Posts Tagged 'Worldliness'

The Awful Danger of Unbelief

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When a non-Christian doesn’t believe in God or doesn’t believe in the Word of God, it’s not a great tragedy. Unbelievers don’t believe; it’s what they do best. Their minds are carnal; they are firmly rooted in this world and in the things of this world and have they have no relationship with the spiritual world. Of the carnal mind, the Bible says this:

…the mind of the flesh with its carnal thoughts and purposes is hostile to God, for it does not submit itself to God’s Law; indeed it cannot. (Romans 8:7 AMP)

That’s right. The carnal – worldly – mind is hostile to God. Now, you may wonder: how can your unsaved aunt, who is so kindly and benevolent, be considered hostile to God? It’s because she cannot submit to God’s law – His Word. It’s not just that she doesn’t want to, it’s that it is spiritually impossible for her to do so. That unbelief is actually hostility directed at God. Your unsaved aunt’s carnal mind is toxic to God. She doesn’t believe and, in fact, she cannot believe.

And until she submits her will to the drawing of the Holy Spirit to the point where she commits her life to Christ, she’s lost, without hope, and an enemy to God. She may want the things of God; she may associate with Christians; she may even go to church, but if her mind remains in its state of utter carnality, she has no chance, because she is God’s enemy. She may hear the Gospel and like it. She may sing the hymns and be touched by them. But until her heart is right with God, everything remains wrong.

But if you think converting to Christ ends all problems with a carnal, worldly mind, you’d be wrong. The battle against worldliness never ends. The Devil is always going to try to win you back, and it always starts in your mind. And it always with starts with unbelief; unbelief toward towards God’s Word. It’s a spiritual battle that cannot be won using the things of this world, like simply reasoning or counseling. A spiritual battle is fought and won in the spiritual world, using the weapons of the Holy Spirit.

There is a well-known story in the Old Testament that illustrates how dangerous the carnal mind is and why unbelief in the Christian isn’t just bad form, it can be deadly.

Unbelief measures difficulties by human standards

Nobody has it easy in this life. Nobody. If anybody tells you otherwise, they’re lying about other things, too. We all face problems. Sometimes we may be be facing a huge problem, and at other times we may be assaulted by many small, unrelenting, irritating problems that never seem quit. If you are a Christian, but your mind has stopped functioning in the spiritual realm and reverted back to it’s original carnal state, then you’ll be filled with unbelief. God’s Word will have lost its power and meaning. And whatever those problems may be that you are facing, they will be blown all out of proportion.

The Lord said to Moses, “Send some men to explore the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites. From each ancestral tribe send one of its leaders.” (Numbers 13:1, 2 TNIV)

You know the story well. Moses and Israel had left the Egypt and the Lord had led them right to the border of the Promised Land, the land God had given to them. All they had to do was go in and take it. The mission here was a simple one. Moses was to send in a band of men to check it out. It was supposed to be simple. Unbelief made it impossible.

But the men who had gone up with him said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.”

“We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.” (Numbers 13:31, 33 TNIV)

Here we see the terrible power unbelief has and what it can do. If all you know about this story is the record in Numbers, you’ve been missing an important piece of information. It was NEVER God’s idea for Moses to send in the spies. It may sound like it, but it wasn’t.

Then I said to you, “You have reached the hill country of the Amorites, which the Lord our God is giving us. See, the Lord your God has given you the land. Go up and take possession of it as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, told you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” Then all of you came to me and said, “Let us send men ahead to spy out the land for us and bring back a report about the route we are to take and the towns we will come to.” (Deuteronomy 1:20 – 22 TNIV)

That’s not God talking, it’s Moses. It was never God’s idea to send in the spies. God simply responded to what the people wanted. Sending in the spies showed weakness on their part and was the result of unbelief in the Word of God. They were afraid they wouldn’t be able to take the land, even though God told them He had given it to them! The fact that they felt like they needed to “do things themselves” showed unbelief and a distinct lack of faith. They didn’t believe, they took it upon themselves to do the job in the flesh, and the result was unbridled fear.

When the spies, operating in the flesh, saw the “giants,” they concluded they couldn’t win. The KJV put it this way:

We be not able… (Numbers 13:31 KJV)

That’s the carnal mind talking. The redeemed mind says something very different:

I can do all this through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:13 TNIV)

“Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “Truly I tell you, if you say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and do not doubt in your heart but believe that what you say will happen, it will be done for you.” (Mark 11:22, 23 TNIV)

Unbelief contradicts the Word of God

Here’s what the spies said to the all the people of Israel:

And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size.” (Numbers 13:32 TNIV)

But here’s what God said:

So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. (Exodus 3:8 TNIV)

So who are you going to believe? The spies who spoke of a devouring land filled with giants? Or God, who described the land as being “a good and spacious land…flowing with milk and honey?” Well, if you have a carnal mind, then you’ll believe other carnal minds.

