Look to Christ

I was really moved by these powerful words from Matthew Henry’s commentary on the 1st half of John 19:

Little did Pilate think with what holy regard these sufferings of Christ would, in after-ages, be thought upon and spoken of by the best and greatest of men. Our Lord Jesus came forth, willing to be exposed to their scorn. It is good for every one with faith, to behold Christ Jesus in his sufferings. Behold him, and love him; be still looking unto Jesus. Did their hatred sharpen their endeavors against him? and shall not our love for him quicken our endeavors for him and his kingdom? Pilate seems to have thought that Jesus might be some person above the common order. Even natural conscience makes men afraid of being found fighting against God. As our Lord suffered for the sins both of Jews and Gentiles, it was a special part of the counsel of Divine Wisdom, that the Jews should first purpose his death, and the Gentiles carry that purpose into effect. Had not Christ been thus rejected of men, we had been for ever rejected of God. Now was the Son of man delivered into the hands of wicked and unreasonable men. He was led forth for us, that we might escape. He was nailed to the cross, as a Sacrifice bound to the altar. The Scripture was fulfilled; he did not die at the altar among the sacrifices, but among criminals sacrificed to public justice. And now let us pause, and with faith look upon Jesus. Was ever sorrow like unto his sorrow? See him bleeding, see him dying, see him and love him! love him, and live to him!

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Persevering Faith – Will You Make It to Heaven?

Purpose for Writing

My purpose for writing is twofold. First of all, those who wish to follow (or perhaps only profess) Christ need to have a solid understanding of the narrow road (Matthew 7:14) they are on. They need to understand how to finish their race. How do Christians enter the New Covenant rest spoken of in Hebrews 3 and 4? Following the type of Israel’s exodus in scripture and God’s plan for her, how do we as followers of Christ enter our Promised Land?

The second reason I’m writing is because many have shipwrecked their faith (1 Timothy 1:19), but many are not even aware of this fact. Continuing the metaphor, the vast majority of humanity is still in Egypt, of course. They want nothing to do with God. They are content living under the slavery of sin and enjoying the seasonal pleasures it dispenses. However, the frightening reality is that even in the ranks of Israel – the Church of Christ (Romans 9:6) – the vast majority of people are still in the desert (wilderness). When we take a closer look at what God has to say about Israel’s journey to the Promised Land, and how it relates to our journey there as Christians, the current state of many professing Christians is disconcerting. Scripture testifies to this, as we shall read.

God’s Call to Leave Egypt

God’s call to a person today echoes His initial call to the Israelite community in Egypt (Exodus 3:16-17). He calls us to believe in His power to deliver and to follow Him into a new way of living. He calls us to get up and leave the lifestyle of slavery and to come into a new place so we can worship Him. When Israel’s time came to be delivered from slavery in Egypt, one would think they would have been ready. Genesis 15:13-16 says:

And [God] said to Abram, Know for certain that your seed will be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them; and they will afflict them four hundred years; And also that nation, whom they will serve, I will judge: and afterward they will come out with great substance. (Genesis 15:13-14)

Even though God surely related this passage of scripture to Moses after Israel left Egypt, it’s still reasonable to assume that the length of Israel’s bondage in Egypt, which God had revealed to Abraham in this passage, would have been passed down orally. After all, they remembered to carry Joseph’s bones with them, as he had commanded. Why should they not also have understood that their time of deliverance was at hand before Moses ever even came on the scene announcing the promised emancipation? Could not and should not this 400-year-old promise from God have been the seed of faith for the Israelites’ expectation of freedom?

Regardless, whether the people were counting until the years of their slavery reached four hundred or not, to their credit, when Moses and Aaron delivered God’s message and His signs, they believed and worshiped (Exodus 4:31). Why did the Israelites believe so easily? The appointed signs were far less convincing at this stage (the staff changing into a snake, the leprous hand, and the river water turning into blood). Maybe they believed simply because they were desperate. Anything would sound better than slavery and brick-making. Or maybe they were aware of God’s promise to Abraham after all. Regardless, when things quickly went downhill with Pharaoh, even the Israelites’ complaining was done properly at this early stage. When Moses and Aaron began declaring God’s will to Pharaoh and the people began to suffer for it, they simply stated facts and asked God to judge; and there was no murmuring or complaining (Exodus 5:21). Through much fear and doubting – which is understandable for people who were multi-generational slaves – in the end, they showed enough faith to believe God, get up, and leave Egypt. In today’s terms, we might say that the Israelites displayed “saving faith.” They put their trust in God and set out to leave the old life behind, just as many do today.

Especially in this early stage, God showed His love, mercy, and compassion on His called people. He understood that their slavery was cruel and limited their ability to believe and obey (Exodus 6:9). Once they had left Egypt, He shielded them from war so they would not lose heart or lose faith (Exodus 13:17). And when they were hemmed in at the bank of the Red Sea and gave vent to their terror and unbelief, God tolerated it as the cries of a baby who has not yet learned to trust its loving parent (Exodus 14:10-12). As much of the Old Testament relates, God’s demonstration of power and deliverance at the Red Sea was supposed to have been an unforgettable event, a landmark foundation upon which their faith could be built and back to which they could always look and remind themselves Who was on their side and to what lengths He would go to meet their needs. One would certainly think that the Red Sea crossing had to be the first true high point of faith for Israel, even after all the miraculous signs in Egypt. The same can be said today of those who receive a revelation of what Jesus has done for them on the cross, accept His sacrifice as their own, repent of their sins, and pass through the narrow gate of salvation.

God’s Call to Enter the Desert

As Jesus was called into the desert to be tested after His baptism, God called Israel into the desert on the other side of the great miracle at the Red Sea. For Christians today, this is a picture of the call to leave the lingering mindsets of the old man and the life of slavery behind, to learn to deny and die to self, and to learn to trust in God and walk by faith, in the Spirit. And as it was for Jesus, the stay in the desert is supposed to be a fairly brief one. For the Christian, how long you stay in the desert is largely up to you; however, the essential part is making sure we do leave there. For Israel, what could have been around ten days became forty years. The reasons for, and circumstances surrounding, this “extension” are important for Christians today, so that we learn from Israel and prevent our own body from being scattered in the desert (I Corinthians 10:5), never to enter the Promised Land.

Unfortunately, it seems that in spite of the amazing power and care God showed toward His people in getting them not only out of Egypt but also beyond an impassable body of water, the people quickly lost faith and expressed their unbelief at Marah, where the water was undrinkable (Exodus 15:23). This time, the people did murmur against Moses and thus against the Lord as well (15:24). At this point, God chose to reveal Himself to the Israelites in a new way. He made the waters drinkable, but then He said:

If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the LORD thy God, and wilt do that which is right in His sight, and wilt give ear to His commandments, and keep all His statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon thee, which I have brought upon the Egyptians: for I am the LORD that healeth thee. (Exodus 15:26)

To sum up, God proved His power and faithfulness; then He said, “Listen to Me” and “Obey Me;” and He said both of these things twice, if you’ll notice in the text. This repetition carries strong emphasis in Hebrew. God expected more now. He had revealed Himself, and He had now given His first warning, saying between the lines that He would destroy them if they chose to disobey. The Israelites were accountable for the new revelation of God they had received. And as if to immediately demonstrate His kindness and provision and to reveal Himself even more, in the very next verse, we see God guiding the Israelites to the peaceful oasis at Elim (Exodus 15:27).

Unfortunately, after leaving Elim, complaining and unbelief reappeared immediately. The people murmured and complained of their cravings for food. They even spoke favorably of Egypt and the food they had supposedly enjoyed there (Exodus 16:2-3). This was a serious departure from faith. It illustrates that the Israelites were being led by their flesh and the appetites thereof and were not walking in trust. Again showing His grace, mercy, and compassion; God forgave their sin, promising manna to feed them (Exodus 16:4). However, once again, God revealed that there was purpose in these trials – He was testing His people again to see if they would listen and obey (16:4). In responding to this need, God proved and revealed His character even further, this time telling Israel in advance of the miracle He would bring about in order to feed them; but He again held them to account, saying:

…and ye shall know that I am the LORD your God. (Exodus 16:12b, emphasis mine)

God was saying to Israel, “Look, I’m not just doing these miracles for fun or for your entertainment. You are supposed to gain something from them. And what is that? Intimate, personal knowledge of Who I am, of My character. Faith – in my care for you. Trust – in my goodness.” God also specifically commanded the Israelites to rest on the Sabbath in an act of obedience and trust. Sadly, many people were unwilling to walk in this revelation, as they violated the Lord’s instructions by trying to store extra manna overnight and by trying to gather manna on the Sabbath. As a result, God asked a question that still rings powerfully today. He hinted at exasperation; He intimated that Israel was failing His testing; and He confronted the fruit of Israel’s main problem: determination to rule self, which was the fruit of unbelief:

And the LORD said unto Moses, How long refuse ye to keep My commandments and My laws? (Exodus 16:28, emphasis mine)

Massah & Meribah – The End Before The End

Immediately after this pointed question, scripture relates that Israel moved on to Rephidim, where there was again no water to drink (Exodus 17:1). By this time, God clearly expected Israel to have grown into some level of faith and trust. Unfortunately, the Israelites utterly failed at Rephidim – better known as Massah and Meribah (Exodus 17:2-4). In the same way that the Red Sea crossing is presented in the Old Testament as being a landmark event which demonstrated God’s sovereign power and faithfulness to His called people, Massah and Meribah is pointed to throughout the Bible as a pivotal scene of unbelief and failure. It is heralded as an example and a warning to all would have ears to hear its lesson.

Exodus passes by this event rather quickly, portraying it as simply another episode in the chronic disobedience of the Israelites, as they made their way through the desert. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Massah and Meribah is the end before the end. It is a stark picture of Israel’s refusal to walk by faith and of their decision instead to cling to the flesh and the old man, in rebellion and unbelief toward all that God had done and revealed about Himself.

In Psalm 95

Psalm 95 speaks of this event. In the midst of proclaiming God’s greatness and calling all to worship Him, Massah and Meribah are brought up (Psalm 95:8), and the psalmist sheds some light on the Israelites’ fundamental problem:

…when your fathers tempted Me, proved Me, and saw My work. Forty years long was I grieved with this generation, and said, It is a people that do err in their heart, and they have not known My ways: (Psalm 95:9-10)

Notice that Israel saw God’s work. Notice also that God states that Israel erred in their hearts and did not know His ways. They were certainly not ignorant of God’s power and ability to provide water – or anything else – for His people. Israel was accountable for this knowledge, and thus, they were supposed to know the Lord and His ways by this point. Yet the psalmist says, they “tempted” and “proved” (tested) God.

It’s worth briefly mentioning at this point that, during His desert temptation, Jesus specifically overcame this very temptation, declaring:

It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God. (Matthew 4:4)

and

It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. (Matthew 4:7)

Jesus modeled for His followers the proper path of faith: trust that God will always meet our needs. Any contrary attitude, comment, or action amounts to tempting God and sinning against Him.

So what was the end result of this resurfacing unbelief at Massah and Meribah? As I already noted, the Exodus account would almost lead us to believe that the event was simply another out of many and not overly significant. However, continuing in Psalm 95, we come to an important statement from the Lord:

I swore in My wrath that they should not enter into My rest. (Psalm 95:11)

This is something which we’ve not yet heard in scripture. As Psalm 95 relates, God obviously did say this, though perhaps only to Himself or to the host of heaven; but for whatever reason, it was not recorded in scripture until Psalm 95. Regardless, we need to take notice of it and understand that at this seemingly unremarkable point in Israel’s early wanderings in the desert, God did something extremely serious. He swore something in His wrath. And that something was that this people, His called people, would not enter His rest. Obviously, God didn’t mean every single man, since Joshua and Caleb (and people under a certain age) still entered; but we mustn’t overlook the seriousness of this pronouncement by focusing on technicalities.

It’s a fairly simple matter in this case to follow the mind of God. He revealed Himself in power to His people for a certain period of time. He tolerated sin, unbelief, and disobedience for a certain period of time. He eventually commanded His people to listen and obey. And finally, He swore that they had failed and were disqualified. Game over – except it was certainly no game. This may sound overly harsh, especially to the modern believers in God who have eagerly taken up grace in Christ and left behind all of that nasty “swearing” and “wrath” business; but today, God is the same God He was then – the same God who means what He says and expects His people to respond in faith when He reveals His awesome nature, character, and power. I do not intend to undermine God’s grace, patience, and forgiveness with such a statement but rather to highlight His unchanging nature.

Returning to the history of the exodus, there were numerous other occasions during which the Israelites showed their unbelief, and we can even point to the rejection of the Promised Land as a high point (Numbers 14); however, God has pointed to Massah and Meribah in Psalm 95 as “the rebellion” and as “the day of temptation” (Hebrews 3:8, quoting Psalm 95), and God gives the incident even more attention in the New Testament. However, before we leave the Old behind, let’s look at Psalm 78, which has some important things to say about it as well.

In Psalm 78

Though Massah and Meribah is not specifically named in Psalm 78, it is easy to see where the event falls as the psalmist summarizes the Israelites’ trials in the desert. Verse 15 speaks of God’s answer to the people’s cry at Massah and Meribah, but read further on to see His displeasure with the incident:

And they sinned yet more against Him by provoking the most High in the wilderness. And they tempted God in their heart by asking meat for their lust. Yea, they spake against God; they said, Can God furnish a table in the wilderness? Behold, He smote the rock, that the waters gushed out, and the streams overflowed; can He give bread also? can He provide flesh for His people? Therefore the LORD heard this, and was wroth: so a fire was kindled against Jacob, and anger also came up against Israel; Because they believed not in God, and trusted not in His salvation: Though He had commanded the clouds from above, and opened the doors of heaven, And had rained down manna upon them to eat, and had given them of the corn of heaven. Man did eat angels’ food: He sent them meat to the full. He caused an east wind to blow in the heaven: and by His power He brought in the south wind. He rained flesh also upon them as dust, and feathered fowls like as the sand of the sea: And He let it fall in the midst of their camp, round about their habitations. So they did eat, and were well filled: for He gave them their own desire; They were not estranged from their lust. But while their meat was yet in their mouths, The wrath of God came upon them, and slew the fattest of them, and smote down the chosen men of Israel. For all this they sinned still, and believed not for His wondrous works. (Psalms 78:17-32)

Where do you start with this passage? Thankfully, it explains itself well. God gave ample testimony, and the people refused to believe it. However, make special note of the patterns of unbelief and God’s reaction to them. The people didn’t just refuse to believe. They actually accused God of being everything that He is not – a failure, inept, incapable, weak, etc. We haven’t the slightest understanding of God’s awesome power and might. Can you imagine how that kind of unbelief and ingratitude angered Him? We read about the results, and they were just. And amazingly, after all of this, God continued to work miracle after miracle, providing for His people in the face of their rejection, unbelief, and murmuring against Him! Such amazing grace the Lord displayed! Psalm 78 gives us this final insight into the Israelites’ hearts and minds:

Nevertheless they did flatter Him with their mouth, and they lied unto Him with their tongues. For their heart was not right with Him, neither were they steadfast in His covenant. (Psalm 78:36-37, emphasis mine)

Does this description remind you of anything? How about these words from Jesus:

This people draweth nigh unto Me with their mouth, and honoureth Me with their lips; but their heart is far from Me. (Matthew 15:8)

In Hebrews

From the mouth of His own Son, God has reminded us that we must understand that the same heart problems that caused Israel to be unable to enter His rest in the days of the exodus are the same heart problems that can cause a Christian today to fail to enter into His rest. The book of Hebrews spends a great deal of time emphasizing this point in chapters 3 and 4.

First, we see a summary statement of the necessity of perseverance:

But Christ [was faithful] as a son over His own house; whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end. (Hebrews 3:6, emphasis mine)

This verse informs us that if we wish to “dwell in the house of the Lord forever,” we must persevere in our faith all the way to our death. From there, the chapter goes directly into quoting Psalm 95, which we have already discussed, bringing the failure at Massah and Meribah to the center of attention. After quoting the relevant verses, the author delivers a jarring statement of warning, followed by some powerful exhortation:

Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we are made partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end; (Hebrews 3:12-14)

We are told to beware, to take heed, so that we don’t allow ourselves to have an evil heart of unbelief that departs from God. We are also told that sin’s deceitfulness hardens our heart, causing us to depart from God, exactly as Israel did. Lastly, we are encouraged that we shall truly belong to Christ if we persevere to the very end. My intention is not to simply repeat what the scripture says, but this passage is so important and relevant to our day that I feel it necessary to do so.

From here, the author begins to emphasize the point that we must have ears to hear today. Every person who desires to follow Christ must heed these words of warning from this point through most of chapter 4. First, the author strenuously reminds us exactly who failed in the desert and did not enter their rest in the Promised Land (3:16-18). It was everyone who came out of Egypt (save Joshua, Caleb, and the unaccountable young people), who had been led by Moses. Then verse 19 sums up everything for us, so there is no chance for misunderstanding:

So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief. (Hebrews 3:19, emphasis mine)

It’s unfortunate that there’s a chapter break here, because the author continues straight on, issuing another clear warning:

Therefore, while the promise of entering His rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. (Hebrews 4:1)

Next we’re given a startling comparison to our time, as we read that the gospel was preached to the Israelites. However, the Word did not profit them because they had no faith (4:2). Israel left Egypt – the old man – behind; but their faith failed, and they were unable to enter the Sabbath rest of God, i.e. His salvation. This is of critical importance for us to grasp. We too can begin with Christ, leaving the country of the old man, beginning to walk with Him, even seeing Him work miracles of deliverance and provision on our behalf; and yet even after all of this, scripture is warning that if we do not persevere and believe, we will die in the desert, never entering the Promised Land. We will die displeasing to God (Hebrews 11:6) and separated from Him for eternity (Galatians 5:19-23).

Then the tone switches to hope and exhortation, as we are told to “be diligent to enter that rest” (4:11), so that we don’t meet the same fate as the Israelites because of unbelief and resultant disobedience. In verses 12 and 13, we are briefly shown the answer to unbelief: the Word of God, which divides and judges the heart’s deepest intentions. Further, nothing is hidden from God, who uses His Word to search us, so that we may know what is hidden therein. And of course, as Paul declared in his letter to the Romans, faith does indeed come by hearing the Word of God (Romans 10:17). If we are to overcome unbelief, our course will consist of much sincere, devoted study of, and meditation upon, the Word of God.

In First Corinthians

I want to discuss one more New Testament passage related to this pivotal event in Israel’s history. Though Massah and Meribah are not specifically mentioned in this passage, they are nevertheless inescapably woven into the narrative. Paul is attempting to get the message across to the Corinthian church that how they live matters. Modern readers should take note of Paul’s message that making excuses for (or trying to justify) sinful living, whether in the name of “Christian liberty” or not, is foolish and inconsistent with the gospel of Christ. Paul decides to bring in the relevant example of Israel’s failure in the desert to help illustrate the foolishness of such thinking.

Paul drives home the point (as the author of Hebrews does) that these Israelites were like us (I Corinthians 10:1-4). They believed enough to worship and leave Egypt. They were baptized in the Sea, an image of baptism into Christ and His death. They ate the spiritual food (manna) which was like Christ. They drank from the rock which was also Christ. However, in essence, the Israelites rejected Christ through unbelief (as Hebrews tells us) and through surrendering to the lusts of the flesh, which is what unbelief produces. Paul is careful to tell us that in spite of the fact that these people (just like people today) were partaking of Christ,

with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. (I Corinthians 10:5)

Paul then closes this section with some very strong warnings to us. Israel’s failure is supposed to warn us (10:11). They did not perish in Egypt; they went partway with God. Pride and overconfidence probably played a key part in their failure (10:12). Finally, Paul gives one last appeal from his heart, warning the Corinthians to flee from idolatry (10:14), which is obviously anything that removes your focus from Christ.

God’s Call to Take the Promised Land

God called Israel (and calls us) to enter, conquer, and possess the Promised Land. This process is a picture of life in Christ, overcoming the enemy, living and walking by faith under the Lord’s blessing, and (as Christ did) living only to do the will of the Father, which we call obedience. Yet (omitting the unaccountable youth) astonishingly, only two of the original men did this: Joshua and Caleb. Why were they different? What did they have that the million or so others lacked?

The record of Caleb’s words to the Israelite nation, after their covert exploratory mission into Canaan, tells us plenty about what endeared him to God (Numbers 14:8-9). Faith flows from his words, a strong confidence born and nurtured as the Lord had intended, through His revelation of Himself up to that point. However, Caleb’s words also reveal the fear of the rest of the people (14:9), which he obviously did not share. The Lord Himself commended Caleb and his faith, saying:

But my servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit and has followed Me fully, I will bring into the land into which he went, and his descendants shall possess it. (Numbers 14:24)

May Christians today take note of what set Caleb apart as a man with whom God was pleased, a man who would enter the Promised Land and possess it. May we also follow the Lord wholeheartedly and have the “different spirit” Caleb had!

The Christian’s Sabbath Rest

The Promised Land represents the Christian’s Sabbath rest, a life of living by and in faith, walking in the Spirit. The old man we used to be is dead, and we are alive in Christ (Galatians 2:20). Like Israel, we are instructed to kill and drive out all the “old” inhabitants of the land (Deuteronomy 9:3). For our understanding, the giants who oppose us there represent sin, fears, doubts, our troubling past, or anything else that is not of the Spirit of God. We are to conquer and vanquish these enemies of our faith and our God. Jude provides us with one last warning of the dire consequences of unbelief:

But I want to remind you, though you once knew this, that the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. (Jude 5)

Can the warning be any clearer for those who profess Christianity today, who claim the name of Jesus, who have taken the first steps of faith by leaving the land of their slavery? God is repeating this truth throughout His Word so that we do not miss His point. As with Israel, God will also hold us accountable to the abundantly revealed truth that He is a mighty God who is more than able to meet our needs and deliver us from every trial, affliction, and sin. Please heed the repeated, urgent warnings of scripture and do not be deceived into thinking that anything other than persevering faith will see you safely through the desert into the Promised Land – will see you safely through the gate into the New Jerusalem – will prevent you from reaping the corruption of hell.

Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man sows, that shall he also reap. For he that sows to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption [destruction]; but he that sows to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. (Galatians 6:7-9)

One Final Warning
In concluding, I would like to revisit one point I have made a couple times during this study, lest its importance be overlooked. Don’t forget that Israel’s pivotal failure in the desert came before it appeared to come in the natural/physical. Remember that God declared that this took place at Massah and Meribah, and not later on (Psalm 95:11). To our eyes, it may appear that Israel’s ultimate failure occurred at the border of Canaan, where the Lord pronounced His judgment on the nation, declaring that they would not enter the land but would in fact die in the desert as they “requested” (Numbers 14:2). However, God was simply pronouncing the judgment that He had already decided earlier at Massah and Meribah. This fact should cause us to readily embrace the admonition to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12) and to be extremely wary of trusting our own deceptive hearts (Proverbs 28:26, Jeremiah 17:9).

Frighteningly, many today believe that their unbelieving, murmuring, fleshly, worldly lifestyle is “good enough” to get them into the Promised Land of salvation. However, the Bible shows us that this is not true! Scripture has clearly warned all professing believers that, as James said, faith must be alive and not dead (James 2:17), distinguished by works authored by God’s Spirit and not by the flesh and man’s imaginations (James 1:22, 25). This style of living must continue all the way to our mortal end. God does not expect sinless perfection from us, but as the author of Hebrews said, we are to cast off every hindrance and the sin which so easily entangles, and run our race with perseverance (Hebrews 12:1)! The full testimony of scripture having silenced every mouth, those who are cast into hell (including professing Christians) will be without excuse (Matthew 7:21-23).

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God’s just judgment

I found this profound statement on another brother’s blog (link) and wanted to share it:

If we truly understand what transpired on the cross, in the death of God’s Son, then we will accept eternal judgment as the perfect and just consequence for those who reject His sacrifice.

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The Final Word on Tithing

Please note: When I speak against the “teaching” of the tithe, I am specifically talking about someone teaching Christians that God expects them to tithe. I am not talking about teaching about how God gave Moses laws requiring Old Testament Jews to tithe and some of the principles we can learn from that.

Before I stopped attending traditional church, I had a vigorous discussion with my then pastor about tithing. The point under discussion was whether or not it should be commanded in the church. You may have read some of the fruit of this discussion in another blog I wrote at the time, entitled “The Law & Christian Giving.”

The purpose of this post is economy. What’s the bottom line on tithing, the short version? The fact of the matter is that teaching or commanding churchgoers to tithe is putting them under Law. The New Covenant nowhere commands believers to tithe, though believers are simply expected to give, which should come as no surprise. With the love of God shed abroad in our hearts, what believer is not excited to give?

Perhaps you go to a church in which tithing is taught or commanded, and you have felt that it was wrong but weren’t quite sure what approach to take with church leadership on the subject. I will make two points that nail the case shut on commanding the tithe. After all I went through discussing this, I would recommend you start and end here. If your church leaders refuse to see these points, I doubt anything else will move them.

