Friday, May 30, 2008

God Is Not Mocked

I was reading through Galatians last night and when I got to chapter 6 I had to stop and spend some time in prayer. There is a verse there at the end of Paul's letter to the Galatians that says:

Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.

As I read this in the context of what was being said here I had to ask myself, what am I sowing? Am I sowing to the flesh which leads to destruction, or am I sowing to the Spirit which leads to everlasting life? This is a question that each of us must ask, and the answer to this question will determine if you are walking (or are not walking) with Christ.

As I was reading this and praying my way through it I remembered an excerpt I had read from Puritan author Matthew Mead. In his book The Almost Christian he wrote:

"God has set a day on which He is going to judge the world in righteousness."

Reader! Meditate much on the strictness and suddenness of that judgment-day, through which you must pass, into your everlasting state; wherein God, the impartial judge, will require an exact account at your hands of all your talents and blessings. You must then account . . .
  • for time—how you have spent that;
  • for estate—how you have employed that;
  • for strength—how you have laid out that;
  • for afflictions and mercies—how they have been improved;
  • for the duties—how they have been discharged;
and for means of grace—how they have been improved.

Look! how we have sowed here on earth—we shall reap for eternity!

Reader, these are things which above all others, deserve most of, and call loudest for—our utmost care and endeavors; though they are least minded, by most people.

Consider what a spirit of atheism (if we may judge the tree by the fruits—and the principle by the practice) the hearts of most men are filled with, who live, as if
God were not to be served,
nor Christ to be sought,
nor lust to be mortified,
nor self to be denied,
nor the Scripture to be believed,
nor the judgment-day to be minded,
nor hell to be feared,
nor heaven to be desired,
nor the soul to be valued;
but give up themselves to a worse than brutish sensuality, "Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more!" (Ephesians 4:19). This is a reflection fit enough to break our hearts!

"Know that for all these things God will bring you to judgment!"

"Remember, each of us will stand personally before the judgment seat of God!"
Romans 14:10

"Don't be deceived: God is not mocked. For whatever a man sows he will also reap!" Galatians 6:7
Matthew Mead "The Almost Christian" (1661)

I encourage you to take some time to prayerfully read through the book of Galatians over the next few days and ask yourself the question, "to what am I sowing?" If you find that you have been sowing to the flesh in any area of your life, repent of it and turn to God. He is merciful and He will forgive! Then do what Paul said and walk by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.

Monday, May 26, 2008

The Puritans (Part 9) - True Christianity

As those who read this blog regularly know, I really enjoy writing verse-by-verse studies, and that is usually what I post here. But I will also occasionally post something that I have read (usually written by a Puritan author) when I have found something that has convicted and challenged me in my walk with Christ, and I share these things with the readers of The Christian Journey with the hope that they will challenge you in your walk as well.

Over the past few weeks I have been finding more and more things that fit this description and my collection of these articles, sermons, and book excerpts has grown considerably. So over the next few weeks in addition to continuing the study of 1 John, and anything else that God lays on my heart to write about, I hope to do several postings of the things I have been collecting lately. It is my prayer that you will find something helpful or challenging in each of these and that your walk with Christ will be strengthened by what you read here.

Today I am posting an excerpt from the 1895 sermon What Is Needed by Anglican Bishop J.C. Ryle. In this excerpt Bishop Ryle describes what true Christianity looks like - something that is very confused in our world today. We would do well as a church to get back to what is outlined below and stop trying to please the world and attract them; if we lift up Jesus, He will draw all men to Himself (John 12:32)

True Christianity

(1) True Christianity has always taught the inspiration, sufficiency, and supremacy of Holy Scripture. It has told men that "God's written Word" is the only trustworthy rule of faith and practice in religion; that God requires nothing to be believed that is not in this Word; and that nothing is right which contradicts it. It has never allowed reason, or the voice of the Church, to be placed above, or on a level with Scripture. It has steadily maintained that, however imperfectly we may understand it, the Old Book is meant to be the only standard of life and doctrine.

(2) True Christianity has always taught fully the sinfulness, guilt and corruption of human nature. It has told men, that they are born in sin, deserve God's wrath and condemnation, and are naturally inclined to do evil. It has never allowed that men and women are only weak and pitiable creatures, who can become good when they please, and make their own peace with God. On the contrary, it has steadily declared man's danger and vileness, and his pressing need of a Divine forgiveness and atonement for his sins, a new birth or conversion, and an entire change of heart.

(3) True Christianity has always set before men, the Lord Jesus Christ as the chief object of faith and hope in religion--as the Divine Mediator between God and men, the only source of peace of conscience, and the root of all spiritual life. The main things it has ever insisted on about Christ, are--the atonement for sin He made by His death, His sacrifice on the cross, the complete redemption from guilt and condemnation by His blood, His victory over the grave by His resurrection, His active life of intercession at God's right hand, and the absolute necessity of simple faith in Him. In short, it has made Christ the Alpha and the Omega in Christian theology.

(4) True Christianity has always honored the Person of God the Holy Spirit, and magnified His work. It has never taught that all professing Christians have the grace of the Spirit in their hearts, as a matter of course--because they are baptized, or because they belong to a Church. It has steadily maintained that the fruits of the Spirit are the only evidence of having the Spirit, and that those fruits must be seen! It has always taught, that we must be born of the Spirit, led by the Spirit, sanctified by the Spirit, and feel the operations of the Spirit--and that a close walk with God in the path of His commandments, a life of holiness, love, self-denial, purity, and zeal to do good--are the only satisfactory marks of the Holy Spirit.

Such is true Christianity. Well would it have been for the world, if there had been more of it during the last nineteen centuries! Too often, and in too many parts of Christendom, there has been so little of it--that Christ's religion has seemed extinct, and has fallen into utter contempt!

This is the Christianity which, in the days of the Apostles, "turned the world upside down!" It was this which emptied the idol temples of their worshipers, routed the Greek and Roman philosophers, and obliged even heathen writers to confess that the followers of the "new superstition," as they called it, were people who loved one another, and lived very pure and holy lives!

Let it never be forgotten, that its leading principles are those which are least likely to please the natural man. On the contrary, they are precisely those which are calculated to be unpopular and to give offense. Proud man does not like to be told that he is a weak, guilty sinner--that he cannot save his own soul, and must trust in the work of another--that he must be converted and have a new heart--that he must live a holy, self-denying life, and come out from the world.

Yet, this is the Christianity which is doing good at this day, wherever real good is done. The only religious teaching which can show solid, positive results--is that which gives prominence to the doctrines which I have endeavored to describe. Wherever they are rightly taught, Christianity can point to fruits which are an unanswerable proof of its Divine origin. There are myriads of professing Christians who have no life or reality in their religion--and are only nominal members of Christ's Church. Except for going to church on Sundays, they give no evidence of true Christianity. If you mark their daily life--they seem neither to think, nor feel, nor care for their souls, or God, or eternity. Men and women who crowd churches on Sundays--and then live worldly selfish lives all the week--are the best and most efficient allies of the devil.

True faith is not a mere "mental assent" to certain theological propositions--but a living, burning, active principle--which works by love, purifies the heart, overcomes the world, and brings forth much fruit of holiness and good works. Let us live as if we really believed every jot and tittle of Scripture--and as if a dying, risen, interceding, and coming Christ, were continually before our eyes!
J.C. Ryle (1885)
How does this compare to your view of Christianity?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

As In The Days Of Noah

Yesterday I received an email from a friend which contained an article written by Janet Folger, which I have posted below. While I don't necessarily agree with everything that is in this article, I do think that what she has written here is worth taking some time to think about and discuss. The Bible clearly condemns homosexuality and as a society we have called good evil and evil good (Isaiah 5:20).

Does the move made by the California court point to the end of the world? Maybe; we just don't know. But what we do know is that we are closer to the return of Christ today than we were yesterday.

