is the sword of the Spirit (Eph. 6:17) and this sword overcomes Satan.

When a believer sins, he can confess his sin and be forgiven (1 Jn. 1:9), but a believer dare not play with sin because sin is “lawlessness” (1 Jn. 3:4). A person who practices sin proves he belongs to Satan (1 Jn. 3:7–10).

God warns that sin can lead to physical death! While “all unrighteousness is sin,” some sin is worse than other sin. All sin is hateful to God and should be hateful to a believer, but some sin is punished with death. John tells us (1 Jn. 5:16–17) about the case of a brother (a believer) whose life was taken because of sin.

The Old Testament also mentions people who died because of their sin. Nadab and Abihu, the two sons of Aaron the priest, died because they deliberately disobeyed God (Lev. 10:1–7). Korah and his clan opposed God and died (Num. 16). Achan was stoned because he disobeyed Joshua’s orders from God at Jericho (Josh. 6–7). A man named Uzzah touched the ark and God killed him (2 Sam. 6).

“But those are Old Testament examples!” someone may argue. “John is writing to New Testament believers who live under grace!”

To whom much is given, much is required. A believer today has a far greater responsibility to obey God than did the Old Testament saints. We have a complete Bible, we have the full revelation of God’s grace, and we have the Holy Spirit living within us to help us obey God.

There are also cases in the New Testament of believers who lost their lives because they disobeyed God. Ananias and Sapphira lied to God about their offering and they both died (Acts 5:1–11). Some believers at Corinth died because of the way they had acted at the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:30). 1 Corinthians 5:1–5 suggests a certain offender would have died had he not repented and confessed his sin (2 Cor. 2:6–8).

If a believer does not judge, confess, and forsake sin, God must chasten him. This process is described in Hebrews 12:1–13, which suggests a person who does not subject himself to the Father will not live (Heb. 12:9). In other words, first God “spanks” his rebellious children, and if they do not yield to His will, He may remove them from the world lest their disobedience lead others astray and bring further disgrace to His name.

“The sin unto death” is not some one specific sin. Rather, it is a kind of sin—it is the sort of sin that leads to death. With Nadab and Abihu, it was their presumption in taking the priest’s office and entering the holy of holies. In the case of Achan, it was covetousness. Ananias and Sapphira were guilty of hypocrisy and even lying to the Holy Spirit.

If a Christian sees a brother committing sin, he should pray for him (1 Jn. 5:16), asking that he confess his sin and return to fellowship with the Father. But if in his praying, he does not sense he is asking in God’s will (as instructed in 1 Jn. 5:14–15), then he should not pray for the brother. “So do not pray for this people, nor offer any plea or petition for them; do not plead with me, for I will not listen to you” (Jer. 7:16).

James 5:14–20 somewhat parallels 1 John 5:16–17. James describes a believer who is sick, possibly because of his sin. He sends for the elders, who come to him and pray for him. The prayer of faith heals him and if he has sinned his sins are forgiven. “The prayer of faith” is prayer in the will of God, as described in 1 John 5:14–15. It is “praying in the Holy Spirit” (Jude 20).

Christians do not deliberately practice sin. They have the divine nature within; Jesus Christ guards them, and they do not want God’s discipline.

THE CHRISTIAN LIFE IS THE REAL LIFE (1 John 5:20–21)

Jesus Christ is the true God. We know Him who is true and we are in Him who is true. We have the real thing! “We know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know Him who is true. And we are in Him who is true by being in His Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life” (1 Jn. 5:20). Reality has been the theme throughout John’s letter and now we are reminded of it again.

John was probably writing to believers in the city of Ephesus, a city given over to the worship of idols. The temple of Diana, one of the wonders of the ancient world, was located in Ephesus, and the making and selling of idols was one of the chief occupations of the people there (Acts 19:21–41). Surrounded by idolatry, Christians there were under tremendous pressure to conform.

“We know there is no such thing as an idol in the world and there is no God but one” (1 Cor. 8:4). In other words, an idol has no real existence. The tragedy of idolatry is that a dead image can do a worshiper no good because it is not genuine. Hebrew writers in the Old Testament called idols “nothings, vain things, vapors, emptiness.” An idol is a lifeless, useless substitute for the real thing.

The Psalms contain caustic indictments of idolatry (Ps. 115:1–8; 135:15–18). To human vision, an idol looks real—eyes, ears, mouth, nose, hands, feet—but these are useless imitations of the real thing. The eyes are blind, the ears are deaf, the mouth is silent, the hands and feet are paralyzed. But the real tragedy is that “those who make them will become like them, and so will all who trust in them” (Ps. 115:8). We become like the god we worship!

This is the secret of the life that is real. Since we have met the true God, through His Son Jesus Christ, we are in contact with reality. Our fellowship is with a God who is genuine. As we have seen the word “real” means “the original as opposed to a copy” and “the authentic as opposed to an imitation.” Jesus Christ is the true Light (Jn. 1:9), true Bread (Jn. 6:32), true Vine (Jn. 15:1), and Truth itself (Jn. 14:6). He is the Original; everything else is a copy. He is authentic; everything else is only an imitation.

Christians live in an atmosphere of reality. Most unsaved people live in an atmosphere of pretense and sham. Christians have been given spiritual discernment to know the true from the false, but the unsaved do not have this understanding. Christians do not simply choose between good and bad; they choose between true and false. An idol represents that which is false and empty; and a person who lives for idols will himself become false and empty.

Few people today bow to idols of wood and metal. Nevertheless, other idols capture their attention and affection. Covetousness, for example, is idolatry (Col. 3:5). A man may worship his bankbook or his stock portfolio just as fervently as a so-called heathen worships his ugly idol. “Worship the Lord your God and serve Him only” (Matt. 4:10). The thing we serve is the thing we worship! Whatever controls our lives and “calls the signals” is our god.

This explains why God warns us against the sin of idolatry. Not only is it a violation of His commandment (Ex. 20:1–6), but it is a subtle way for Satan to take control of us. When “things” take God’s place in our lives, we are guilty of idolatry. This means we are living for the unreal instead of for the real.

To a man of the world the Christian life is unreal and the worldly life is real. This is because a man of the world lives by what he sees and feels (things) and not by what God says in His Word. An idol is a temporal thing, Jesus Christ is eternal God. “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Cor. 4:18).

Like Moses, a Christian “endures because he saw Him who is invisible” (Heb. 11:27). Faith is “the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). Noah had never seen a flood, yet by faith he “saw” it coming and did what God told him to do. Abraham “saw” a heavenly city and country by faith, and was willing to forsake his own earthly home to follow God. All of the great heroes of faith named in Hebrews 11 accomplished what they did because they “saw the invisible” by faith. In other words, they were in contact with reality.

The world boasts of its enlightenment, but a Christian walks in the real light because God is light. The world talks about love, but it knows nothing of the real love which a Christian experiences because “God is love.” The world displays its wisdom and learning, but a Christian lives in truth because “the Spirit is truth.” God is light, love, and truth; and these together make a life that is real.

“But it makes no difference what a man believes so long as he is sincere!” This popular excuse hardly needs refutation. Does it make any difference what the pharmacist believes, or the surgeon, or the chemist? It makes all the difference in the world!

A Christian has “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God” (1 Thes. 1:9). Idols are dead, but Christ is the living God. Idols are false, but Christ is the true God. This is the secret of the life that is real!

So John’s admonition, “Keep yourselves from idols,” can be paraphrased, “Watch out for the imitation and the artificial! Be real!”

* This concludes our study of the Apostle John’s first letter. I hope you have enjoyed and benefited from this series.

Posted in Book of 1 John | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

What Do You Know For Sure? Part 1 (1 John 5:6–21)

1Jn 5-13Welcome back to our series in the Apostle John’s first letter. This will be the last article in our study of this inspiring portion of Scripture.

“Nothing is certain but death and taxes.” Benjamin Franklin wrote those words in 1789. Of course, a wise man like Franklin knew many other things are also certain. The Christian knows there are many certainties. Of spiritual truth, Christians are not afraid to say, “We know!” In fact, the word know occurs thirty-nine times in John’s brief letter, eight times in this closing chapter.

Man has a deep desire for certainty and he will even dabble in the occult in his effort to find out something for sure. A businessman having dinner with his pastor said to him, “Do you see those offices across the street? In them sit some of the most influential business leaders in this town. Many of them used to come over here regularly to consult a fortune-teller. She isn’t here anymore, but a few years ago you could count up the millions of dollars in this room as men waited to consult her.”

The life that is real is built on the divine certainties that are found in Jesus Christ. The world may accuse the Christian of being proud and dogmatic, but this does not keep him from saying, “I know!” In these closing verses of John’s letter, we find five Christian certainties on which we can build our lives with confidence.

JESUS IS GOD (1 John 5:6–10)

In 1 John 5:1–5, emphasis is placed on trusting Jesus Christ. A person who trusts Christ is born of God and is able to overcome the world. To believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God is basic to Christian experience.

But how do we know Jesus is God? Some of His contemporaries called Him a liar and a deceiver (Matt. 27:63). Others have suggested He was a religious fanatic, a madman, or perhaps a Jewish patriot who was sincere, but sadly mistaken. The people to whom John was writing were exposed to a popular false teaching that Jesus was merely a man on whom “the Christ” had come when Jesus was baptized. On the cross, “the Christ” left Jesus and so He died like any other human being. John refutes this false teaching and tells us Jesus is God.

People often say, “I wish I could have faith!” But everybody lives by faith! All day long, people trust one another. They trust the doctor and the pharmacist; they trust the cook in the restaurant; they even trust the person driving in the other lane on the highway. If we can trust men, why can we not trust God? To not trust God is to make Him a liar!

Jesus is God: this is the first Christian certainty and it is foundational to everything else.

BELIEVERS HAVE ETERNAL LIFE (1 John 5:11–13)

“I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know you have eternal life” (1 Jn. 5:13).

Eternal life is a gift; it is not something we earn (Jn. 10:27–29; Eph. 2:8–9). This gift is a Person—Jesus Christ. We receive eternal life not only from Christ, but in Christ. “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 Jn. 5:12).

This gift is received by faith. God has gone on record in His Word as offering eternal life to those who will believe on Jesus Christ. Millions of Christians have proved that God’s record is true. To not believe it is to make God a liar and if God is a liar, nothing is certain.

God wants His children to know they belong to Him. John was inspired by the Spirit to write his Gospel to assure us that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (Jn. 20:31). He wrote this epistle so we may be sure we are the children of God (1 Jn. 5:13).

It would be helpful at this point to review the characteristics of God’s children:

  • “Everyone who practices righteousness is born of Him” (1 Jn. 2:29).
  • “No one who is born of God practices sin” (1 Jn. 3:9).
  • “We know we have passed from death to life because we love the brethren” (1 Jn. 3:14).
  • “Let us love one another, for love comes from God.       Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.” (1 Jn. 4:7).
  • “Everyone born of God overcomes the world” (1 Jn. 5:4).

If you bear these “birthmarks,” you can say with confidence you are a child of God.

GOD ANSWERS PRAYER (1 John 5:14–15)

It is one thing to know Jesus is God and that we are God’s children, but what about the needs and problems of daily life? Jesus helped people when He was here on earth; does He still help them?  Earthly fathers take care of their children; does the heavenly Father respond when His children call on Him?

Christians have confidence in prayer, just as they have confidence as they await the judgment (1 Jn. 2:28; 4:17). As we have seen the word confidence means “freedom of speech.” We can come to the Father freely and tell Him our needs.

Of course, there are conditions we must meet. First, we must have a heart that does not condemn us (1 Jn. 3:21–22). Unconfessed sin is a serious obstacle to answered prayer (Ps. 66:18). It is worth noting that differences between a Christian husband and his wife can hinder their prayers (1 Pet. 3:1–7). If there is anything between us and any other Christian, we must settle it (Matt. 5:23–25). Unless a believer is abiding in Christ, in love and obedience, his prayers will not be answered (Jn. 15:7).

Second, we must pray in God’s will. “Your will be done” (Matt. 6:10). Prayer is a mighty instrument, not for getting man’s will done in heaven, but for getting God’s will done on earth. Prayer is not overcoming God’s reluctance. It is laying hold of God’s willingness.

There are times when we can only pray, “Not my will, but Yours be done” because we simply do not know God’s will in a matter. But most of the time we can determine God’s will by reading the Word, listening to the Spirit (Rom. 8:26–27), and discerning the circumstances around us. Our very faith to ask God for something is often proof that He wants to give it (Heb. 11:1).

There are many promises in the Bible that we can claim in prayer. God has promised to supply our needs (Phil. 4:19)—not our greeds! If we are obeying His will and really need something, He will supply it in His way and in His time.

“But if it is God’s will for me to have a thing, then why should I pray about it?” Because prayer is the way God wants His children to get what they need. God not only ordains the end, but He also ordains the means to the end—prayer. The more you think about it the more wonderful this arrangement becomes. Prayer is really the thermometer of the spiritual life. God has ordained that I maintain a close walk with Him if I expect Him to meet my needs.

John does not write, “We might have the requests,” but, “We know we have the requests” (1 Jn. 5:15). The verb is present tense. We may not see the answer to a prayer immediately, but we have inner confidence that God has answered. This confidence, or faith, is “the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). It is God witnessing to us that He has heard and answered.

What breathing is to a physical man, prayer is to a spiritual man. If we do not pray, we will faint (“give up”) (Lk. 18:1). Prayer is not only the utterance of the lips; it is also the desire of the heart. “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thes. 5:17) does not mean that a Christian is always saying an audible prayer. We are not heard for our many words (Matt. 6:7). No, “Pray without ceasing” suggests the attitude of the heart as well as the words of the lips. A Christian who has his heart fixed on Christ and is trying to glorify Him is praying constantly even when he is not conscious of it.

Charles Spurgeon, the famous preacher, was working hard on a message, but was unable to complete it. It grew late and his wife said, “Why don’t you go to bed. I’ll wake you up early and you can finish your sermon in the morning.”

Spurgeon dozed off and in his sleep began to preach the sermon that was giving him so much trouble! His wife wrote down what he said and the next morning gave her preacher-husband the notes.

“Why, that’s exactly what I wanted to say!” exclaimed the surprised preacher. The message had been in his heart; it had simply needed expression. So it is with prayer: if we are abiding in Christ the very desires of our heart are heard by God whether we voice them or not.

The pages of the Bible and the pages of history are filled with reports of answered prayer. Prayer is not spiritual self-hypnosis; we do not pray because it makes us feel better. We pray because God has commanded us to pray and because prayer is the God-appointed means for a believer to receive what God wants to give him. Prayer keeps a Christian in the will of God and living in the will of God keeps a Christian in the place of blessing and service. We are not beggars; we are children coming to a wealthy Father who loves to give His children what they need.

While He was God in the flesh, Jesus depended on prayer. He lived on earth, as we must, in dependence on the Father. He arose early in the morning to pray (Mk. 1:35), though He had been up late the night before healing the multitudes. He sometimes spent all night in prayer (Lk. 6:12). In the Garden of Gethsemane, He prayed with “fervent cries and tears” (Heb. 5:7). On the cross, He prayed three times. If the sinless Son of God needed to pray, how much more do we?

The most important thing about prayer is the will of God. We must take time to ascertain what God’s will is in a matter, especially searching in the Bible for promises or principles that apply to our situation. Once we know the will of God, we can pray with confidence and then wait for Him to reveal the answer.

To be continued…

Posted in Book of 1 John | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 29 Comments

Love, Honor, and Obey: Part 2 (1 John 4:17–5:5)

1 Jn 5_4In Part 1 of this article, we looked at two evidences of mature Christian love: confidence and honesty. As we continue our study in John’s letter, he gives two more evidences.

JOYFUL OBEDIENCE (1 John 5:1–3)

Not simply obedience—but joyful obedience! “His commandments are not burdensome” (1 Jn. 5:3).

Everything in creation—except man—obeys the will of God. “Lightning and hail, snow and clouds, stormy winds that do His bidding” (Ps. 148:8). In the Book of Jonah, you see the winds, waves, and even the fish obeying God’s commands, but the prophet persisted in disobeying. Even a plant and a little worm did what God commanded, but the prophet stubbornly wanted his own way.

Disobedience to God’s will is a tragedy—but so is reluctant, grudging obedience. God does not want us to disobey Him, but neither does He want us to obey out of fear or necessity. What Paul wrote about giving also applies to living: “not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7).

What is the secret of joyful obedience? It is to recognize obedience is a family matter. We are serving a loving Father and helping our brothers and sisters in Christ. We have been born of God, we love God, and we love God’s children. Therefore, we demonstrate this love by keeping His commandments.

A woman visited a newspaper editor’s office, hoping to sell him some poems she had written.

“What are your poems about?” the editor asked.

“They’re about love!” gushed the poetess.

The editor settled back in his chair and said, “Well, read me a poem. The world could certainly use a lot more love!”

The poem she read was filled with moons and Junes and other sticky sentiments, and it was more than the editor could take.

“I’m sorry,” he said, “but you just don’t know what love is all about! It’s not moonlight and roses. It’s sitting up all night at a sickbed, or working extra hours so the kids can have new shoes. The world doesn’t need your brand of poetical love. It needs some good old-fashioned practical love.”

D.L. Moody often said, “Every Bible should be bound in shoe leather.” We show our love to God, not by empty words but by willing works. We are not slaves obeying a master; we are children obeying a Father. Our sin is a family affair.

One of the tests of maturing love is our personal attitude toward the Bible because in the Bible we find God’s will for our lives revealed. An unsaved man considers the Bible an impossible book, mainly because he does not understand its spiritual message (1 Cor. 2:14). An immature Christian considers the demands of the Bible to be burdensome. He is somewhat like a little child who is learning to obey, and who asks, “Why do I have to do that?” or “Wouldn’t it be better to do this?”

But a Christian who experiences God’s perfecting love finds himself enjoying the Word of God and truly loving it. He does not read the Bible as a textbook, but as a love letter.

The longest chapter in the Bible is Psalm 119 and its theme is the Word of God. Every verse but two (vv. 122, 132) mentions the Word of God in one form or another, as “law,” “precepts,” “commandments,” etc. But the interesting thing is that the psalmist loves the Word of God and enjoys telling us about it! “Oh, how I love your law!” (v. 97). He rejoices in the Law (vv. 14, 162) and delights in it (vv. 16, 24). It is honey to his taste (v. 103). In fact, he turns God’s Law into a song: “Your statutes have been my songs in the house of my pilgrimage” (v. 54).

Imagine turning statutes into songs. Suppose the local symphony presented a concert of the traffic code set to music! Most of us do not consider laws a source of joyful song, but this is the way the psalmist looked at God’s Law. Because he loved the Lord, he loved His Law. God’s commandments were not grievous and burdensome to him. Just as a loving son or daughter happily obeys his father’s command, so a Christian with perfecting love joyfully obeys God’s command.

At this point, we can review and understand the practical meaning of “maturing love” in our daily lives. As our love for the Father matures, we have confidence and are no longer afraid of His will. We also are honest toward others and lose our fear of being rejected. And we have a new attitude toward the Word of God: it is the expression of God’s love and we enjoy obeying it. Confidence toward God, honesty toward others, and joyful obedience are the marks of perfecting love and the ingredients that make up a happy Christian life.

We can see too how sin ruins all this. When we disobey God, we lose our confidence toward Him. If we do not immediately confess our sin and claim His forgiveness (1 Jn. 1:9), we must start pretending in order to cover up. Disobedience leads to dishonesty and both turn our hearts away from the Word of God. Instead of reading the Bible with joy to discover the Father’s will, we ignore the Word or perhaps read it in a routine way.

The burden of religion (man trying to please God in his own strength) is a grievous one (Matt. 23:4), but the yoke Christ puts on us is not burdensome at all (Matt. 11:28–30). Love lightens burdens. Jacob had to work for seven years to win the woman he loved, but the Bible tells us “they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her” (Gen. 29:20). Perfecting love produces joyful obedience.

VICTORY (1 John 5:4–5)

What does victory have to do with maturing love? Christians live in a real world and are surrounded with formidable obstacles. It is not easy to obey God. It is much easier to drift with the world, disobey Him, and “do your own thing.”

But the Christian is “born of God.” This means he has the divine nature within him and it is impossible for this divine nature to disobey God. “For everyone born of God overcomes the world” (1 Jn. 5:4). If the old nature is in control of us, we disobey God; but if the new nature is in control, we obey God. The world appeals to the old nature (1 Jn. 2:15–17) and tries to make God’s commandments seem burdensome.

Our victory is a result of faith and we grow in faith as we grow in love. The more you love someone the easier it is to trust him. The more our love for Christ is perfected the more our faith in Christ is perfected because faith and love mature together.

The word overcome is a favorite with John. He uses it in 1 John 2:13–14 with reference to overcoming the devil. He uses it seven times in the Book of Revelation to describe believers and the blessings they receive (2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21). He is not describing a special class of believers. Rather, he is using the word overcomer (“victorious”) as a name for the true Christian. Because we have been born of God, we are overcomers.

We are told that a soldier in the army of Alexander the Great was not acting bravely in battle. When he should have been pressing ahead, he was lingering behind. The great general approached him and asked, “What is your name, soldier?”

The man replied, “My name, sir, is Alexander.”

The general looked him straight in the eye and said firmly: “Soldier, get in there and fight—or change your name!”

What is our name? “Children of God—the born-again ones of God.” Alexander the Great wanted his name to be a symbol of courage; our name carries with it assurance of victory. To be born of God means to share God’s victory.

This is a victory of faith, but faith in what? Faith in Jesus Christ the Son of God! Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes Jesus is the Son of God (1 Jn. 5:5). It is not faith in ourselves, but faith in Christ that gives us the victory. “In the world you will have trouble, but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (Jn. 16:33).

Identification with Christ in His victory reminds us of the several times we have read “as He is” in John’s letter. “As He is, so are we in this world” (1 Jn. 4:17). We should walk in the light “as He is in the light” (1 Jn. 1:7). If we claim to abide in Him, then we should conduct ourselves as He conducted Himself (1 Jn. 2:6). His children are to be, on earth, what He is in heaven. It is only necessary for us to claim this wonderful position by faith—and to act on it.

When Jesus Christ died, we died with Him. Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ” (Gal. 2:20). When Christ was buried, we were buried with Him. When He arose, we arose with Him. “We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Rom. 6:4).

When Christ ascended to heaven, we ascended with Him and are now seated with Him in heavenly places (Eph. 2:6). When Christ returns, we will share His exaltation. “When Christ, who is your life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory” (Col. 3:4).

All these verses describe our spiritual position in Christ. When we claim this position by faith, we share His victory. When God raised Jesus from the dead, He “seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named … and He put all things in subjection under His feet” (Eph. 1:20–22). This means that, positionally, each child of God is privileged to sit far above all his enemies!

Where a man sits determines how much authority he may exercise. The man who sits in the general manager’s chair has a restricted sphere of authority; the man who sits in the vice president’s chair exercises more control. But the man behind the desk marked president exercises the most authority. No matter where he may be in the factory or office, he is respected and obeyed because of where he sits. His power is determined by his position, not by his personal appearance or the way he feels.

So with a child of God: his authority is determined by his position in Christ. When he trusted Christ, he was identified with Him by the Holy Spirit and made a member of His body (1 Cor. 12:12–13). His old life has been buried and he has been raised to a new life of glory. In Christ, he is sitting on the very throne of the universe!

A Civil War veteran used to wander from place to place, begging a bed and bite to eat and always talking about his friend, “Mr. Lincoln.” Because of his injuries, he was unable to hold a steady job, but as long as he could keep going, he would chat about his beloved President.

“You say you knew Mr. Lincoln,” a skeptical bystander retorted one day. “I’m not so sure you did. Prove it!”

The old man replied, “Why, sure, I can prove it. In fact, I have a piece of paper here that Mr. Lincoln himself signed and gave to me.” From his old wallet the man took out a much-folded piece of paper and showed it to the man.

“I’m not much for reading, but I know that’s Mr. Lincoln’s signature. Do you know what you have here?” he asked. “You have a generous federal pension authorized by President Lincoln. You don’t have to walk around like a poor beggar! Mr. Lincoln has made you rich!”

To paraphrase what John wrote: “You Christians do not have to walk around defeated because Jesus Christ has made you victors! He has defeated every enemy and you share His victory. Now, by faith, claim His victory!”

The key, of course, is faith, but this has always been God’s key to victory. The great men and women named in Hebrews 11 all won their victories “by faith.” They simply took God at His word and acted on it, and He honored their faith and gave them victory. Faith is not simply saying what God says is true. True faith is acting on what God says because it is true. Someone has said that faith is not so much believing in spite of evidence, but obeying in spite of consequence.

Victorious faith is the result of maturing love. The better we come to know and love Jesus Christ the easier it is to trust Him with the needs and battles of life. It is important that this maturing love become a regular and practical thing in our daily lives.

How does a believer go about experiencing this kind of love and the blessings that flow from it? To begin with, this kind of love must be cultivated. It is not the result of a hit-or-miss friendship! A previous study pointed out that a believer slips back into the world by stages:

  1. Friendship with the world (Jas. 4:4)
  2. Polluted by the world (Jas. 1:27)
  3. Loving the world (1 Jn. 2:15–17)
  4. Conformed to the world (Rom. 12:2)

In a similar way, our relationship to Jesus grows by stages:

First, we must cultivate friendship with Christ. Abraham was “God’s friend” (Jas. 2:23) because he separated himself from the world and did what God told him. His life was not perfect, but when he sinned, he confessed and went right back to walking with God.

Second, this friendship will begin to influence our lives. As we read the Word, pray, and fellowship with God’s people, Christian graces will start to show up in us. Our thoughts will be cleaner, our conversation more meaningful, and our desires more wholesome. But we will not be suddenly and totally changed; it will be a gradual process.

Third, our friendship with Christ and our becoming like Him will lead to a deeper love for Christ. On the human level, friendship often leads to love. On the divine level, friendship with Christ must to lead to love. “We love Him because He first loved us” (1 Jn. 4:19). The Word of God reveals His love to us, and the indwelling Spirit of God makes this love more and more real to us. This love is worked out in our lives in daily obedience. Christian love is not a passing emotion; it is a permanent devotion, a deep desire to please Christ and to do His will.

Finally, the more we know Him the better we love Him, and the better we love Him the more we become like Him—“conformed to the image of His Son” (Rom. 8:29). Of course, we will not be completely conformed to Christ until we see Him (1 Jn. 3:1–3), but we begin the process now.

What an exciting way to live! As God’s love is perfected in us, we have confidence toward Him and do not live in fear. Because fear is cast out, we can be honest and open; there is no need to pretend and our obedience to His commands is born out of love, not terror. We discover His commandments are not burdensome. Finally, living in this atmosphere of love, honesty, and joyful obedience, we are able to face the world with victorious faith and to overcome instead of being overcome.

The place to begin is not in some daring, dramatic experience. The place to begin is in the quiet, personal place of prayer. Peter wanted to give his life for Jesus, but when he was asked to pray, Peter went to sleep (Lk. 22:31–33, 39–46). A believer who spends time reading the Word, meditating on it, and worshiping Christ in prayer and praise will experience this perfecting love. When it begins, he will know it—and others will know it. His life will be marked by confidence, honesty, joyful obedience, and victory!

Posted in Book of 1 John | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

Back to the Basics: A Guide for Christian Living

COVERWith the Lord’s help, I wrote a book! Take a peak at the introduction below and order a copy if you like:

He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6).

Great confidence gripped the Apostle Paul as he thought and prayed for the body of Christ. Paul guaranteed the believers that God would consider them “blameless” when Christ returns. This guarantee was not because of their great gifts or shining performance, but because of what Jesus Christ had accomplished in them through His death and resurrection.

As with the Philippians, God will help you grow in grace until He has completed His work in your life. It is God’s work, not yours, so there is no question about the outcome. God’s work for you began when Christ died on the cross in your place. His work in you began when you first believed. Now the Holy Spirit is living in you, enabling you to be more like Christ every day. The God who began a good work in you continues it throughout your lifetime and will finish it when you meet Him face to face.

I do not know where you are on your personal spiritual journey. Perhaps you are exhausted and spent. Maybe you have recently experienced significant growth, or you may have settled on a comfortable plateau because of an uncertain future. But I do know this: God wants you to enjoy and complete the journey! He has pledged Himself to finish the good work He began in you at salvation and will keep you strong until the end.

Back to the Basics is not a lofty theological work, nor is it an academic commentary. Instead, I have prepared a friendly, easy-to-use help system for every believer. This practical and easy-to-apply book will show you how to put God’s Word to work in your daily life. This book will enhance your understanding of the way life was meant to be lived.

As believers, our desire is to follow the Lord more closely and to understand His Word for maximum impact in our lives. The book you are holding was not written to take the place of personal Bible study, but is a companion and compilation of the scriptural principles I have learned and applied to my own life. It is not exhaustive, but sheds light on many issues Christians are facing today.

It is divided into two major categories: Daily Living and Doctrine. Each section has topics you will find interesting, inspiring, stimulating, and refreshing. I suggest you read it according to your current need or interest. If you want to know how to live as a child of God in your practical day-to-day affairs, then read the section on Daily Living. If you want a better grasp on the fundamentals of your faith, then study the section on Doctrine.

If you are feeling discouraged, remember God won’t give up on you. If you are feeling incomplete, unfinished, or distressed by your shortcomings, remember God’s promise and provision. Don’t let your present condition rob you of the joy of knowing Christ or keep you from growing closer to Him. God will most certainly continue on to completion the good work He began in you!

