The Orphaned Church

In Jude 1:3-4 the author says, “Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

Orthodox Christianity
The faith once delivered to the saints is the same gospel preached by Jesus Christ, the apostles, the church fathers, the reformers, and the Puritans. It is orthodox Christianity. These doctrines are affirmed in a number of confessions of faith produced by various church councils throughout the past 2000 years. They include the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, The Chalcedonian Definition of the Faith, The Heidelberg Catechism, The Belgic Confession, The Canons of Dort, the Westminster Confession of Faith, and the London Baptist Confession. These are all proclamations of the essential doctrines “once for all delivered to the saints” formulated to defend the church against false teaching.

Progressive Revelation
Since these doctrines were “delivered once for all” they never change.  But God has revealed them progressively throughout history. The Old Testament prophets spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit, but they did not always understand the significance of their own words. The Apostle Peter affirms as much when he says, “Concerning this salvation, the prophets who predicted the grace that would come to you searched and investigated carefully. They probed into what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating when he testified beforehand about the sufferings appointed for Christ and his subsequent glory.” (1Pet 1:10-11) Peter goes on to say that the prophets did not fully comprehend what they were saying because the meaning was reserved for the church in coming ages, “It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to [j]look.” (1 Pet 1:12)

Although Peter spent three years with Christ, he himself had an incomplete understanding of Christ’s mission. In the eighth chapter of Mark, he acknowledged that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. But only moments later he rebuked Jesus for saying that he must be offered up to die at the hands of Jewish leaders. Peter did not understand the Old Testament teaching that the Son of God must suffer and die. None of the other disciples did either. After his resurrection, Christ appeared to two disciples on the road to Emmaus and  had to explain to them at great length how the events they had witnessed fulfilled scripture. The significance of Christ’s death and resurrection became evident only after his resurrection.

The Apostle Paul adds to the understanding of the church by explaining such doctrines as the sovereignty of God in salvation, the inclusion of  Gentiles in the plan of redemption, the relationship between Christ and his church, the ministry of the Holy Spirit, the significance of the sacraments,  and the future hope of believers. All of these teachings were revealed to Paul personally by Christ. This probably took place during the three years that he spent alone in Arabia after his conversion. (Gal 1:18-2:2) He describes how this revelation came to him on at least one occasion in 2 Cor 12:1-6 and Eph 3:3.

The church fathers continued to build upon the foundation laid by the prophets and apostles as they defended the faith against various false teachings that arose in the course of church history. Saint Augustine organized the teachings of scripture on the Trinity into the first systematic theology in the fifth century to defend the deity of Christ against false teachers. Martin Luther, John Calvin and the other reformers reclaimed the great doctrines of the faith from the Roman Catholic Church which had made the church the mediator between God and man rather than Christ.

Building on The Past
As the book of Hebrews says, “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…” (Heb 1:1-2) With each revelation has come more clarity and definition. With the advent of Jesus, God arrived on the scene to deliver the message in person. In those days Jesus pronounced judgment on the towns where he had performed great miracles because they had received not just an indirect message by way of a prophet, but the very Living Word of God. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.” (Mt 11:21-24) Because we have a record of the life and works of Jesus Christ, we are no less accountable than the people of Jesus’ day. As Jesus said, “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.” (Lk 12:48)

The Price of Ignorance
When God gave the law to the children of Israel, he said through his servant Moses, 
See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you today, and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn aside from the way that I am commanding you today, to go after other gods that you have not known.” (Deut 11:26-28) On that day the Israelites agreed to do all that the Lord commanded. But it was not long before they went astray. In fact, they so completely abandoned the way of the Lord that they eventually lost the book of the law. It was not until some 800 years later that they rediscovered it when King Josiah of Judah commissioned the renovation of the temple. It  had come into disrepair from years of neglect. The discovery prompted great anxiety, for when the priests read the law, they realized they were under the wrath of God for their idolatry. Although the king destroyed all the idols and killed all the false prophets, God did not spare the Israelites from judgment. Shortly after the death of Josiah, he sent the armies of Babylon to invade Israel and take the people captive. The price they paid for abandoning God’s word was seventy years of humiliating captivity in the land of Babylon.

