Monthly Archives

April 2016

A lie in my right hand

By | Christianity, Salvation | No Comments

In Isaiah 44, the prophet tells the story of a man who goes to his forge and builds an ax, another draws up a plan, takes the ax, and goes out to a stand of trees which he has grown and cultivated. He picks one that is just right for his purposes, he cuts it down, and he uses part of it to start a fire and bake his meal.

The other part, he forms into an idol, and he bows down and worships it, asking for deliverance. Isaiah is of course speaking about Israel in the years preceding Babylon’s invasion of the land:

No one considers, nor is there knowledge or discernment to say, “Half of it I burned in the fire; I also baked bread on its coals; I roasted meat and have eaten. And shall I make the rest of it an abomination? Shall I fall down before a block of wood?” He feeds on ashes; a deluded heart has led him astray, and he cannot deliver himself or say, “Is there not a lie in my right hand?” — Isa 44:19-20

Can we see what a desperate situation that would be for someone? The thing I depend on the most is a lie — the thing on which I base my decisions, on which I depend for support and strength. And I simply can’t see it.

Can we have a deluded heart today?

What do idols have to do with me? No one is worshiping Moleck or Baal anymore – at least not that I’ve heard. But I’m concerned that with many people today, the idol in this story is the “deluded heart.” Our feelings. Our intuition. The gut instinct that seems to guide so much of what we do. There’s certainly nothing inherently wrong with following instinct, and many people live their lives by it (for better or worse). But most of those people would probably acknowledge that there have been times when their instinct has failed them, and they made a wrong choice—or at least a choice that didn’t deliver the intended results.

How many of us have said to ourselves as we stood surrounded by a pile of pasteboard, screws and tools, shaking our head and saying “I was SURE I could get this thing put together by myself!” Or in a more serious context, how many of us have talked to friends about people they’re dating, and they tell us: “This one’s the one, I can feel it. And THIS time, I’ KNOW it!

Those are the failures we learn from (or don’t!): the ones where we see the outcome, realize our mistake, and file it away under “never going to try that again!”

Jesus talks about a much more important failure, and it speaks to the man who places his faith in the lie in his right hand:

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ — Mat 7:21-23

Think about the implications of that statement. These are people who seem to genuinely believe they worked miracles in Jesus’ name. They clearly know who Jesus is. They believe he is who he says he is. And Jesus says, “I never knew you.”

Feeling it doesn’t make it true

We live in a culture where many people’s religion is guided by what they feel. We “feel” that God is with us. We “feel” the Holy Spirit surrounding us. We “feel” God’s hand guiding what we do. The doctrine of a salvation “better felt than told” has been around for a long time, and we now live among millions of people who call themselves Christian, and many of them base their relationship with God strictly on the idea that “I asked Jesus to come into my heart just like my pastor told me, and I know that’s what happened.”

Never mind that there are no examples in the Bible of anyone ever being added to the Lord’s body of saved believers (Acts 2:37-41) by simply asking for it to happen.

Please don’t be offended if I’ve described your situation. I’m just trying to point some things out for you to consider. Paul wrote to the Corinthian church—which included Christians who were convinced that they were right and Paul was wrong and they didn’t need to listen to what he had to say—and he told them “examine yourself, to see whether you are in the faith” (2 Corinthians 13:5). We don’t need to live in a constant state of doubt, but when someone comes to us and says, “Are you sure this is right?” our answer can never be, “Yes, and I don’t need to study it anymore to know that!” And it also shouldn’t be, “Yes, and here’s the verse that says I’m right, so end of discussion!

Paul was utterly convinced he was justified in serving God by persecuting the church, right up until he found out he was wrong. Peter was convicted strongly in his heart that it was an offense to Christ for him to preach the gospel to Gentiles, right up until he found out he was wrong. The disciples in Ephesus were preaching what they believed to be the gospel and they were doing it in all sincerity, right up until Paul pointed out to them that they hadn’t been properly baptized into Jesus Christ.

Let’s not be “sincerely wrong” in our faith

Paul told Timothy to be diligent to “rightly handle the word of truth.” Properly understanding the scriptures takes effort, and it takes self-examination, and it takes prayer. And we don’t always come to the right conclusions when we study, particularly when we do it to find what we want rather than what God wants. Sadly, there are men and women who are more than happy to bend the scriptures to their own desires, just as there were in the church’s early days.

Sometimes we can be honestly, sincerely wrong. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Prov. 14:12). Let’s not use the Bible as a means of simply making ourselves feel good, of finding the passages that back up what we believe and comforting ourselves in the knowledge that our teachers taught us well and wouldn’t lead us astray. Or that “our church has done this for generations after generations. My parents believed this. Their parents believed this. I can’t go against that.”

In all three of the examples above, the common factor was that when people who feared God were confronted with error, they listened to the gospel message and they changed their minds and actions accordingly. May God give us the faith and the strength to make changes in our lives, in our teachings, in trusting not the idol in our hand, but in the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Ephesians 6:17).

Growing up in the Lord’s church, I would always hear people use the phrase “faithful” to describe other Christians. Typically, it had to do with their spiritual health, although in many cases I suspect it was based on whether we saw them at worship every week.

“He’s a faithful Christian. She’s faithful to God.” Or sometimes, “This is a faithful church.”

So I think sometimes we tend to define “faithful” in the Bible as one who is full of faith; someone who is devoted to God. And there’s a sense in which that’s indirectly true. But that definition doesn’t quite work when we note that the word is applied to God or to Christ some 15 times in the New Testament. Clearly this isn’t about “faith” as we typically use the word.

It’s really defined the way we’d use the word outside the confines of religion: God is trustworthy. God is dependable. God will do what He says He will do.

Understanding the faithfulness of God

The scriptures emphasize the faithfulness of God over and over, particularly to people who were undergoing difficulties, reminding them that they can depend on God, even when things don’t seem to be going God’s way at the time.

  • God is faithful to guard us against the adversary as we do His work, II Thes. 3:3, I Peter 4:19
  • He is faithful to forgive our sins when we walk in the light and confess when we do sin, I John 1:4-9
  • He is faithful to deliver on His promises, Heb. 11:11
  • He is faithful to deliver us from death into salvation, Heb. 10:23

That’s an important concept to remember when we read a verse like II Tim. 2:13. In context, it reads:

Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. The saying is trustworthy, for:
If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he also will deny us;
if we are faithless, he remains faithful —
for he cannot deny himself. (2Ti 2:8-13)

Notice that God’s faithfulness doesn’t depend on anything other than His own character. God will always perform what He has proposed to do, regardless of what man may or may not do on his end. Many will take this to say that even if someone turns away from God, God will not allow that person to be lost. But notice that being faithful doesn’t have to correspond to something or someone else – in other words, this passage doesn’t say God is faithful to man. It says He is faithful to Himself. To His own nature.

God is who God is, and He will not change in that regard. “He cannot deny Himself.” And he will deny us if we deny Him, because that’s exactly what He has said He will do. (Mtt. 10:33)

This passage does not teach that God will save who He has decided to save whether that person wants to be saved or not, or whether they have done what God has required or displayed the proper faith. God’s promises about our salvation are conditional, and always have been (Matt. 7:21, I Peter 3:10-12, Mark 16:16).

If we deny Him, He will also deny us

Paul addresses this in Romans 3 when he discusses the idea of the Jews falling short of God’s righteousness. God had promised to make them a great nation and to bless them and protect them from enemies surrounding them. But they were continually carried away into captivity. Why? Not because God had forgotten or broken His promise. “Does their faithfulness nullify the faithfulness of God? By no means! Let God be true and every man a liar” (Rom. 3:3-4)

The Hebrew writer makes this point:

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. As it is said,
“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”
For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief. 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.(Heb 3:12 – 4:1)

It is the faithfulness of God that teaches us that He requires us to be faithful to Him. His promise is no different than it has been from the beginning. “Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people (Jer. 7:23).” If God wasn’t faithful, then none of these examples would be meaningful at all. God would do whatever He wanted, whenever He wanted, with no consistency or predictability, and no way for man to know what is expected of him!

How God’s faithfulness saves me

Have you ever been frustrated in a relationship or a job or a project where it seems like the rules are always changing? Isn’t it helpful to have an agreement in place that says “this is what is expected. This is what you should do, and this is what you will receive if you complete the task.”

God has done that for us – if we place our faith in Him and do what He tells us to do, then He has promised to forgive our sins and grant us a place in His heavenly kingdom. And the best part is that God tells us that He knows we won’t do this perfectly. We just have to keep trying.

“Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev. 2:10). And we know it’s true, because the Faithful Witness said it.

By | Christianity, Salvation | No Comments

“But they were never of us…” – what did John really mean?

By | Christianity, Salvation | No Comments

In I John 2, the apostle John warns the early church of the coming of (and in some cases, the current existence of) false teachers who posed a serious threat to the Christians throughout the region. And in doing so, he makes a statement that I think has been misused in a very dangerous way.

Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. (1 Jo 2:18-19)

Leaving aside the inspiration for any number of creepy Hollywood concepts of the devil incarnate taking over the world, John here warns of false teachers, and in this book, a specific type of false teacher. Many people have honestly but incorrectly (I believe) used this passage to teach that a Christian – once saved – can never again turn away from God and be lost. The idea is that a person who “had gone out from us” indicates a person who the apostles sent, “were not of us” means they weren’t truly Christians to begin with, and “would have continued with us” means that they would have remained faithful to God.

The implication, some claim, is that once you truly convert to Christ, there’s no going back, even if you wanted to!

Christians or false teachers?

Let’s assume that this is in fact referring to the concept of “true” versus “false” salvation (a point I do not believe the text supports.) is John then saying that when a Christian turns his back on God, he was never really saved, and he is leaving the faith to show fully that not everyone that is a Christian is really a Christian?

The problem is that this verse doesn’t actually say that. It never addresses their state at the time they became Christians. It addresses their state when they went out from the apostles. The question of whether someone can change their mind, or stray from the truth isn’t the point in this passage and has to be addressed elsewhere.

Think about the context of this passage.

Who is “us:” that would seem to be referring to the apostles. In chapter 1, John says “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life … we proclaim also to you.” That’s a pretty good description of the apostolic mission (John 19:35, John 15:27, Matt. 28:18, Acts 1:21-22, etc…)

Who is “they”: there seems little doubt it’s referring to false teachers – but a specific group of false teachers as well. It’s generally accepted that John is referring to the doctrine of “Gnosticism,” a philosophy that combined Eastern religious ideas with the gospel to argue that anything physical or material is inherently evil. The implication of this was that Christ could not have come in the flesh, and therefore he was not “man” in the sense that the scripture claims him to be (I John 2:22-23, 4:1-4, 5:6-10). They further went on to say that since man’s spirit is distinct from the body, it is not touched by the fleshly acts it commits, so basically people can live however they want, but the spirit remains pure in God’s sight (2:3-6, 3:4-10).

It would stand to reason that if the apostles sent out men who initially believed that the apostolic teachings were true and from God, they would not get out into the field and suddenly decide that Jesus did not come in the flesh. That’s a very basic tenant of the gospel. I believe John’s argument is essentially that no one would receive this teaching from the apostles honestly and in good conscience, and then go out and teach the doctrine of Gnosticism. And I believe that’s the truth. When someone so clearly teaches doctrine contrary to the revealed word, it’s a sign that the person likely never fully understood, and never fully believed the teachings delivered to him.

Christians can fall from grace, if they let it happen!

That has nothing to do with the question of whether someone can be lost, having once been saved. And in fact, this passage makes a very compelling argument AGAINST that doctrine. Ask yourself this question: if the men and women receiving this letter were truly saved, then according to popular wisdom, there is nothing that could pull them away from that. There would be no danger to anyone, except for those who weren’t really saved to begin with. And these people according to Calvinist doctrine are lost regardless, because they were chosen not to receive the word.

And yet, even though John knew these people had received revelation due to the indwelling of the from the Spirit of God (2:26-27) – which doesn’t happen to people who “aren’t really saved (Acts 2:38) ,” he still warns them. Why? Because people can be fooled. They can be lured into doubting what they should not doubt (Gal. 1:6).

John saw a real threat to men and women who had been saved through the blood of Jesus Christ, but would be confronted with a false teaching that might encourage them to lead sinful, immoral lives in blissful ignorance of their error.

In the same chapter, John talks about the Christian’s defense against false teaching:

Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father. And this is the promise that he made to us — eternal life. (1Jo 2:24-25)

You don’t encourage someone to allow something to happen if they don’t have a choice. And you don’t make “if-then” statements if the “if” doesn’t really matter. John writes that if we submit to God’s word and hold on to it, allowing it to live in us and work through us, then we in turn abide in Christ and God. If neither of these are in our control, why the need to encourage it? Why not simply say “it’s happening and this is why you’re chosen, and not because of all the things you’ve done or because of the faith you’ve shown?”

After all, that’s what men teach. But it’s not what God teaches. Peter makes the exact same point:

Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (2Pe 1:10-11)

Please don’t be fooled. Don’t become complacent in your salvation. And don’t look at your brother or sister in Christ who’s now caught up in sin and worldliness and living separate from God, and say “that could never be me.”

It can be, if you let it happen.

%d bloggers like this: