Professing But Not Born Again

The church today is filled with people who have “made a decision for Christ” but have never been born again. They have been presented with all the logical arguments for the faith and asked to raise their hand or pray a prayer, but have never really committed their lives to Christ.

These people have been presented with a “gospel lite” that emphasizes the blessings of belief without repentance for sin. Without repentance for sin, there can be no reconciliation to God, and therefore no salvation. Our sins have separated us from Him. They are so grievous that God the Father had to sacrifice His only Son in order to make reparations and restore us to fellowship. When we preach a gospel that does not call for repentance as the first step to believing faith, then we belittle that sacrifice as though it really wasn’t necessary for Christ to go to all that trouble on our account.

The Bible says the heart is desperately wicked, that no man seeks after God, and that only when the Holy Spirit opens our hearts to receive the Word of God and confess our sins can we receive Christ (Jer 17:9, Rom 3:11,Jn 3:7) . None of us has the ability to choose Christ on our own. The Apostle Paul says no one has reason to boast before God because He chose us when we were still at war with Him and dead in our trespasses and sins (Eph 2:1-10). Dead men cannot make choices. Spiritual death cannot produce spiritual life. Spiritual life must come from the source of all life and righteousness and that is Jesus Christ (Jn 14:6).

Some people claim that they chose Jesus Christ. But Jesus says, “You did not choose me, but I chose you“(Jn 15:16). Believers have been chosen in Christ by God the Father from the foundation of the world and are a gift from the Father to the Son (Eph 1:3-8, Jn 17:6). Jesus told Nicodemas, “You must be born from above” (Jn 3:5-8) That means spiritual life does not reside in you.

Many professing Christians believe that confronting a person with their sin will only drive them away from Christ. Obviously, these people do not believe God is capable of drawing people to Himself through the convicting power of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God. Jesus said the role of the Holy Spirit was to convict of sin, righteousness and judgment, not to give a warm, fuzzy feeling of blessing (Jn 16:8). Jesus said that the true believer must sacrifice everything for Him, take up his cross and follow Him (Lk 9:23, Mt 16:24, Mk 8:34).

You can search the scriptures from front to back and you will not find a single seeker friendly message or instance where someone came to faith without repentance. Jesus and the Apostles all began their presentations of the gospel with a call to repentance. John the Baptist and Jesus both said, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand“(Mt 3:2, 4:17; Mar 1:15).  Peter accused the crowd at Pentecost of killing the Son of God. They were so smitten with grief that they called out, “What shall we do?” He told them to repent and believe (Acts 2:22-42). Stephen accused his attackers of killing all the prophets (Acts 6:51-53). He did not plead with them to consider their own spiritual welfare. When Christ encountered Saul on the road to Damascus, He did not appeal to his sense of fairness or compassion. He said, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:3-5)

The blessings of spiritual life which false teachers promote are temporal. So people come to Christ for selfish reasons. But the blessings of true faith are eternal – peace with God, adoption into His family, an inheritance with Jesus Christ, and most important, righteous standing before the Judge of the Universe. Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble” not health or wealth or safety or security. He said the one who comes to Him must deny himself, take up his cross and follow Him (Mat 16:24, Mt 8:34, Lk 9:23). He must forsake father and mother and brothers and sisters (Mt 12:50, Mk 10:29,Lk 14:6). He said the one who suffers for His sake will receive great blessing and honor in the world to come (Mk 8:35).

Those who object to confronting unbelievers with their sins are trying to win people to Christ by appealing to their natural desires. But people’s natural desires are sinful. They seek to serve self first. So if there is nothing in it for them, they will not come to Christ. Those who begin by confronting others with their sin are trusting the Holy Spirit to do a work of conviction in the hearts of those to whom God has already chosen to impart spiritual life. Those who respond to this kind of appeal can only do so because the Holy Spirit gives them new life. Those who make a “decision for Christ” based on some spiritual benefit offered to them may or may not be genuinely converted.  People who come to Christ under their own power, by their own reasoning, or to get all the benefits of spiritual blessings misunderstand the gospel. Many if not most of them have never been born again. Most are not willing to sacrifice anything for the One who gave Himself for them. Many never come to the place of genuine remorse for their sins and repentance. The first time they come under pressure for their faith, they buckle. It is these people of whom Christ spoke when He said, “Depart from me for I never knew you.” (Mt 7:23)

Today the church looks little different from the world. The divorce rate is about the same. Church staffs have to do background checks on those who work in children’s ministries to eliminate pedophiles. Many men and even some pastors struggle with pornography. People are unscrupulous in their business dealings and make a practice of lying and stealing. Giving averages only 4% of income. Pastors don’t encourage believers to give generously out of gratitude for all God has given them. Instead they tell people not to give if they are visitors or unbelievers. Sanctuaries are built with all the comforts and conveniences of modern theaters or auditoriums just to attract people who won’t accept less. Worship is dumbed down for the seeker instead of being offered in reverence and awe to a holy God. Messages are filled with personal anecdotes instead of a thorough and serious exploration of the biblical text from a grammatical and historical perspective. And this is why people are not attracted to the church. It is because church is no different from the rest of society. It is redundant, a waste of a beautiful Sunday morning. People are offended not because someone has called attention to their sins, but because when they look at Christians, they see a bunch of unregenerate reprobates trying to pass themselves off as followers of Jesus Christ.


Posted in Apologetics, evangelism, False Teaching, Lukewarm Church, new birth, Reformed Theology, Repentance, salvation | Leave a comment

Who Does Jesus Choose?

In John 15:16 Jesus says to his disciples, “You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you.” In his High Priestly prayer in John 17 Jesus says, “I have manifested Your name to the men whom You gave Me out of the world; they were Yours and You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word” (John 17:6). In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him” (Eph 1:3). And in the book of Romans he quotes the Old Testament passage that says, “For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion” (Ex 33:19).

From these and other  passages theologians have developed the doctrine of election. That is the idea that those of us who come to Christ do not do so of our own will, but are drawn by the Holy Spirit according to the will of God the Father. Another part of that doctrine says that God’s call cannot be resisted. If the Father has chosen us, we cannot say “No.” Furthermore, those who are not chosen are beyond the mercy of God and utterly hopeless. Paul expresses this idea when he says with respect to Jacob and Esau, “And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, it was said to her, “The older will serve the younger.” Just as it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated” (Rom 9:9-13)

So, whether or not we receive mercy is entirely God’s choice. But on what basis does God the Father make that choice? Paul is clear that His determination is not based on merit. His purpose in choosing some and not others is to show His holiness in judging sin on the one hand and His mercy in providing salvation on the other. For instance, God made Pharaoh rebel against him so that he could demonstrate his mercy by miraculously delivering the Israelites from bondage, “For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth” (Rom 9:16-17). People naturally object that God is not fair in extending to some an opportunity that he refuses to others, “You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?” Paul counters,On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory” (Rom 9:19-23)

We find throughout scripture that God does not choose according to our standards. He typically chooses the weaker over the stronger, the lesser over the greater, and the younger over the older. For instance, the disciples were shocked when Jesus told them that it is more difficult for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. They thought that since the Old Testament promised blessings to those who follow God and curses to those who don’t, rich people should be the first to enter the kingdom.

In the same passage where Paul makes the case for election, he quotes the words of the angel who promised Rebekah that she would bear twins, “The older will serve the younger.” Just as it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated” (Rom 9:12-13). Joseph, the youngest of Jacob’s children, was chosen to preserve his family and their descendants. David, the youngest son in his family, was chosen over his brothers to be the King of Israel and forefather of the Savior.

Rahab, Bathsheeba and Ruth were the only women listed in the lineage of Jesus Christ. Rahab was a prostitute, Bathsheeba was an adulteress, and Ruth was a Moabite, a tribe cursed by God. Jesus associated primarily with the lower strata of society – tax collectors, prostitutes, Samaritans, and day laborers like fishermen. He usually veiled his identity, even telling demons to remain silent when they proclaimed him the “Holy One of God.” But he openly revealed himself as Messiah to the woman at the well, a person who had two strikes against her. She was a lowly female and a despised Samaritan. The first person to whom he revealed himself after his resurrection was a woman from whom he had cast out seven demons – hardly a paragon of virtue.

Matthew was a despised tax collector, an agent of the occupying Roman government who collected revenue on their behalf from his subjugated countrymen. Yet Jesus called him to be one of his inner circle. Matthew was so thrilled that he held a banquet in Jesus’ honor and invited his fellow tax collectors. The religious leaders did not approve. They asked Jesus why he associated with such riffraff. Jesus replied, “It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Lk 5:31-32). Jesus held up the humble tax collector who prayed, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner!‘ as an example of righteousness rather than the Pharisee who boasted in his religious credentials (Lk 18:13).

In Matthew 11:25-26 Jesus said, “I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants.  Yes, Father, for this way was well-pleasing in Your sight.” Paul tells the Corinthian believers, “For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God” (1 Cor 1:26-29). 

One of the main criticisms of the doctrine of election is that it leads to pride. The exact opposite is true. If you have been chosen, it is not because you were the pick of the litter. It was not because you had anything special to offer. It was not because you were more worthy than anyone else. It was precisely the opposite. God chose you because you were weak, flawed, and worthless in order to display the greatness of his mercy. So if you are like me and sometimes wonder if you will be standing at the back of the throng of worshipers in heaven looking at Jesus from a distance because of all the wonderful saints obscuring your view, you need not worry. Christ loves you and cherishes you not for your own worth or accomplishments but because you are a gift from the Father to him. As he said in his high priestly prayer in John 17, “I have manifested Your name to the men whom You gave Me out of the world; they were Yours and You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word. Now they have come to know that everything You have given Me is from You; for the words which You gave Me I have given to them; and they received them and truly understood that I came forth from You, and they believed that You sent Me. I ask on their behalf; I do not ask on behalf of the world, but of those whom You have given Me; for they are Yours; and all things that are Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine; and I have been glorified in them” (Jn 17:6-11) .

You are a gift from the Father to the Son. Just as you cherish a gift given to you from one you love, so Jesus cherishes you as a precious gift from his Father. The Father and the Son  share all things. Because you belong to them, they also belong to you. Whatever they share with each other you share with them. What that includes you cannot possibly imagine because you have never had a glimpse of the glories of heaven or of God the Father and his Son. But one day you will. Nothing could be more humbling than the thought that all this was given to you when it was utterly beyond your reach. Those who do not receive grace are simply getting what we all so richly deserve.

Posted in Election | Leave a comment

Amazed By Jesus

The other day my wife and I went to the mattress store. The saleswoman began telling us about her clairvoyant abilities. She claimed she had predicted the sex of her first child and even how tall he would be. She also told us that after only one encounter with a very charming potential business partner, she had a strong impression that he was underhanded and warned her husband not to do business with him. The man eventually defrauded her husband. She also said that her dog became extremely agitated when her daughter brought a friend home. The young lady had a practice of communicating with the dead and the dog could sense the spirits around her. This woman is a modern mystic.

I told her that as Christians we can have discernment between good and evil through the Holy Spirit, but that is different from clairvoyance. As for communicating with the dead, that is strictly forbidden in the Bible. Her thought was that the prophets got their information from dead spirits. I told her it was the Holy Spirit who inspired them and she said, “I love Jesus. I think He was absolutely amazing!

Jesus was absolutely amazing, but not because He was a mystic. His actions and words prompted fear, astonishment, and amazement in people because of His divine power and authority.

There are many passages in the book of Mark that describe the troubling and even terrifying effect Jesus had on people. Words such as “amazed,” “overcome with amazement,” “astonished,” “exceedingly astonished,” “astonished beyond measure,” “alarmed,” “afraid,”  “terrified,” “astounded,” “marveled,” “filled with great fear,” “marvelous in our eyes,” and “came in fear and trembling,” are used to describe people’s reactions to Him. (Mar 1:21-27, Mar 2:1-12, Mar 4:35-41, Mar 5:1-20, Mar 5:24-33, Mar 5:35-42, Mar 6:2, Mar 6:45-52, Mar 7:31-37, Mar 9:2-8, Mar 9:14-15, Mar 10:23-26, Mar 10:32-34, Mar 11:15-19, Mar 12:13-17, Mar 15:1-5, Mar 16:6-8).

So what were the circumstances surrounding these events and what types of responses did all this astonishment and fear produce? Well, it certainly wasn’t a sort of benign admiration. In one case, the assembled crowd was so frightened that they asked Jesus to leave immediately. This was when Jesus cast out a legion of demons from a possessed man and commanded them to enter a herd of two thousand swine that then went squealing over a cliff and into the sea. The man who had been healed wanted to follow Jesus, but Jesus sent him back to his own village to proclaim what He had done for him (Mar 5:1-20).

People were also astonished at Jesus because he spoke as though He had first-hand knowledge of Old Testament events, personal connections with people like Moses and Jonah, and held counsel with God Himself. The fact that He performed miracles and cast out demons authenticated His words (Mar 1:21-27, Mar 6:2). Because of the power of His words, His fame spread far and wide.

In the second chapter of Mark, people flocked to Jesus bringing their sick and disabled friends and relatives. The press of the crowd was so great that those bearing a paralyzed man on a stretcher could not get near enough to touch Him. So they went up on the roof of the home Jesus was in and cut a hole big enough to lower the man into the room. Seeing their faith, Jesus pronounced the man’s sins forgiven. The religious leaders in the crowd considered this blasphemy since only God can forgive sins. So Jesus proved his authority over sin by healing the man right in front of their eyes. The people responded in amazement and gave glory to God. (Mar 2:1-12)

In the fourth chapter of Mark, Jesus and the disciples got in a boat to cross the sea of Galilee. Jesus went to sleep in the stern even as a great storm threatened to capsize the boat. The disciples, afraid for their lives, woke Him and asked Him to do something. Jesus rebuked the wind and waves and a dead calm immediately ensued. Mark says the disciples “...were filled with great fear and said to one another, Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mar 4:35-41).

On another occasion Jesus sent the disciples off in a boat while He stayed behind to pray. In the middle of the night as they were struggling to make headway against a stiff wind, He came to them walking on the water. They were terrified because they thought it was a ghost. Jesus assured them it was Him and then stepped into the boat with them. The wind immediately died down. Mark says the disciples were “utterly astounded” even though this was the second time Jesus had calmed a storm (Mar 6:45-52).

Later on in the same chapter a crowd was pressing in on Jesus when a sick woman  came up behind Him and touched the hem of His garment. He suddenly felt power go out from Him. Turning around, he said, “Who touched me?” His disciples said, “What do you mean? People are crowding all around you!” The woman, trembling in fear, came forward and Jesus told her to “go in peace” because she had been healed (Mar 5:24-33).

Again in the same chapter Jesus overheard some people telling a ruler of the synagogue who had come seeking help not to trouble Jesus because his sick daughter had passed away. He told the man, “Do not fear, only believe,” and then accompanied him to his home. There he dismissed the mourners and took the man and his wife with Peter, James and John into the room where the little girl lay lifeless. He told her, “Little girl arise,” and she got up and started to walk. Mark says those who witnessed the event “were immediately overcome with amazement” (Mar 5:35-42).

In Mark chapter seven Jesus healed a deaf man who had a speech impediment. Mark says the assembled crowd was, “astonished beyond measure, saying, ‘He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak'” (Mar 7:31-37).

Peter, James and John were Jesus’ inner circle.  Whenever he wanted to manifest Himself in some extraordinary way, He would leave the others behind and take just the three of them along. Just days before His crucifixion, He took them to the top of a mountain where He was suddenly transfigured so that He shone with a brilliance that must have almost blinded them. Suddenly Moses and Elijah appeared alongside Him and spoke with Him.  Mark says the three disciples were terrified (Mar 9:2-8).

Upon returning to His disciples, Jesus encountered a crowd embroiled in controversy with them. Without explanation, Mark says, “And immediately all the crowd, when they saw him, were greatly amazed and ran up to him and greeted him.” In all likelihood, Jesus still had an “afterglow” like the one Moses had after speaking with God on Mount Sinai.

In the tenth chapter of Mark, a wealthy young man approached Jesus with a pointed question, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.” The young man, seeking to justify himself, said, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” Jesus said, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” But the young man couldn’t comply because he was too attached to his wealth. So he went away full of sorrow. Turning to his disciples, Jesus said, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God“(Mar 10:17-31). Mark says the disciples were “exceedingly astonished” and said to Jesus, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus was turning their whole understanding of salvation on its head. The Old Testament taught that temporal blessings accompany obedience and curses come with rebellion. Turning that axiom around, it made sense to them that anyone who had temporal blessings also had eternal life. But Jesus was telling them the converse was not always true and it troubled them greatly.

Continuing on in the same chapter, Jesus set out for Jerusalem knowing that he would be betrayed by Judas, condemned by the Jewish leaders and sentenced to an excruciating death by Pilate. But He wasn’t dragging His feet. He was marching very deliberately, driven by a powerful resolution to fulfill the Father’s eternal plan to redeem mankind by offering Himself up as a sacrifice for sins. He was walking ahead of the disciples, leading the way. They were the ones dragging their feet. Mark says simply, “And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid” (Mar 10:32).

The very first thing Jesus did when He got to Jerusalem was to provoke a confrontation. He went straight to the Temple and began to drive out the money changers who had set up shop in the courtyard so they could convert Roman coins to Jewish shekels for payment of the temple tax. He also overturned the tables of those who sold pigeons for  poor people to offer as sacrifices. Mark comments, “And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching” (Mar 11:15-19).

The religious leaders hated  Jesus because He had a way of humiliating them in front of the crowds. So they frequently concocted schemes to trap Him with His own words. Having watched Him cleanse the Temple of money changers, they sent a contingent to ask Him whether He supported Roman taxation. He said to them, “Bring me a denarius and let me look at it. And they brought one. And he said to them, Whose likeness and inscription is this? They said to him, Caesar’s. Jesus said to them, ‘Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’” And Mark said, “And they marveled at him” (Mar 12:13-17).

The chief priests finally got their hands on Jesus and brought him before Pilate to stand trial. Mark describes the scene this way, “And the chief priests accused him of many things. And Pilate again asked him, Have you no answer to make? See how many charges they bring against you. But Jesus made no further answer, so that Pilate was amazed” (Mar 15:3-5).

So they crucified Jesus and buried Him in a tomb sealed and guarded by Roman soldiers so that no one would come and steal the body and then claim He had been resurrected. But after three days, Jesus arose. When three women went to anoint the body, they found the tomb open and an angel sitting where the body had been laid. He said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” And Mark says, “they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid” (Mar 16:6-8). And that is where the story ends in the original manuscripts, with three women fleeing in terror from an empty tomb. Verses 9-20 were later editions added to make a more natural conclusion, but Mark’s original intent was to leave the reader with a strong impression of the unsettling nature of the Man who came from heaven to earth to conquer sin and reconcile men and women to their Creator.

Jesus was amazing. He was terrifying. He was astonishing, astounding and marvelous. Some people ran from Him. Others ran to Him. Still others begged Him to leave. His disciples stayed with Him even though He continually frightened them and dragged them into the most terrifying situations. Some people held Him in awe and marveled at His authority and power. Others considered Him a threat and resolved to eliminate Him. But no one thought He was just a good man with an important message to share. You either hate Him or love Him, but you cannot remain indifferent.

Posted in Worship | Leave a comment

Bored With the Bible

The Christian Church is awash in heresies today. There is the “Word of Faith/Apostolic Reformation Movement” that teaches that there is a power and authority available to believers that exceeds even that of Jesus Christ. Bill Johnson, one of the chief proponents of this movement believes “that there will be a great end-time revival that will be initiated by an “Elijah generation” that shall transcend all other generations of Christians in regard to their ability to do great works of power.” (1) According to Ken Silva of Lighthouse Trails, a website dedicated to exposing false teaching, “Johnson is firmly against careful scholarship based on sound exegesis of Scripture. To him, such study is likely to bring one into bondage and spiritual death.”  Best-selling Christian author Joyce Meyer also promotes this teaching. We just became aware that one of the missionary families we support is deeply involved in this movement. We recently told them we are discontinuing their support because they are spreading false doctrine.

There is the “Spiritual Formation Movement.” Dallas Willard, a popular advocate of this movement, says, “Spiritual formation is not all by the Holy Spirit …there’s always more involved. We have to recognize that spiritual formation in us is something that is also done to us by those around us, by ourselves, and by activities which we voluntarily undertake …There has to be method.”(2) Mr. Willard teaches something called “Soul Keeping,” a doctrine that is more  mysticism than sound Biblical doctrine.  We had to leave a small group that began incorporating his teaching into our meetings via a video series produced by a former megachurch pastor from Willow Creek Church named John Ortberg.

Contemplative Spirituality,” also draws upon mystical practices to induce altered states of consciousness. Although its origins derive from from the ancient occult world, it is  often wrapped in Christian terminology. It teaches that God is all (pantheistic) and  at the same time is in all (panentheistic).“(3) Probably the most well-known advocate of contemplative spirituality is Sarah Young. Her book Jesus Calling is one of the best sellers of Thomas Nelson, a highly respected Christian publisher.  Inspired by two English women who wrote a book called God Calling in 1930, Sarah Young began employing their techniques to record the voice she heard speaking to her during devotions. The problem was that the two English women were practitioners of the occult. God Calling is a collection of channeled messages presented in the form of a daily devotional. The words the authors heard were not from Jesus, but demons. Many of the words Sarah Young has recorded directly contradict the teaching of scripture.(6) Other well-known proponents of contemplative spirituality are Rick Warren, Brian McLaren, Tim Keller and Beth Moore.

Lectio Divina is a form of Contemplative Prayer that employs techniques used in Buddhist mantras to empty the mind of extraneous thought and center on one word from a Bible passage in order to produce an altered state of consciousness.  Bill and Kristi Gaultiere, co-founders of Soul Shepherding, Inc. popularized this practice in their award-winning weekly Soul Talks Podcast and on their popular website

According to Lighthousetrails, “Lectio divina plays a significant role in leading people toward full blown meditative practices…by introducing a “presence” [that] is not God’s presence.” This same practice is also used in Ashtanga Yoga, part of the New Age Movement.

The “Emerging Church Movement” promotes a form of mysticism called “interspirituality,” or the uniting of all religions into one. Interspirituality denies that Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation (4). Donald Miller, author of Blue Like Jazz, which has sold over a million copies, says, “You cannot be a Christian without being a mystic.”  He dismisses rigorous study of theology as “charting God on a grid,” and commends mantra meditation and Buddhism.

Circle Making” is an occult practice based on a myth about a Jewish man named ‘Honi’ who was summoned by the elders of Jerusalem in the first century B.C. to pray for rain. As the story goes, he drew a circle around himself  in the dirt and begged God to end a three year drought. At first only a few drops fell. Then, in response to more urgent pleadings, a torrential downpour washed over the earth. Finally, the downpour subsided to a steady rain that soaked the earth and filled the cisterns. Anne Graham Lotz employs this occult practice in her appeals for spiritual revival.(5)

False doctrine has been incorporated into the very discipleship ministries of many evangelical churches in the form of Alpha Courses. Nicky Gumbel, vicar of the Holy Trinity Church Brompton, the largest Anglican church in England, founded this program. His church was a center of the “Holy Laughter Movement” that originated in Toronto under  Eleanor Mumford. When she “invited the Holy Spirit to come” at a  home meeting in England that Gumbel attended in 1994, he had an experience “like massive electricity going through my body.” He immediately introduced the movement to Holy Trinity. There he prayed, “Lord, thank you so much for all you are doing, and we pray you’ll send your Spirit,” and one of those present fell to the floor and began laughing like a hyena.(7)

Even Bible Study Fellowship, a staple of evangelical Bible study, has been influenced by false teaching. Members report that leadership has resorted to the “there are no wrong answers” approach to Bible interpretation and that resources like the Jesus Calling Devotional have been added to the list of recommended readings.(8)

These are just some of the heresies that are being promulgated by some of the most well-known names in evangelical circles. Christian bookstores promote their products and small groups devour them. At the same time, it has become increasingly difficult to find orthodox Christian literature on the shelves of Christian bookstores. Ask for the section on Reformed Theology or works by John Calvin, Martin Luther, or any of the great Puritan preachers and you will be met with a puzzled look. I posed this question on a recent visit to a clerk at the local Family Christian Book Store. After a long pause she said, “Now isn’t that an interesting question. I don’t think I’ve ever been asked that before.” She then proceeded to check her computer and said that the books were available on the website but there were none in the store.

So what is it that drives the proliferation of false teachers and the sale of books that promote false doctrine? Many of these heresies spring from a desire for spiritual power and authority or for a sense of mystery and awe that people are not getting from reading the Bible. Sarah Young said it best when explaining why she was drawn to the practice of channeling, “I knew that God communicated with me through the Bible, but I yearned for more.”

God’s Word is Deeply Satisfying

In the Psalms, David expresses his absolute delight in God’s law:

I long for your salvation, O Lord, and your law is my delight.” (Ps 119:174 )
If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction.”(Ps 119:92 )
Your testimonies are my delight; they are my counselors.“(Ps 119:24)
but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.”(Ps 1:2)
Let your mercy come to me, that I may live; for your law is my delight.”(Ps 119:77)
I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.”(Ps 40:8)
“...their heart is unfeeling like fat, but I delight in your law.”(Ps 119:70 )
Your testimonies are my heritage forever, for they are the joy of my heart.“(Ps 119:111)
Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it.”(Ps 119:35 )
Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day.“(Ps 119:97 )
In the way of your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches.”(Ps 119:14)

Why does David find such satisfaction in God’s Word? It starts with his habit of meditating on the law day and night and storing it in his heart (Ps 1:2; 40:8; 119:111; 119:97😉. That produces a sensitivity to the voice of the Holy Spirit as it uses God’s Word to prompt him toward obedience (Ps 119:70;119:24;Ps 40:8;119:35). David’s obedience, in turn, gives him strength to endure hardship, patient longing for God’s salvation, indescribable joy as he experiences God’s intervention on his behalf, and a deeply satisfying life free from longing (Ps 119:92; 119:174; Ps 119:14).

In Psalm 19 David describes the blessings of obeying God’s law:
The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.”(Ps 19:7-11)

God’s law revives the soul, imparts wisdom, gives joy, produces understanding, and warns against sin. For those reasons, it was David’s most precious treasure.

The Apostle Paul also found the fulfillment of his deepest longings in God’s Word. In Romans 11:33 he says, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!”

Paul devotes much of the book of Ephesians to describing the “mystery” of the gospel, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.”(Eph 1:7-10)

Paul is grateful that he has been given the privilege “to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.”(Eph 3:8-10)  And his prayer for the believers is “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe.” (Eph 1:17-19)

Missing Inspiration From The Holy Spirit

How could the Word of God be so exciting and mysterious and delightful to David and  Paul and so uninspiring to many professing Christians that they feel compelled to seek mystery and power and authority by other means?

One answer is in Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians, “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him.” It is the Holy Spirit that provides the insight to understand the mystery of the gospel in all its glory. Those who pursue another gospel do so because they have never really been born again. They may have come forward at a rally or raised a hand at a revival meeting or said a prayer in answer to a gospel invitation, but they have never received the Holy Spirit because they have never repented of their sins. So they cannot comprehend the riches of God’s grace in providing forgiveness and redemption and adoption and sanctification. And they cannot thrill at the prospect of God uniting all things in heaven and earth under the authority of Christ because they do not know the wonder of his rule in their own hearts. They have never experienced release from bondage to sin or the freedom to pursue righteousness through the empowering of the Holy Spirit. They do not know how exciting it is to feel God’s favor, to be free from fear of judgment, to know that when they finally stand before God they will not have to face condemnation.

These people cannot comprehend the magnitude of God’s grace because they have never really sensed the magnitude of their own sins. Lacking a sense of remorse, they cannot know the inexpressible joy that comes from having the heavy burden of their sins lifted. If you have ever escaped a near fatal accident, you can understand to some degree the sense of relief and elation just to be spared to live another day. This is nothing compared to the joy that comes from knowing that Jesus Christ has borne God’s judgment against sin on our behalf. This is where the sense of mystery and awe begin. And it never ends because we will be in Christ’s debt for all of eternity.

Missing Inspiration From The Word of God

Both David and Paul loved God’s Word. They believed it, they trusted it, and they clung to it. They had no doubts as to its total veracity and reliability. Because they loved it, they spent time studying it and meditating upon it. Doubt as to the truthfulness of God’s Word robs it of its power. James says the one who doubts is like the waves of the sea tossed to and fro. That man will receive nothing from the Lord. “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.  But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” (James 1:5-8). Jesus said, “ For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:18-19).

There are many nominal Christians today who believe some parts of the Bible but not others. Others believe it all, but consider obedience optional in some cases. Still others distinguish between “salvation issues” and the rest of the Bible. Others are not willing to sacrifice their lifestyles to follow Christ. Many professing Christians have chosen to discount the very parts that provide the sense of awe and power and mystery that they seek elsewhere – the creation, the miracles and the coming return of Christ in power and glory. The Holy Spirit will not grant understanding to one who has reservations about the truth of God’s word or who fails to obey it. That person will never be able to comprehend “…what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe“(Eph 1:19).

There is no lack of awe and mystery in the pages of the Bible for those who believe it and obey it without reservation. They will be led by the Holy Spirit into an understanding of the riches of their glorious inheritance and the immeasurable greatness of God’s power that will satisfy their deepest longings. But those who discount parts of the Bible for their own selfish reasons will never find that sense of mystery and awe no matter how hard they try.


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Sowing Tares

James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, announced on Facebook recently that Donald Trump has professed faith in Jesus Christ. He said he knows the woman who ‘led him to the Lord.’

He goes on to say that Donald has not yet learned the vocabulary to express his newfound faith. I found that very interesting. How does one profess faith in Christ without having the words to do so? His knowledge of the gospel must have been very minimal.

Did Donald Trump “accept Jesus as his Savior and Lord,” or “ask Jesus into his heart,” or “make a decision for Jesus Christ?” Did he follow the “Four Spiritual Laws” or “Two Ways to Live” or perhaps one of the following plans:


Does he understand the holiness of God, and the depth of his own sins? Donald Trump is not a man given to apologies. Did he feel sorrow for his sins enough to repent and seek forgiveness?

James Dobson is very premature in pronouncing Donald Trump a Christian. He has fallen into the evangelical trap of equating a verbal profession of faith based upon an oversimplified gospel presentation with new life in Christ. But just because a person says he is a Christian doesn’t make him one.

Besides, no one leads someone else to Christ. The Holy Spirit draws him through the preaching of the Word of God, not a four step plan. There are no simplified gospel presentations in the Bible. The apostles made no altar calls. People came to Christ because the Holy Spirit convicted them of their sins through the preaching of the Word of God.

Modern evangelism often short-circuits this process, settling for a raised hand or a simple prayer rather than genuine repentance and commitment to Christ. It produces false conversions and fills the church with unregenerate people who come to Jesus on their own terms. That is what it means to “make a decision for Christ.” You do the choosing. The one who does the choosing  always dictates the terms.

Jesus said, “You did not choose me, but I chose you” (John 15:16). The Bible says God the Father chose those who believe before the foundation of the world (Eph 1:4). We come to him on his terms, not ours.  Many come to Him with the attitude, “I’ll keep what is precious to me and add Jesus to the mix.” These are not genuine believers. Jesus said we must be willing to forsake everything else when we come to him.  Is Mr. Trump ready to abandon all else for Christ or did he just pray a prayer of salvation based on a gospel formula like so many other professing Christians? He obviously didn’t get much background in the basics of salvation if he couldn’t even find the words to express his new faith.

Donald Trump is a very wealthy man. Jesus said it is especially difficult for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven. The rich young ruler found it impossible to give up his wealth to follow Christ, even though it made him very sad. James said, “Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?  But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court? Do they not blaspheme the fair name by which you have been called?” (James 2:5)

The only way to know whether Donald Trump’s profession of faith was genuine is if he obeys Christ. Jesus said, “He who has my commandments and keeps them is the one who loves me” (John 14:21). Maybe the Word of God sown in his heart will find fertile soil. Or maybe his great riches and the cares of this world will choke it out before it has a chance to grow. Maybe what was sown in his heart never even germinated because it was inferior seed. If that is the case, Mr. Dobson may end up having egg on his face. I certainly hope not. It would be wonderful to have a devout Christian with Mr. Trump’s kind of tenacity and fortitude for president.

Two Ways to Proclaim the Gospel

There are two versions of the gospel being presented today. One is called “evangelism” and the other is called “preaching.” “Evangelism” is a relatively recent phenomenon that began with tent meetings and gospel crusades and eventually led to abbreviated gospel presentations like the Four Spiritual Laws. Evangelism is designed to produce a confession of faith based on the barest of scripture knowledge and an affirmative response to an invitation to accept Christ. Many of these gospel formulas stress the love of God but entirely omit remorse for sin and repentance. Yet more than half of the Bible is devoted    to showing us our inability to achieve righteousness on our own so that we are prepared to accept Christ’s perfect sacrifice for sin on our behalf. This is key to grasping the grace of God in salvation. Many Gospel presentations mention nothing about remorse for sin. Without repentance there is no salvation. The appeal to turn from sin and repent was a consistent part of the gospel message presented by Jesus and the Apostles.

You won’t find the word, “evangelize” when you search your Bible. What you will find instead is the phrase, “preach the gospel.” This is how Jesus and the apostles spread the faith. Gospel presentations can never take the place of the Word of God because it alone can impart spiritual life.

Forced Conversion

Our church has three separate congregations. One is an English congregation of garden variety evangelicals. Another is a Cantonese congregation that tends to be a little charismatic because it emphasizes healing. The third is a Mandarin congregation with a reformed pastor. The Cantonese congregation holds special evangelistic services from time-to-time. They invite a team of evangelists to conduct the meetings. I have seen these evangelists use all kinds of techniques to coax conversions out of people. Once they raise their hands, they are immediately pushed into some kind of discipleship class and urged to sign up for baptism. The number of baptisms that occur at Thanksgiving and Easter are considered the mark of the spiritual vitality of the church.

From time to time relatives will immigrate from China to America. One of these immigrants was struck by a hit-and-run driver and very seriously injured. He was in a coma for many days. When he finally awoke, members of the congregation aggressively began to evangelize him. They convinced him to “make a decision for Christ” even though his mind was still very muddled from the accident. Those who had evangelized him soon announced that he had become a Christian. They put him in a discipleship class and then pressed him to get baptized, but he couldn’t even remember what he had been told from one day to the next. My wife and I spent some time with him and his wife and it was very apparent to us that they did not understand even the basics of the Christian faith.

Genuine Conversion

A Chinese woman from Kearny, Nebraska, visited the Mandarin congregation recently. She met her American husband in China and they moved to Kearney to take care of his elderly mother. Needless to say, there are no Chinese Christian churches in Kearney, Nebraska. This woman was a believer who was starved for Christian fellowship. Having spent some time in Kearney, I knew how she must feel. So my wife and I invited her and her husband out to lunch after the service.

There she told my wife how she had come to Christ. They were living in China at the time.  It was the Chinese New Year and everyone had two weeks off to celebrate. She happened to read a blog post by a Chinese Christian. This woman kept repeating the words, “Thank the Lord” in her post. This peaked Jenny’s curiosity. She asked the woman about her faith. She told Jenny to get a Bible and read it.

Jenny found a Christian bookstore, but, just like all the other shops, it was closed for the holidays. She happened to bump into the proprietor and he told her that he had a Bible she could purchase, “Thank the Lord.” There was that familiar phrase again.

She took the Bible home and began to devour it. She read night and day non-stop through the entire holiday until she had gone all the way from Genesis to Revelation. She said that when she read the creation account, she knew this was the truth and what she had been told about evolution was a lie. She memorized the Ten Commandments and The Lord’s Prayer. She immediately went home and threw out all her idols and joined a Bible believing church. This woman became a believer without being led by anyone but the Holy Spirit as she read the Word of God. Hers was without a doubt, a genuine conversion.

Sowing Tares

Unfortunately, the kind of gospel presentations that have passed for evangelism have produced a generation of professing believers who know little of the gospel and in many cases have never even repented of their sins. These people have never been reconciled to God. They are the tares that will be separated from the true believers at Christ’s return.

Billy Graham, the greatest evangelist of our era, admits that probably only 25% of the people who come forward at his crusades are really born again. Statistics show that the real number is closer to six percent.(1) Many of the others find themselves in churches all across America and around the world. These folks are the ones who talk the talk but don’t walk the walk. They are Christian in name only. It is very possible there was one sitting in the pew next to you last Sunday in church.

How can the body of Christ function normally when it is filled with people who have never even been born again? How does the church come to a common understanding of God’s Word? How do they discern God’s will together? How do they follow the leading of the Holy Spirit if many of them are not even filled with the Holy Spirit? How do they exhort and admonish and encourage one another in the faith if they are not united in Jesus Christ? How can God accomplish his purposes for the church if many are not even committed to him? A church divided against itself cannot stand. It will fall prey to all kinds of false teaching.

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Why Discrimination is Good

In this day of political correctness, tolerance, diversity, and inclusion, discrimination has taken a back seat. But society has become so undiscriminating that it is practically falling apart.

Take Sweden, for example. It is probably one of the most ‘progressive’ nations in the world. The people of Sweden are so indiscriminate that they welcomed a hostile horde of Muslim immigrants into their country with open arms. Only now that Muslims are terrorizing their country, gang raping their women and beating up their men have they come to realize that shared values should have played a part in their decision to let these people into their country. A little more discrimination would have spared them a lot more trauma.

The same can be said for Germany. Angela Merkel took great pride in her ‘compassionate’ response to the immigrant crisis. She committed to allowing 800,000 refugees from the Middle East into her country. Since that time Germany has faced a plague of terror attacks on its civilian population. But at this point there is little either Germany or Sweden can do to stem the tide of collapse in their societies. It is too late.

Healthy Institutions Discriminate

Exclusivity is an inherent part of any healthy institution. They naturally discriminate against one group of people in favor of another. Boy Scouts cease to be Boy Scouts when they start admitting girls. The same goes for Girl Scouts who admit boys. Americans cease to be a sovereign nation when they open their borders to anyone who seeks entry. Members of the European Union are just now beginning to realize that they are losing control of their own countries because they have opened their borders. Now when radical Islamic terrorists invade their neighbors, they too are vulnerable. Just ask France. They are facing a constant onslaught of terrorism thanks to the policies of their neighbor to the West.

The widespread lack of discrimination has also led to the collapse of the family. It has no boundaries anymore. Today two men can form a family. Two women can form a family. Now that the only criterion for marriage is being in love, sexual libertarians are even advocating for polygamy.

It is so bad now that we are not even allowed to discriminate between men and women on the basis of their physical sexual characteristics. If a man chooses to identify as a woman, we must open the ladies room to him or face the wrath of the federal government.

The Non-Discriminating Church

This same tendency to be non-judgmental has infected the church. I heard a respected guest on a local religious broadcast say that if President Obama has self-identified as a Christian, we must take him at his word, despite the fact that he takes away religious liberties from people of faith every chance he gets. Christians refuse to label anyone an unbeliever on the basis of his or her conduct if that person goes to church and calls himself a Christian. Personal faith has become a matter of conscience, and who can judge what goes on in another person’s heart?

I once got embroiled in a controversy with the members of my small group for suggesting another member was not a Christian. She never attended meetings, had absolutely no interest in studying the Bible, rented a house with a bunch of single men, and constantly complained that they resented her because they didn’t feel free to have their girlfriends sleep over when she was around. The group felt compassion for her and prayed for her, but no one would tell her to move out of that house except me. When I suggested she was morally compromised and questioned the genuineness of her faith, I was vilified. After all, who was I to determine whether she was a Christian or not?! But her lifestyle showed absolutely no evidence of a love for Christ or a desire to follow Him.

If we cannot decide whether a person’s faith is authentic based on their conduct, then how do we distinguish them from unbelievers? And if we cannot identify them as Christians, how could an unbeliever possibly tell the difference? Christians have ceased to become salt and light at this point and we have lost our redeeming influence on society.

Everyone Discriminates By Default

If we were to be honest with ourselves, we would admit that we discriminate in hundreds of ways every day without even thinking about it. We choose our circle of friends based on common interests. We exclude people who don’t share those interests. We eliminate a multitude of potential mates based on things like their appearance, their social status, their beliefs, their values and their aspirations. If we go to a Baptist church, we don’t expect to hear Catholic doctrine. There are relatively few things that we do not choose based upon on our individual styles and tastes and preferences.

If we couldn’t discriminate, language would lose all meaning. The definition of a word tells us not just what it means, but also what it does not mean. It includes some meanings and excludes others. Deconstructionism has blurred the meaning of words today. We call people who promote immorality ‘progressives.’ What is progressive about embracing all kinds of sexual perversion and promiscuity? How can ‘political correctness’ be ‘correct’ when it contradicts natural law? Why is  there is such a thing as a ‘right-wing extremist’ but we never hear about ‘left-wing extremists?’ What could be more extreme than defending the sale of aborted baby parts?

Jesus is the Great Discriminator

Jesus will come to judge the world for their sins. He will distinguish between the ‘goats’ and the ‘sheep.’ He will send one group to heaven and the other to hell. He said “The one who loves me keeps my commandments” (John 14:15). If you don’t keep His commandments, He says you don’t love Him. He’s making a judgment about the authenticity of your faith. He said that anyone can make that same judgment based upon our love for one another as believers, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).

Isn’t that what a judge does? He discriminates between right and wrong, legal and illegal, good and evil.

Our problem is not that we have become too intolerant because we cling to absolute moral standards, but that we have compromised our commitment to the truth because we don’t want to be out of step with the rest of society. We cannot bring ourselves to condemn homosexual behavior because people will say we are unloving. We cannot acknowledge the fact that there is no such thing as a peaceful Muslim even though a true believer follows the Koran and the Koran promotes killing of infidels. That would offend Muslims. We cannot say that our President is not a Christian because that would be calling him a liar.

The irony is that those who boast of their tolerance cannot tolerate those whom they deem intolerant. It is so bad that the president of the school board in Bakersfield, CA, had to resign because he refused to vote for bathroom integration in the public schools. He was threatened with a lawsuit for voting his conscience! Why have a vote if you can only vote one way?? That is the height of intolerance!

It is time we stopped being so squeemish about expressing our likes and dislikes, our fears and our hopes, and our most deeply cherished opinions and beliefs for fear of offending someone or appearing intolerant. It is also time that we started talking about the consequences of rejecting Jesus Christ. There is a day of judgment coming. The Jesus who returns to earth will return in power and great glory. It will be a day of stark terror for unbelievers and we don’t do them any favors by coating  the gospel with a thick syrupy layer of sweet talk about the love of Jesus. And we should not fear them or seek their approval. We should fear the one who said, “The one who honors me I will honor“(1 Sam 2:30), and “whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Mt 10:33). His approval is the only approval that matters.

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Seeking Signs and Wonders

My wife and I recently attended a presentation by a missionary couple working in the Middle East whom we support financially. We were impressed with their obvious zeal for the Lord and their desire to work in a dangerous place where the Spirit of God is clearly moving. But as they shared their vision, it became increasingly evident that they were focused more on reports of local Muslims having visions of Jesus than calling people to repentance and faith through the preaching of the gospel. So we began a dialogue with them after the meeting to find out whether we we were on the same page theologically. It soon became apparent that we were not.

Our first question was, “Do the people who come to Christ acknowledge their need of a Savior and repent of their sins?” The answer was that some of the new believers have a better understanding of the gospel than others. However, they encouraged them all to seek a vision of Christ.

Our second question was, “How do they come to Christ?” The answer came in the form of an example of a person who heard a message from Jesus that said, “I love you.” This message came at the prompting of the missionary’s daughter who just happened to hear the very same message.

So we pressed the point that genuine conversion takes place as the Holy Spirit takes the Word of God and applies it to a person’s heart by convicting them of sin and turning them to Jesus Christ. Our friend agreed and apologized that he had given us the impression that he was relying on dreams and visions rather than God’s Word.

We then shared our belief that dreams and visions and other signs and wonders were given by God as a means of authenticating His Word, and that the signs Jesus and the apostles performed were more than sufficient to establish the authenticity of the Bible. To continue to seek dreams and visions today shows a lack of faith in the Word of God as revealed in the Bible. That is why Jesus told the Pharisees that no sign will be given an evil and adulterous generation, “But he answered them, An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it (Mt 12:39). They are evil and adulterous because they refused to acknowledge the multitude of signs Jesus had been showing them on a daily basis, even attributing them to the power of Satan (Mt 9:34). Today we have the testimony of scripture to the many signs and wonders performed by Jesus. We don’t need a sign any more than the Pharisees did.

I then shared my experience with a group of charismatic friends who have been praying for a revival in the city of Rockford, IL, because God told a ‘prophet’ from Uganda who had come to spread revival in American that the revival would begin there. Our friend said he knows a pastor who has worked with this ‘prophet’ and that indeed crime rates in the city have begun to go down. I found that interesting since another member of the same group had just told me that crime figures there had recently gone up.

So I checked the statistics for myself and discovered that, in fact, Rockford is one of the most unsafe cities in America. Only five percent of cities are less safe. Ninety five percent are more safe.

Genuine Prophecies Have Passed Away

Since the first century there has not been a prophecy that has revealed any additional information about the redemptive plans of God than has already been revealed in the Bible. Paul said, “As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.  For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.” (1 Cor 13:8-10). Hebrews 1:1-4 tells us that the perfect has already come, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets,  but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” Jesus told Philip that since he has seen Jesus, he has indeed seen the Father (John 14:9). There is no fuller revelation of the Father than the person, Jesus Christ. The Perfect has come.

In his Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin tells us that, “When God speaks at the last times He intimates that there is no longer any reason to expect any new revelation.  For it was not a Word in part that Christ brought but the final conclusion.”  What He is saying is that, “If you expect new revelation from God, you are saying that what Jesus brought was only a partial message, that there is something lacking in the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ. And the message Jesus commanded His Apostles to teach all nations had holes that now need to be filled up” (

The Lifestyle of a Prophet

Those who call themselves prophets today are mostly well-to-do. They live in nice homes and drive expensive cars thanks to the gifts of their devoted followers. But that is not the lifestyle of a true prophet. According to the Bible, prophets, “ suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth” (Heb 11:33-38). Stephen asked the Jews, “Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute?” (Acts 7:52).

The life of a prophet was not like the life of one of the rich and famous like Jimmy Swaggart or Benny Hinn, or Jim and Tammy Baker. They were outcasts and social misfits. The same goes for the Apostles. Some charismatic churches like to call their leaders “Apostles” but there were only twelve of them and they are long gone. According to the Apostle Paul, one had to be a Jew to be an Apostle  (2 Cor 11:1-12:10) and to have personally seen Jesus Christ (1 Cor 9:1-2). That would disqualify all of the modern apostles. Then he had to suffer great hardships in order to keep him from becoming proud for the great privilege that had been bestowed upon him, and none of the modern day “Apostles” have suffered anything that compares with the ‘qualifications’ that Paul describes in 2 Cor 11:21-29.

A true prophet’s word never fails. His predictions always come true. There is not a single example in scripture of a  prophet who ever got it wrong. In fact, if a man prophesied and his words proved false, the people were commanded to kill him (Deut 18:20). Today if a prophet makes a mistake, he just modifies his interpretation of what he supposedly saw or heard to fit the outcome.

Finally, there is absolutely no doubt when a prophet hears the very words of God through the Holy Spirit. The word he receives is not an impression or a dream or a feeling. Paul describes it this way, “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter (2 Cor 11:2-4). Some of those things included teachings that were unique to Paul like the rapture. Samuel and Moses heard a still, small voice. God also spoke to Moses out of a whirlwind, burning bush, flaming mountain, and face-to-face. We are told God spoke audibly to others. But none received an impression or a feeling that could not be substantiated either by onlookers or those who witnessed the actual fulfillment of the prophecy.

Why Seek a Sign?

Why do people seek signs? Because the Word of God is just not enough for them. They don’t want to do the hard work of mining the scripture in order to discern the whole counsel of God and to know Christ in all His fullness. They only want to hear what they need to know now.  John Calvin says that those who pursue signs inevitably end up devaluing the Word of God and becoming “foolish, ridiculous, vain, false, and …silly.” (

If you have ever been to a charismatic meeting or seen one on TV you know this is true. People get, ‘slain in the Spirit’ and fall to the ground (with a little push from the evangelist). They get ‘healed,’ but end up walking on deformed legs. They take Jewish horns called ‘shofars’ and blow them loudly to wake up angels and drive the demons away.

I have been in charismatic meetings where people just lie on the floor and moan as soon as the meeting starts. Instead of seeking the joy of knowing the Lord through the study of scripture they seek a counterfeit ecstasy that comes from another source and is a fleeting experience rather than an ever-present reality. 2 Peter 1 says of those who practice this kind of deception, “But false prophets also arose among the people … And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.”

Signs Do Not Indicate Faith

Thomas insisted he would not believe Christ had risen from the dead unless he saw the nail prints in his hands and the sword wound in his side. When Jesus appeared to him and showed him these signs, Thomas acknowledged him as “My Lord and My God.” Jesus’ response was, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are the people who have not seen and yet have believed” (Jn 20:28-29).

Those who seek signs will not necessarily believe as Thomas did. Those who believe without seeing a sign are more blessed. God told the rich man in hell that even though one were to rise from the dead, those who received him would not believe. Jesus refused to commit himself to those who were convinced of his claim to deity by the miracles he performed. He “would not entrust himself to them” on one occasion and withdrew from them on another because they sought to overthrow Rome and make him king. (Jn 2, 6).

Paul said, “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor 1:22-25).

The Sufficiency of God’s Word

John Calvin said that since the Apostolic era there has been only one stream of revelation and that is the preaching of the Word of God. When you add a second stream of revelation like signs, wonders, and prophecies, you water down the Word of God and weaken the pulpit. And this is very evident in the ministry of our charismatic friends. They like to talk a lot about power and miraculous answers to prayer but speak less of the power of the Holy Spirit to convict of sin and produce true faith through repentance. They supplant the true ministry of the Holy Spirit with a false sensationalism based on ecstatic experiences.

As the Apostle Peter says, And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation” (2 Pet 1:19-21).

The role of the Holy Spirit is subordinate to the ministry of the Word of God. It casts light upon it, amplifies it, and applies it to the heart. Here is how John MacArthur describes the true ministry of the Holy Spirit as it is presented in scripture:

How did the Holy Spirit work in Christ?  Did He knock Him down?  Did He make Him look drunk?  Did He cause Him to fall, or flop, or roll, or laugh hysterically, or bark, or babble, or talk gibberish?  It’s a bizarre thing to think about anything like that.  And people who make people do that are not Spirit-filled.  That’s not what the Holy Spirit does” ( He goes on to say that the Holy Spirit works in us the same way he did in Jesus. We grow in wisdom and stature and favor with God and man (Lk 1). We are anointed by the Holy Spirit  (Mk 1). We are sustained by the Spirit during temptation and empowered by the Spirit for ministry (Lk 4). We are filled by the Holy Spirit to walk in perfect obedience (Heb 9:14).

The Holy Spirit conforms us to Christ. So, he does for us what he did for Christ. The Bible says he comforts us, confirms our adoption, guarantees our inheritance, intercedes for us in our weakness, secures our salvation, grants us wisdom to understand God’s word, and fills us with joy.

The Danger of Deception

Jesus warns his hearers that, “Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name? And then will I declare to them, I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness” (Mt 7:21-23) A hard as it may seem to believe, there will be people refused entrance to Heaven who for all appearances not only believed in Jesus Christ, but performed miracles in his name. But evidently they did not obey Jesus Christ because he calls them “Workers of lawlessness.” The true sign of salvation is obedience to Jesus Christ.

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