The first point is made in 2 Corinthians 9:

So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Corinthians 9:7)

The NIV translates “of necessity” as “under compulsion,” for a little added clarity. Does not teaching or commanding the tithe put people “under compulsion” and require them to give out “of necessity?” Of course it does. It certainly gives people the false understanding that God needs their money and that they “had better be obedient or else…” If you compel people to give, especially a specific percentage of their money, it becomes much more difficult for them to obey the verse above. So which covenant shall we follow?

The second point which buries teaching or commanding the tithe is more subtle, yet equally convincing. Many church leaders, including my former pastor, defend teaching or commanding the tithe using Matthew 23:23, in which Jesus was rebuking the Pharisees:

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. (Matthew 23:23)

While there is the first point that, at that time, the Jews were actually still under the Old Covenant Mosaic Law (thus requiring Jesus to endorse the command to tithe); there is another point that at first escaped my notice regarding Jesus’ statement here and the modern application of it.

Let’s continue reading what Jesus said:

Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel! Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also. (Matthew 23:24-26)

When is the last time your pastor solemnly addressed the congregation and said, “Look, people. One of our duties as Christians is to give all our cups and dishes a ceremonial washing, OK? If you don’t, you’re violating the command of Jesus, because he endorsed it right here in Matthew 23:25!”

Never heard that? Hmm, I wonder why. But of course, you probably have heard this: “Look, people. One of our duties as Christians is to tithe, OK? If you don’t, you’re violating the command of Jesus, because he endorsed it right here in Matthew 23:23!” Does the ridiculousness of this argument make sense now? I hope so. No one today seems to have a problem seeing that ceremonially washing cups and dishes is Old Covenant Law that we no longer need to obey, even though Jesus clearly commanded the Pharisees to do it in the above passage (even though he is obviously speaking metaphorically of matters of the heart). But jump up two verses, and everything changes. Suddenly, a much less forceful command (“without leaving the others undone” – hardly a ringing edict) is heralded as “Jesus Christ Commands All Believers to Tithe.”

What could possibly be the motivation for such a double-standard? In the secular world, when there is a scandal or mystery, people often say, “Follow the money, and you’ll get to the bottom of that.” I contend that the same is true in this case. Pastors understand that the tithe pays their salary. It also pays for all their pet programs, ministries, and building projects. The sad thing is that simple faith in the Lord to provide by moving in the hearts of His people to give has been severely damaged by this error, an error which frankly reeks of Roman Catholic influence. (See Exodus 36:3-7 for an inspiring example of what can happen when people are allowed to give freely, as the Lord leads, and not under compulsion.)

I pray that you take seriously the error of churches teaching or commanding the tithe today, because it points to a much larger misunderstanding of the reality of the New Covenant; and it potentially points to other issues such as greed, lack of faith, and lusts of the eyes and the flesh in church leaders who directly benefit from tithes. It should go without saying that these are all issues which demand corrective action from vigilant laypeople, if they desire to see God’s Church walk in faith and see His Word honored.

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True Worship

A single candle flickered weakly in the darkened room. Music echoed gently across the tile walls, filling the room with the peaceful sound of worship. The shuffling iPod was generating a soothing environment in which to relax. The next song was a particularly gentle rendition of “Refiner’s Fire,” which my worship team had played a number of years ago. I leaned back and took in the layered tapestry.

In somewhat typical fashion, the Lord jarred me from this complacent state in order to point something out. “Was this worship? What makes ‘worship’ worship?” The startling and pathetic reality is that I was actually not worshiping. But wasn’t I standing in front of a dimly lit room full of people, playing a guitar, directing several other musicians, singing lyrics about becoming holy, so the people might sing their assent?

Indeed I was. And I don’t doubt that some of the people there were truly worshiping the Lord. I myself was probably actually worshiping Him to some small degree. However, true worship of the Lord is a crucified life. It is not something one does once, twice, or even seven times a week. True worship is day to day, moment to moment, laying my life down in submission and sacrifice to the Lord’s will, and not my own.

Once, in a garden, a man gave in to the flesh and temptation; and in doing so, he changed everything, all of human history. He stopped worshiping the Lord in those moments. In another garden, another man resisted the flesh and the most awesome of temptations, died to self, and submitted himself to the Father’s commands; and everything changed again.

One sin, one moment matters. The way I live my life matters. Every decision to forsake things of this world, to deny self, and to follow Christ’s path of humiliation honors God mightily and releases a sweet aroma of sacrifice to Him.

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world… (Romans 12:1-2a)

Playing pretty songs with skill and sensitivity means nothing. What does my life look like? Do I run from that altar and the fire that falls thereon? Am I trying to “survive” God? It can be done, but I will perish eternally.

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. (Matthew 16:25)

All of God’s promises are released to us upon our death. We die when we’re born again (Colossians 3:3); we die daily in this life (1 Corinthians 15:31); and when our body finally dies, we inherit the fullness of His promises (1 Peter 1:3-5). How is it that we think we can obtain them yet remain alive? Scripture testifies clearly on this matter, so let us not be deceived. Let us not drag our feet but run joyfully to the cross each day, that we may walk in newness of life.

We were buried therefore with him through baptism unto death: that like as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:4)

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Counting the Cost & Carrying the Cross

There is a great deal of confusion in our day about the call of Jesus. We see the fruit of this confusion in the prevalence of worldly and carnal churches. I want to briefly look at the call Jesus gives His followers, then look at a few of the common misconceptions about His call, and finally address the consequences of leaving error uncontested in this important area.

The True Cost of Discipleship

Let’s start with the words of Jesus Himself, speaking of the cost of following Him:

Luk 14:26 If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.

Luk 14:27 And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me, he cannot be My disciple.

Luk 14:28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he may have enough to finish it;

Luk 14:29 lest perhaps, after he has laid the foundation and is not able to finish, all those seeing begin to mock him,

Luk 14:30 saying, This man began to build and was not able to finish.

In this brief passage, Jesus made it clear that if someone wants to follow Him, to be His disciple (which is what being a Christian is), a couple things are non-negotiable. First, everything else in your life must take 2nd place (or lower) behind your discipleship. Second, you are called to death. When Jesus said this, everyone listening understood that no one carries a cross for recreation, for style, or to fit in. A cross had one purpose: to kill the one bearing it. Jesus was not confused. He knew His own destiny, and He calls us all to follow His path to death.

Some may argue that perhaps Jesus saved these toughest of words for only His inner circle of three, or at least only the twelve. Surely such a difficult path was not something He could expect the masses to accept, could He? On the contrary, notice to whom He was speaking in the above passage:

Luk 14:25 And great crowds went with Him. And He turned and said to them…

And again, lest there be any confusion as to the totality of Christ’s call to us and its intended dominion over the lives of His disciples, Jesus said:

Luk 14:33 So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.

“Renounce all” means forsaking everything. When is the last time you heard that in church? Did Jesus really mean this? Did Jesus somehow mislead us into thinking the road to heaven would be easy?

Mat 7:14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

Two Common Objections

But what about when Jesus said His yoke is easy and His burden is light (Matthew 11:30)? Jesus was comparing the burden He gives His disciples versus people carrying their own burden (their sins), which no person can carry. You try to carry your own sin burden, and you’ll end up in hell. That’s what Jesus was saying: “Let Me carry your sins, and you come and walk with Me in a yoked relationship; and then I’ll give you a load you can manage – not because you can actually handle it (John 15:5), but because in relationship with Me, I promise to supply you with the power to carry your end of the yoke (Philippians 4:13).”

The entrance into and the continuation of this life of discipleship with Christ is death, and Jesus spoke this truth frequently:

Joh 12:24 Truly, truly, I say to you, Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it abides alone; but if it dies, it brings forth much fruit.

Joh 12:25 He who loves his life shall lose it. And he who hates his life in this world shall keep it to life eternal.

Both Jesus and the Apostle Paul made the daily death of Christian discipleship clear:

Luk 9:23 And He said to all, If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me.

1Co 15:31 I protest by your rejoicing which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily.

In His encounter with the rich, young ruler, Jesus reinforced the necessity of forsaking everything to follow Him. He pointed out the rich man’s blindness to his idolatry and then explained the price to become His disciple. He left no doubt.

Mat 19:21 Jesus said to him, If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in Heaven. And come, follow Me.

Mat 19:22 But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions.

Some may argue, “Well, there’s your problem. Jesus asked the man if he wanted to be perfect, and we all know no one can be perfect!” But Jesus repeated this idea elsewhere:

Mat 5:48 Therefore be perfect, even as your Father in Heaven is perfect.

The faithful walk of carrying the cross crucifies the flesh and conforms us to Christ’s likeness. As we grow, we mature, and we are “perfected” (James 1:4). Would Jesus call His disciples to be something that they could never become? In a positional sense, we have already been perfected, but we are still in the process of walking it out by faith:

Heb 10:14 For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are sanctified.

Assuredly, it’s one of the great mysteries of the faith, how sinful people made of flesh can be changed into Christ’s image and perfected; however, it is true; at the very least, our perfection will be completed at our glorification.

Jesus the Divider

Be sure to notice also that when the rich, young ruler went away sad, Jesus did not stop him from leaving or call after him to try to get him to change his mind. His word was enough for the man to make his choice, and choose he did. The truth of Jesus’ words were proven:

Mat 6:24 No one can serve two masters. For either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will hold to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.

Jesus also spoke of the difficulty of discipleship after feeding the five thousand men. Jesus deliberately challenged those who were happy to follow Him for the free food and the excitement but who had no heart to carry their cross and obey Him:

Joh 6:26 Jesus answered them and said, Truly, truly, I say to you, You seek Me not because you saw the miracles, but because you ate the loaves and were filled.

Joh 6:27 Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for that food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you. For God the Father sealed Him.

Joh 6:66 From this time many of His disciples went back into the things behind, and walked no more with Him.

We can draw no other conclusion than that Jesus intended to bring division among His followers, in order to separate the true disciples from the false. He said as much:

Mat 10:34 Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth. I did not come to send peace, but a sword.

Mat 10:35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.

Mat 10:36 And a man’s foes shall be those of his own household.

Mat 10:37 He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.

Mat 10:38 And he who does not take up his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me.

Jesus wants fully devoted disciples, not half-hearted, fickle people who are just looking for the latest sensation or some free handouts. One thing that stands out in scripture as being a clear indicator of half-hearted, fickle people is love for the world. After all, as Jesus said, no person can serve two masters, and “the world” is definitely antichrist!

Jas 4:4 Adulteresses! Do you not know that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever desires to be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.

1Jn 2:15 Do not love the world, nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him,

1Jn 2:16 because all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.

Do We Observe This Kind of Discipleship?

After reading these things, one would think that Christian society would be quite unique and separated from the rest of the world. It would be marked by humility, simple lifestyles of modesty and sacrifice, and corporate as well as personal devotion to the scriptures, fellowship, and worship. But is this what we see in modern Christian society? Far from it. Most professing Christians today are so immersed in the world that you can’t tell them apart from the world. They live lives of greed and excess, and follow “another gospel” (2 Cor. 11:4) that has been invented to justify it all. If you were to ask most professing Christians if they’ve counted the cost of being a disciple of Jesus, they would likely look at you in surprise and ask, “What cost?”

Certainly, in America, we have (for now) religious freedoms that mean there will indeed be fewer costs to follow Christ here in the United States than if you happen to live in Iran. However, this makes no difference and does not excuse the false gospel that has replaced the truth in this country. Paul assured us:

2Ti 3:12 Yea, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.

Where you live makes no difference. As a disciple of Christ, you are an enemy to the world and to the one who rules it: Satan. Thus, you will be persecuted and suffer, in some form or fashion. Why do today’s Christians not understand this? The modern, false gospel of abundant, cheap grace leads people to this wasteland of selfishness, complacency, and sloth. For a thorough explanation of what is the real gospel, have a look at this post:

https://lastlamb.wordpress.com/2010/09/06/christianity-101-basic-truth-for-a-society-where-light-is-dim/

In the meantime, let’s consider some of the faulty thinking that is prevalent among today’s worldly, carnal “Christians.”

Forsaking… a la Carte

Since counting the cost of discipleship and carrying the cross are rarely if ever mentioned in many churches and even less rarely explained, it is understandable why people are deceived. Combine that with the fact that sin and judgment are also rarely mentioned, and you end up with people who come to the natural conclusion that what Jesus wants is for them to consider giving up the really wicked stuff (at least the stuff that seems really wicked to them or to the culture), and then they’re doing just fine. Perhaps fifty verses could be cited here to explain how unbiblical this is, but one passage is sufficient:

Eph 4:11 And truly He gave some to be apostles, and some to be prophets, and some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers,

Eph 4:12 for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.

Eph 4:13 And this until we all come into the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a full-grown man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ;

Eph 4:14 so that we no longer may be infants, tossed to and fro and carried about by every wind of doctrine, in the dishonesty of men, in cunning craftiness, to the wiles of deceit.

Eph 4:15 But that you, speaking the truth in love, may in all things grow up to Him who is the Head, even Christ;

There is no room for casual riders, slackers, or the curious in this passage. As illustrated by Jesus’ own words above, He Himself divided those who refused to take Him seriously. Are we to teach people differently?

N.O.T.W. But Just Don’t Look Too Closely at My Life

Another amazing thing I have noticed in modern “Christian” culture is the manipulated doctrine surrounding being “in the world” (John 17:11) but not “of the world” (John 17:14). People seem to think that if they wear the name “Christian,” then they are no longer “of the world.” The abundance of “N.O.T.W.” (not of this world) stickers on cars supports this idea. However, when He prayed for His disciples in John 17, Jesus made quite clear that what made them “not of the world” was their opposition to everything the world stands for, which is the ways of sin and rebellion.

Joh 17:15 I do not pray for You to take them out of the world, but that You protect them.

Joh 17:16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.

Joh 17:17 Sanctify them through Your truth. Your Word is truth.

Jesus asked the Father to protect the disciples and to sanctify them, which literally means to set them apart. Again, how many today understand this? Jesus spoke often of a new kingdom He was establishing. He invites all people to come and join this new kingdom. In the days of the United Nations, dual citizenship, and porous borders, these concepts lose their strength; but people need to understand that a person only holds allegiance to one kingdom. Jesus made that abundantly clear. Christ’s call is to separate from the world. Of course, we are still “in the world,” but our call as disciples of Jesus is to beckon other people to come out of the world in order to join His kingdom.

2Co 6:17 Therefore come out from among them and be separated, says the Lord, and do not touch the unclean thing. And I will receive you

Rev 18:4 And I heard another voice from Heaven, saying, Come out of her, My people, that you may not be partakers of her sins, and that you may not receive of her plagues.

The misunderstanding regarding being “in the world but not of the world” in reality amounts to people choosing to create and follow doctrine that matches their lifestyle choices, rather than lining up their lifestyles to the Word of God. People also like to cite 1 Corinthians 5:10 to defend their being immersed in worldliness, saying, “Like Paul said, we can’t just leave the world!” However, Jesus called us to be salt to people in the world – to flavor, preserve, and affect them (Mt. 5:13) – to be a smell of death or life (2 Cor. 2:15-16) to them by preaching the gospel to them, so that they might be saved. Instead, people today practice “guerrilla evangelism,” by which they go out to worldly events with people in the world and practice many of the same things as people in the world. This is justified by the hope that one day, the other person might ask them about their bumper sticker or their tattoo, ask them about their church or that book on their desk, come to the church movie night or barbecue, etc.

I’ll provide one more scripture to drive home the point that Christians are to separate from the world and from love for things of the world, and to not partake in every worldly activity out there:

2Ti 2:3 Share in suffering as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.

2Ti 2:4 No one who wars tangles with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who chose him to be a soldier.

This is the call for all disciples of Jesus Christ, not just the leaders, the preachers, the pastors, or the teachers. May professing Christians today awaken to this truth and repent if necessary.

What’s Your Inheritance?

A natural question arises when looking at the complacency, laziness, and worldliness of the modern church: are people who live this way going to be saved and go to heaven? A better way to phrase this question is: are they going to inherit the kingdom of God?

1Co 6:9 Do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor abusers, nor homosexuals,

1Co 6:10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.

1Co 6:11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.

Gal 5:19 Now the works of the flesh are clearly revealed, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lustfulness,

Gal 5:20 idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, fightings, jealousies, angers, rivalries, divisions, heresies,

Gal 5:21 envyings, murders, drunkennesses, revelings, and things like these; of which I tell you before, as I also said before, that they who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

1Co 10:1 And, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea.

1Co 10:4 and all drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank of the spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ.

1Co 10:5 But with many of them God was not well pleased, for they were scattered in the wilderness.

1Co 10:6 And these things were our examples, that we should not be lusters after evil, as they also lusted.

1Co 10:7 Nor should we be idolaters, even as some of them, as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.”

1Co 10:8 Nor let us commit fornication, as some of them fornicated, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day.

1Co 10:9 Nor let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted Him and were destroyed by serpents.

1Co 10:10 Nor murmur as some of them also murmured and were destroyed by the destroyer.

1Co 10:11 And all these things happened to them as examples; and it is written for our warning on whom the ends of the world have come.

1Co 10:14 Therefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry.

The Word of God speaks for itself. Those who do not follow the way appointed by the Lord will have no place in His kingdom.

The Greatest Example

After looking through these scriptures, I hope that the call of Jesus has come into clear focus. The cost of discipleship is something that Jesus spelled out clearly on numerous occasions. And as the greatest example of all, He showed us His own life, which was submitted perfectly to the Father’s will, all the way to suffering, mocking, scorn, shame, and a humiliating, undeserved death. Jesus’ life and death give us the greatest picture of how Christians are to look and live. John summed it up as follows:

1Jn 2:6 He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk even as He walked.

In other words, put your life where your mouth is.

Final Exam

As a final “litmus test” for where you (or your church) stand in terms of being a faithful disciple, read the words to the following song. Could you sing them from your heart and mean it? Or would they possibly offend you? Or are they just esoteric and meaningless to your life? Would this song be popular in your church, or would it even be understood? If answered honestly, these questions should tell you exactly where you stand in relation to true discipleship.

 

“Fire of God” by Christ Our Life

Father, cleanse these filthy hands

I long for brokenness for all my sin and shame

The tears You’ve wept outnumber the sands

With every sin I know I break Your heart again

 

Help me to understand Your pain

When I conform to this world and blaspheme Your holy name

Help me to understand Your Word

If I’m a friend of this world, it’s hatred towards my God

 

Fire of God, burn in me, consume all my wickedness

So I will not love this world

So I will not be a friend of this world any longer

So I will not be a friend of this world any longer

 

Father, break my prideful heart

I come before You humbly, so I can stand

And wash my dirty feet

I’ve wandered from Your path and walked on unholy land

 

Help me to understand Your pain

When I conform to this world and blaspheme Your holy name

Help me to understand Your Word

If I’m a friend of this world, it’s hatred towards my God

 

Fire of God, burn in me, consume all my wickedness

So I will not love this world

So I will not be a friend of this world any longer

So I will not be a friend of this world any longer

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Church is a Circus & Freedom from Pornography

If there are any lingering doubts in your mind about whether or not the modern American church has gone far afield from the fundamentals and principles of the Word of God, then let this bit of news push you firmly over the edge of conviction. I found out last night from a friend I was having dinner with that a local megachurch here in San Diego, The Rock, is hosting a debate this evening between a well-known porn star and one of the pastors. Presumably, they will be arguing about the perceived merits and dangers of pornography in our culture.

The question that I couldn’t get out of my mind was “why?” For what purpose would the church put on such a sensational event? After much thought, I could only come to the conclusion that the church desires the shock value and the resultant interest it will garner among the community. In other words, the masses will come. The shame of it all is that in spite of any appearance and claim to the contrary, this event will not serve to liberate anyone seeking to free themselves from the chains of pornography addiction. Oh, I suppose it’s possible that the true gospel could actually be preached, and the overcoming life that is dead to sin could actually be taught; but the possibility is slim. After all, they rarely teach the complete gospel at other times, so why would it begin with this event? How I would love to be wrong.

With my mind swimming in the madness of this enterprise by The Rock, I became upset at the thought of the hundreds, if not thousands, of people who will surely go to this event in the hopes that it will somehow provide them the tools they need to get free from porn, to loose the shackles of its bondage from their lives. Again, I just don’t see this happening there, though I plan to look into the event; and if gospel truth is spoken, I will be thrilled to issue a retraction.

In the meantime, as one who suffered mightily at the hands of the enemy in the areas of lust and addiction to pornography for many years, I wish to offer the simple solution for freedom from these bonds. For those with ears to hear, let them hear!

  1. Abide in Jesus – This is the most important and the most foundational thing. The human heart will set its affections on something or someone. If we’re going to go about casting idols out of our hearts, as we should, then we had better be prepared to replace them with a stronger devotion to something new. You can’t just make yourself love someone, including God. “We love Him because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). In practical terms, what this means is that in order to cultivate your love for Christ, you need to focus on Him, meditate on Him, contemplate the wonders of His condescension to come to this place. You need to gaze upon the cross, knowing that you are the one who should have been executed there. You need to picture yourself present when Jesus made Himself a slave and washed everyone’s feet. However you get there, you must meditate on the beauty of the Savior and His immeasurable love for sinners like you. As you begin to recognize your own wretchedness and inadequacy and the depths from which He pulled you, your love for Him will grow.
  1. Believe the Word of God – how many verses do we read right over and never mind what great truths lay there before us? This was the case with me for so many years before the Holy Spirit finally parked me on some very important verses (Romans 6-8, Ephesians 4:22, Colossians 3:9-10, among others). To sum these up, if you’ve been regenerated, you are dead to sin. Your old self is gone. But if you never believe what the Word is saying, then you will never see God’s power manifest itself in this way in your life.
  1. Fear the Lord – Proverbs 16:6 says that “by the fear of the Lord, men depart from evil.” You are going to stand before God all by yourself one day, and you will answer for everything you have done in your body (2 Corinthians 5:10). American “Christianity” has gone grossly out of balance toward cheap grace. This is not biblical grace. God has called His people to live holy, overcoming lives, in reverent fear (Hebrews 12:28). Lest there be any doubt about God’s holiness and attitude toward sin, take a look at how He treated His one and only beloved Son, on Whom He placed and judged the sins of us all (Isaiah 53:6). God recently said to me, “You must not take my holiness lightly, because I do not take your sin lightly.” If that sentence doesn’t make you sober, then you should earnestly pray for a softening of your heart.

Heb 10:26 For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remains no more sacrifice for sins,

Heb 10:27 but a certain fearful looking for judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.

Heb 10:28 He who despised Moses’ Law died without mercy on the word of two or three witnesses.

Heb 10:29 Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy of punishment, the one who has trampled the Son of God, and who has counted the blood of the covenant with which he was sanctified an unholy thing, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?

Heb 10:30 For we know Him who has said, “Vengeance belongs to Me, I will repay, says the Lord.” And again, “The Lord shall judge His people.”

Heb 10:31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

  1. Cut off your hand and gouge out your eye – in other words, anything at all in your life that is a snare and a stumbling block, that provides you an avenue to lust, must go. You must be ruthless, and you must not allow yourself to justify keeping anything. If you can’t even get past this step, then you may as well quit right here. We’re talking television, movies, magazines, the Internet, driving down certain streets, going to the beach, going to the mall, etc. You know where you have trouble. If you don’t, you can ask the Lord, and He’ll be glad to point it out. But as with any step you take with the Lord, count the cost first. If you aren’t willing to lay everything on the altar, then it would be better if you never even went there.

Jesus said that the one who has been forgiven much loves much (Luke 7:47). I think that’s one of the main problems today: most people don’t understand that they are the chief of sinners. They think they’re not so bad and that others around them are worse than (or at least no better than) they are. Many actually subconsciously think they can pay back the debt God has forgiven them (Matthew 18:26), which means they have no love or mercy at all. It’s essential to lay down these silly comparisons and recognize that the only standard is Jesus Himself. Compare yourself to Him, and then you should be getting into the right mindset: hopelessness that puts you in the right place to cry out for mercy.

Once we understand these things, we need to stay there. That’s the whole meaning of “abide,” which Jesus (and the apostle John) spent a whole lot of time talking about (John 14 and 15 & 1 John, especially). In Greek, “meno” means to abide, live, remain, stay, and dwell. So when we’re talking about abiding in Christ (John 15:4) and abiding in His love (John 15:9), we are talking about a continual state of living and remaining in that state or place. We’re not supposed to leave it or depart from it. Naturally, we do from time to time; but the moment we realize we have strayed, we are to run back to Jesus. Some may call this “mind games.” It might be better called “spirit games,” since God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). No matter what you may want to call it, this is how we commune with our God, through the Holy Spirit which He has given as a deposit to the people whom He has regenerated (2 Corinthians 1:22). This is abiding in Christ: dwelling on Him and His love and staying there.

As with any promise of God, no half-hearted effort will bring about results. If you aren’t willing to pay the price that Jesus named to become a disciple of His, then please do not expect to receive the benefits of discipleship! Only those who have counted the cost and who carry their cross daily (Luke 9:23) can enter into the joy of their Master, both now and in the life to come.

For any who wish to be free from sin (whatever that sin may be), I pray that you would soberly contemplate the steps I have shared; that you may count the cost of following Christ and consider it a price well worth paying in order to obtain an incalculable treasure – God Himself (Genesis 15:1, Matthew 13:46); and that you may faithfully walk His path all your days, so that He may bring you safely into His heavenly kingdom. I also pray that you would have eyes to see the great mockery that the circus of church is today and that you would flee from it as from the pit of hell, because that is where the circus leads.

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On Healing

The Question

A question with which I have wrestled for around 15 years is this: does God promise physical healing to me, as His adopted child? Is it part of the package of our inheritance from Him? Recently, I was led anew into this question by a brother who was boldly proclaiming that this promise is indeed ours. After looking at some of the scriptures he referenced, I decided to once again study this matter. However, I decided to do something different this time. In the past, I would always mix personal experiences and the experiences of others I know into the equation, attempting to determine truth by looking at how the promises of God were or were not working out in actual lives, including my own. This time, I decided that taking this approach would in fact be detrimental, for one simple reason: it brings the mind and heart of man into a question which can only be answered by the Word of God. The Word alone, I decided, should be wholly sufficient to answer this question, if indeed God wants us to find the answer.

The Word

In this section, I will simply present the scriptures that God led me to and explain what He showed me there.

And when he was come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed him. And behold, there came to him a leper and worshipped him, saying, “Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.” And he stretched forth his hand, and touched him, saying, “I will; be thou made clean.” And straightway his leprosy was cleansed. (Matthew 8:1-3, ASV)

After preaching the Sermon on the Mount for three chapters, Jesus came down to find a leper, who was full of faith that Jesus could heal him. Why? The preceding verses offer the probable explanation:

And it came to pass, when Jesus had finished these words, the multitudes were astonished at his teaching: for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes. (Matthew 7:28-29, ASV, emphasis mine)

The question in the leper’s statement is important: “Are You willing?” He already had faith that Jesus could. He just needed to know if Jesus wanted to. The Lord’s answer was unequivocal: “I will.” The Greek word for “will” here means “to wish, will, want, or desire;” and the word forms the root of two Greek nouns meaning “will, decision, or desire.” Jesus was not stating, as we English speakers might be inclined to think, “I will (do it);” He was saying much more than that. After looking at the Greek words, there should be no misunderstanding that in this passage, Jesus plainly stated that His will or desire was to heal this leper. (He said the equivalent of “I decide it” or “I desire it.”) I’m no Greek expert, so I can’t speak of the verb form, but it reminded me of the numerous times our Lord said, “I Am…”, and that is no statement in time, for that moment only. It seems possible to me that when Jesus said, “I will,” He was telling the leper and anyone else with ears to hear that His desire is to heal, to show mercy, to draw people to Himself and lead them to His salvation. However, as we’ll look at later, there are other factors involved in whether a healing takes place.

Since many would consider this insufficient evidence to convince that God’s will is to heal, let’s take a look at several other passages which further convey God’s desire to provide healing, especially to His faithful covenant people:

And ye shall serve Jehovah your God, and he will bless thy bread, and thy water; and I will take sickness away from the midst of thee. (Exodus 23:25, ASV)

And it shall come to pass, because ye hearken to these ordinances, and keep and do them, that Jehovah thy God will keep with thee the covenant and the lovingkindness which he sware unto thy fathers… .. And Jehovah will take away from thee all sickness; and none of the evil diseases of Egypt, which thou knowest, will he put upon thee, but will lay them upon all them that hate thee. (Deuteronomy 7:12, 15, ASV)

Bless Jehovah, O my soul; And all that is within me, bless his holy name. Bless Jehovah, O my soul, And forget not all his benefits: Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; Who healeth all thy diseases (Psalm 103:1-3, ASV)

However, scripture also shows us that God has a special relationship with His covenant people. Since they have far greater revelation and greater blessing, they also have greater responsibility before God to follow and obey Him. He states in no uncertain terms that the above promises of healing can just as easily be reversed due to disobedience:

“If you are not careful to do all the words of this law that are written in this book, that you may fear this glorious and awesome name, the LORD your God, then the LORD will bring on you and your offspring extraordinary afflictions, afflictions severe and lasting, and sicknesses grievous and lasting. And he will bring upon you again all the diseases of Egypt, of which you were afraid, and they shall cling to you. Every sickness also and every affliction that is not recorded in the book of this law, the LORD will bring upon you, until you are destroyed. (Deuteronomy 28:58-61, ESV)

As a whole, these passages support Jesus’ words to the leper in Matthew 8:3 that the Lord desires to heal those who are either in right relationship with Him or who are lost and wandering about “like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36) and “who don’t know their right hand from their left” (Jonah 4:11).

A few verses later, Matthew explains to us how healing is made possible through Jesus:

That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.” (Matthew 8:16-17, ESV, quoting from Isaiah 53:4)

Perhaps coming from his background as a tax collector, well familiar with balance sheets, Matthew decided right away to explain how the “transaction” of healing is possible. He explains that the healings which Jesus is “handing out” were all paid for by Himself, since He would later complete His work on the cross (since Matthew wrote his gospel after the resurrection); and Matthew tells the reader that Jesus in fact carried these illnesses and diseases for us, as Isaiah prophesied He would, as part of His passion role of suffering servant. As Matthew says, this fulfilled the passage in Isaiah; and once God fulfilled that passage, it’s quite unimaginable that He would somehow “unfulfill” it later and declare that Jesus bore illnesses and diseases then, for a time, but not now.

The next verse in Isaiah explains how Jesus paid for our healing quite clearly. He bore these things so that we would not have to:

But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5, ASV, emphasis mine)

Peter said as much in 1 Peter 2:24. Many point to these verses and say that Isaiah, Matthew, and Peter were speaking only of spiritual healing, of salvation. But if Jesus was only beaten and scourged, which is what caused His stripes, then our salvation would not have been completed; because it was His crucifixion and death that secured our pardon, not specifically His stripes. Isaiah, Matthew, and Peter may have been pointing at something larger.

In looking deeper at Isaiah 53:5, the 1st half of the verse is talking about deliverance from sin (transgressions and iniquities), but the second half of the verse speaks of more – peace and wholeness at a level that spreads wider than just reconciliation to God. The word “peace” there is “shalom,” which encompasses completeness, safety, health, and peace – all parts of our New Covenant relationship with God through what Christ has done. Then the last clause declares that “with His stripes we are healed.” Both here (in Hebrew) and in 1 Peter 2:24 (in Greek), the word “healed” can mean both “made whole” and also “physically healed.” But if one simply looks at how these same Hebrew and Greek words are used throughout the Old and New Testaments, then we see that there is a very strong emphasis on the physical meaning of the word that should not be overlooked in favor of the metaphorical meaning in these two passages.

In looking at each usage of these two words in their respective testaments, both words are very often used in a literal, physical sense (especially in the New Testament, which is what we’re most concerned with). Also of note, the Hebrew word for “heal” is also used for “physician,” and of course we know that physicians attempt to heal the sick. I counted the places this word is used in the OT referring specifically to physical healing, and I was conservative. I did not include in this count the uses of this word where it meant “physician” either (there were 5). It came to 24 out of 63. However, most of the figurative uses for “heal” were found in the Psalms and the Prophets, exactly where one would expect to find figurative language.

However, looking in the New Testament at the Greek word for “heal” and doing the same thing, the count is far more convincing. Out of the total of 28, 22 are clear references to physical healing, 4 are quotes from the Old Testament (three of the same verse), 1 is metaphorical, and 1 is the passage in question – 1 Peter 2:24! Clearly, the New Testament focus on the word “heal” is a physical one, especially when used to describe the ministry of Jesus, the visible representation of the Father, who undoubtedly came to bring both wholeness and physical healing – wholeness which often came through the avenue of physical healing.

God wants us to understand that the prophesied Messiah would indeed bear our sins, and He tells us this in the first part of Isaiah 53:5 and in 53:12:

But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. .. Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53:5, 12, ESV, emphasis mine)

Given these clear declarations, why would we decide to stretch the meaning of “healed” in verse 5 and assume that God was only repeating what He was already saying quite clearly in the same passage, that Christ bore our sins, which yields the truest measure of wholeness? Is it not a more accurate and honest reading of the text to read it for both its physical meaning and its metaphorical meaning, which informs us that those who are in Christ have access to physical healing and wholeness because of the stripes Jesus received for us? Why would God intend only the metaphorical meaning of “healed” here? Why would He use a figure of speech to describe His Son’s ministry, which entailed such a massive emphasis on physical healing leading unto salvation and wholeness?

In the next chapter, Matthew sheds further light on the matter of healing, in the story of the paralytic whose sins Jesus forgave. When the Pharisees accused Him of blasphemy, Jesus said:

“But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” – he then said to the paralytic – “Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” (Matthew 9:6, ESV)

Jesus made the point here that this healing was a sign for unbelievers, to show that He has the authority to forgive sins. It follows then that if someone sees the Lord’s power in healing, one of God’s purposes is to stir their faith to believe that He truly is able and willing to forgive their entire life’s catalog of wretched thoughts and deeds! This shows a powerful purpose and platform for healing: that it may illuminate man’s deepest need: to be reconciled to God through repentance and believing the gospel.

A few verses later, Matthew begins to show us the other side of the healing transaction. What does God ask of us for healing? Jesus spoke quite succinctly in John 6 about what God wants from us:

Jesus answered and said unto them, “This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.” (John 6:29, ASV, emphasis mine)

God tells us to have faith. Matthew begins to drive that point home with the story of the woman with the issue of blood:

[F]or she said within herself, “If I do but touch his garment, I shall be made whole.” But Jesus turning and seeing her said, “Daughter, be of good cheer; thy faith hath made thee whole.” And the woman was made whole from that hour. (Matthew 9:21-22, ASV, emphasis mine)

Jesus said plainly and clearly that this woman’s faith that He would heal her is a key reason she was healed. Matthew continues to show this with another example:

And as Jesus passed by from thence, two blind men followed him, crying out, and saying, “Have mercy on us, thou son of David.” And when he was come into the house, the blind men came to him: and Jesus saith unto them, “Believe ye that I am able to do this?” They say unto him, “Yea, Lord.” Then touched he their eyes, saying, “According to your faith be it done unto you.” And their eyes were opened. (Matthew 9:27-30, ASV, emphasis mine)

Can it be any clearer that we will receive healing when God gives us faith to believe that not only can He heal us but that it is His will to do so? Naturally, there may be occasions where God heals even in spite of the lack of faith on the part of the sick or lame. After all, in the cases of raising someone from the dead (such as Lazarus, the widow of Nain’s son, or Jairus’ daughter), the dead person had no faith to exercise; they were dead! However, it’s interesting to note that in two of these three resurrections, Jesus still pointed toward faith as a very active factor in what He was doing:

[Jairus] beseecheth him much, saying, “My little daughter is at the point of death: I pray thee, that thou come and lay thy hands on her, that she may be made whole, and live.” .. While he yet spake, they come from the ruler of the synagogue’s house saying, “Thy daughter is dead: why troublest thou the Teacher any further?” But Jesus, not heeding the word spoken, saith unto the ruler of the synagogue, “Fear not, only believe.” (Mark 5:23, 35-36, ASV, emphasis mine)

But some of them said, “Could not this man, who opened the eyes of him that was blind, have caused that this man also should not die?” Jesus therefore again groaning in himself cometh to the tomb. Now it was a cave, and a stone lay against it. Jesus saith, “Take ye away the stone.” Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto him, “Lord, by this time the body decayeth; for he hath been dead four days.” Jesus saith unto her, “Said I not unto thee, that, if thou believedst, thou shouldest see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, “Father, I thank thee that thou heardest me. 42And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the multitude that standeth around I said it, that they may believe that thou didst send me.” (John 11:37-42, ASV, emphasis mine)

Notice the unbelief of the crowd at Lazarus’ tomb. There was plenty of unbelief at Jairus’ house too; after all, the people laughed at Jesus when He came to heal the girl. Looking back to what Matthew showed earlier, these examples add further evidence that healing is a sign to unbelievers that the Lord has the authority to forgive sins. Thus, the purpose is to awaken people and to motivate them to faith unto salvation. And that is exactly what Jesus said in John 11:42.

Matthew further presses the point of the necessity of faith in describing Jesus’ rejection at Nazareth:

And they were offended in him. But Jesus said unto them, “A prophet is not without honor, save in his own country, and in his own house.” And he did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief. (Matthew 13:57-58, ASV, emphasis mine)

Was Jesus’ power somehow limited by the people of Nazareth’s unbelief? Far from it. The will of the Father was obviously not such to dispense widespread healings and miracles among a people who had little or no faith in Him and who, we can safely assume, had even less faith to believe that this “carpenter’s son” could actually save their souls. This is the same reason so few miracles are seen in the modern Western church. Where there is so little genuine faith in Jesus’ power to save and deliver from sin, why would He often demonstrate His power to heal, when it will only be received with fascination as a marvel and not as a call to admit a much deeper need?

Jesus again specifically addressed the issue of unbelief after the transfiguration, when dealing with the boy overcome by demon possession:

“And oft-times it hath cast him both into the fire and into the waters, to destroy him: but if thou canst do anything, have compassion on us, and help us.” And Jesus said unto him, “If thou canst! All things are possible to him that believeth.” (Mark 9:22-23, ASV, emphasis mine)

All things means all things. Naturally, among born again believers who walk with Christ, this is no “blank check” to receive whatever they wish. This type of person asks according to God’s will, and when this occurs, Jesus said,

“…whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.” (Matthew 21:22, ASV)

For Professing Christians

Another story shows us one more important factor in healing. The man at the pool of Bethesda was sick because of his sin (verse 14), and since sin can entangle us and severely hinder the work of God in our lives – including healing, Jesus cut right to the point:

When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” (John 5:6, ESV, emphasis mine)

Obviously, this sick man’s will was trapped in his desire for his sin, and Jesus made it very clear to him, both before and after the healing, that if he truly wanted to be well, he had to forsake his sin. In other words, he had to answer the call to repent. This is another important lesson in today’s complacent church age, in which people want to be made well but have little desire to daily follow Christ to His death and leave sin behind.

So why is it that so often Christians pray with genuine faith and ask for healing and yet see no answer from God? Perhaps Isaiah has provided the answer:

Behold, Jehovah’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: but your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, so that he will not hear. For your hands are defiled with blood, and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies, your tongue muttereth wickedness. (Isaiah 59:1-3, ASV)

As I mentioned earlier, all of the promises of God are offered to His people contingent upon our continued obedience to the light He gives us, as we daily choose to walk in obedience to His commands. This walk is what it means to simply be a Christian. Many seem to think they can claim Christ’s name yet walk another path and still claim access to all the Lord’s benefits. While God may exercise His prerogative to show mercy to His children who are out of right relationship with Him, it is doubtful He would often do so. More likely, He will bring chastisement, which may mean He allows an ailment to come or continue.

The Hindrance of “Wisdom”

Why does this still seem to be such a difficult and perplexing issue? It certainly has been for me. Going back to what I said at the beginning, what the Lord revealed to me is that I have had “too much of myself” involved. In other words, I am overthinking the issue. God pointed me to this scripture to make it clear:

At that season Jesus answered and said, “I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou didst hide these things from the wise and understanding, and didst reveal them unto babes: yea, Father, for so it was well-pleasing in thy sight.” (Matthew 11:25-26, ASV)

Any born again person can testify how far their wisdom got them when they were seeking God for salvation. Sure, it may have opened a few doors, but in the crucial moments of faith and surrender, human wisdom utterly fails. Why? Because it is a “foolish message” that saves people:

For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And the discernment of the discerning will I bring to nought. Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For seeing that in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom knew not God, it was God’s good pleasure through the foolishness of the preaching to save them that believe. Seeing that Jews ask for signs, and Greeks seek after wisdom: but we preach Christ crucified, unto Jews a stumblingblock, and unto Gentiles foolishness; but unto them that are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For behold your calling, brethren, that not many wise after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: but God chose the foolish things of the world, that he might put to shame them that are wise; and God chose the weak things of the world, that he might put to shame the things that are strong; and the base things of the world, and the things that are despised, did God choose, yea and the things that are not, that he might bring to nought the things that are: that no flesh should glory before God. (1 Corinthians 1:19-29, ASV, emphasis mine)

The same principle applies to healing or anything else we receive from God. As the scriptures above clearly show, faith is the “currency” that is required in us, as believers, for God to act. By no means do I mean to imply that our faith purchases, earns, or deserves anything from God. The only thing human beings deserve from God is an eternity of torment in hell. What I’m saying is the same thing Paul said in Romans:

For what saith the scripture? And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned unto him for righteousness. (Romans 4:3, ASV)

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5:1-2, ESV, emphasis mine)

Other Principles

A parallel can be drawn between salvation and healing in terms of the circumstances under which they are received. As we know, a person is saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8). The same can be said of healing, in that it’s undeserved; it comes purely from God’s grace; and as a general rule, faith must be active in order to receive it. Furthermore, it’s possible to walk away from Jesus and lose salvation (begging the question, “Was the person ever saved?”), as this verse shows:

Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. .. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. (John 15:2, 6, ESV, emphasis mine)

In the same way, if a person wanders away from Christ, yet still prays and expects to receive healing according to God’s promises; how can this be? Just as the fruitless branch is removed from the vine, the person who denies God’s power by their actions is disconnected, is living a double life, and is double-minded; and:

…that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord (James 1:7, ESV)

However, for the humble, obedient servant of Christ, assurance of salvation is as near as the Holy Spirit within them. The question I have is this: is the assurance of God’s provision of healing the same – assured by their right walk with Him and by His sure promises to those who are known by Him (1 Corinthians 8:3)?

A few other scriptures are helpful in order to bring a couple more important principles of healing to light. Arguably the clearest guide for healing in the New Testament is found in the book of James:

Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. (James 5:14-16, ESV)

James definitely brings a corporate flavor to understanding healing, in terms of its application among the Body of believers. He advocates prayers for healing not be made alone, by ourselves, but among leadership. There are several good reasons for this. First, there is accountability. Often, sickness may be the result of sin, and James in this passage even mentions sin twice in the middle of talking about healing. The elders of the Body can obviously have an important role in inquiring about sin, helping a perhaps naïve or hardhearted believer to discover their sin, drawing a believer to repentance, assuring a believer of forgiveness, and ultimately praying for the Lord’s mercy in healing. Furthermore, this kind of prayer, confession, and healing in the midst of the Body (or at least in the midst of the elders) demonstrates the authority of the elders and also of Christ Himself, as He is exalted through the entire process. The Body is also continually reminded that the Lord does, in fact, heal His saints.

The following passage also supports the idea of involving the Body in healing prayers, as opposed to a person praying for healing alone:

“Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 18:19, ESV)

Perhaps James’ instructions drew from this wisdom from the Lord Jesus, at least partly to prevent the kind of isolation and discouragement people may feel when they pray for healing alone and receive no answer. If we follow the Lord’s instructions in His Word, should we not expect an answer?

Conclusion

Is this the entirety of the matter of healing? Not by a long shot. I have been healed when I was alone, and I wasn’t even praying for healing. I was confessing and repenting, because the Lord exposed unforgiveness in my heart. When the Lord rid me of this sin, He took the malady with it. It’s important to remember that God is God, and He is able to move in and out of principles such as these as He pleases. Naturally, He will never violate His Word, but He may heal someone with no faith whatsoever for His own reasons. Or He may allow someone to drag on in sickness and pain, while true brethren grieve and ask themselves why. In the end, we have the Word of God and our faith in Him and His immeasurable goodness. There will be times we do not understand. In those times, with God in control, our faith is meant to grow. Endurance, proven character, and hope (Romans 5:4) are to be the result, not despair and departure from faith.

God is eminently good, and especially so toward us, His children; and His promises are exceedingly good. Our place is to stand in agreement with His promises in faith, in order to give Him glory:

For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not “Yes” and “No,” but in him it is always “Yes.” For all the promises of God find their “Yes” in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our “Amen” to God for his glory. (2 Corinthians 1:19-20, ESV, emphasis mine)

May we indeed agree with the Lord’s Word. May the Lord guide and bless each one of us, so that we walk in the fullness of all the “very great and precious promises” (2 Peter 1:4) He has given us, all for His glory.

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Satan is Infiltrating Christian Worship

Dear fellow worshipers,

I am writing because God has been opening my eyes to some things related to worship in these times, and I believe He wants me to share these with you. Some of the things I am going to say may seem shocking to you at first, but I ask that you bear with me and read this to the end – first, so that you can follow the reasoning, and second, so that deception may find no place in this important part of your life.

I want to start by sharing the second half of a dream I had about a week ago. Here is the dream, with my interpretation in parentheses:

Chris and I were by this building, and there was a poster on it of King Diamond* promoting a “Christian” worship CD he was putting out. It said, “King Diamond gives praise to Jesus!” or something like that. But King was still all made up in his makeup and looked all Satanic. (This is a serious warning to beware the spirit that is growing in some worship – it is an antichrist, satanic spirit.) I remarked how odd this was, and Chris said, “Yeah, isn’t it?” (It will be obvious to those who follow Jesus closely, but it will not be obvious to the apostate and those who do not follow Jesus closely. The apostate will expect true believers to accept it.) Chris said that he had heard King say that “Satan himself told him to make this CD.” I was amazed. (Again, this is a serious warning of major deception coming, directly from Satan himself, in the “Christian” worship music arena.)

*For those who don’t know who King Diamond is, you can learn some about him here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King_Diamond (pardon the occult imagery!)

Satan Has Infiltrated Church Worship

Getting right to the point, on the heels of that dream, I want to share that the Lord has revealed to me that Satan is infiltrating church worship – what we would call “mainstream” church worship. The amazing and frightening thing is that so few realize this. I had no idea until a month or two ago, when God began to open my eyes to many things related to church worship today.

You are probably already asking or thinking, “What are you talking about? How would you explain such a claim?” In order to arrive at that point, I first need to lay some fairly extensive groundwork. As you’ll see, it all leads to worship, but I believe it’s essential to take a look at the larger picture, so that light shines widely and the deception is made as clear as possible.

There are probably a number of other entry points that Satan has utilized to pollute the church with his lies, but the one I want to focus on is the “Trojan Horse” strategy. In other words, Satan packages something in a manner that makes the church believe that it might be useful or helpful or is actually needed inside, so the church wheels it in. Only later, under cover of darkness, do the enemy soldiers come out of the horse and attack the city from within. What I am specifically talking about is the church’s acceptance of worldly philosophies and practices.

Worldly Philosophies & Practices

I have neither the desire nor the expertise to discuss most of these in depth, but a small amount of honest research will easily reveal the damage that acceptance of these practices does to believers and their churches. First is Psychology, in the sense of the worldly understanding of the mind, behavior, and emotions. From its secular foundations, this field takes no account of what the Bible has to say about the mind or the One who made it; and even when it does (i.e. James Dobson), at a foundational level, it still gives far too much preference to human wisdom and science over the revealed Word of God. And that is a deadly error.

Second are practices such as yoga and meditation. In spite of widespread acceptance of yoga in churches, a Christian should have nothing to do with yoga, as its origins and practices are based on the occult, no matter how innocently they may be presented. (For more information on the occult roots and practices of yoga, follow this link: http://www.letusreason.org/NAM1.htm) Meditation is either wonderful or an abomination depending on how it is practiced, which means clarification is needed. Christian meditation is centered upon the Word of God and/or upon God Himself and is frequently heralded in scripture as a pathway to obedience (Joshua 1:8), blessedness and fruitfulness (Psalm 1:2), thanksgiving and satisfaction (Psalm 63:6), the strengthening of our faith (Psalm 77:12), and being molded and shaped into the image of Christ (1 Timothy 4:15). Eastern meditation, on the other hand, is designed to empty the mind and induce a trance-like state. From this point, entry into the spirit world and contact with the demonic are only a short step away. As with all satanic deception, many fail to discern the dangers inherent in these practices and ignorantly open themselves up to spiritual dangers of which they have no awareness. This is exactly as Satan intends.

Third is the acceptance, at least to some degree, of the worldly philosophy of postmodernism. The belief that there is no such thing as absolute truth, or that each person defines his or her own truth, comes from this philosophy. The church has also welcomed the postmodern belief that truth can be determined by feelings, apart from the Word of God. Any situation in which Satan can get people to rely on feelings, their own wisdom, or anything else without the ultimate authority of the Word of God, he is virtually assured of achieving deception.

Emergent/Seeker/CGM Doctrine

Fourth is the increasing popularity of what is known as the “Emergent,” “Seeker-friendly,” or “Church Growth” Movement. One of the main problems with this movement is that the offense of the gospel has been removed. Since people are offended when they are told they are sinners deserving eternal wrath and judgment, that part of the Bible/gospel is simply ignored or redefined. Preaching about Christ’s mercy and forgiveness without preaching about the cross, each person’s personal responsibility for it, and the manner by which we may find forgiveness there only serves to remove the power from the gospel (1 Cor. 1:18).

Once all the offense is removed, about all you are left with is the love of Jesus, the wonderful plan He has for your life, and how much He wants to bless you (see Joel Osteen and hordes of others). In other words, you have the wildly popular modern gospel featuring “another Jesus,” “another spirit,” and “another gospel” (2 Cor. 11:4), all false, of course. The Emergent/seeker-friendly/CGM philosophy operates out of fear: fear that people will leave if they are offended, fear that growth will stop or decline, and fear that the community will find the church condemning, boring, or irrelevant. It’s too bad they have neglected to be mindful of the only thing Jesus said to fear: “Him who, after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear Him!” (Luke 12:5). But since this scripture mentions both “fear” and “hell,” it is avoided in most churches today.

Perhaps the most fundamental failure of the Emergent/Seeker/CGM philosophy is its bad foundation, built upon purely worldly procedures and methods of operation. First and foremost, this movement relies upon a bevy of marketing and promotional work in order to generate interest in “what God is doing.” Second, the organizational or governing structure is modeled after the world – often looking like a business with a CEO and a Board of Directors, or something similar. What it won’t look like is the biblical model, with no human alone in a superior position. And finally, we see the ruin of this philosophy in the operation of the church, which of course includes the way worship is conducted.

At Last, Music & Worship

With rare exception, the first thing any Christian thinks about today when the word “worship” is mentioned is music. This alone should alert us to a problem, since the Bible talks far more frequently about other manners of worship. Regardless, even if it were only about music, many churches long ago swung wide the doors to the influence of the people of the world, whom many churches seem to regard as the experts in the area of music – as if Satan, not God, were the author of the art. To quote from an article I’ve linked to at the end of this article, “if marijuana is the ‘gateway drug’ leading to hardcore addictions such as heroin or cocaine, the typical organization of the ‘worship team’ in Western churches today is the ‘gateway drug’ by which deception and apostasy most often achieves its first toehold in the church. Why? Because like everything else belonging to the realms of deception and apostasy, it forsakes the Word of God and strongly favors the lusts and desires of the flesh.”

The World is Queen…

No matter what they say, when it comes to worship music, many churches today defer to the world over scripture and common sense application of biblical principles. These churches view the music of the world as the “gold standard” in terms of creativity, songwriting, musicianship, production, presentation, showmanship, and so on. Nearly everything you see in many churches today has been brought in from the world, from the stage to the instruments to the crew required to run everything, to the lights, cameras, projectors, etc. I don’t object in principle to any of these things being present in a church, but it’s the way churches use them that is thoroughly worldly.

Most church musicians (including me) have learned their craft from the world. If they didn’t, they snuck out to sneak exposure to it to “glean” from its seemingly superior reservoirs. Most involved in production learned the same way, by watching where the world “sets the bar.” This point will be belabored: this is inherently ungodly and has no place in the church! Just as a person who is born again immediately begins to unlearn everything they spent their life learning up to that point, the same goes for musicians and production people; and they probably have a steeper learning curve, given the utter filthiness of the secular music industry. As such, they should probably have to wait longer before entering ministry (and especially leadership), so that the pollution of the world does not enter God’s sanctuary. Christians seem to forget that men once died for such indiscretions (Lev. 10:1-2, 1 Sam. 3:13, 2 Sam. 6:6-7).

Lest anyone feel I am being overly legalistic with these assertions, let me give one simple example. The world’s standard these days tells us that it’s hip and cool to have camera work that is unsteady and which doesn’t look like the camera is fixed on a tripod. Another standard dictates that you need lots of jump (rapid) cuts in a video in order to add energy and excitement, in order to hold the attention of an audience that becomes bored quickly. These things may well be true out in the world where advertising and marketing rule, where seizing and holding people’s attention by all viable means are both understandable and necessary to achieve the ends the world desires. However, in the church, what should be most important is the message, the Word being preached, not using subliminal tricks to hold the viewer’s attention to the screen. Why? Because to put it very simply, these tools of the world are gimmicks intended to manipulate the mind – fundamentally, to keep you looking at a screen – not to make sure you are focused on the words being spoken.

In today’s world, it’s primarily images that deliver the message, not words. Don’t believe me? Ask a few people on the street to compare how much time they spend watching TV or movies versus reading. Better yet, ask some Christians that question. Having a jumpy camera or a video with lots of quick cuts only serves to confuse the mind and cause disorientation. The person is drawn to continue watching in order to figure out the jumble. Why would anyone want that sort of thing in church? The motivation behind it (in terms of its origin) is manipulation, not dissemination of truth. The world’s use of media is designed 100%, from start to finish, to appeal to “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16). This is utterly unholy, completely counter to God’s ways. As such, God neither needs nor approves of these gimmicks. God is the One who draws people to Christ (John 6:44). No gimmicks are necessary. Therefore, why does the church do it? Because the church looks to the world instead of God for guidance. It wants to look hip, relevant, and “with the times.” In other words, the church wants to look like the world and do what the world does. Where is the command to do this in scripture? And this is not 1 Corinthians 9 adaptation; this is adapting to the world inside the church for worldly reasons, at the likely expense of comprehension.

Getting back to music, I imagine we can all recount stories which prove what I am saying about worship team members bringing worldliness into the church. Surely, we are all guilty! (I certainly am.) People come to worship practice and immediately start playing some Led Zeppelin riff or talking about the cool new idea they got for worship from a secular song or music video. These are not innocent little anecdotes. These things are repugnant to God! Do not be mistaken. These are indications that people have a healthy lust for the world and its things. James was quite clear when he wrote: “You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4).

How often in our worship team practices or meetings do we hear someone cry out for repentance among the people or for God to bring more trials into their own life so that they may be made more perfect (James 1:2-4)? How often do we hear someone express a desire to lift up a new, unwritten song to Jesus – just for Him, not so they can go out, promote themselves, and make money selling it? Does anyone ever desire to play on the ground, on the same level as the rest of Christ’s people, instead of on an elevated stage, behind fancy lights and among carefully selected decorations? Does anyone ever desire to play and worship among our brethren rather than to them and at them?

…and Feelings are King

Lastly, we see in lots of church worship music today that the goal and measurement of success is based mostly, if not entirely, upon feelings. How did the worship (music) make you feel? Did you sense God? Did the music move you? Did anyone cry or dance? Once again, I hasten to state that these things are not wrong. To experience feelings from true worship is a blessing indeed. However, do not lose sight of what I said: these feelings are often the most important measurement of success for worship in many of today’s churches. This is altogether corrupt. It is flesh-centered. It is preferring the beauty and loveliness of how the fruit appeals to your senses, and then deciding to indulge and eat it, rather than keeping a safe distance from it because your Lord has forbidden you to eat it.

Elevating feelings above the truth of God’s Word is nothing less than idolatry. And it is extremely costly, because doctrinal truth and the desire to obey that truth are what suffer. I hope you are able to see what I’m getting at. All of the things I’ve mentioned are a result of the world’s influence, which means they ultimately came from Satan himself. But I pray that as you read on, you are able to see that Satan has his hands far deeper into this pie than you might have imagined.

The Result in Worship Music

Now I’d like to look at the results of what I’ve been talking about. How has the church been affected by its willingness to bring in the world’s ways? One of the easiest places to see the difference is to compare today’s song lyrics with those of past generations. Simply put, for the most part, today’s lyrics are shallow and one-dimensional, often reflecting the “other Jesus” they are singing about. In previous generations, a person could go to church and stay only for worship and still get a clear gospel presentation. In fact, you could learn most of the church’s doctrine from the old hymns. And I hasten to point out that the style of music makes no difference; what matters is what is being said. If all I hear week in and week out is “Jesus loves me,” “Jesus is merciful,” and “Jesus saved me;” it won’t take long at all for me to forget that without Jesus, I am a truly wretched, wicked individual. I might begin to take God’s grace for granted and participate in some willful sin, since my Jesus is so forgiving! Repentance is a rare topic in today’s lyrics, and while grace is not, it is rarely put in its proper context. As a result, neither is properly communicated. You would also likely come to the conclusion that hell has been abolished along with any future judgment for the unrighteous and the righteous. Another important thing to remember about today’s anemic lyrics is that if the lyrics contain false doctrine, they will promote false worship and spread like leaven (1 Cor. 5:6-8).

A second effect on the church resulting from worldly influence is to focus on the quality of the music and musicianship, judging by worldly standards as opposed to God’s standards. This shift normally leads to a host of problems in terms of compromise and sin among worship teams, as devotion to Christ gives way to raw musical talent. How many times have we seen a musically talented person begin coming to church and immediately get recruited and put on stage to play, often before even the person’s salvation has been ascertained? To avoid being redundant, I will simply state that far too much worldliness is a part of church worship today, while God’s standard has never changed. What is God’s standard? That no flesh should glory in His presence (1 Cor. 1:29). This means we should do all we can to exclude worldly influence in all aspects of our church services. Worship is solely about God – His righteousness, His holiness, His power, His justice, and most certainly His glory, and His alone.

Truly one of the saddest things about modern church worship is its bowing to human feelings to dictate what stays and what goes in worship style and service format. Sometimes even after only one playing, a song is cut because the pastor (or someone else in authority) didn’t “feel it” with that song. Several times, I have seen songs banned because the words were “too challenging,” even though they were perfectly scriptural. However, if a song is played which really seems to “get the congregation into it,” then that song is elevated and requested frequently. And often, pressure is then placed on the leader to duplicate the “move of God” that occurred previously (as if the leader had such power!).

What many pastors seem to forget is that moves of God are, well, moves of God! He moves when, where, and how He wishes. No worship leader tells God when to move. One would hope and think that pastors understood this better, but their “back room” whispers to worship leaders betray their true desires – for everyone to feel it! How often do people in church conclude that worship was “bad” (or that God didn’t move) because they didn’t feel anything? How often do worship leaders take this as a sign of failure, instead of viewing their success as being “faithful in all God’s house” (Hebrews 3:5)? This obsession with creating and then re-creating a worshipful feeling (which amounts to a worship of worship) has led many churches to form the very uninspired “Program,” which is seldom altered, because “it works.” I’m sure many of you have seen these programs for church services which have things like:

11:03 am   call to worship and prayer (keep it brief!)

11:04 am   begin worship

11:17 am   prayer & message of communion (keep music underneath)

11:21 am   communion song

It’s seriously flawed. What if God wanted to show up at 11:13? We’d probably never know, because we’re too busy making sure we’re sticking to the Program; or we’d have to ask God to wait until we have an opening at 11:32.

“Vain Repetitions” & the Occult

One of the most dangerous elements that worldly influence has brought into church music is “vain repetitions” (Matthew 6:7). Some Christian artists are writing songs these days that are extremely repetitive. The most prominent example of music like this, of which I am aware, is coming out of the International House of Prayer in Kansas City, Missouri. This type of music is very dangerous, because as I hinted at above when mentioning Eastern meditation, repetitious singing or chanting is a practice that can put people in a trance. This practice is used in the occult to contact the dead (demons), participate in astral projection, and all manner of other evil practices which are forbidden by scripture.

One frightening thing to keep in mind is that it really doesn’t matter what is being repeated. It could be something as innocent as “Jesus, I love you.” If repeated countless times, the words become meaningless to the human brain, the mind becomes blank and empty, and at some point a “crossing over” into the spirit world can occur. And remember, even if you’re singing the name “Jesus,” if it’s not the Jesus of the Bible or if the name merely becomes babbled phonemes due to repetition, this is not spiritually edifying! Since people have already been fooled into judging whether God is moving by their feelings instead of by worshiping in spirit and in truth (in perfect alignment with the Word of God – John 4:23-24), they wrongly interpret the enjoyable feelings they experience in a “worship trance” as being a move of the Holy Spirit! Truly, they are in enemy territory and don’t even realize it.

The Result in Lives

Let’s draw back for a moment and look at the fallout that results from allowing or promoting this kind of worship in a church. What are the risks and likely products, and what do we tend to see in churches that practice this kind of worldly blend? The first point may lead to a bit of a “chicken or egg” argument here, in terms of whether it originated in the music or the preaching; but there is no question that worldly worship promotes bad doctrine in a church, in the form of the aforementioned “another Jesus,” “another spirit,” and “another gospel.”

The evidence for this is overwhelming. Even devoted attendees walk in the flesh, not hearing from God, and not worrying much about it. Their lives show little or no power of God moving in them. They have little or no passion for the lost. And probably the greatest shame of the modern church is that sin is not overcome. Romans 6 is either not taught or not understood. The sheep are either mired in lifestyles of sin, which they view as normal; or they are mired in lifestyles of struggling with sin, having no understanding how to escape the endless cycle of Romans 7:14-24. Since sin is so prevalent and victorious, it is to a large degree excused and tolerated.

Rampant Worldliness

This is even more the case with worldliness, since the church finds it a little more difficult to confront someone over their idolatry of, say, watching football than to confront someone for beating their children. If you find this an odd comparison, then perhaps you have forgotten that prohibition of idolatry is the first of the Ten Commandments. Do not be mistaken. Worldliness is rampant in the church today. The church is infatuated with the world and its things. As I quoted above from James, love for the world is enmity with God. That means you become an enemy of the Lord God.

On the music side of things, many musicians are chasing success & fame instead of following Jesus’ call to forsake everything for Him. And many worship leaders & team members have motives and live lives that are largely worldly and fleshly (selfish) and not godly. By no means do I intend to condemn anyone, but I exhort you to let the Lord examine your heart concerning these prevalent attitudes in so many churches today. Many participate out of love for the affirmation. Many participate out of love for the attention. Many participate out of love for the status they get among the congregation. Many participate to improve their skills. Many participate because they are seeking fame and popularity and have ulterior motives. Many have a “rock star” spirit, which has no place in church. For many, it is much more about them than it is about God. For many, the command in scripture to dress modestly and respectably and to forsake the jewelry and accessories is just irrelevant drivel from a bygone era, which can simply be ignored since it doesn’t conform to what is culturally popular now. I don’t mean to belabor the point, but this is important. There is no middle ground here. Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other” (Matthew 6:24a).

Another devastating result of this worldliness in the church is that people tend to be comforted in their sins. By this, I mean that they see no pressing need to diligently resist their sins and their flesh and to be as radical as necessary to cooperate with God in eradicating it from their lives (Matthew 18:8-9). Instead, people are content to compare their walks with the people they see around them, leaving them with an understandable sense of complacency, since so few are walking in victory and actively crucifying their flesh by daily bringing their lives into obedience to the Word of God.

Since the teaching in many of today’s churches has been polluted by the worldly influence of the Emergent/seeker-friendly/CGM philosophy, the teaching is mostly non-offensive and thus non-challenging. Sin is never rooted out and is rarely confronted. Why would someone who is struggling with sin want to confront anyone else about their sin (except for the fact that the Bible tells us to do so – Matthew 18:15)? Even among well-meaning laypeople, there is only half-hearted exhortation to overcome, probably because no one is doing it or knows how to do it. This is a sorry state, because Romans 8 and Galatians 5 plainly describe the overcoming walk Christians are supposed to experience.

Sensual Worship

Getting back to music, it’s quite easy to see the impact of worldliness. Certainly it’s not every song in every church, but the type of music I described earlier – with one-dimensional, “over-graced” lyrics; vain repetitions; and lyrical content designed to evoke feelings rather than present biblical truth – leads people far from Christ. In fact, as I mentioned at the beginning, it can instead lead people right into the deceiving lies of Satan. Sensual worship makes people feel close to God by making them feel good. People get a false sense of security and a false sense of nearness to God, when often they are actually living lives that are highly offensive to Him! This form of worship also helps people swallow false teaching, since the shallow lyrics normally agree with it (or don’t challenge it), and since in many deluded minds, “if it feels good, it must be true/right.”

The unfortunate reality of sensual worship is that fundamentally, it is not Christian, because it is not about the Jesus of the Bible. And since it’s not biblical and people are judging teachings and doctrine based upon their feelings, they are wide open to deception and even demonic attack. And if a particular church is using highly repetitive worship songs, the danger is even greater, because Satan is able to masquerade as an angel of light and lead them astray. As I mentioned earlier, this is accomplished through people entering a trance-like state, which empties their minds and opens them up to the demonic spirit world, which again, is a common and well-known occult practice. I don’t want to go into it here (you can research online), but there is a demon spirit known as “kundalini” (which has its roots in Hinduism, and there are surely others), which people say appears to manifest as a counterfeit of the Holy Spirit. It apparently makes people feel very peaceful and “in touch with God.” Needless to say, this is something of grave concern.

Unsaved or In Bondage

The saddest result of the acceptance of worldliness in the church today is that most people remain either unsaved or in bondage to sin. As I mentioned above, this is not the overcoming life that Christ came and died to give us. The following verses don’t just sound good; they’re true!

But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness (Romans 6:17-18).

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:1-2).

[Y]ou have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator (Col. 3:9-10).

Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires (Gal. 5:24).

For by a single offering He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified (Heb. 10:14).

For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world (1 John 5:3-4a).

Whether it is taught in today’s churches or not, the Bible teaches that we have been called to grow into maturity (Luke 8:14, Eph. 4:13, Heb. 6:1). Sadly, today most flee from trials; yet scripture teaches us that God brings or allows trials into our lives to test, grow, and mature us so that we will become like Jesus (2 Cor. 3:18). Furthermore, we are told to rejoice in these trials (James 1:2)! The place of the Christian is to live in the world but not be of the world and to reject worldliness, understanding its incompatibility with the kingdom of which they are now a part.

Parallel Resource: Article

Here is the link to an article I referenced above. This article discusses much of what I have, but from a more musically detailed perspective. It is very helpful in pointing out many things that are done in church worship ministries which are thoroughly worldly. I recommend you read it when you have time.

http://moriel.org/MorielArchive/index.php/discernment/church-issues/the-modern-gateway-for-deceptions-foothold

Brothers and Sisters, What Shall We Do?

I hope after reading all of this, you are able to agree with me that many churches today are in a very worrisome state, with worldliness, rampant sin, heretical doctrine, and demonic deception unrecognized and often not just unopposed but welcomed! You may wonder what can be done about problems that are so entrenched and massive in scope. As with any problem, the solution begins with individuals. Each one of us is accountable before God for our own heart and walk. So the first step is to get in your prayer closet, seek the Lord, and ask Him to reveal your heart related to your roles in worship (and beyond, of course). Also ask Him to show you if you need to repent. Then wait upon the Lord. He will reveal these things to us if we truly have hearts to receive the truth. Once He does, repent and walk differently – which is what true repentance brings. You should also ask the Lord to reveal where you or your church have been deceived, either through compromised doctrine or through any of the things I have discussed. You may not be able to fix things, but awareness is the first step toward righteousness.

Once you’ve prayed and repented, be diligent to give the Bible its proper place in your life. First, as a general rule, stop reading commentaries, devotionals, or other opinions of man. Consume the pure milk and meat of the Word. You don’t require someone else to teach you as long as you have the Holy Spirit inside (1 John 2:27). Just be sure to ask the Lord to give you understanding. He will. I have also found it very helpful to slow down and read more deliberately. Meditate and revisit what you are reading throughout your day and when you lay down at night (Joshua 1:8, Psalm 119:148). Memorize passages that are important for your walk so they can sink into the soil of your heart and bring forth a crop. Believe everything you read in the Word, and if you are disinclined, ask the Lord to give you understanding and to open your eyes to the truth. Be sure to also obey everything you read in the Word, because as James says, if you don’t have works to validate your faith, your faith is dead. Lastly, if you find as you practice these principles that your church is resistant to following scripture, don’t be surprised. Remember that the way is narrow (Matthew 7:14). If you are unable to bring about change in regards to all the worldliness and deception, ask the Lord when you should leave your church (Rev. 18:4) and trust the Him to lead you to a new fellowship.

Judgment is Coming

The time to act on God’s Word is always today, for no person is promised even another breath. Judgment is coming, not just to America but to the entire world. The Word says that Jesus is coming back for a “glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:27). An honest look at today’s church tells us that she is far from this description, and she will require much tribulation in order to be transformed into the likeness of Christ described in this passage. And such times are exactly what are described in various books of the Bible concerning the last days and the Great Tribulation, which appear to be near. These trials will do their work and will make the Bride ready for Christ’s return for her.

Remember, safety and refuge are found only by abiding in Christ. As I stated previously, all trials have purpose to shape us into Christ’s image, to bring us to maturity, in order to bring glory to the Father. God is faithful. If He saved you, He is able to complete the work He began in you (Phil. 1:6). He is also able to bring a fellowship of committed believers into your life. And He is able to bring you safely into His heavenly kingdom (2 Tim. 4:18).

A Closing Word

In closing, here is a word the Lord gave me about two weeks ago:

Beware the “Christian Music Industry.” Beware! Do not be moved by feelings or emotions, which can be manipulated by instrumentation or arrangements or by demonic spirits masquerading as angels of light. These musicians are putting their confidence in the flesh (Philippians 3:3)! But you – watch their lives and doctrine closely, and do not be deceived. If any music does not exhort you to follow Christ to His cross and to death, then forsake it!

I hate, I despise your feast days, and I will not delight in your solemn assemblies. Though you offer Me burnt offerings and your food offerings, I will not be pleased. Nor will I regard the peace offerings of your fat animals. Take the noise of your songs away from Me; for I will not hear the melody of your stringed instruments. But let judgment roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream. Have you offered sacrifices and offerings to Me forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel? But you have carried the booth of your king and Kiyyun, your images, the star of your gods which you made for yourselves. So I will cause you to go into exile beyond Damascus, says Jehovah, the God of Hosts is His name. (Amos 5:21-27)

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Sin, Temptation, & Repentance

14 but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. (James 1:14-15)

I see a progression of the will in this verse. It’s telling me that our will plays a vital role in the condition of our life and even our very soul and eternal destination. As it says in Genesis 4, sin and temptation will always be there:

If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it. (Gen 4:7)

But it’s how we react to the temptation that determines our destiny. Just look at what Cain did in response to the Lord’s attempt to lead him. He decided to kill Abel anyway! I think if we resist sin at the earliest level, we walk toward the light and in the light.

7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. (1 John 1:7)

The verse is talking about the (rather frightening) progression that sin takes you on if you indulge in it repeatedly, without true repentance (turning away in your heart).

Desires, evil desires, are in us always. It is simply a part of our fallen, human nature – the flesh, or sinful nature is what Scripture calls it (referenced in Romans 6:12, Colossians 3:5, 2 Peter 1:4). We can’t resist these on our own (Romans 7:7-25 talks about this struggle common to all of us), but we can with Christ living inside of us, as He does when we’re born again! If we are either unsaved or born again but operating in the flesh (i.e. we are trying to follow Christ in our own strength), we are going to fail (1 Corinthians 1:25). Maybe not immediately, but eventually. We simply do not have the power to overcome evil on our own. Why? Ephesians 6:12 tells us that our fight is not a physical one but a spiritual one, which means that without God involved, we will lose.

So if we give in to those evil desires, they give birth to (produce naturally) sin. This makes sense, of course. But here’s the scary part: sin when full grown produces death. Why? Well, if you follow any sin to its conclusion, it might take a while, but in the end, it really does produce death. You lie, and you become a liar and you lose sight of what truth even is, including the truth that God sent His Son to save you. You cheat and steal, and you may be shot and killed, or maybe you’ll end up in jail for the rest of your life. Same goes for adultery. You might be murdered by a jealous husband. You get the point. Scripture tells us in John 10:10 that:

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10)

In the context of the passage, the thief is an evil, selfish shepherd; but in the larger picture, the thief is Satan. Stealing? I think he mainly wants to steal truth from us, but he also steals our joy, our money, our peace, our loved ones. He’ll steal whatever God will let him steal. Kill? Well, he’d love to kill us all, I think. He hates God, who wants us to live, so of course, the devil wants us dead, especially if we don’t know Christ! Destroy? Well, if he can’t kill us, the next best thing is to destroy everything he can and make us miserable and hopefully he can get us to hate God like he does in the process. Just look at what he did to Job when God gave him the freedom to do so (Job 1).

Some say that those who turn from God never were saved, thus allowing them to believe in “eternal security” (based off of Hebrews 6:4-6). But Hebrews 6:7-8 sums it all up beautifully. If we are land that does not produce fruit for God (doing the work He calls and commands us to do), then we are in grave danger of being burned up, quite literally I am afraid.

Jesus Himself said the exact same thing in John 15:

 1″I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. 3You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.  5″I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.” (John 15:1-6)

Salvation is a very, very tricky thing, as it comes down to God alone, for He alone can judge a person’s heart. I try to steer clear of that, but there are clear indications in Scripture about what it means to be saved. Read through 1 John. It is a clinic on what it means to be saved and live in Him – (1:6-10, 2:4-6, 2:9-11, 2:15-17, 3:6, 3:10, 3:17-20, 4:7-8, 4:20-21). Once we start giving in to sin, our hearts get harder and harder, and being able to repent becomes more and more difficult. We then deceive ourselves into thinking we are OK, or even that we have repented, when we have done nothing of the sort. Romans 1 talks about God “giving people over” to the lusts of their reprobate minds after a while of rejecting Him. This is a huge danger, obviously. None of us is immune to these kinds of things. It is only by His grace that we have eyes to see the truth and to follow it.

Scripture tells us:

9 I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. 11 But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat. (I Corinthians 5:9-11).

And yet, we are to be like the father of the prodigal son (Luke 15:20), ready to leap up and run to the wayward person when they repent and start toward home.

The suffering that this world can produce can prove quite potent when it is not tempered by the love and mercy of God. Again, reference Job’s experience. And especially here in the United States, most have no clue what true suffering really is. Most in the U.S. are very independent and even rebellious, which are qualities that are, for lack of a better term, antichrist. Coming to God in our need, and receiving from Him what we will die without, requires great brokenness, humility, and trust – three things that do not come easily to many Americans. But, as the Word says:

What is impossible with man is possible with God!!!” (Mark 10:27).

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