It boils down to this: The carnal, worldly mind, always contradicts the Word of God. The carnal mind says things like this: “Of course I believe in the Bible, but…” Yes, “buts” fill the carnal mind. The carnal mind says things like:

“Of course I believe in prayer, but…”

“I know God can heal, but…”

“I know I should go to church, but…”

“I know the Bible says it’s a sin, but…”

“Buts” fill the worldly mind and nullify the Word of God. That’s why entertaining fleeting doubts can lead to permanent unbelief. That’s not only a sin, it’s dangerous.

Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony. Whoever does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about his Son. (1 John 5:10 TNIV)

Do you want to call God a liar? I wouldn’t want to be in your shoes! Not believing His Word is essentially calling Him a liar. That puts you in a precarious position, indeed.

Unbelief hates the gifts of God

In the case of Israel, God had a plan for them. It all started with getting them out of Egypt, where they were enslaved, and into a free land made just for them. Canaan, the Promised Land, was God’s gift to His people. Here’s what they thought of it:

Then they despised the pleasant land; they did not believe his promise. (Psalm 106:24 TNIV)

When you don’t believe God’s Word, you begin to “despise” His gifts to you. You take His blessings for granted. You complain about them. Unbelief is what kept the people out of the Promised Land more effectively than any enemy ever could.

So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief. (Hebrews 3:19 TNIV)

Unbelief can literally turn off the spigot of God’s blessings. But there’s more at work here. Canaan Land in the Old Testament is a picture of the “second rest” provided for God’s people. It’s the ultimate, final destination for believers. Unbelief will keep you out!

So the men Moses had sent to explore the land, who returned and made the whole community grumble against him by spreading a bad report about it… (Numbers 14:36 TNIV)

Yes, that’s how you come to regard God’s best for you when you harbor unbelief in your heart.

Unbelief is a source of sin and sorrow

Nothing will make a weak believer miserable quicker than unbelief. When your redeemed mind begins to fall back into its default position of unbelief, you’ll face grief, sadness, unhappiness, and misery in general.

All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, “If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt? ” (Numbers 14:2, 3 TNIV)

Unbelief is pessimistic. It’s negative. It sees only the downside. It never sees the possibility of success. Every bad thing in your life – real or imagined – will be blown way out of proportion when you get stuck in the rut of unbelief. Your spouse will never be good enough. Going to work will always be a chore. Even going to church becomes a burden when you lose faith in God’s Word.

This isn’t a kind of positive thinking exercise here. For the Christian, God’s Word is more than a collection of stories. It’s powerful. It changes lives.

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12 TNIV)

God’s Word cannot be taken lightly. To do so is inviting trouble. It’s an absolute offense to God. The Bible is not a dusty old book. It’s a supernatural book that demands a response from people because God doesn’t tolerate indifference or disobedience.

It’s actually alive. It’s active. That is, it’s effective and it’s powerful. No human being can escape the living, active Word of God. God’s Word brought the universe into being. And Jesus, the living Word is able to recreate a man who is otherwise dead in his sins.

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” (1 Corinthians 1:18, 19 TNIV)

God’s Word is able to cut deep into your heart and soul. It reveals things to yourself about yourself. It separates the lies of your life from the God’s truth in your heart. Nothing in your life remains untouched by the power of God’s Word.

God’s Word is the discenerner of your thoughts and intentions.

You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. (Psalm 139:1 – 3 TNIV)

At the same time, for one who endeavoring to live a sanctified, righteous life, God’s Word protects and saves. There may be times when God’s Word is the only thing between you and spiritual death.

Unbelief is dangerous. It will hurt you. It may kill you.

“As for those who hear my words but do not keep them, I do not judge them. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world. There is a judge for those who reject me and do not accept my words; the very words I have spoken will condemn them at the last day.” (John 12:47, 48 TNIV)

EZEKIEL AND THE LOVE OF GOD

world in handsEzekiel 16 is a chapter all about Jerusalem. The casual Bible reader would probably turn to this chapter and think, I don’t have to read this; this doesn’t have anything to do with me. But Paul had other ideas about parts of the Bible that have nothing to do with you:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

Every verse of the Bible is inspired – “God-breathed” – and useful to you. Every verse of the Bible is important, otherwise it wouldn’t be in the Bible in the first place.

On the surface, this chapter is all about the sins of Jerusalem, but really it’s a revelation of God’s incredible love and His amazing grace. What ruined Jerusalem in history needed is what every ruined soul needs today.