Here is the article:

How same-sex marriage points to end of the world

Posted: May 20, 2008
1:00 am Eastern

© 2008

What do May 17, 2004, and May 15, 2008, have in common? One judge and a redefinition of marriage against the will of the people.

Both the Massachusetts Superior Court and the California Supreme Court by a one-judge margin redefined what marriage has always been in every culture and every religion for more than 5,000 years of recorded history.

Why does this matter?

As I wrote about in my book, "The Criminalization of Christianity," Jeffrey Satinover, who holds an M.D. from Princeton and doctorates from Yale, MIT and Harvard, was on my radio program one day and I asked him about where we are in history. He explained that according to the "Babylonian Talmud" – the book of rabbis' interpretation of the scriptures 1,000 years before Christ, there was only one time in history that reflects where we are right now. There was only one time in history, according to these writings, where men were given in marriage to men, and women given in marriage to women.

Want to venture a guess as to when? No, it wasn't in Sodom and Gomorrah, although that was my guess. Homosexuality was rampant there, of course, but according to the Talmud, not homosexual "marriage." What about ancient Greece? Rome? No. Babylon? No again. The one time in history when homosexual "marriage" was practiced was … during the days of Noah. And according to Satinover, that's what the "Babylonian Talmud" attributes as the final straw that led to the Flood.

On my Faith2Action radio program on Thursday, Rabbi Aryeh Spero verified this to be true.

Rabbi Spero spoke of God's compassion before the Flood, in hopes people would repent and turn back to His ways. He showed patience for hundreds of years.

But, he said, the Talmud's writings reveal that "before the Flood people started to write marriage contracts between men, in other words, homosexual 'marriage,' which is more than homosexual activity – it's giving an official state stamp of approval, a sanctification … of homosexual partnership."

In fact, he said, "the writings indicated that it wasn't even so much the 'straw that broke the camel's back,' but that the sin in and of itself is so contrary to why God created the world, so contrary to the order of God's nature, that God said then and there 'I have to start all over … to annihilate the world and start from the beginning. …'"

Rabbi Spero went on to say, "Even in ancient Greece they did not write marriage contracts between men. There was homosexuality, and it was wrong, but there was not an official 'blessed' policy. … Marriage is 'sanctification' (not simply a partnership)." He said to confer the title of sanctification and holiness upon this behavior is "probably one of the greatest sins of all that one does against God's plan for this world."

The one time it happened was: "During the days of Noah." When I first heard this, my mind immediately went to a verse I've heard many times but never with such relevance. The verse is found in Matthew 24:37. It reads:

As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. – Mathew 24:37 (NIV)

I used to read this verse and think: It was bad at lots of points in history; it doesn't necessarily mean now, but if these Jewish writings are true, we are uniquely like the "days of Noah" right now – and only right now.

But it can't be yet, you say. You have a lot going on in your life? You're getting married? Here's how the New Living Translation describes that very sentiment in Luke:

When the Son of Man returns, the world will be like the people were in Noah's day. In those days before the Flood, the people enjoyed banquets and parties and weddings right up to the time Noah entered his boat, and the flood came to destroy them all. – Luke 17:26-27

Happily going about as if everything was fine was what they did, too.

You don't like this possibility? Don't even believe in the Flood? Doesn't matter. Some things are true whether you believe them or not. How can you be sure? There's a way. Did you know that about one-fourth of the Bible is prophecy? A quarter of the Bible is a lot – it's a big book. And did you know God's standard? Perfection. That means that if even one of those prophecies is wrong, you can discount the whole thing. Kind of like a prophet who makes a false prediction – that made him a false prophet and a candidate for stoning. Did you know that 4,000 prophecies in that Bible have already come true down to the last detail? That leaves about 1,000 left to be fulfilled – those are the ones regarding the last days before the return of Christ, which are being checked off the list right now.

If 4,000 out of 5,000 prophecies have already occurred exactly as the Bible predicted they would, you might want to pay attention to the rest.

The good news is that 1.1 million people across California have signed a petition to bring marriage to a vote of the people through a state constitutional amendment (just like 27 other states have done). And guess what? An amendment to a state constitution trumps even the most out-of-control state judiciary. We'll likely know if these signatures are validated before this tyrannical ruling goes into effect, and I predict they will be since they gathered 400,000 more signatures more than they needed to qualify. Besides, they already voted – eight years ago where more than 61 percent of Californians declared marriage as the union of a man and a woman. Now they just need to turn that same language into a constitutional amendment.

I don't live in California, so why am I sounding the alarm? Here's why:

But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, and the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes any person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at the watchman's hand. – Ezekiel 33:6

I'm praying and working to protect marriage in California (and the rest of the country) not only because I care about marriage, but because I care about civilization. And, if we obey God, he just may spare us from the judgment we deserve.

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Rapture Of The Church (Part 2)

In my last post I made reference to the fact that I believe the Bible teaches that after the Rapture occurs - after Jesus returns and gathers His followers to be with Him - that there will no longer be an opportunity for people to be saved. In other words, contrary to the theology taught in the popular book series Left Behind, I do not believe that anyone will be saved after the Rapture of the Church and that those who are left behind will face God's wrath and ultimately end up in the lake of fire. It is for this reason that I believe that it is so important that we preach the Gospel today; there may not be a second chance.

I know that this position is not typically what is taught in our churches today, so let me explain (from the Bible) how I came to this conclusion. And after you have had a chance to prayerfully read this I welcome your comments.

Let's begin our study in the book of Luke where Jesus is teaching His disciples about the coming kingdom, and He says:
Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man. They were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all
In order to understand what Jesus was teaching we must ask ourselves the question, what was it like in the says of Noah, and what happened then that is going to be repeated when Jesus returns? Jesus begins by saying that the world will be eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage; in other words people will be living life like they have all the time in the world. This is just like it was in the days of Noah; the people had been warned of the coming flood for 120 years, but they had not repented so God told Noah to take his family and enter the ark (a picture of Christ) and then the flood came:
And all flesh died that moved on the earth, birds, livestock, beasts, all swarming creatures that swarm on the earth, and all mankind. Everything on the dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life died. He blotted out every living thing that was on the face of the ground, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens. They were blotted out from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those who were with him in the ark.
The only ones who escaped, the only ones who were saved were the ones who were in the ark. In the same way, when Jesus returns the only ones who will escape the wrath of God, the only ones who will be saved, are those who are in Christ. And they will all be removed in the Rapture of the Church. What does Jesus say then happened to those who were not in the ark? He says that the flood came and destroyed them all. The same can be said for those who are not in Christ when He comes to gather His elect.

This is not all that Jesus said in this passage in Luke, He also said:
Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot — they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, but on the day when Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all — so will it be on the day when the Son of Man is revealed.
Again, Jesus uses an historical event from the Old Testament to teach what will happen when He returns. This time He uses the story of Lot and the city of Sodom, and again He tells how people were just living life but on the same day that Lot was removed from Sodom (Genesis 19) God rained fire down from heaven and destroyed everyone who was left behind.

This is how Jesus says it will be when He returns; people will be living life, He will rescue His people from the coming judgment, and then God's wrath will rain down on the earth and no one will escape. There was no second chance in the days of Noah, there was no second chance in the days of Lot, and there will be no second chance when Jesus returns.

And just to make sure we understood what He was saying Jesus also told three parables that teach the same thing that He was teaching with the examples of Noah and Lot, these three parables are:

1. The Parable of the 10 Virgins
Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
2. The Parable of the Straight Gate
He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem. And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’ In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out.
3. The Parable of the Weeds
He put another parable before them, saying, The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’ ”

In each of these parables we see one important fact - after the bridegroom comes, after the master has closed the door,after the wheat is gathered into the barn, everything else is cast into outer darkness, tied into bundles, and burned. To make sure we got his point Jesus then explained the meaning of the Parable of the Weeds, He said:
The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the close of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the close of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.
This takes place at the end of the age, the Son of Man (Jesus) sends His angels to reap the harvest, the weeds (those who have not believed) are gathered into bundles and are burned, and the wheat (the true believers) are gathered into the his barn where they will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.

So the question we must ask then is this, is this teaching in line with what is taught in the book of Revelation? Look at what revelation has to say about those who are on the earth when this time of God's wrath comes:
The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk,

They were scorched by the fierce heat, and they cursed the name of God who had power over these plagues. They did not repent and give him glory. The fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and its kingdom was plunged into darkness. People gnawed their tongues in anguish and cursed the God of heaven for their pain and sores. They did not repent of their deeds.

It is for these reasons that I believe that after the Rapture occurs there is not longer any chance for salvation. And it is for this reason that we must share our faith today. 2 Corinthians 6:2 tells us that TODAY is the day of salvation, and Isaiah warns us to:

Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake his way,and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.

So don't wait, share the Gospel with everyone, because tomorrow may be too late!!!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Rapture Of The Church (Part 1)

I was looking around You Tube the other day and I came across this video depiction of the Rapture and the Tribulation period, and while I don't necessarily agree with everything in the video it does give me an opportunity to write a little bit about the Rapture of the Church.

Let's look at a few Bible verses that talk about this event that we refer to as the Rapture:
Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.
In these verses we learn that this is a mystery. Whenever Paul uses the word mystery in his writing he is about to communicate something that up to that point had been unknown; in other words, he was revealing new information from God. What Paul reveals in this passage is that not everyone will die; there will be some who are alive when the last trumpet sounds, and they will be changed from a mortal, perishable body to an immortal, imperishable body in the twinkling of an eye - they will be changed from living in a physical body to living in a spiritual body - without experiencing death. This event is what we know as the Rapture.
For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.
In this passage we are given some more information; here we learn that when the Rapture occurs those who have already died, and are in Christ will rise first, and then those who are still alive (and in Christ) will be caught up with them to meet the Lord Jesus in the air. And from this point on we will always be with the Lord, which is to encourage us.
Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.
This passage teaches us two important facts about the timing of the Rapture that are overlooked by many today when they teach on the Rapture of the Church. Notice that in this passage Paul says he is talking about our being gathered together to the Lord and he tells his readers that they are not to be alarmed by thinking that this had already happened and they that they had missed it. Paul tells them (and us) that two things must happen first before the Rapture occurs:
  1. The rebellion (the falling away or apostasy in some translations) must occur
  2. The man of sin (the Antichrist) must be revealed
We are instructed to not let anyone deceive us in this regard - this day will not happen until these two things happen. The fact that these two events are listed as happening before the coming of the Lord indicates that we Christians will not escape the the tribulation of Antichrist that is revealed in the first six seals of Revelation chapter 6 (and depicted in the video above).
Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief.
And finally, we are told that the coming of the Lord will be like a thief in the night - but NOT for Christians. Notice what this passage teaches: while people are saying peace and security sudden destruction will come on them and they will not escape, BUT you (Christian) are not in darkness for that day to surprise you like a thief.

These are the most popular (but not the only) passages in the New Testament that teach us about the Rapture of the Church, and a careful examination of these verses, along with Jesus' Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24) will reveal to us that the Rapture will not happen until after the Antichrist is revealed and has taken his place in the temple, until after there has been a great falling away from the faith by professing Christians, and that the true believers will not be taken by surprise - they will be watching for, and expecting the return of their Lord.

This is not the most popular position on this event and I expect many who read this to disagree with my position on this issue. So why do I bring it up? Because there are two more things that the Bible teaches about the coming of Jesus:
  1. That we need to be ready and watching for Jesus to come
  2. That no chance of salvation remains for those left behind after Jesus comes (more on this in my next post)
I know that not everyone who reads this is going to agree with me, but if this is true, and I believe that it is, it is more important than ever that we are sharing our faith with those we know and love so they are not left behind. As bad as things are going to be during the first six seals it is nothing compared to what will follow, and after that there is only Hell.

So go share your faith!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

The Command To Love

Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard. At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining.

In our previous study we saw that keeping the commandments is a test of genuine conversion. In those verses (1 John 2:3-6) John was speaking of the commandments as a whole; in this passage he narrows his focus down to just one as he gives us our next test.

John begins by addressing his audience Beloved. The Greek word he used here is agapētós, which could also be translated as brothers or dear friends, and it shows John's deep affection for those to whom he is writing. This is the first of six times that John uses this word in this letter and although the use of this word makes it appear that John is beginning a new section here he is really just continuing the previous section where he wrote that if we know Him we will keep His commandments, and as I mentioned above he now moves his attention to just one commandment - the commandment to love.

John then writes "I am writing no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning." He then adds, "The old commandment is the word that you have heard." So what is this commandment? As I have already said, this is the command to love. But love is not mentioned anywhere in these two verses, so where do I get that from? In John's second letter he writes:
And now I ask you, dear lady - not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but the one we have had from the beginning - that we love one another. And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it.
In his gospel, quoting Jesus, John also wrote:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

As well as three other times here in First John:

For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.

This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us.

And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.

From these passages we can see that to John (and to Jesus) it was very important that Christians show love for one another, and that is the commandment that John is referring to here in 1 John 2:7-8. So that brings up the question then, how do we do this and what does it look like when Christians love each other?

The Greek word translated love in these passages is the word agapáō, which is the love that God has for each of us. It is an unconditional, self-sacrificing love. It is a love where you put the needs of the other person above your own needs and you do what is best for them - even if it inconveniences you. It is the highest form of love. And this is the love that Jesus commanded each of us to have for our brothers and sisters in Christ. So, what does this look like? For the answer we just need to look at Paul's letter to the Philippians where he wrote:

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.

We are to regard others as more important than our selves and look out for the interests of others . We are to have the attitude of Jesus, who emptied Himself and became a servant for our good. That is what Biblical love looks like. And in a verse that we just looked at, John 13:35, Jesus said that is is by our love for one another that the world will know that we are his followers.

To bring this all back to 1 John 2:7-8 then, what we are seeing is that as a follower of Jesus Christ we have been given the commandment that we are to love our brothers and sisters in Christ, and as we move into the next verses in this passage next time we will see that this commandment to love one another is the next test that John gave for us to know if our faith is genuine.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Christians Embracing Heresy???

Have you heard about the book The Shack, by William P. Young? This book is the hot new book in Christianity, it is being endorsed by some pretty big names in the church, and it is promoting heresy.

Eugene Peterson, author of The Message said:
When the imagination of a writer and the passion of a theologian cross-fertilize the result is a novel on the order of "The Shack." This book has the potential to do for our generation what John Bunyan's "Pilgrim's Progress" did for his. It's that good!
Wow! As good as Pilgrim's Progress??? That's pretty high praise for a book that portrays God as a woman and teaches the heretical view of the Trinity knows as Modalism. We need to exercise some discernment and not embrace every new thing that comes our way, and we need to know the Bible so we can see when something is not right.

Tim Challies, in his review of this book, wrote:
Because of the sheer volume of error and because of the importance of the doctrines reinvented by the author, I would encourage Christians, and especially young Christians, to decline this invitation to meet with God in The Shack. It is not worth reading for the story and certainly not worth reading for the theology.
This is good advice.

If you want some more information about this book, here is a video from Mark Driscoll talking about the problems in The Shack, and he nails it.

Friday, May 2, 2008

The Puritans (Part 8) - The Necessity Of Holiness

Once again, I am amazed and deeply convicted by the writings of the Puritan's. This time it is an excerpt from a sermon by Anglican Bishop J. C. Ryle, speaking on the subject of the necessity of holiness in the life of the believer. We have gotten so far away from this type of preaching in most of our churches today that the average Christian has no idea that genuine salvation leads to personal holiness.

Do I have this down? No Way - that's why I need Christ! but just like Paul I can say:
Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
As each of us submits to the leading on the Holy Spirit in our lives we will find that little by little this becomes the direction of the course of our life; we will find that we are pressing on for the goal - Christ likeness - and that as we look at where we have come from we will see that we are not where we want to be, but we are also not where we were. Will the Christian ever reach perfection in this life? No. But that does not mean that the Christian doesn't strive for holiness anyway. As a Christian our ultimate goal is to do the will of our Heavenly Father, and His will is our sanctification (1 Thessalonians 4:3).

It is my prayer that you would give this subject some thought today, and I hope that this excerpt from Bishop Ryle will touch you like it touched me.

"Every man who has his hope in Christ, purifies himself." 1 John 3:3

Suppose for a moment, that you were allowed to enter heaven without holiness. What would you do? What possible enjoyment could you feel there? To which of all the saints would you join yourself—and by whose side would you sit? Their pleasures are not your pleasures, their tastes are not your tastes, their character not your character. How could you possibly be happy in heaven—if you had not been holy on earth?

Now you love the company of the frivolous and careless, the worldly-minded and the covetous, the reveler and the pleasure-seeker, the ungodly and the profane. There will be none such in heaven! Now you think that the people of God are too strict and particular and serious. You rather avoid them. You have no delight in their society. But remember, there will be no other company in heaven.

Now you think that praying and Scripture reading, and hymn singing, are dull and melancholy and stupid work. But remember, the inhabitants of heaven rest not day and night, saying, "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty!" and singing the praise of the Lamb! How could an unholy man find pleasure in such an environment as this?

An unholy man would feel like a stranger in a land he knew not, a black sheep amid Christ's pure flock. The song of angels and archangels, and all the company of heaven—would be a language he could not understand! The very air would seem an air he could not breathe! I know not what others may think, but to me it does seem clear—that heaven would be a miserable place to an unholy man! It cannot be otherwise.

People may say, in a vague way—that they "hope to go to heaven after they die." But surely, they do not consider what they say. We must be heavenly-minded, and have heavenly tastes, in the present life—or else we shall never find ourselves in heaven, in the life to come.

Are you holy? I do not ask whether you attend your church regularly, whether you have been baptized, or whether you profess to be a Christian. Are you yourself holy this very day—or are you not? Why do I ask so straightly, and press the question so strongly? I do it because the Scripture says, "Without holiness no man shall see the Lord." It is written—it is not my imagination; it is the Bible—not my private opinion; it is the Word of God—not of man: "Without holiness no man shall see the Lord." (Heb. 12:14).

Alas, what searching, sifting words are these! I look at the world—and see the greater part of it lying in wickedness. I look at professing Christians—and see the vast majority having nothing of Christianity, but the mere name. I turn to the Bible and I hear the Spirit saying, "Without holiness no man shall see the Lord." Surely it is a text which ought to make us solemnly consider our ways, and search our heart.

You may say, that "if you were so holy—you would be unlike other people." I answer, "I know it well. It is just what you ought to be. Christ's true servants were always unlike the world around them—a holy nation, a separate people—and you must be so too, if you would be saved!" You may say, "at this rate very few will be saved!" I answer, "I know it. It is precisely what Jesus told us in His sermon on the mount—Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leads unto life, and few there are who find it!" Few will be saved, because few will take the trouble to seek salvation--men will not deny themselves the pleasures of sin for a little season.

You may say, "these are hard sayings; the way is very narrow!" I know it is. The Lord Jesus said so eighteen hundred years ago. He always said that men must take up the cross daily, and that they must be ready to cut off hand or foot, if they would be His disciples. That religion which costs nothing—is worth nothing!

J.C. Ryle (1816-1900)