Enjoy what you read? Order the full book here.

COVER

Posted in My New Book | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 34 Comments

Love, Honor, and Obey: Part 1 (1 John 4:17–5:5)

Perfect Love Cast Out FearThe prospective bridegroom was extremely nervous as he and his fiancée were discussing their wedding plans with their pastor. “I’d like to see a copy of the wedding vows,” the young man said and the pastor handed him the service. He read it carefully, handed it back, and said, “That won’t do! There’s nothing written in there about her obeying me!”

His fiancée smiled, took his hand, and said, “Honey, the word obey doesn’t have to be written in a book. It’s already written in love in my heart.”

This is the truth in view in this portion of 1 John. Up to this point the emphasis has been on Christians loving one another, but now we turn to a deeper—and more important—topic: a believer’s love for the Father. We cannot love our neighbor or our brother unless we love our heavenly Father. We must first love God with all our hearts; then we can love our neighbor as ourselves.

The key word in this section is perfect. God wants to perfect in us His love for us and our love for Him. The word perfect carries the idea of maturity and completeness. A believer is not only to grow in grace and knowledge (2 Pet. 3:18), but he is also to grow in his love for the Father. He does this in response to the Father’s love for him.

How much does God love us? Enough to send His Son to die for us (Jn. 3:16). He loves His children in the same way as He loves Christ (Jn. 17:23). And Jesus tells us the Father wants the love with which He loved the Son to be in His children (Jn. 17:26). In other words, the Christian life is to be a daily experience of growing in the love of God. It involves a Christian’s coming to know his heavenly Father in a much deeper way as he grows in love.

It is easy to fragment the Christian life and become preoccupied with individual pieces instead of the total picture. One group may emphasize “holiness” and urge its members to get victory over sin. Another may stress witnessing or “separation from the world.” But each of these emphases is really a by-product of something else: a believer’s growing love for the Father. Mature Christian love is the great universal need among God’s people. How can a believer know his love for the Father is being perfected? 1 John 4:17–5:5gives four evidences.

CONFIDENCE (1 John 4:17–19)

Two brand-new words come into John’s vocabulary here: fear and torment. And this is written to believers! It is possible that Christians can actually live in fear and torment. Unfortunately, many professed believers experience both fear and torment day after day. And the reason is because they are not growing in the love of God!

The word boldness can mean “confidence” or “freedom of speech.” It does not mean brazenness or brashness. A believer who experiences perfecting love grows in his confidence toward God. He has a reverential fear of God, not a tormenting fear. He is a son who respects his Father, not a prisoner who cringes before a judge.

We have adopted the Greek word for fear into our English vocabulary: phobia. All sorts of phobias are listed in psychology books; for instance, acrophobia—“fear of heights” and hydrophobia—“fear of water.” John is writing about krisisphobia—“fear of judgment.” John has already mentioned this solemn truth in 1 John 2:28 and now he deals with it again.

If people are afraid, it is because of something in the past that haunts them, something in the present that upsets them, or something in the future that threatens them. Or it may be a combination of all three. A believer in Jesus Christ does not have to fear the past, present, or future because he has experienced the love of God and this love is being perfected in him day by day.

“People are destined to die once and after that to face judgment” (Heb. 9:27). A Christian does not fear future judgment because Christ has suffered his judgment for him on the cross. “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). For a Christian, judgment is not future; it is past. His sins have been judged already at the cross and they will never be brought against him again. “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life and will not be judged, but has crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24).

The secret of our boldness is, “In this world, we are like Jesus” (1 Jn. 4:17). Positionally, we are right now “as He is.” We are so closely identified with Christ as members of His body that our position in this world is like His exalted position in heaven. This means the Father deals with us as He deals with His own beloved Son.

How, then, can we ever be afraid? We do not have to be afraid of the future because our sins were judged in Christ when He died on the cross.

We do not have to be afraid of the past because “He [God] first loved us.” From the very outset, our relationship to God was one of love. It was not that we loved Him, but that He loved us (1 Jn. 4:10). “For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life!” (Rom. 5:10). If God loved us when we were outside the family, disobeying Him, how much more does He love us now that we are His children!

We do not need to fear the present because “perfect love drives out fear” (1 Jn. 4:18). As we grow in the love of God, we cease to be fearful of what He will do.

Of course, there is a proper “fear of God,” but it is not the kind of fear that produces torment. “The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by Him we cry, ‘Abba Father ” (Rom. 8:15). “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline” (2 Tim. 1:7).

Fear is actually the beginning of torment. We torment ourselves as we contemplate what lies ahead. Many people suffer acutely when they contemplate a visit to the doctor. Think of how an unsaved person must suffer as he contemplates the day of judgment. But since a Christian has boldness in the day of judgment, he can have boldness as he faces life today, for there is no situation in life today that begins to compare with the terrible severity of the day of judgment.

God wants His children to live in an atmosphere of love and confidence, not fear and torment. We need not fear life or death, for we are being perfected in the love of God. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:35, 37–39). Imagine! Nothing in all creation—present or future—can come between us and God’s love!

The perfecting of God’s love in our lives is usually a matter of several stages. When we were lost, we lived in fear and knew nothing of God’s love. After we trusted Christ, we found a perplexing mixture of both fear and love in our hearts. As we grew in fellowship with the Father, gradually the fear vanished and our hearts were controlled by His love alone. An immature Christian is tossed between fear and love; a mature Christian rests in God’s love.

A growing confidence in the presence of God is one of the first evidences that our love for God is maturing. But confidence never stands alone; it always leads to other moral results.

HONESTY (1 John 4:20–21)

Here it is for the seventh time: “Whoever claims…!” We have met this important phrase several times in John’s letter and each time we knew what was coming: a warning against pretending.

Fear and pretense usually go together. In fact, they were born together when the first man and woman sinned. No sooner did Adam and Eve sense their guilt than they tried to hide from God and cover their nakedness, but neither their coverings nor their excuses could shelter them from God’s all-seeing eye. Adam finally had to admit, “I heard You in the garden and I was afraid” (Gen. 3:10).

But when our hearts are confident toward God, there is no need for us to pretend either to God or to other people. A Christian who lacks confidence with God will also lack confidence with God’s people. Part of the torment fear generates is the constant worry, “How much do others really know about me?” But when we have confidence with God, this fear is gone and we can face both God and men without worry.

“How many members do you have in your church?” a visitor asked the pastor.

“Somewhere near a thousand,” the pastor replied.

“That certainly is a lot of people to try to please!” the visitor exclaimed.

“Let me assure you, my friend, I have never tried to please all my members, or even some of them,” the pastor said with a smile. “I aim to please one Person—the Lord Jesus Christ. If I am right with Him, then everything should be right between me and my people.”

An immature Christian who is not growing in his love for God may think he has to impress others with his “spirituality.” This mistake turns him into a liar! He is professing something he is not really practicing; he is playing a role instead of living a life.

Perhaps the best example of this sin is seen in the experience of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5). They sold a piece of property and brought part of the money to the Lord, but gave the impression they were bringing all the money. The sin of this couple was not in taking money from God, for Peter made it clear that the disposal of the money was up to them (Acts 5:4). Their sin was hypocrisy. They were trying to make people think they were more generous and spiritual than they really were.

Pretending is one of the favorite activities of little children, but it is certainly not a mark of maturity in adults. Adults must know themselves and be themselves, fulfilling the purposes for which Christ saved them. Their lives must be marked by honesty.

Spiritual honesty brings peace and power to the person who practices it. He does not have to keep a record of the lies he has told and he is not using his energy to cover up. Since he lives in open honesty with the Father, he can live in honesty with other people. Love and truth go together. Because he knows God loves him and accepts him (even with all his faults), he is not trying to impress others. He loves God and therefore he loves his fellow Christians.

Jerry’s grades were far below his usual performance and, on top of that, his health seemed to be failing. His new roommate was concerned about him and finally persuaded him to talk to the campus psychologist.

“I can’t figure myself out,” Jerry admitted. “Last year I was sailing through school, but this year it is like fighting a war.”

“You’re not having trouble with your new roommate, are you?” the counselor asked.

Jerry did not reply right away and this gave the counselor a clue.

“Jerry, are you concentrating on living your life as a good student or on trying to impress your new roommate with your abilities?”

“Yeah, I guess that’s it,” Jerry answered with a sigh of relief. “I’ve worn myself out acting and haven’t had enough energy left for living.”

Confidence toward God and honesty with others are two marks of maturity that are bound to show up when our love for God is being perfected.

To be continued…

Posted in Book of 1 John | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Getting to the Bottom of Love: Part 3 (1 John 4:1–16)

1john4_192The life of a Christian who abides in God’s love is a potent witness for God in the world. Men cannot see God, but they can see His love moving us to deeds of helpfulness and kindness. The world will not believe God loves sinners until they see His love at work in His children’s lives.

A female Salvation Army worker found a derelict woman alone on the street and invited her to come into the chapel for help, but the woman refused to move. The worker assured her: “We love you and want to help you. God loves you. Jesus died for you.” But the woman did not budge. As if on divine impulse the Army worker leaned over and kissed the woman on the cheek, taking her into her arms. The woman began to sob and like a child was led into the chapel, where she ultimately trusted Christ.

“You told me God loved me,” she said later, “but it wasn’t until you showed me God loved me that I wanted to be saved.”

Jesus did not simply preach the love of God; He proved it by giving His life on the cross. He expects His followers to do likewise. If we abide in Christ, we will abide in His love. If we abide in His love, we must share this love with others. Whenever we share this love, it is proof in our own hearts that we are abiding in Christ. There is no separation between a Christian’s inner life and his outer life.

Abiding in God’s love produces two wonderful spiritual benefits in the life of a believer: he grows in knowledge and he grows in faith (1 Jn. 4:16). The more we love God the more we understand the love of God. And the more we understand His love the easier it is for us to trust Him. After all, when you know someone intimately and love him sincerely, you have no problem putting your confidence in him.

A man standing in the greeting card section of a store was having trouble picking out a card. The clerk asked if she could help and he replied: “Well, it’s our fortieth wedding anniversary, but I can’t find a card that says what I want to say. You know, forty years ago it wouldn’t have been any problem picking out a card because back then I thought I knew what love was. But we love each other so much more today. I just can’t find a card that says it!”

This is a growing Christian’s experience with God. As he abides in Christ and spends time in fellowship with Him, he comes to love God more and more. He also grows in his love for other Christians, for the lost, and even for his enemies. As he shares the Father’s love with others, he experiences more of the Father’s love himself. He understands the Father’s love better and better.

“God is love,” then, is not simply a profound biblical statement. It is the basis for a believer’s relationship with God and with his fellowman. Because God is love, we can love. His love is not past history; it is present reality. “Love one another” begins as a commandment (1 Jn. 4:7), then it becomes a privilege (1 Jn. 4:11).

But it is more than a commandment or a privilege. It is also the thrilling consequence and evidence of our abiding in Christ (1 Jn. 4:12). Loving one another is not something we simply ought to do; it is something we want to do. Some practical applications grow out of this basic truth:

First, the better we know God’s love the easier it will be to live as a Christian. Bible knowledge alone does not take the place of personal experience of God’s love. In fact, it can be a dangerous substitute if we are not careful.

Helen came home from a youth retreat greatly enthused over what she had learned. “We had some terrific sessions on how to have personal devotions,” she told her sister Joyce. “I plan to have my devotions every single day.”

A week later, while Joyce was running the vacuum cleaner, she heard Helen screaming, “Do you have to make all that noise? Don’t you know I’m trying to have my devotions?” And the verbal explosion was followed by the slamming of a door.

Helen still had to learn that personal devotions are not an end in themselves. If they do not help us love God and love one another, they are accomplishing little. The Bible is a revelation of God’s love and the better we understand His love the easier it should be for us to obey Him and love others.

A second application is unless we love the lost, our verbal witness to them will be useless. The Gospel message is a message of love. This love was both declared and demonstrated by Jesus Christ. The only way we can effectively win others is to declare the Gospel and demonstrate it in how we live. Too much “witnessing” today is a mere mouthing of words. People need an expression of love.

One reason why God permits the world to hate Christians is so that Christians may return love for the world’s hatred. “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me… But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:11, 44).

“Pastor, the Bible tells us to love our neighbors, but I doubt that anybody could love my neighbors,” Mrs. Barton said at the close of a Sunday School lesson. “I’ve tried to be nice to them, but it just doesn’t work.”

“Perhaps ‘being nice to them’ isn’t the real answer,” the pastor explained. “You know, it’s possible to be nice to people with the wrong motive.”

“You mean as though you’re trying to buy them off?”

“Something like that. I think you and I had better pray God will give you a true spiritual love for your neighbors. If you love them in a Christian way, you will not be able to do them any damage,” the pastor pointed out.

It took some weeks, but Mrs. Barton grew in her love for her neighbors; and she also found herself growing in her own spiritual life. “My neighbors haven’t changed a whole lot,” she told the prayer group, “but my attitude toward them has really changed. I used to do things for them to try to win their approval. But now I do things for Jesus’ sake because He died for them—and it makes all the difference in the world!”

In this paragraph of John’s letter, he has taken us to the very foundation of Christian love. But he still has more to teach us. In the next section, he deals with our own personal love for God and how God perfects that love in us. These two aspects of Christian love cannot be separated from one another: if we love God, we will love one another; and if we love one another, we will grow in our love for God. Both statements are true because “God is love!”

Read more of this article here: Part 1; Part 2.

Posted in Book of 1 John | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Getting to the Bottom of Love: Part 2 (1 John 4:1–16)

redeemedIn Part 1 of this article, we discovered why love is such an important part of the life that is real. We looked at two foundational truths about God: (1) who God is (2) what God did. As we continue our study is John’s first letter, we will look at a third foundational fact about God.

3. WHAT GOD IS DOING: “GOD IS ABIDING IN US” (1 John 4:12–16)

At this point, it would be good for us to review what John has been saying about the basic truth that “God is love.” This truth is revealed to us in the Word, but it was also revealed on the cross, where Christ died for us. “God is love” is not simply a doctrine in the Bible; it is an eternal fact clearly demonstrated at Calvary. God has said something to us and God has done something for us. But all this is preparation for the third great fact: God does something in us! We are not merely students reading a book or spectators watching a deeply moving event. We are participants in the great drama of God’s love!

In order to save money, a college drama class purchased only a few scripts of a play and cut them up into the separate parts. The director gave each player his individual part in order and then started to rehearse the play. But nothing went right. After an hour of missed cues and mangled sequences the cast gave up.

At that point, the director sat all the actors on the stage and said: “Look, I’m going to read the entire play to you, so don’t any of you say a word.” He read the entire script aloud and when he was finished one of the actors said:

“So that’s what it was all about!” Once they understood the entire story, they were able to fit their parts together and have a successful rehearsal.

When you read 1 John 4:12–16, you feel like saying, “So that’s what it’s all about!” Because here we discover what God had in mind when He devised His great plan of salvation.

To begin with, God’s desire is to live in us. He is not satisfied simply to tell us He loves us or even show us He loves us.

It is interesting to trace God’s dwelling places as recorded in the Bible. In the beginning, God had fellowship with man in a personal, direct way (Gen. 3:8), but sin broke that fellowship. It was necessary for God to shed the blood of animals to cover the sins of Adam and Eve so they might come back into His fellowship.

One of the key words in the Book of Genesis is walked. God walked with men and men walked with God. Enoch (Gen. 5:22), Noah (Gen. 6:9), and Abraham (Gen. 17:1, 24:40) walked with God.

However, by the time of the events recorded in Exodus, a change had taken place: God did not simply walk with men: He lived or dwelt with them. God’s commandment to Israel was, “Have them make a sanctuary for Me and I will dwell among them.” (Ex. 25:8). The first of those sanctuaries was the tabernacle. When Moses dedicated it the glory of God came down and moved into the tent (Ex. 40:33–35). God dwelt in the camp; He did not dwell in the bodies of the individual Israelites.

Unfortunately, the nation sinned and God’s glory departed (1 Sam. 4:21). But God used Samuel and David to restore the nation; and Solomon built God a magnificent temple. When the temple was dedicated, once again the glory of God came to dwell in the land (1 Kings 8:1–11).

Then, history repeated itself: Israel disobeyed God and was taken into captivity. The gorgeous temple was destroyed. One of the prophets of the captivity, Ezekiel, saw the glory of God depart from it (Ezek. 8:4, 9:3, 10:4, 11:22–23).

Did the glory ever return? Yes—in the Person of God’s Son, Jesus Christ! “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling (“tabernacle”) among us” (Jn. 1:14). The glory of God dwelt on earth in the body of Jesus Christ for His body was the temple of God (Jn. 2:18–22). But wicked men nailed His body to a cross. They crucified “the Lord of glory” (1 Cor. 2:8). All this was part of God’s thrilling plan: Christ arose from the dead, returned to heaven, and sent His Holy Spirit to dwell in men.

The glory of God now lives in the bodies of God’s children. “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own” (1 Cor. 6:19). The glory of God departed from the tabernacle and temple when Israel disobeyed God, but Jesus has promised the Spirit will abide in us forever (Jn. 14:16).

With this background, we can better understand what 1 John 4:12–16 is saying to us. God is invisible (1 Tim. 1:17) and no man can see Him in His essence. Jesus is “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). By taking on Himself a human body, Jesus was able to reveal God to us. But Jesus is no longer here on earth.

How, then, does God reveal Himself to the world? He reveals Himself through the lives of His children. Men cannot see God, but they can see us. If we abide in Christ, we will love one another and our love for one another will reveal God’s love to a needy world. God’s love will be experienced in us and then will be expressed through us.

That important little word abide (or dwell) is used six times in 1 John 4:12–16. It refers to our personal fellowship with Jesus Christ. To abide in Christ means to remain in spiritual oneness with Him, so that no sin comes between us. Because we are “born of God,” we have union with Christ; but it is only as we trust Him and obey His commandments that we have fellowship with Him. In a similar way, just as a faithful husband and wife “abide in love” though they may be separated by miles, so a believer abides in God’s love. This abiding is made possible by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (1 Jn. 4:13).

Imagine the wonder and privilege of having God abide in you! The Old Testament Israelite would look with wonder at the tabernacle or temple because the presence of God was in that building. No man would dare to enter the holy of holies, where God was enthroned in glory! But we have God’s Spirit living in us! We abide in this love and we experience the abiding of God in us. “Anyone who loves Me will obey My teaching. My Father will love them, and We will come to them and make Our home with them” (Jn. 14:23).

God’s love is proclaimed in the Word and proved at the cross. But here we have something deeper: God’s love is perfected in the believer. Fantastic as it may seem, God’s love is not made perfect in angels, but in sinners saved by His grace. We Christians are now the tabernacles and temples in which God dwells. He reveals His love through us.

Dr. Campbell Morgan, famous British preacher, had five sons, all of whom became ministers of the Gospel. One day a visitor in their home dared to ask a personal question: “Which of you six is the best preacher?”

Their united answer was, “Mother!”

Of course, she had never preached a formal sermon in a church, but her life was a constant sermon on the love of God.

To be continued…

Posted in Book of 1 John | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Getting to the Bottom of Love: Part 1 (1 John 4:1–16)

the-love-of-god-duri-390x250For the third time in John’s first letter, we are considering the subject of love! This does not mean John has run out of ideas and has to repeat himself. It means the Holy Spirit, who inspired John, presents the subject once more, from a deeper point of view.

In our current section (1 Jn. 4:1–16), we discover why love is such an important part of the life that is real. Love is part of the very being and nature of God. If we are united to God through faith in Christ, we share His nature. Since His nature is love, love is the test of the reality of our spiritual life.

A person who knows God and has been born of God will respond to God’s nature. As a compass naturally points north, a believer will naturally practice love because love is the nature of God. This love will not be a forced response; it will be a natural response. A believer’s love for the brethren will be proof of his sonship and fellowship because “God is love.” Three times, in this section, John encourages us to love one another (1 Jn. 4:7, 11–12). He supports these admonitions by giving us three foundational facts about God.

1. WHAT GOD IS: “GOD IS LOVE” (1 John 4:7–8)

This is the third of three expressions in John’s writings that help us understand the nature of God: “God is spirit” (Jn. 4:24); “God is light” (1 Jn. 1:5); and “God is love.” Of course, none of these are a complete revelation of God and it is wrong to separate them.

God is spirit. This refers to His essence; He is not flesh and blood. To be sure, Jesus Christ now has a glorified body in heaven and one day we will have bodies like His body. But being by nature spirit, God is not limited by time and space the way His creatures are.

God is light. This refers to His holy nature. In the Bible, light is a symbol of holiness and darkness is a symbol of sin (Jn. 3:18–21; 1 Jn. 1:5–10). God cannot sin because He is holy. Because we have been born into His family, we have received His holy nature (1 Pet. 1:14–16; 2 Pet. 1:4).

God is love. This does not mean “love is God.” And the fact two people “love each other” does not mean their love is necessarily holy. It has accurately been said that “love does not define God, but God defines love.” God is love and God is light; therefore, His love is a holy love and His holiness is expressed in love. All God does expresses all God is. Even His judgments are measured out in love and mercy (Lam. 3:22–23).

Much that is called “love” in modern society bears no resemblance or relationship to the holy, spiritual love of God. Yet, we see banners saying “God is love!” displayed at many festivals, particularly where young people are “doing their own thing”—as if one could dignify immorality by calling it “love.”

Christian love is a special kind of love. Love that is born out of the very essence of God must be spiritual and holy because “God is spirit” and “God is light.” This true love is “poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Rom. 5:5).

Love, therefore, is a valid test of true Christian faith. Since God is love and we have claimed a personal relationship with God, we must of necessity reveal His love in how we live. A child of God has been “born of God” and shares God’s divine nature. “God is love” and Christians ought to love one another. The logic is undeniable!

Not only have we been “born of God,” but we also “know God.” In the Bible, the word know has a much deeper meaning than simply intellectual acquaintance or understanding. For example, the verb know is used to describe the intimate union of husband and wife (Gen. 4:1). To know God means to be in a deep relationship to Him—to share His life and enjoy His love. This knowing is not simply a matter of understanding facts; it is a matter of perceiving truth (1 Jn. 2:3–5).

Certainly many unsaved people love their families and even sacrifice for them. And no doubt many of these same people have some kind of intellectual understanding of God. What, then, do they lack? They lack a personal experience of God. To paraphrase 1 John 4:8, “The person who does not have this divine kind of love has never entered into a personal, experiential knowledge of God. What he knows is in his head, but it has never gotten into his heart.”

What God is determines what we ought to be. “In this world, we are like Jesus” (1 Jn. 4:17). The fact Christians love one another is evidence of their fellowship with God and their sonship from God, and it is also evidence they know God. Their experience with God is not simply a once-for-all crisis; it is a daily experience of getting to know Him better and better. True theology (the study of God) is not a dry, impractical course in doctrine—it is an exciting day-by-day experience that makes us Christlike!

A large quantity of radioactive material was stolen from a hospital. When the hospital administrator notified the police, he said: “Please warn the thief he is carrying death with him and the radioactive material cannot be successfully hidden. As long as he has it in his possession, it is affecting him disastrously!”

A person who claims he knows God and is in union with Him must be personally affected by this relationship. A Christian ought to become what God is and “God is love.” To argue otherwise is to prove one does not really know God!

2. WHAT GOD DID: “HE SENT HIS SON” (1 John 4:9–11)

Since God is love, He must communicate—not only in words, but in deeds. True love is never static or inactive. God reveals His love to mankind in many ways. He has geared all of creation to meeting men’s needs. Until man’s sin brought creation under bondage, man had on earth a perfect home in which to love and serve God.

God’s love was revealed in the way He dealt with the nation of Israel. “The Lord did not set His affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you … that He brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery” (Deut. 7:7–8).

The greatest expression of God’s love is in the death of His Son. “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).

The word manifested means “to come out in the open, to be made public.” It is the opposite of “to hide, to make secret.” Under the Old Covenant, God was hidden behind the shadows of ritual and ceremony (Heb. 10:1); but in Jesus Christ “the life was manifested” (1 Jn. 1:2). “Anyone who has seen Me,” said Jesus “has seen the Father” (Jn. 14:9).

Why was Jesus Christ manifested? “He was manifested to take away our sins” (1 Jn. 3:5). “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work” (1 Jn. 3:8). Where did Jesus take away our sins and destroy (render inoperative) the works of the devil? At the cross! God manifested His love at the cross when He gave His Son as a sacrifice for our sins.

This is the only place in the epistle where Jesus is called God’s only-begotten Son. The title is used in John’s Gospel (Jn. 1:14, 3:16). It means “unique, the only one of its kind.” The fact God sent His Son into the world is one evidence of the deity of Jesus Christ. Babies are not sent into the world from some other place; they are born into the world. As the perfect Man, Jesus was born into the world, but as the eternal Son, He was sent into the world.

But the sending of Christ into the world and His death on the cross were not prompted by man’s love for God. They were prompted by His love for man. The world’s attitude toward God is anything but love!

Two purposes are given for Christ’s death on the cross: that we might live through Him (1 Jn. 4:9) and that He might be the propitiation for our sins (1 Jn. 4:10). His death was not an accident; it was an appointment. He did not die as a weak martyr, but as a mighty Conqueror.

Jesus Christ died so we might live “through Him” (1 Jn. 4:9), “for Him” (2 Cor. 5:15), and “with Him” (1 Thes. 5:9–10). A sinner’s desperate need is for life because he is “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1). It is something of a paradox that Christ had to die so we may live! We can never probe the mystery of His death, but this we know: He died for us (Gal. 2:20).

The death of Christ is described as a “propitiation.” John has used this word before (1 Jn. 2:2), so there is no need to study it in detail again. We should remember propitiation does not mean we must do something to appease God or to placate His anger. Propitiation is something God does to make it possible for us to be forgiven.

“God is light,” and therefore He must uphold His holy Law. “God is love,” and therefore He wants to forgive and save sinners. How, then, can God forgive sinners and still be consistent with His holy nature? The answer is the cross. There, Jesus Christ bore the punishment for sin and met the just demands of the holy Law. But there also, God reveals His love and makes it possible for men to be saved by faith.

It is important to note the emphasis is on the death of Christ, not on His birth. The fact Jesus was “made flesh” (Jn. 1:14) is certainly an evidence of God’s grace and love, but the fact He was “made sin” (2 Cor. 5:21) is underscored for us. The example of Christ, teachings of Christ, and whole earthly life of Christ find their true meaning and fulfillment in the cross.

For the second time, believers are exhorted to “love one another” (1 Jn. 4:11). This exhortation is a commandment to be obeyed (1 Jn. 4:7) and its basis is the nature of God. “God is love and we know God; therefore, we should love one another.” But the exhortation to love one another is presented as a privilege as well as a responsibility: “If God so loved us, we ought also to love one another” (1 Jn. 4:11). We are not saved by loving Christ; we are saved by believing on Christ (Jn. 3:16). But after we realize what He did for us on the cross, our normal response ought to be to love Him and love one another.

It is important Christians make progress in their understanding of love. To love one another simply out of a sense of duty is good, but to love out of appreciation (rather than obligation) is even better.

This may be one reason why Jesus established the Lord’s Supper, the Communion service. When we break the bread and share the cup, we remember His death. Few men, if any, want their deaths remembered! In fact, we remember the life of a loved one and try to forget the sadness of his death. Not so with Christ. He commands us to remember His death: “Do this in remembrance of Me!”

We should remember our Lord’s death in a spiritual way, not merely sentimentally. Someone has defined sentiment as “feeling without responsibility.” It is easy to experience solemn emotions at a church service and yet go out to live the same defeated life. True spiritual experience involves the whole man. The mind must understand spiritual truth; the heart must love and appreciate it; and the will must act on it. The deeper we go into the meaning of the Cross the greater will be our love for Christ and the greater our active concern for one another.

We have discovered what God is and what God has done; but a third foundational fact takes us even deeper into the meaning and implications of Christian love.

To be continued…

Posted in Book of 1 John | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 37 Comments

Love or Death: Part 2 (1 John 3:11–24)

1 john 3_18In my introduction to this article, we saw there are four levels of relationship on which a person may live: murder (1 Jn. 3:11–12), hatred (1 Jn. 3:13–15), indifference (1 Jn. 3:16–17), and Christian compassion (1 Jn. 3:18–24). The first two are not Christian at all, the third is less than Christian, and only the last is compatible with true Christian love. As we continue our study in John’s first letter (1 Jn. 3:11–24), we will look at the fourth level of relationship.

4. CHRISTIAN LOVE (3:18–24)

True Christian love means loving in deed and in truth. The opposite of “in deed” is “in word,” and the opposite of “in truth” is “in tongue.” James 2:15–16 gives an example of love “in word”: “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?”

To love “in word” means simply to talk about a need, but to love “in deed” means to do something about meeting it. You may think because you have discussed a need or even prayed about it that you have done your duty, but love involves more than words—it calls for sacrificial deeds.

To love “in tongue” is the opposite of to love “in truth.” It means to love insincerely. To love “in truth” means to love a person genuinely, from the heart and not just from the tongue. People are attracted by genuine love, but repelled by the artificial variety. One reason why sinners were attracted to Jesus (Lk. 15:1–2) was because they were sure He loved them sincerely.

“But does it not cost a great deal for us to exercise this kind of love?” Yes, it does. It cost Jesus His life. But the wonderful benefits that will come to you as by-products of this love more than compensate for any sacrifice you make. The principle, “Give and it will be given to you” (Lk. 6:38) applies to love as well as to money. John names three wonderful blessings that will come to a believer who practices Christian love.