Because of the rapid progress that has characterized our present age, we tend to think that we are smarter than those who went before us. We have amassed great fortunes compared to previous generations. In our arrogance we have shunned the faith of our fathers, replacing it with a man-made religion that conforms to modern science.  Christian bookstores are filled with popular titles on how to fix just about any aspect of your Christian life. Contemporary Christian therapy has replaced orthodox Christian theology.  Go to almost any church small group meeting and you will study some popular contemporary Christian author or listen to one of their CDs or watch one of their DVDs. Your Sunday School teacher probably uses their materials in class and your pastor likely bases his sermons on them. Try to find a church that affirms the great creeds of the faith or teaches them in catechism class or features sermons that draw upon the great works of the church fathers and reformers and you will be sorely disappointed.

Although rich in material ways, today’s church is poverty stricken when it comes to knowledge of God because it has severed its ties with the past. It is like the the Laodicean church described in the third chapter of Revelation, “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” (Rev 3:17) What does God say to this church? “I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.” Gold, white garments, and salve were the products of the Laodiceans’ commercial success and the source of their self-sufficiency and pride. 

Today’s church has become far more wealthy and self-reliant than the Laodicean Church. The annual Global Wealth Report from Credit Suisse said recently: “Two generations ahead, future extrapolation of current wealth growth rates yields almost a billion millionaires, equivalent to 20 per cent of the total adult population.( Because we have become so self-sufficient, many Christians believe that there is no problem that cannot be solved by modern means. And in its pride, it has forsaken a rich theological heritage for a form of self-help religion. But therapy is  a poor substitute for theology because it is based upon the knowledge of the creature rather than revelation from the Creator.  The attributes of God go well beyond human comprehension. They cannot be apprehended apart from the ministry of the Holy Spirit. They are so profound that God has had to reveal himself over generations of redemptive history. We would do well to build upon that foundation  rather than to assume we can do a better job with tools acquired through human progress.

Modern Apostates
The modern progressive mindset has so thoroughly compromised today’s church that it no longer accepts the plain teaching of the Bible on certain important doctrinal issues. For instance, the Bible clearly teaches that in the beginning God saw that everything he created was good. He didn’t go through some sort of trial and error process until he finally got it right. Yet many professing Christians choose to believe the evolutionary version of origins which says man was only the most well adapted version of a long line of  failed creatures  that weren’t well suited to their environment.

Many of these same people believe that the universe is some 14 billion years old because science tells us it would take that long for light from the farthest stars to reach the earth. But Genesis tells us that vegetation was created on the third day and the heavenly bodies were created on the fourth day. It is clear from the Genesis account that the stars can be no older than the earth. When they were created they were already billions of light years away.

It is not just the biblical account of creation that Christians reject. They also refuse to accept the biblical teaching on the severity of sin. Because sin is so deeply embedded in human nature, the bible is very clear on the importance of corporal punishment for training in righteousness. Proverbs 23:13-14 says, “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die.If you strike him with the rod, you will save his soul from Sheol.” Many Christian parents believe that any kind of physical discipline is harmful to a child’s normal social development. For the same reason, few pastors will preach repentance for sin and few churches practice church discipline.

Another major area of compromise is the biblical teaching on sexual purity. In a day and age of sexual permissiveness and perversion, many professing Christians have chosen to disregard the Bible’s condemnation of  homosexuality and effeminate behavior. They have bought the lie that gender identity and sexual proclivities are inborn traits, as if God would create something which he then calls evil. He pronounced everything he created good and he made mankind male and female so that their external genitalia reflect their actual sexual identities.

Jesus said over and over again that the one who loves him keeps his commandments. In the book of Hebrews, faith is equated with taking God at his word. Genesis 15:6 says that Abraham “believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.” Many Christians today reduce believing faith to a personal decision to accept Jesus as Lord. They think that what they choose to do and to believe after that has no bearing on their eternal destiny. But Jesus is not Lord if you do not obey him. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. (John 14:15). Matthew 5:19 says, “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.”

In 1 Timothy 6:20 Paul tells Timothy, “O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge, for by professing it some have swerved from the faith.” We have not taken pains to guard the truth that has been handed down to us from generation to generation all the way from Abel to Abraham to David to the Apostles and church fathers.  We have replaced it with a cheap counterfeit void of anything that might contradict the conventional wisdom of our age. And so we have forfeited the presence and the power of the Holy Spirit to transform us into the image of Christ and to further his kingdom until he comes again.

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Retransforming America

For years now we have had to watch helplessly as our President, the man entrusted with our safety and security, has systematically undermined the economic and military power of the United States. He repeatedly took actions that endangered the public such as releasing dangerous terrorists from Guantanamo to return to the battlefield, unfreezing and returning billions of dollars in assets to the chief state sponsor of terror, turning his back on our closest ally in the Middle East, reneging on pledges to defend our friends against dangerous enemies, withdrawing missile defenses from  Poland, delaying arms shipments to the Kurds in their fight against the Taliban, failing to defend our ambassador in Libya whose naked corpse was dragged through the streets and publicly sodomized, and vilifying local police for their battle against inner city crime. He called Jesus a cynic and condemned those who spoke out against ‘the Holy Prophet’ Muhammed. He quoted the ‘Holy Koran’ in unaccented Arabic. He promoted gay marriage and transgendered bathrooms, but condemned Christian bakers and florists and photographers who refused to participate in gay marriages. All of this he called “Fundamental Transformation.”

This is a man who has shown himself hostile to the people and values of America. He is and always has been anti-American. This has become painfully obvious in the final days of his administration when all political restraints have been removed. He has commuted or pardoned more criminals than all of his predecessors – 1715 combined. Among them are people who have committed treason like Bradley, aka “Chelsea” Manning. Private Manning released over 700,000 classified military documents to Wikileaks. The Taliban used these documents to identify and kill scores of military personnel in Afghanistan and to counter U.S. military operations. Another recipient of Obama’s beneficence was Oscar Lopez Rivera, a member of the Puerto Rican terrorist group FALN,  who was convicted of conspiracy to overthrow the U.S. government in 1981. He was behind the bombing of 140 government installations, killing and wounding innocent Americans who had nothing to do with government oppression.

If this president were, in fact, concerned about Russian operatives giving hacked documents to Wikileaks as he pretends, he never would have pardoned private Manning for doing the same thing on a much larger scale. He also would have taken action when the Chinese government stole millions of records from the Office of Personnel Management.

If the Taliban had wanted to insert a “Manchurian Candidate” into our political system, they could not have picked a more suitable man than Barack Hussein Obama. The fact that this man ever became president is a tribute to the insanity of political correctness that insists on an inane “inclusiveness” that embraces not just members of different races, beliefs and genders, but the very religious bigots who push homosexuals off of roof tops, subjugate women, and lop the heads off Christians and Jews.

Thank God this man will soon be gone and the Oval Office will once again be occupied by someone who puts America and Americans first. Thank God that rational people won the day this past November.

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Appropriating the Gospel

I have often wondered why some professing Christians show so little progress in the faith while others develop an immediate love for the Word of God and experience the transforming power of the Holy Spirit in a dramatic way.

For example, we met a Chinese woman who became a believer simply because she was curious about why people kept saying “Thank the Lord.” Her curiosity led her to get a Bible and read through the entire thing from cover to cover in a couple of weeks. Raised on evolution in Communist China, she immediately recognized the truth of the creation account in Genesis. Sensing the significance of the Ten Commandments, she committed them to memory. When she came to the Lord’s Prayer, she realized its importance and memorized it as well. She had no one to teach her the fundamentals of the faith, yet she had a natural grasp of the truth just by reading the Bible by herself. She was filled with joy even though her life was full of hardships.

Another woman attended our church for years and accepted the Bible as God’s Word – true in every detail and a trustworthy foundation upon which to build her life. Yet she couldn’t get free from her struggle with depression. She would find temporary relief after receiving prayer from the pastor or other believers, but the depression would always come back.

Then her church hired a new pastor. This woman joined a Bible study led by the pastor’s wife and learned the fundamentals of the faith all over again from another perspective. The truths were the same, but ordered around the sovereignty of God rather than the needs of man. She began to see God with new eyes and suddenly her depression was gone. Now she says she knows it will never return.

Focusing on God

What do these two women have in common? One came to the truth on her own without the aid of the four spiritual laws or some other formatted gospel presentation. She came to Christ by reading the word of God. She learned for herself that the Christian life is not about her but about her Savior. The other one had been exposed for years to the “Therapeutic Gospel” which is taught in the vast majority of Evangelical churches. This is a gospel that centers on meeting the needs of man. Ironically, this gospel was unable to provide genuine healing for her depression. Focusing on herself only made the depression worse. When she focused on God, it went away by itself.

In Philippians 3, Paul says, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” His life was all about developing an increasing intimacy with God. This intimacy was more important than anything else as he acknowledges in the next verse, “For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” Later he says that he even rejoices in his sufferings because they bring him closer to Christ, “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.

You Don’t Choose Christ – He Chooses You

You won’t find many Christians who are genuinely eager to suffer for Christ’s sake in order to get to know Him better. That has something to do with the way they came to Christ in the first place. Many, if not most, professing Christians made a “profession of faith” that included saying a formal prayer or raising a hand at an evangelistic meeting. These folks all believe they chose Christ. But the fact of the matter is that true believers don’t choose Christ. They are chosen by Christ.

The book of Ephesians says that God chose believers before the foundation of the world (Eph 1:4-5), that he redeems them, sanctifies them, makes them His sons, gives them an inheritance, bestows His Holy Spirit on them, and ultimately glorifies them (vs. 3-14). This is all God’s doing and not one bit of our own, not even the faith part. Ephesians 2: 8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that (i.e. “faith”) not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” God gave us the faith to believe in Him because we were dead in our sins and incapable of even acknowledging Jesus as Lord. As Ephesians 2:4-5 says, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).

You Have No Part in Your Own Redemption

I only began to appropriate all of the spiritual blessings of belief when I finally realized that I owed my redemption lock stock and barrel to Jesus Christ and God the Father. Suddenly I realized I had nothing to be proud of, no qualifications to commend me for salvation. God in His mercy had chosen me entirely at His own discretion and for His own purposes. I too had suffered from depression for years, even though I had professed faith in Christ. That depression immediately went away and has never come back. I have a new love for the Word of God and a desire to obey it. I want to please Christ more than anything else in the world. And I want to know Him even more intimately by sharing in His sufferings.

So many Christians feel insecure about their salvation. Because they came to Christ on their own, they feel it is solely up to them to sustain their salvation. They don’t realize that the One who justifies them will in no way cast them out. If the Judge Himself justifies them, who can condemn them? (Rom 8:34). Christ is thoroughly able to complete the good work He has begun in them (Phil 1:6). He chose them and He holds them securely. It is not a matter of our ability but His sovereignty.

Those Christians who come to Christ on their own not only have an innate insecurity about their salvation, but they have an inability to trust the Holy Spirit to use the Word of God to save others. For them, evangelism is a matter of man-made method and persuasion. They feel the onus is on them to make the case for Christ. So they try to entice people into the kingdom by lowering the demands of discipleship. They avoid talking about the unpleasant aspects of salvation like remorse and repentance for sin. They try to meet people’s needs as a way to win a hearing for the gospel. But the fact is that the gospel deserves an audience simply by virtue of the fact that it cost God His only Son to purchase our salvation.

Paving the Way for the Gospel?

So many churches waste precious resources of time, money and talent by providing services to people who have absolutely no intention of ever embracing Jesus Christ. Works of mercy are intended for the church first and foremost. Galations 6:10 says, “let us do good to all people, and especially to those who belong to the family of faith.” Jesus healed ten lepers, but only one came back to thank Him. Most of those unbelievers to whom we minister in hopes of  winning a hearing for the gospel will just take what we offer until our patience runs out.

Our church sponsored a family of refugees from Bosnia through a local relief agency for years, helping them find housing and jobs and learning English. When they finally got comfortably established in their new surroundings, they just disappeared. We haven’t heard from them since. The same thing happened with a young Chinese woman who was here on a student visa. She overstayed her visa and then because she knew the church would not approve, cut all connections and moved to Las Vegas (as best we knew). This type of experience is not uncommon.

Works-Based “Faith”

Coming to Christ on your own not only produces insecurity, it results in a “faith” that depends on constant works to validate it. Those who believe it is up to them to “accept Christ” find themselves continually striving to confirm their faith by their good works. That is why some Christians burn themselves out serving others, yet seem so joyless in the process. Sure we should serve our brothers and sisters, but we should also realize that meeting their needs is not entirely up to any one of us individually. Others have gifts of ministry that they can use. We need to find those ways where we can be of best service and major on meeting those particular needs. God is sovereign and fully capable of providing the resources to meet the needs He deems important.


We cannot find true peace and joy until we come to realize that salvation is the work of a sovereign God who chooses us, redeems us, makes us holy, adopts us as His own children, and provides for us an inheritance that will last forever. None of this is our own doing, so we can neither sustain it or lose it. We can trust God to bring the good work He has begun in us to completion because He cannot fail. If He could, He wouldn’t be God. In Philippians 1:6 Paul says, ” For I am sure of this very thing, that the one who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”

Posted in Assurance of Salvation, Election, evangelism, new birth, Redemption, Reformed Theology, salvation, sanctification | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Technology Proves Ancient Man Was More Intelligent

I have started watching the show “Ancient Impossible” on the History Channel. I am absolutely fascinated by all the technological wonders of the ancient world, some of which cannot even be duplicated today. How did they build structures on such a massive scale with such fine engineering tolerances? How did they move massive blocks of stone without modern cranes and earth moving equipment? How did they form marble into columns and statues without iron and diamond cutting tools? How could the Roman army build a bridge across a two mile stretch of river in just ten days? How could they drill a four mile long tunnel through a mountain starting from both ends and connecting in the middle without laser technology?

For lack of any other explanation, popular science says aliens from an advanced society in outer space gave them a hand. But there is a much more logical explanation and that is that despite their lack of modern technology, the ancients were smarter than we are. If you believe God created man without defect, as He did all creation, then you won’t find these technological marvels so puzzling. Before sin ravaged the human species, man would have had superior mental capacities. Adam and Eve were probably much smarter than Einstein. They just didn’t have the accumulated knowledge base of coming generations upon which to build.

The book of Job was written long before the book of Genesis. In fact, it may have been written before the flood, given the references to prehistoric animals. Listen to this description of a creature called “Leviathan” in Job 41 and tell me if it doesn’t sound like the description of a dragon:

Can you pull in Leviathan with a hook,
and tie down its tongue with a rope?
Can you put a cord through its nose,
or pierce its jaw with a hook?

Is it not fierce when it is awakened?
Who is he, then, who can stand before it?

I will not keep silent about its limbs,
and the extent of its might,
and the grace of its arrangement.

Who can uncover its outer covering?
Who can penetrate to the inside of its armor?
Who can open the doors of its mouth?
Its teeth all around are fearsome.
Its back has rows of shields,
shut up closely together as with a seal;
each one is so close to the next
that no air can come between them.
They lock tightly together, one to the next;
they cling together and cannot be separated.

Its snorting throws out flashes of light;
its eyes are like the red glow of dawn.
Out of its mouth go flames,
sparks of fire shoot forth!
Smoke streams from its nostrils
as from a boiling pot over burning rushes.
Its breath sets coals ablaze
and a flame shoots from its mouth.

Strength lodges in its neck,
and despair runs before it.
The folds of its flesh are tightly joined;
they are firm on it, immovable.

Its underparts are the sharp points of potsherds,
it leaves its mark in the mud
like a threshing sledge.
It makes the deep boil like a cauldron
and stirs up the sea like a pot of ointment,

It leaves a glistening wake behind it;
one would think the deep had a head of white hair.
The likes of it is not on earth,
a creature without fear.
It looks on every haughty being;
it is king over all that are proud” (Job 41)

Here is a creature with armored flesh, rows of shields on its back, powerful limbs, iron jaw, fearsome teeth, flashing eyes and smoking nostrils that breathes out fire and creates a foaming wake as it swims. This is like no other creature scientists have ever found even in the fossil record. So it must be an antediluvian creature of enormous strength and size.

And yet as ancient as his times were, Job describes technologies that include iron working. This is from Job 19:23:

O that my words were written down,
O that they were written on a scroll,
that with an iron chisel and with lead
they were engraved in a rock forever!

In chapter 28 Job describes the mining of gold, iron, silver, copper and precious gems using powerful explosives:

Surely there is a mine for silver,
and a place where gold is refined.
Iron is taken from the ground,
and rock is poured out as copper.

Man puts an end to the darkness;
he searches the farthest recesses
for the ore in the deepest darkness.
Far from where people live he sinks a shaft,
in places travelers have long forgotten,
far from other people he dangles and sways.

The earth, from which food comes,
is overturned below as though by fire;
a place whose stones are sapphires
and which contains dust of gold;
a hidden path no bird of prey knows –
no falcon’s eye has spotted it.
Proud beasts have not set foot on it,
and no lion has passed along it.

On the flinty rock man has set to work with his hand;
he has overturned mountains at their bases.
He has cut out channels through the rocks;
his eyes have spotted every precious thing.
He has searched the sources of the rivers
and what was hidden he has brought into the light.

It is indeed possible that before the flood, technology was advanced far beyond what it was for thousands of years afterwards.

And as for an advanced race of aliens lending a hand? Well, according to the creation account in Genesis, the stars were not created until after plant life. Vegetation was created on the third day and the “lights in the heavens” were created on the fourth day (Gen 1:11-19). So no intelligent life existed anywhere in the universe before Adam and Eve.


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Why Reformed Teaching Divides the Church

I have always wondered why the church has all the same problems as the rest of the world. My son was molested by a missionary, the mission and their supporting churches covered it up. My ex-wife had an affair with her boss (she was the daughter of an American Baptist preacher who thought she could do no wrong). A Christian Education teacher from Wheaton College, my alma mater, was convicted of pedophilia. An alumnus – the former Speaker of the U.S. House and a one-time high school wrestling coach – was blackmailed by a member of his wrestling team for sexual molestation. Another alumnus killed his wife. Christian churches have to do background checks on their workers to protect their children from pedophiles. Average giving is only 4% of income. And pastors struggle with addiction to pornography.

How can this be if the Holy Spirit is supposed to transform a person at conversion? The simple answer is that many people in the church have never really been converted. Sure they have raised a hand at an evangelistic service or “accepted Jesus as their Savior” or “asked Jesus into their heart” or prayed a simple prayer of salvation, but they have never been reborn by the Holy Spirit. You see, neither Jesus nor any of the apostles ever asked anyone to “accept Christ as Savior” or “ask Jesus into their heart” or follow a four step plan of salvation. They called people to repent and believe.

Repentance is seldom preached in modern churches. Pastors and evangelists are too afraid of scaring people away by confronting them with their sins. So they try to coax them into the kingdom with promises of blessings that only come by renouncing self and giving up everything else to follow Christ.

If pastors and evangelists truly trusted the Holy Spirit to do a work of conviction through the preaching of the Word of God, there would be far fewer people in the pews, but they would all be genuine Christians who live genuine Christian lives.

I am from a Reformed tradition. That means I follow the teachings of the Reformers who recaptured the gospel when they broke away from all the false teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. Reformed preachers and teachers follow the doctrines of Martin Luther and John Calvin, the early church fathers, and the apostles. They believe that all scripture has one unifying message and that message has one meaning – the one God intended it to have.

They get to that meaning by interpreting the Word in light of the language and culture and history of the writers. They don’t take it out of context or interpret it according to their own personal whims.

The techniques employed in personal Bible study and small groups and Bible Study programs today often depend on some popular Christian author’s take on the text. Bible study leaders ask “What does this passage mean to you?” There are no wrong answers. Imagine getting a letter from a loved one and sharing it with family members who all take a different meaning from it. The author would wonder, “Whose letter did you read?” That is essentially what Jesus told the Pharisees when he said, “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, because he wrote about me.“(Jn 5:46) They misunderstood the Old Testament and it cost them eternal life!

Naturally, personal interpretations downplay the difficult or offensive parts of the Bible in favor of a Jesus who is all love and no judgment. This is a very palatable gospel that makes folks feel good about themselves when they should be feeling the exact opposite. People like this never get around to acknowledging or confessing their sins, yet they fill the pews of big churches all over America.

People often say that Reformed preaching divides churches. That is true. Because it does not compromise the teaching of Scripture, it does drive away the chaff. But it nurtures those who have been genuinely born again and produces the kind of faith that manifests itself in a life of obedience to the Word of God.

Jesus did not compromise the word of God to keep his followers. In fact, after issuing a very difficult teaching, many of his followers left him. In John 6 it says, “When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it? After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.” So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?”

Peter’s answer is instructive. He said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”

It is the very words of life that divide the wheat from the chaff. But we need not compromise those words for fear it will drive some of the wheat away as well. For just prior to this Jesus had said, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.”

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The Fallacy of Seeker Friendly

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.

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