1. A picture of man’s true state

“ ‘Then I passed by and saw you kicking about in your blood, and as you lay there in your blood I said to you, “Live!” (Ezekiel 16:6)

The Lord, through Ezekiel, traces the history of Israel in order to show the exiles why they must be judged. From the beginning, things were not good for the people of Israel. Using allegory, the Lord tells those in exile that Israel was born of mixed parentage. They were like mongrels; a low caste of people, looked down upon by everybody. In fact, Israel was the baby nobody wanted and, as was common in the nations outside of Israel, the unwanted baby was left outside to die. Had Ezekiel been preaching today, he would compare God’s people to a partial birth abortion.

Some might be offended by the comparison, and no doubt some of Ezekiel’s listeners would have been very offended by his allegory. But God never pulls any punches. God’s people needed to know exactly why Jerusalem had to be punished.

Jerusalem was totally blind to the state she was in. Heaven’s perspective saw Jerusalem as a weak, bloody mess; barely alive. Jerusalem, in spite of what she thought of herself, was helpless. But that’s not how they saw themselves, and that’s not how sinful man sees himself. Man without God always judges himself by comparison to others. He thinks, I’m not as bad as so-and-so therefore I’m a good person. But God sees that man as he truly is: a corrupt, vile, wicked, rebellious sinner “kicking about in his own blood.” God’s standard of judgment it completely different from that of man’s.

Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. (Romans 3:19)

Sinful man thinks he’s perfectly all right. God knows he all wrong.

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. (Romans 5:6)

Man without Christ is “powerless.” Man without Christ is in a completely hopeless position, as Ezekiel pointed out:

No one looked on you with pity or had compassion enough to do any of these things for you. Rather, you were thrown out into the open field, for on the day you were born you were despised. (Ezekiel 16:5)

Again, the Lord is speaking to the exiles in allegory, but there was a powerful and historical reality behind the allegory. Historically, God had promised to fight for Israel but God’s people continually entered into compacts with godless nations for protection. These godless nations always took advantage of Israel, yet Israel continued to turn to them instead of having faith in the promises of God.

All through their history, God could point to the numerous instances where He blessed them and caused them to prosper. But over and over again they ignored Him and refused to acknowledge His hand on them.

2. A picture of salvation

“ ‘Later I passed by, and when I looked at you and saw that you were old enough for love, I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your nakedness. I gave you my solemn oath and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Sovereign Lord, and you became mine.” (Ezekiel 16:8)

At the right time, when she was “old enough for love,” allegorically, the Lord married her. In other words, He made Jerusalem His.

First, He spoke to Jerusalem words of life: “Live,” He said to her. Only God can speak words of life; by His Word He spoke the material universe into being. His Word brings life to the sinner. Sinful man is saved by God’s Word of grace and nothing more.

Second, God covered Jerusalem; He covered her sins. He acted like Boaz, the kinsman redeemer of Ruth:

Who are you?” he asked.“I am your servant Ruth, ” she said. “Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a kinsman-redeemer.” (Ruth 3:9)

The skirt of His righteousness covers all who call upon Him. God did for Jerusalem what He does for all sinners who come in repentance to Him: He covers their sins.

Next, the Lord cleansed Jerusalem:

“ ‘I bathed you with water and washed the blood from you and put ointments on you.” (Ezekiel 16:9)

Only God is able to take your old life of sin – your old life of filth and depravity – and replace it with a brand new, sparkling clean one.

What can wash away my sins, Nothing but the blood of Jesus!

Fourth, the Lord claimed Jerusalem as His very own. God took Jerusalem from the wide open fields of sin and filth and made it part of His family. From sin and hopelessness into the kingdom of grace and glory! Only God can work such a miracle in the life of the redeemed.

Fifthly, God anointed Jerusalem with oil, verse 9b. When God takes hold of a sinner’s life, He gives him a new life, and fills him with His Holy Spirit. It is God’s will that all His people be filled with His Spirit. Did you know that YOU are full of God’s Spirit? You are, if you are born again.

Not only did God anoint Jerusalem, but He also crowned her:

…and I put a ring on your nose, earrings on your ears and a beautiful crown on your head. (Ezekiel 16:12)

Remember, this is what God did for the city of Jerusalem. It became a marvel of the ancient world. We cannot imagine how glorious Jerusalem was in its heyday. Did you know that when you come to Jesus you become related to richest Person in the universe? Paul understood what it meant to be adopted into the family of God:

The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs–heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ… (Romans 8:16-17a)

One day, all that is the Son’s becomes ours. Blessings beyond our wildest imaginings are ours, because of what Jesus did for us.

Lastly, of Jerusalem, we read this:

And your fame spread among the nations on account of your beauty, because the splendor I had given you made your beauty perfect, declares the Sovereign Lord. (Ezekiel 16:14)

Jerusalem’s fame and beauty spread throughout the ancient near east. We read how the kings and queens of other nations came to Jerusalem just to look at how beautiful it was. Jerusalem showed the glory of God, and we do too! We are God’s glory on earth. Christians are to reflect the greatness of God in a dark world.

I have given them the glory that you gave me… (John 17:22a)

The meaning of this allegory is clear. God did so much for Jerusalem throughout its history, yet they always forgot to think Him. They seldom acknowledged Him. They lived in rebellion to His laws. The application of this allegory should also be clear. The Church of Jesus Christ – you and I – is not so far removed from Jerusalem. Do we behave any better than the people of Jerusalem? We have been the recipients of the manifold blessings of God, and so many of us have grown contemptible of His presence. We rest on the righteousness of our forefathers, just as Jerusalem did. We presume on our Godly heritage while we ourselves try to live as far from God as we can and still feel safe.

Our beginnings, our backgrounds, are not so different from Jerusalem’s. We were dead in our sins. God raised us to new life. He filled us with His Holy Spirit and made us joint-heirs with Jesus.

And what do you think Jerusalem did in return for all the good things God did for her?

3. A picture of thanklessness

In every age, God has an excuse to make the exact same charges against His people as He did here in Ezekiel 16! God’s people seem to be an ungrateful bunch throughout the generations. The very blessings God showers on us just because He loves us, we turn into things that take us away from Him. Jerusalem did that; they took the good things God gave them and did for them and used them in a selfish way.

“ ‘But you trusted in your beauty and used your fame to become a prostitute. You lavished your favors on anyone who passed by and your beauty became his.” (Ezekiel 16:15)

We call this “religious pride,” and it plagues the Church today. It’s embarrassing to watch how different denominations lower themselves in an vain attempt to appear relevant and attract new members.

You took some of your garments to make gaudy high places, where you carried on your prostitution. Such things should not happen, nor should they ever occur. (Ezekiel 16:16)

The very garments God gave His people they now used in idolatry and apostasy. The things God gave them to draw them closer to Him they used against Him. Are we any better? Do we prefer God’s blessings to His presence? Look at your prayers. Do you spend more time praying for things or for more of Him in your life?

When we look at the Church today we see how it takes what God has given it – His Word, a Godly heritage and prosperity – and we see how it has taken those blessings and turned them against God. Preachers preach unscriptural sermons building an unscriptural system of beliefs all designed to build his church. Imagine building a church without God! What a waste.

You also took the fine jewelry I gave you, the jewelry made of my gold and silver, and you made for yourself male idols and engaged in prostitution with them. (Ezekiel 16:17)

The people fashioned male images out of the gifts God gave them. They used the gifts of God to the honor and praise of man.

Jerusalem had done a lot evil in the sight of God, but nothing was worse than this:

“ ‘And you took your sons and daughters whom you bore to me and sacrificed them as food to the idols. Was your prostitution not enough? You slaughtered my children and sacrificed them to the idols.” (Ezekiel 16:20-21)

These verses are often used to preach against abortion, and rightfully so. However, there might be a deeper application here. It’s an awful charge God is making against His people; a backsliding church murders its own children. How many children grow up in the church, are exposed to false or bad teaching then leave the church as soon as they are able to? We like to blame their parents or the influence of the culture, but what if younger generations are skipping church just because they sense they’re getting junk food instead of a solid meal of God’s Word?

Jerusalem was guilty of offering her children to idols – giving them up to foreign gods. Jerusalem was doing everything she could to get as far as she could from the Covenant and from God Himself. She had forgotten what God had done for her in the past when she was nothing and had nothing. She forgot everything. How heartbreaking it must have been for Ezekiel to hear the naked truth from God.

How heartbreaking it must be for God when we forget all that Christ did for us on the Cross and all the blessings He has lavished on us.

What eventually happened to Jerusalem? She grew up and left God completely. She went completely into idolatry and turned her back of God. We have a classic picture of what Jerusalem did on a much smaller scale: Jacob and Esau. Esau sold out for a measly bowl of food. Jerusalem sold out to the nations around here. And, sadly, too many Christians today are doing exactly the same thing: selling out to the world.

Missing Christians are NO Christians

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Here is an article written by Jim Elliff, which I acquired from Steve Camp’s blog, Camp on This.  Although written about Southern Baptists, it could easily have been written about any denomination.   After decrying the disparity between the number of people on a church’s membership roll and the number of members who actually attend that church’s Sunday service, Elliff makes the following excellent observations:

What do these facts and figures, as general as they are, suggest?

First, they reveal that most of the people on our rolls give little evidence that they love the brethren—a clear sign of being unregenerate (1 Jn. 3:14). It is impossible to believe that anything like real familial affection exists in the hearts of people who do not come at all, or who only nominally check in on Sunday morning as a cultural exercise. Love is the greatest mark of a genuine believer (1 Jn.3:14-19). Attendance alone does not guarantee that anyone is an authentic believer, but “forsaking the assembling,” is a serious sign of the unregenerate heart. The phrase: “They went out from us, because they were never of us” (1 Jn. 2:19) may have doctrinal overtones, but it nonetheless represents many on our membership rolls.

Second, these numbers suggest that most of those who do not attend (or who only come when it is convenient), are more interested in themselves than God. To put it in Paul’s words, they are “fleshly-minded” and not “spiritually-minded” (Rom. 8: 5-9). The atmosphere that most pleases them is that of the world and not God. They can stand as much of God as makes them feel better about themselves, and they find a certain carnal security in “belonging” to a local church. But beyond that, they will politely resist getting involved. They use the church, but are not really a part of it. For some, the extent of what they can take is an Easter service now and then; for others it is an occasional sterile (and somewhat Pharisaical) trip to church on appropriate Sunday mornings as fits into their schedule. But their apathy towards regular and faithful church attendance betrays their true affections. The fact is, you do what you love to do.

Third, the numbers indicate that some people have joined other denominations and our churches have not kept up with their movements—a sign of inadequate pastoral oversight and the built-in deficiencies of the “inactive membership” concept. I’m quite certain Paul never dreamed of “inactive membership.” Embarrassingly, some left on the rolls are dead—physically! It goes without saying that a dead person is about as inactive as one could be! But others, though presumably alive physically, have disappeared without a trace. I believe it was our beloved Dr. Roy Fish of SWBTS who said, “Even the FBI could not find some of them.” Yet, if we want to claim them as members, we are responsible to keep up with them.

All of these people have “prayed the prayer” and “walked the aisle.” All have been told that they are Christians. But for most, old things have not really passed away, and new things have not come. Most are not new creatures in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). In too many cases, obvious signs of an unregenerate heart can be found, such as bitterness, long-term adultery, fornication, greed, divisiveness, covetousness, etc. These are “professing believers” that the Bible says are deceived. “Do not be deceived” the Bible warns us concerning such people (see 1 Cor.6:9-11; Gal. 5:19-21; 6: 7-8; Eph. 5:5-6; Titus 1:16; 1 Jn. 3:4-10; etc.).

Jesus indicated that there is a good soil that is receptive to the gospel seed so as to produce a fruit-bearing plant, but that the “rocky ground” believer only appears to be saved. The latter shows immediate joy, but soon withers away (Mt. 13:6, 21). This temporary kind of faith (which is not saving faith, see 1 Cor.15:1-2) is rampant among Southern Baptists. In The Baptist Faith and Message we say we believe that saving faith is persistent to the end. We say we believe in the preservation and perseverance of the saints (once saved, always persevering). In other words, if a person’s faith does not persevere, then what he possessed was something other than saving faith.

In John 2:23-25 Jesus was the center-piece for what turned out to be a mass evangelism experience in which a large number of people “believed” in Him. Yet He did not entrust Himself to even one of them because “he knew their hearts.” Is it possible that we have taken in millions of such “unrepenting believers” whose hearts have not been changed? I say that we have. Our denomination, as much as we may love it, is on the main, unregenerate. Even if you double, triple, or quadruple my assessment of how many are true believers, we still have a gigantic problem. It is naive to believe otherwise.

There are those who would say that such people are “carnal Christians” and don’t deserve to be thought of as unregenerate. It is true that the Corinthian believers (about whom this phrase was used; see 1 Cor. 3:1-3) acted “like mere men” in their party spirit. Christians can commit any sin short of that which is unpardonable.

Undoubtedly, however, Paul did suspect that some of the Corinthians were unbelievers, for he later warns them about such a possibility in 2 Cor.12:20-13:5. A long-term and unrepentant state of carnality, is, after all, the very description of the unregenerate (Rom. 8:5-14, 1 Jn. 3:4-10, etc.). In calling some people “carnal” Paul did not mean to imply that he was accepting as Christian a lifestyle that he clearly describes elsewhere as unbelieving. He wrote, in the same letter: “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God. Do not be deceived” (1 Cor. 6:9-11, etc.). Apparently there were some, even then, who were deceived into thinking that an unrighteous man or woman who professes faith in Christ could really be a Christian!

What must be done? I suggest five responses:

1. We must preach and teach on the subject of the unregenerate church member. Every author in the New Testament writes of the nature of deception. Some books give major consideration to the subject. Jesus Himself spoke profusely about true and false conversion, giving significant attention to the fruit found in true believers (Jn. 10:26-27; Mt. 7:21-23; Mt. 25:1-13, etc.). If this sort of teaching creates doubt in people, you should not be alarmed, nor should you back away from it. Given the unregenerate state of so many professing Christians, their doubts may be fully warranted. In any case, as one friend told me, “Doubts never sent anyone to hell, but deception always does.” Most will work through their doubts, if they are regenerate and if we continue to preach the whole truth. Contrary to popular opinion, all doubts are not of the devil. Speak truthfully the whole counsel of God. You cannot “unsave” true believers.

It is true that there may be some who are overly scrupulous and overwhelmed by such examination. But most who will be affected are those who are too self-confident, having based their assurance on such shaky platforms as their response to an invitation, praying a perfectly worded “sinner’s prayer,” or getting baptized. If they are unregenerate, they may take offense and leave. But if they are truly regenerate, patient teaching and care will help them to overcome their doubts and gain biblical assurance. Such preaching may even result in true conversion for some who are deceived. And don’t forget that the overconfident ones are not the only ones at risk. Quiet, sensitive, insecure people can be deceived also.

2. We must address the issue of persistent sin among our members, including their sinful failure to attend the stated meetings of the church. This must be done by reestablishing the forgotten practice of church discipline. Each church should adopt guidelines that state just what will happen when a member falls into sin, including the sin of non-attendance or very nominal attendance. Such discipline for non-attendance is clearly found in the history of Baptists—but more importantly, in the Bible.

Everyone in the church, including new members, should be made familiar with the biblical steps of church discipline. Jesus said that a person who was lovingly, but firmly, disciplined by the church, and yet failed to repent, should be thought of as “a heathen and a tax collector” (see Mt. 18:15-17). Though David committed atrocious sins, he was a repenter at heart (see 2 Sam.12:13; Psalm 51). Every Christian is a life-long repenter and church discipline brings this out. (See “Restoring Those Who Fall,” in Our Church on Solid Ground: Documents That Preserve the Integrity and Unity of the Church, http://www.CCWonline.org)

Leaders must get into the homes of all our erring church members, seeking either to bring them to Christ, or to reluctantly release them to the world which they love more than Christ. Nowhere in the Bible are we taught to keep non-believers on the rolls. As a side benefit from church discipline for the SBC, remember that when we reduce our membership to what it actually is, we will be amazed at the statistical improvements in the ratio of members per baptism and members to attenders. Of course, statistics are not worth dying for, but obedience to God’s Word is.

We are never to aggressively pluck the supposed tares from the wheat as if we had absolute knowledge (Mt. 13:24-30; 36-43). We might be mistaken. However, loving church discipline is a careful process by which the obvious sinner in essence removes himself by his resistance to correction. The church is made up of repenting saints, not rebelling sinners (see 1 Cor. 5). The slight improvement in the disparity between membership and attendance in the last couple of years is likely due, in major part, to some churches beginning to practice church discipline—a matter of obedience that thankfully is regaining credence among us. Some have removed hundreds from their rolls in this process, and regained some also.

3. We should be more careful on the front end of church membership. In my estimation, the public altar call (a modern invention) often reaps people prematurely. Others will disagree or can perhaps make significant improvements on the traditional “invitation system.” We have used this method in our evangelism because of our genuine zeal to see the lost converted. But in our zeal, we have often overlooked the fact that many who do what our method calls for (i.e. respond to our invitation) may not be converted.

Though sacrosanct to Baptists, careful study should be done related to the historical use of the invitation system evangelistically. For eighteen hundred years the church did not use such a method. It was not until its principle originator, Charles Finney, a true pelagian in his theology, promoted his “new measures.” Earlier preachers were content to let true conviction play a greater part in conversion. They needed no props for the gospel—no persuasive techniques to prompt people to make a “decision.” Instead of relying on a method, their confidence was in the preached Word and the Holy Spirit. Baptist giant, C. H. Spurgeon, for instance, saw thousands converted without the use of an “altar call.” His message was his invitation. We should always offer a verbal invitation in our gospel preaching, meaning we must invite people to repent and believe. But there is no real benefit, while there is much potential harm, in our inviting them to the front of the church and then assuring them that their short walk or tearful response proves their conversion.

We don’t need better methods to get people down to the front. What we need is more biblical content and more unction in our preaching. You cannot beat sinners away from Christ when God is bringing them in (see Jn. 6:37, 44-45). When as many as 70-90% of “converts” are giving little, if any, evidence of being saved after their first weeks or months of emotional excitement, questions should be asked, both about our understanding of the gospel and about our methods. Forget the fact, if you must, that there is no clear biblical precedent for the altar call. Even considering the matter pragmatically ought to make us quit. Though prevalent in our churches for decades, it has not helped us. (See “Closing with Christ,” http://www.CCWonline.org/closing.html)

The dangerous practice of receiving new members immediately after they walk the aisle must finally be abandoned. Also, more careful counsel should be taken with those entering in as members from other churches. And add to this a need for much deeper thinking concerning childhood conversion. An alarming percentage of childhood professions wash out later in the teen and college years. For unconverted yet baptized church kids, the more independence they are granted, the more they live out their true nature. (See “Childhood Conversion,” http://www.CCWonline.org/cconv.html)

4. We must stop giving immediate verbal assurance to people who make professions of faith or who respond to our invitations. It is the Holy Spirit’s job to give assurance. We are to give thebasis upon which assurance can be had, not the assurance itself. Study 1 John in this respect. What things were written so that they might know they have eternal life? (1 Jn. 5:13). Answer: The tests given in the book. The Bible says that the Holy Spirit testifies to our spirit that we are children of God (Rom. 8:16).

5. We must restore sound doctrine. Revival, I am finding as I study its history, is largely about the recovery of the true gospel. The three great doctrines which have so often shown up in true revival are: 1) God’s sovereignty in salvation, 2) justification by grace through faith alone, and 3) regeneration with discernible fruit. Revival is God showing up, but the blessing of the presence of God is directly affected by our beliefs. God most often comes in the context of these and other great doctrines, preached penetratingly and faithfully, and with the unction of the Holy Spirit.

As an illustration of our doctrinal reductionism, repentance is often forgotten completely in gospel presentations, or else it is minimized to mean nothing more than “admitting that you are a sinner.” Also, “Inviting Christ into your heart,” a phrase never found in the Bible (study the context of Jn.1:12 and Rev. 3:20, the verses used for this), has taken the place of the biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone. The doctrine of God’s judgment is rarely preached with any carefulness. And comprehensive studies of the meaning of the cross are seldom heard. Merely looking over the titles of the sermons which awakening preachers preached in the past would surprise most modern pastors.

Letters From an Old Man

Knowing the Father, 2:12—17

In the final years of the first century, Christians faced an insidious enemy: false teachers who invaded their churches preaching attractive Gnostic doctrines that sounded so good yet opposed the Gospel. It is no accident that throughout his letter, John advised his readers to “walk in the light” and to live by faith, obeying God’s commands. Like a good pastor who wants his congregation to spiritually healthy, John had given them some tests to determine if who they were listening to were genuine believers or false teachers.

This section of 1 John may be broken into two short segments. The first, verses 12—14, contrasts the position of the believer who walks in the light with the position of the false teachers who walk in the darkness. The second part, verses 14—17, he warns his readers not to fall into the seductive trap of worldliness as the false teachers had.

1. Children, fathers, young men, 2:12—14

I am writing to you, dear children,
because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name.

I am writing to you, fathers,
because you know him who is from the beginning.
I am writing to you, young people,
because you have overcome the evil one.

I write to you, dear children,
because you know the Father.
I write to you, fathers,
because you know him who is from the beginning.
I write to you, young people,
because you are strong,
and the word of God lives in you,
and you have overcome the evil one.

A/ All Readers, verse 12, 14a

John begins his thoughts to all the readers of his letter by saying, “I write to you.” That seems like a strange thing to write, since obviously John is writing to them! He means more than just that he is putting pen to paper; he means that he is writing words down that he wants them to remember; they are permanent. John could easily make the trip to visit them personally and tell them what he wants them to know, but writing them down serves the purpose of making his readers not only take notice of what he has written, but also to discuss it and learn it.

His initial thought is addressed to “dear children.” Teknia seems to be John’s pet name for believers in general, so this verse is for all believers—

Your sins have been forgiven on account of his name. (verse 12)

Forgiveness from sins is not the whole plan of salvation, but it is the very entrance into the Christian life; it is the beginning step of “walking in the light.” Forgiveness of sins is one of the first things a believer experiences when they come to the Lord. Forgiveness of sins is not based on our asking for it or our desperate need for it. John indicates that our sins are forgiven “on account of his name,” that is, on account of Jesus’ name. In Hebrew thought, “The name” always stood for the character of an individual; so “on account of his name” is a way of saying that they were forgiven through the work and person of Christ. This is the best news a person could ever get! Everyone who believes in Jesus and repents receives remission of sin.

In verse 14, John goes further. Because their sins are forgiven, believers can now know the Father—

You know the Father.

John uses a different Greek word this time, but he is still addressing believers in general. As a result of God’s free forgiveness, all believers are able to “know the Father.” This is a privilege unbelievers can never experience; only believers may “know the Father.” Note that John does not say “know God.” Of course, the terms are synonymous, but by using the more personal “Father,” John is emphasizing the personal nature of the believer’s new relationship with God. No longer are we viewed by God as merely “followers,” because our sins have been forgiven through what Jesus did, God now views us as His children.

B/ Fathers, verse 13a, 14a

You know him who is from the beginning.

According to Jewish custom, this form of address would refer to those who had responsibility for authority. Sometimes, it was used to refer to leaders of Israel’s past, like the father’s of Israel, the patriarchs, and so on. Here, though, John likely has in view older and more mature members of the congregation. John appeals to these older men because the implication is that with age comes spiritual enlightenment—deeper knowledge of God and Jesus Christ through His Word.

We may take John’s words to “fathers” in two ways. All people like to be praised, and gaining spiritual knowledge and a closer walk with God are indeed desirable and even enviable traits in a Christian. But the implication that with maturity comes spiritual maturity may sound threatening to some. God cannot make a person grow. The Holy Spirit will not force anybody to learn the Word of God. These things are the responsibility of the believer. How many “fathers” are still spiritually immature in the Church of Jesus Christ today? How many so-called mature Christians are as ignorant of God and His Word today as the day of their new birth?

We grow grace as we learn and study and pray. Spiritual grown is not automatic; we make it happen. Mature believers are desperately needed within the Church today; to teach the younger believers, to care for their spiritual children. Mature believers are responsible to “hand the torch of the gospel light to the next generation, the young men of the church.” (Hendriksen)

C/ Young men, verse 13b, 14b

You have overcome the evil one. (verse 13b)

You are strong,
and the word of God lives in you,
and you have overcome the evil one. (verse 14b)

The final group of believers addressed is “young men.” While some scholars think John is referring to the youth of the church, my sense is that John is actually thinking about young believers, that is, new converts or those who have not been in the Church for a lifetime. It is sad but true that the longer one is a Christian, the cooler their love grows for both God and His family; the exuberance they have for spiritual things dims. It seems as we grow in our faith we all too often become cynical about the Church, we become jaded about our spiritual leaders and the things of God become common place. But notice what characterizes exuberant Christians: they have overcome the evil one and they are strong. Their strength comes from a diet of the Word of God. Weak and anemic believers are those who starve theirs souls of the Word.

Those of us who have been Christians for years and years should take a lesson from young Christians. May we pray as David prayed—

Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me. (Psalm 51:10)

2. The world and the will of God, 2:15—17

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. 17The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.

As we read John’s warning not to love the world in verse 15, we are reminded of the words of James:

You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. (James 4:4)

John’s language is particularly strong in verse 15, “Do not love the world.” Those who aspire to the high standard of Christian living described by John so far in his letter must not “love” the world. The word he uses is the same word he used back in verse 10, where he writes about the person who loves his brother. That kind of love is the love that forms attachments, intimate fellowship, and loyal devotion. This is the kind of that should be reserved only for God and His Church. Christians have no business having those kinds of feelings for the things of the world. This is because the world is in darkness, but we are supposed to be people who walk in the light.

There is no contradiction between what John wrote here in verse 15—

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him

And what he wrote in his Gospel—

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

Plummer comments:

[T]he world which the Father loves is the whole human race. The world which we are told not to love is all that is alienated from Him, all that prevents men from loving Him in return…The world which we are not to love is His rival.

This world is a system of life created, not by God, but by unregenerate man, therefore to give that world our affection is to commit spiritual adultery. This is something God will not tolerate in those who claim to love Him.

For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God. (Deuteronomy 4:24)

Not only is God described as jealous, look carefully at Exodus 34:14—

Do not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.

“Jealous” is also one of His names. It is part of His character, although not sinful, that describes how protective He is of His relationship with you. Are we that protective of our relationship with Him?

From not loving the world, John moves onto the positive admonition to do the will of God. In verse 16, John again seems to echo what James wrote in his epistle; that which is created in the world does not come from God but from the devil.

Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. (James 3:15)

What are the so-called things of the world? John spells them out in a memorable triad: “the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes, and the boasting of what he has and does.”

  1. The cravings of sinful man. This literally means “the desires of the flesh” and an outlook on life that is oriented towards self. In other words, these cravings serve only yourself and demonstrate a self-sufficient independence from God. That, according to John, is what a sinful man is like.
  2. The lust of his eyes. Some commentators suggest John has in mind specifically sexual lust, but the phrase probably carries with it the thought “everything that entices the eyes” (Bultmann). It has been rightly observed that the eyes are are the windows to man’s soul. When one is enticed by lust, their eyes become instruments that cause them to sin.
  3. Boasting of what he has and does. This last tendency of a sinful man is not easily translated, which accounts for the numerous differences of translation among various translations of Scripture. The key word in the Greek is alazoneia, and it is used only one other time in the NT, James 4:16. A variation of the word is used in Romans 1:13 and 2 Timothy 3:2 to describe a “pretentious hypocrite who glories in himself or in his possessions” (Barker). F.F. Bruce wrote,

If my reputation, my public image, matters more to me than the glory of God or the well-being of my followers, the pretentiousness of life has become the object of my idol-worship.

The reason why true believers should not live like the alazon is summed up in verse 17—

The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.

How utterly foolish it is to be fixated on temporal things that pass away. It is beyond stupidity for an eternal being, created in God’s own image, to obsess over things that rot and disintegrate with the passing of time. The world and all it’s trinkets have already begun to putrefy. The world is corpse waiting to be buried. But those of us who endeavor to do the will of God will live forever.

(c)  2009 WitzEnd

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