The first blessing is assurance (vv. 19–20). A believer’s relationship with others affects His relationship with God. A man who is not right with his brother should go settle the matter before he offers his sacrifice on the altar (Matt. 5:23–24). A Christian who practices love grows in his understanding of God’s truth and enjoys a heart filled with confidence before God.

A “condemning heart” is one that robs a believer of peace. An “accusing conscience” is another way to describe it. Sometimes the heart accuses us wrongly because it “is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9). The answer is, “God knows the heart!” More than one Christian has accused himself falsely or been harder on himself than necessary, but God will never make such a mistake. A Christian who walks in love has a heart open to God (“God is love”) and knows God never judges wrongly.

John may have remembered two incidents from Jesus’ life on earth that illustrate this important principle. When Jesus visited Bethany, He stayed at the home of Mary and Martha (Lk. 10:38–42). Martha was busy preparing the meal, but Mary sat at His feet and listened to Him teach. Martha criticized both Mary and Jesus, but Jesus knew Mary’s heart and defended her.

The Apostle Peter wept bitterly after he had denied his Lord, and no doubt he was filled with remorse and repentance for his sin. Jesus knew Peter had repented and after His resurrection the Lord sent a special message (Mk. 16:7) to Peter that must have assured the hot-headed fisherman he was forgiven. Peter’s heart may have condemned him because he knew he had denied the Lord three times, but God was greater than his heart. Jesus, knowing all things, gave Peter just the assurance he needed.

Be careful lest the devil accuse you and rob you of your confidence (Rev. 12:10). Once you confess your sin and it is forgiven, you need not allow it to accuse you anymore. Peter was able to face the Jews and say, “You disowned the Holy and Righteous One” (Acts 3:14) because his own sin of denying Christ had been taken care of, and was forgiven and forgotten.

No Christian should treat sin lightly, but no Christian should be harder on himself than God is. There is a morbid kind of self-examination and self-condemnation that is not spiritual. If you are practicing genuine love for the brethren, your heart must be right before God, for the Holy Spirit would not “pour out” His love in you if there were habitual sin in your heart. When you grieve the Spirit, you “turn off” the supply of God’s love (Eph. 4:30–5:2).

The second blessing is answered prayer (vv. 21–22). Love for the brethren produces confidence toward God and confidence toward God gives you boldness in asking for what you need. This does not mean you earn answers to prayer by loving the brethren. Rather, it means your love for the brethren proves you are living in the will of God and God can answer your prayer. “We receive from Him anything we ask because we keep His commands and do what pleases Him” (1 Jn. 3:22). Love is the fulfilling of God’s Law (Rom. 13:8–10); therefore, when you love the brethren, you are obeying His commandments and He is able to answer your requests. A believer’s relationship to the brethren cannot be divorced from his prayer life. If husbands and wives are not obeying God’s Word, for example, their prayers will be hindered (1 Pet. 3:7).

An evangelist preached about the Christian home. After the meeting a father approached him. “I’ve been praying for a wayward son for years,” said the father, “and God has not answered my prayers.”

The evangelist read Psalm 66:18—“If I cherished sin in my heart the Lord would not have listened.”

“Be honest with yourself and the Lord,” he said. “Is there anything between you and another Christian that needs to be settled?”

The father hesitated and then said, “Yes, I’m afraid there is. I’ve harbored resentment in my heart against another man in this church.”

“Then go make it right,” counseled the evangelist and he prayed with the man. Before the campaign was over the father saw his wayward son come back to the Lord.

These verses do not, of course, give us all the conditions for answered prayer, but they emphasize the importance of obedience. One great secret of answered prayer is obedience and the secret of obedience is love. “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (Jn. 14:15). “If you abide (remain) in Me and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you… If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love” (Jn. 15:7, 10).

It is possible, of course, to keep God’s commandments in a spirit of fear or servitude rather than in a spirit of love. This was the sin of the elder brother in the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Lk. 15:24–32). A believer should keep His Father’s commandments because this pleases Him. A Christian who lives to please God will discover that God finds ways to please His child. “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart” (Ps. 37:4). When our delight is in the love of God, our desires will be in the will of God.

The third blessing is abiding (vv. 23–24). When a scribe asked Jesus to name the greatest commandment, He replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind… And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:34–40). Faith toward God and love toward man sum up a Christian’s obligations (1 Jn. 3:23). Christianity is “faith that expresses itself through love” (Gal. 5:6).

Faith toward God and love toward men are two sides of the same coin. It is easy to emphasize faith—correct doctrine—and to neglect love. On the other hand, some say doctrine is not important and love is our main responsibility. Both doctrine and love are important. When a person is justified by faith the love of God is poured out in his heart (Rom. 5:1–5).

“Abiding in Christ” is a key experience for a believer who wants to have confidence toward God and enjoy answers to prayer. Jesus, in His message to the disciples in the Upper Room (Jn. 15:1–14), illustrated “abiding.” He compared His followers to the branches of a vine. So long as the branch draws its strength from the vine, it produces fruit. But if it separates itself from the vine, it withers and dies.

Jesus was not talking about salvation; He was talking about fruit-bearing. The instant a sinner trusts Christ, he enters into union with Christ; but maintaining fellowship is a moment-by-moment responsibility. Abiding depends on our obeying His Word and keeping clean (Jn. 15:3, 10).

As we have seen, when a believer walks in love, he finds it easy to obey God and therefore he maintains a close fellowship with God. “Anyone who loves Me will obey My teaching. My Father will love them, and We will come to them and make Our home with them” (Jn. 14:23).

The Holy Spirit is mentioned by name in 1 John for the first time in 3:24. The Holy One is the abiding Spirit (1 Jn. 3:24; 4:13). When a believer obeys God and loves his brethren the indwelling Holy Spirit gives him peace and confidence. The Holy Spirit abides with him forever (Jn. 14:16), but when the Spirit is grieved, He withdraws His blessings.

The Holy Spirit is also the attesting Spirit (1 Jn. 4:1–6), giving witness to those who are truly God’s children. When a believer is abiding in Christ the Spirit guides him and warns him of false spirits that would lead him astray.

He is also the authenticating Spirit (1 Jn. 5:6–8; Rom. 8:14–16), bearing witness to the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Each member of the Triune Godhead is involved in the “love life” of a believer. God the Father commands us to love one another; God the Son gave His life on the cross, the supreme example of love. God the Holy Spirit lives within us to provide the love we need (Rom. 5:5). To abide in love is to abide in God and to abide in God is to abide in love. Christian love is not something we “work up” when we need it. Christian love is “poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit” and this is your constant experience as you abide in Christ.

As we have seen, there are four levels on which a person may live. He may choose the lowest level—Satan’s level—and practice murder. Murderers “have their part in the fiery lake of burning sulfur, which is the second death” (Rev. 21:8).

Or, a person may choose the next level—hatred. But hatred, in God’s sight, is the same as murder. A man who lives with hatred is slowly killing himself, not the other person! Psychiatrists warn that malice and hatred cause all kinds of physical and emotional problems.

The third level—indifference—is far better than the first two because the first two are not Christian at all. A man who has constant hatred in his heart or who habitually murders proves he has never been born of God. But it is possible to be a Christian and be indifferent to the needs of others.

A man who murders belongs to the devil, like Cain. A man who hates belongs to the world (1 Jn. 3:13), which is under Satan’s control. But a Christian who is indifferent is out of fellowship with God and is living for the flesh, which serves Satan’s purposes.

The only happy, holy way to live is on the highest level, the level of Christian love. This is the life of joy and liberty, the life of answered prayer. It assures you confidence and courage in spite of the difficulties of life.

A psychologist studied children to determine what affect love and neglect had on them. The survey proved children who were neglected and unloved were much slower in their development; some of them even died. In a physical sense, love is the very atmosphere of life and growth.

But it is even more so in the spiritual sense. In fact, it is a matter of love or death!

Posted in Book of 1 John | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Love or Death: Part 1 (1 John 3:11–24)

1 Jn 3_16 bThe Apostle John’s first letter has been compared to a spiral staircase because he keeps returning to the same three topics: love, obedience, and truth. Each time we return to a topic, we look at it from a different point of view and are taken more deeply into it.

We have already learned about our love for other believers—“the brethren” (1 Jn. 2:7–11). A believer who is “walking in the light” will evidence that fact by loving the brethren. In our present section (1 Jn. 3:11–24) the emphasis is on his relationship with other believers.

Christians love one another because they have all been born of God, which makes them all brothers and sisters in Christ. Obedience and love are both evidences of sonship and brotherhood. We have been reminded a true child of God practices righteousness (1 Jn. 3:1–10) and now we will look into the matter of love for the brethren (1 Jn. 3:11–24). This truth is first stated in the negative—“Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister” (1 Jn. 3:10).

A striking difference should be noted between the earlier and present treatment of love for the brethren. In the section on fellowship (1 Jn. 2:7–11), we are told loving the brethren is a matter of light and darkness. If we do not love one another, we cannot walk in the light, no matter how loud our profession. But in this section (1 Jn. 3:11–24) on brotherhood the epistle probes much deeper. We are told loving the brethren is a matter of life and death: “Anyone who does not love remains in death” (1 Jn. 3:14).

When it comes to this matter of love, there are four possible “levels of relationship,” so to speak, on which a person may live: murder (1 Jn. 3:11–12), hatred (1 Jn. 3:13–15), indifference (1 Jn. 3:16–17), and Christian compassion (1 Jn. 3:18–24). The first two are not Christian at all, the third is less than Christian, and only the last is compatible with true Christian love.

1. MURDER (3:11–12)

Murder, of course, is the lowest level on which one may live in relationship to someone else. It is the level on which Satan himself exists. The devil was a murderer from the beginning of his fallen career (Jn. 8:44), but Christians know, from the beginning of their experience, they are to “love one another.” John emphasizes origins: “from the beginning…” If our spiritual experience originates with the Father, we must love one another. But if it originates with Satan, we will hate one another. “As for you, see that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father” (1 Jn. 2:24).

Cain is an example of a life of hatred; we find the record in Gen. 4:1–16. It is important to note that Cain and Abel, being brothers, had the same parents and they both brought sacrifices to God. Cain is not presented as an atheist; he is presented as a worshiper. And this is the point: children of the devil masquerade as true believers. They attend religious gatherings, as Cain did. They may even bring offerings. But these actions in themselves are not valid proof a man is born of God. The real test is his love for the brethren—and here Cain failed.

Every man has a “spiritual lineage” as well as a physical and Cain’s “spiritual father” was the devil. This does not mean, of course, that Satan literally fathered Cain. Rather, it means Cain’s attitudes and actions originated with Satan. Cain was a murderer and a liar like Satan (Jn. 8:44). He murdered his brother and lied about it. “Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Where is your brother Abel?’ ‘I don’t know,’ he replied. ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen. 4:9).

In contrast to this, God is love (1 Jn. 4:8) and truth (Jn. 14:6; 1 Jn. 5:6); therefore, those who belong to God’s family practice love and truth.

The difference between Cain’s offering and Abel’s offering was faith (Heb. 11:4). Faith is always based on the revelation God has given (Rom. 10:17). It is clear God had given definite instructions concerning how He was to be worshiped. Cain rejected God’s Word and decided to worship in his own way. This shows his relationship to Satan for Satan is always interested in turning people away from the revealed will of God. The devil’s first deception, “Did God really say?” (Gen. 3:1) was the beginning of trouble for Cain’s parents and for all mankind since.

We are not told by what outward sign the Lord accepted Abel’s sacrifice and rejected Cain’s. It may be that He sent fire from heaven to consume Abel’s sacrifice of an animal and its blood. But we are told the results: Abel went away from the altar with God’s witness of acceptance in his heart, but Cain went away angry and disappointed (Gen. 4:4–6). God warned Cain that sin was crouching at the door like a dangerous beast (Gen. 4:7), but promised if Cain would obey God, he, like Abel, would enjoy peace.

Instead of heeding God’s warning, Cain listened to Satan’s voice and plotted to kill his brother. His envy had turned to anger and hatred. He knew that he was evil and his brother was righteous. Rather than repent, as God commanded him to do, he decided to destroy his brother.

Centuries later the Pharisees did the same thing to Jesus (Mk. 15:9–10) and Jesus called them children of the devil (Jn. 8:44).

Cain’s attitude represents the attitude of the present world system (1 Jn. 3:13). The world hates Christ (Jn. 15:18–25) for the same reason Cain hated Abel: Christ shows the world’s sin and reveals its true nature. When the world, like Cain, comes face-to-face with reality and truth, it can make only one of two decisions: repent and change, or destroy the one who is exposing it.

Satan is the “prince of this world” (Jn. 14:30), and he controls it through murder and lies. How horrible to live on the same level as Satan!

A hunter took refuge in a cave during a rainstorm. After he had dried out a bit, he decided to investigate his temporary home and turned on his flashlight. Imagine his surprise when he discovered he was sharing the cave with an assortment of spiders, lizards, and snakes! His exit was a fast one.

If the unsaved world could only see, it would realize it is living on the low level of murder and lies, surrounded by that old serpent Satan and all his demonic armies. Like Cain, the people of the world try to cover up their true nature with religious rites; but they lack faith in God’s Word. People who continue to live on this level will eventually be cast into outer darkness with Satan to suffer apart from God forever.

2. HATRED (3:13–15)

At this point, you are probably thinking, “But I have never murdered anyone!” And to this statement, God replies, “Yes, but remember hatred is the same as murder” (1 Jn. 3:15; Matt. 5:22). The only difference between level 1 and level 2 is the outward act of taking life. The inward intent is the same.

A visitor at the zoo was chatting with the keeper of the lion house. “I have a cat at home,” said the visitor, “and your lions act just like my cat. Look at them sleeping so peacefully! It seems a shame you have to put those beautiful creatures behind bars.”

“My friend,” the keeper laughed, “these may look like your cat, but their disposition is radically different. There’s murder in their hearts. You’d better be glad the bars are there.”

The only reason some people have never actually murdered anyone is because of the “bars” that have been put up: the fear of arrest and shame, the penalties of the law, and the possibility of death. But we are going to be judged by “the law that gives freedom” (Jas. 2:12). The question is not so much, “What did you do?” but, “What did you want to do? What would you have done if you had been at liberty to do as you pleased?” This is why Jesus equates hatred with murder (Matt. 5:21–26) and lust with adultery (Matt. 5:27–30).

This does not mean, of course, that hatred in the heart does the same amount of damage or involves the same degree of guilt as actual murder. Your neighbor would rather you hate him than kill him! But in God’s sight hatred is the moral equivalent of murder and if left unbridled it leads to murder. A Christian has passed from death to life (Jn. 5:24) and the proof of this is he loves the brethren. When he belonged to the world system, he hated God’s people; but now that he belongs to God, he loves them.

These verses (1 Jn. 3:14–15), like those that deal with habitual sin in a believer (1 Jn. 1:5–2:6), concern a settled habit of life: a believer is in the practice of loving the brethren, even though on occasion he may be angry with a brother (Matt. 5:22–24). Occasional incidents of anger do not nullify the principle. If anything, they prove it true. A believer who is out of fellowship with his fellow Christians is a miserable person! His feelings make clear to him something is wrong.

Notice another fact: we are not told murderers cannot be saved. The Apostle Paul himself took a hand in the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7:57–60) and admitted his vote helped to put innocent people to death (Acts 26:9–11; 1 Tim. 1:12–15). But in His grace, God saved Paul.

The issue here is not whether a murderer can become a Christian, but whether a man can continue being a murderer and still be a Christian. The answer is no. “Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him” (1 Jn. 3:15). The murderer did not once have eternal life and then lose it; he never had eternal life at all.

The fact you have never actually murdered anyone should not make you proud or complacent. Have you ever harbored hatred in your heart? Hatred does the hater far more damage than it does anyone else (Matt. 5:21–26). Hatred that is not confessed and forsaken actually puts a man into a spiritual and emotional prison! (Matt. 5:25)

The antidote for hatred is love. “Hateful and hating one another” is the normal experience of an unsaved person (Tit. 3:3). But when a hateful heart opens to Jesus Christ, it becomes a loving heart. Instead of wanting to “murder” others through hatred, he or she wants to love them and share with them the message of eternal life.

Evangelist John Wesley was stopped one night by a man who robbed the preacher of all his money. Wesley said to the man, “If the day should come that you desire to leave this evil way and live for God, remember that ‘the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses from all sin.”

Some years later, Wesley was stopped by a man after a church service. “Do you remember me?” the man asked. “I robbed you one night and you told me that the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses from all sin. I have trusted Christ and He has changed my life.”

3. INDIFFERENCE (3:16–17)

The test of Christian love is not simply failure to do evil to others. Love also involves doing them good. Christian love is both positive and negative. “Stop doing wrong; learn to do right” (Isa. 1:16–17).

Cain is our example of false love; Christ is the example of true Christian love. Jesus gave His life for us so we may experience truth. Every Christian knows John 3:16, but how many of us pay much attention to 1 John 3:16? It is wonderful to experience the blessing of John 3:16; but it is even more wonderful to share that experience by obeying 1 John 3:16: “Jesus Christ laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.”

Christian love involves sacrifice and service. Christ did not simply talk about His love; He died to prove it (Rom. 5:6–10). Jesus was not killed as a martyr; He willingly laid down His life (Jn. 10:11–18; 15:13). “Self-preservation” is the first law of physical life, but “self-sacrifice” is the first law of spiritual life. But God does not ask us to lay down our lives. He simply asks us to help a brother in need.

John wisely turns from “the brethren” (1 Jn. 3:16) to the singular, “his brother” (1 Jn. 3:17). It is easy for us to talk about “loving the brethren” and to neglect to help a single other believer. Christian love is personal and active. This is what Jesus had in mind in the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk. 10:25–37). A lawyer wanted to talk about an abstract subject: “Who is my neighbor?” But Jesus focused attention on one man in need and changed the question to, “To whom can I be a neighbor?”

Two friends were attending a conference on evangelism. During one of the sessions, Larry missed Pete. At lunch, when he saw Pete, he said, “I missed you at the 10:00 session. It was really terrific! Where were you?”

“I was in the lobby talking to a bellhop about Christ. I led him to the Lord,” said Pete.

There is nothing wrong with attending conferences, but it is easy to forget the individual and his needs while discussing generalities. The test of Christian love is not in loud professions about loving the whole church, but in quietly helping a brother who is in need. If we do not even help a brother, it is not likely we would “lay down our lives” for “the brethren.”

A man does not have to murder in order to sin; hatred is murder in his heart. But a man need not even hate his brother to be guilty of sin. All he has to do is ignore him or be indifferent toward his needs. A believer who has material goods and can relieve his brother’s needs ought to do it. To “close the door of his heart” on his brother is a kind of murder!

If I am going to help my brother, I must meet three conditions: (1) I must have the means necessary to meet his need; (2) I must know the need exists; (3) I must be loving enough to want to share. A believer who is too poor to help or who is ignorant of his brother’s need is not condemned. But a believer who hardens his heart against his needy brother is condemned. One reason Christians should work is so that they may be able “to share with him in need” (Eph. 4:28).

In these days of multiplied social agencies, it is easy for Christians to forget their obligations. “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Gal. 6:10). This “doing good” need not be in terms of money or material supplies. It may include personal service and the giving of oneself to others. There are many individuals in our churches who lack love and would welcome friendship.

If we want to experience and enjoy the love of God in our own hearts, we must love others, even to the point of sacrifice. Being indifferent to a brother’s needs means robbing ourselves of what we need even more: the love of God in our hearts. It is a matter of love or death!

To be continued…

Posted in Book of 1 John | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments