Seeing Clearly

glasses-1149982_1280

A few years ago, things started to get fuzzy. Books, menus, texts on my iPhone, nutrition information on the back of a food container–they all became difficult to read and I found myself squinting or holding the item way out in front of me so that I could decipher what it said. I finally gave in and bought the weakest reading glasses available. Suddenly, reading became an easy thing again.

I knew what that meant. My eyes were doing what most eyes do as they get older–namely, to lose their ability to see things close up. I remember going into the library with my young children years ago, seeing the shelf of “large print” books, and thinking just how old people must be if they need books with large print.  And here I was. Already. I didn’t even feel that old.

As the years went by, my eyes grew steadily worse and I would have to buy the next “number” on the reading glasses scale. Until, finally, the other day it dawned on me that, sadly, I can hardly make out even a word without them anymore. I may as well be blind when I hold a book or menu in front of me but–magically–things grow super clear as soon as I put those glasses in front of my eyes.

As I was thinking about this, I realized that the Word of God is rather like a pair of glasses that helps us to see truth and to view the world from God’s perspective. When we are saved, we suddenly walk into the marvelous light (I Peter 2:9), where we can finally see again! Life is never the same again and as we read the Word, God uses it to open our eyes and make clear what once was utterly inexplicable to us as an unbeliever.

For all of us were blinded before we were saved. We could not see because the god of this age had blinded us. 2 Corinthians 4:3-4 puts it this way–

But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them.

But when the gospel of the glory of Christ shined brightly on our lives, it changed us. And God’s Word went from being an old, irrelevant book to being the instrument God uses to change us, filling us with truth about who God is, building our faith, offering encouragement for us in our trials, and convicting us of our sin. Hebrews 4:12 tells us that–

For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

How grateful I am for the Word of God that takes away my blindness! How wondrous it is to see things clearly. To walk in truth instead of stumbling in murky darkness. To rely on God’s wisdom instead of my own short-sighted and vain philosophies.

If we are saved, the Word helps us see! The Bible is the Book that God has given us to know Him. It is this Book that helps us to understand the purposes and plan of our enemy. And the Book that clears our vision so that we can see our sin in all its dark ugliness. But this Book also shares the Gospel story and is full of wonderfully encouraging, uplifting words for us in our trials and struggles. It is an amazing, incredible Book that God, in His infinite wisdom, gave to us.

And yet, many of us treat the Bible like any other book on our shelf. It sits side by side with our novels and our non-fiction self-help books and holds no dearer place in our lives than that of any other book. In a lot of ways how we live with our Bible is like me living the rest of my life without putting on my glasses–walking around not being able to read a thing simply because I am too proud, too lazy, or too apathetic to put on my glasses.

If you are younger (in years or in the Lord) you may be thinking right now that you don’t feel that way about the Word of God. You want to but you just don’t. Well, don’t be discouraged! The more you study the Word, the more you will see. Cast aside your feelings, your laziness, your too-busy schedule and just get in the Word and your love for it will deepen and grow. And you, too, will start to treasure the Word of God.

And to my young friends who can’t comprehend ever needing reading glasses…well, I just have to say it is coming sooner rather than later. Life goes by so fast and we dare not waste a day. Even though we all do! That’s just life, I guess.

Learn to Discern: What Is Biblical Christianity?

Learn to Discern (with blog name)

We really cannot learn to discern before we have a biblical definition of Christianity. There are so many warped, perverted, and bizarre religions out there taking on the name of Christ that it is almost unimaginable. But which is the true religion? As believers, we know that the Bible teaches that there is only one way for us to be reconciled to God (John 14:6). And we know that the Bible–from Genesis to Revelation–tells us the beautiful story of God’s redemption of man and that it gives us all we need to live a righteous and godly life (2 Timothy 3:16-17). So what does God’s Word have to say about believers? How does Christ define a true Christian?

Please, please keep in mind as you read the essay below that these are the things true Christians desire. They will never be perfected on this side of heaven, but growth will take place and be evident in believers as we mature in Christ. As John MacArthur says–it is about direction and not perfection.

This essay is in direct opposition to much of the popular religion called “Christianity” today. I am well aware of that. But, as usual, while I hate to make people upset or angry, I am loyal to the Word of God, first and foremost. And this is what the Word of God teaches about Christianity.

This post is written by my brother, Pastor Dean. I will write a bit more about him after the essay, for those that are interested. Now here is his guest post–

 

TRUE CHRISTIANITY

Who is a Christian? A quick Google search will tell us that the leading world religion is Christianity, numbering 2.1 billion people. Since the world population is 7.5 billion, almost one in three is classified as a Christian. But I am reminded of the words of Jesus who said many will say to me in that day Lord, Lord . . . and then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity (Matt. 7:22-23). The important point here is that self-classification is not the determining factor in answering the question who is a Christian? So perhaps we should ask who is a true Christian? Or rather, who does Christ classify as a Christian? That is the determining factor. Jesus said two things in the above quotation about false professors: (1) I never knew you; and (2) you work iniquity. No ungodly person unacquainted with the new birth will ever enter heaven. But let us consider positively what defines, according to Christ, a true christian.

(1) A TRUE CHRISTIAN HEARS THE WORD OF CHRIST – Jesus said: Everyone that is of the truth hears my voice (John 18:37); My sheep hear my voice (John 10:27); He that is of God, hears God’s words (John 8:47). This is the most basic attribute of a true Christian. He receives, believes, trusts, obeys, and delights in God’s Word, namely the Scriptures (Psalm 1:2; Psalm 119; Matt. 7:24-27; John 8:31-32; 17:8; 1 Thess. 2:13; 2 Thess. 2:13; James 1:21). This is called faith. The person who is apathetic, defiant, or careless toward Scripture is not a Christian according to Christ.

(2) A TRUE CHRISTIAN BELIEVES IN CHRIST – Jesus said: This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom he hath sent (John 6:29); He that believes on me has everlasting life. I am the bread of life (John 6:47-48). In view of the context of these verses, to believe on Christ is to believe at least two things about Christ. First, it is to believe that he is the Son of God, sent from the Father, and second, that he is the one who laid down his life, as the spotless Lamb of God, as an atonement for our sins. A Christian is one who has trusted in Christ alone for the forgiveness of his sins. He has been justified (declared righteous) by grace, through faith in the blood of Christ. He has been reconciled to God and, as a result, is at peace with God (Acts 13:38-39; Rom. 3:10-26; 5:1; Col. 1:20-23). Anyone who has not called upon the Lord for the forgiveness of his sins, through the blood of Christ, is not a Christian.

(3) A TRUE CHRISTIAN FOLLOWS CHRIST – Jesus said:  My sheep hear my voice . . . and they follow me (John 10:27). In another place he said:  If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.  For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it (Matt. 16:24-25). Jesus said these words immediately after rebuking Peter for denying that he (i.e. Christ) must suffer and die. It is as if Jesus said, Not only must I go to the cross, but so must you. These words of Jesus are not a call to asceticism or martyrdom, but rather a call to regeneration. In order to live, you must die –to yourself, to sin, to your own desires. This saying of Jesus is closely related to Paul’s words in Gal. 2:20: I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. You cannot be a Christian without dying to yourself.  When we were born again, we died with Christ and arose with Christ (Rom. 6:2-4), therefore we are no longer slaves of sin but slaves of God (Rom. 6:22). We now live to please God in everything we do, say, and think. A Christian does not do this perfectly, but it is his desire. The person who is fundamentally living for himself, following his own dreams, pursuing his own pleasure is not a Christian, according to Christ.

(4) A TRUE CHRISTIAN HAS THE SPIRIT OF CHRIST – Jesus said:  I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever; even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him; but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you and shall be in you (Jn. 14:16-17). Paul wrote:  Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his (Rom. 8:9). A  true Christian is a temple of the Holy Spirit and where the Holy Spirit dwells there will be evidences. The Spirit produces holiness in the life. By holiness I do not mean merely morality. Many unbelievers are at some level moral. Holiness is an inward delight in God, his Word, his will, his plan, and his people. This holiness can further be described as the fruit of the Spirit: love,  joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance (Gal. 5:22-23).  Of course a true Christian is by no means perfect in regard to these qualities and in fact he daily struggles with sin in his own heart. But where this holy character is fundamentally lacking we can be certain the Holy Spirit is not present. Such a person, according to Christ, is not a Christian.

(5) A TRUE CHRISTIAN LOVES THE BODY OF CHRIST – Jesus said: By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one to another (Jn. 13:35). Jesus was not merely speaking of a general love for people. He was referring to love within the body of Christ. A  defining mark of a Christian is love for fellow-believers. John wrote: We know that we have passed from death unto life because we love the brethren (1 Jn. 3:14). A true Christian serves the church of Jesus Christ. He bears the burdens of fellow-believers. He attends upon the preaching of the Word and the Christ-ordained ordinances in the context of the local church. A person who does not delight in God’s people and forsakes the gathering of the saints, is not a Christian by Biblical standards.

 (6)  A TRUE CHRISTIAN PERSEVERES IN CHRIST – Jesus said: If you continue in my word, then are you my disciples indeed (John 8:31). There are many who seem to follow Christ for a time. This was true in Christ’s day (John 2:23-25; 6:66), it was true in the Apostle John’s experience (1 John 2:19), and it is true today. There are many who ostensibly receive the Word with much joy, but then wither at the first sign of persecution, or become, over time, utterly choked out by the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches (Matt. 13:18-22). Such are not true Christians. They make take the name, but they are not classified as Christians by Christ. A true Christian perseveres through trials, difficulties, failures, temptations, and struggles. He may fall down a thousand times, but by the grace of God, he keeps following Christ.

Jesus said that in order to enter the kingdom of heaven we must enter by the narrow gate and walk by the narrow way (Matt. 7:13-14). We are told that we must through much tribulation enter the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22). Jesus said that many will seek to enter the kingdom but will not be able (Luke 13:24). These are sobering words. Yet his promises are as sure as they have ever been. He has given us everything we need in his Word for life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3-4). Let us be prayerful, humble, diligent, trembling, faithful, believing, obedient,  life-long students of the Word of God, for this is the means by which God keeps his children (Proverbs 2:1-22). This is how we look to Christ.

Finally, a Christian is one who loves Christ. We love him because we know that whatever good is in us is the result of his work. If left to myself, I would be lost. But Jesus saved me. This is a true Christian.

 

Dean Good is pastor of a congregation in Ohio, where he lives with his wife and teen-aged daughter. I have known Pastor Dean his whole life, being his older sister (by just 17 months!) Aside from a few rough junior high years, he has been one of my best friends for my whole life. But the thing that sets Pastor Dean aside from almost anyone I know is his love for the Word of God. Even as a boy, he demonstrated a love and loyalty to the Word that was remarkable. Since that time, his knowledge and love have only grown greater. He is not perfect–he would be the first to tell you so–but he is very dedicated to the preaching of the Word. I am so thankful for his willingness to help with this series. If you would like to listen to any of his sermons you can find them here.

 

You can find all the Learn to Discern posts here on this page.

Why Are We So Afraid?

Macy

Have you ever wondered why we are so afraid of what people think of us? Many of us actually let this fear control what we will wear or what we will buy. We let it control what we will listen to, read, or watch because we are deathly afraid of being labeled uncool. We will let this control what we share on social media (after all, we don’t want to sound too religious) and what we will say to friends and co-workers about God and His Word, being oh-so careful never to be too controversial but to instead stick with very generic phrases like “I’ll pray for you” or “Isn’t God good?”

We have a Chocolate Lab named Macy. She is a fairly big dog whose deep bark can scare almost anybody. I feel much safer when she is around, as she will be quick to courageously face the unknown if she hears noises or sees something that is unfamiliar, always desiring to protect me.

And so it is quite funny to see this strong and powerful dog grow so scared when she sees a vacuum.

This strong and brave dog literally cowers when she sees the vacuum. It doesn’t matter if it’s our little stick vac or our large vacuum, as soon as I hit the “on” button she gets this look of desperation and fear in her eyes and leaves the area as soon as possible!

And yet the vacuum could never hurt her. While a spider or a beetle would have a reasonable fear of a vacuum, a dog would not. And yet she is scared to death of the thing.

I think we can be a lot like that as people. We are terrified of what people will think of us. Oftentimes, we allow this fear to shape our lives, quietly living for Jesus without ever mentioning a word. And yet…

What can they do to us?

Actually, they can do a lot. But they can never take away our assurance of salvation. They can never change the course of our eternal destiny. And they can never, ever take us out from under the loving and faithful care of our heavenly Father.

Of course, they can call us names, they can whisper behind our backs, they can make our lives miserable, they can ostracize us. This is what we face most often and it can be quite unpleasant.

But John the Baptist was actually beheaded for speaking the truth (Mark 6:14-29). Herodias became John’s great enemy simply because he spoke the truth. Eventually she figured out a way to make sure he died.

As believers, it is possible to develop great enemies in this world because we speak the truth. Hopefully, none of them will ever be so wicked and devious as Herodias.

I Peter 4 also makes it clear that we should expect trials for sharing the truth–

 Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; 13 but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. 14 If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified. 15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people’s matters. 16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter.

Beloved, do not think it strange.

Do not think it strange.

Christians in this culture have been sold the lie that they must always rise up to unify– no matter what heresy is being preached. This is simply not true (Jude 3-4). We are called to speak the truth even if–especially if–it is in opposition to false (and very popular!) teachings. And we will most likely suffer because of it.

Perhaps this is why we are so scared of what others will think of us when we speak the truth of God’s Word. Like Macy, whose eyes fill with fear at the sight of the vacuum, so do our hearts and minds fill with fear when we sense even a little bit of disapproval from men. And yet there is no lasting, eternal damage that they can do to us (Matthew 10:28).

I guess there are some of you who are not affected by the approval of men. I would not be one of them. Blogging here continues to be a tremendous test for me, continually begging me to ask the question to myself: Do I care more about God and His Word or about what people think of me? This all-important question needs to be answered almost every time I post because I struggle so much with worrying about what people will think.

But many of you don’t blog. Perhaps you don’t even post a lot on social media. You may be one who hates confrontations and so you remain in the background. It is fairly easy to just quietly live out your Christian faith without ever speaking about it. But this brings us to another question: Can we please the Savior who died for us by living a good life and yet never mentioning a word about Him?

Let’s see what scripture has to say–

Psalm 96:2-4 Sing to the Lord, bless His name;
Proclaim the good news of His salvation from day to day.
Declare His glory among the nations,
His wonders among all peoples.

I Corinthians 9:16 For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for necessity is laid upon me; yes, woe is me if I do not preach the gospel!

Mark 16:15 And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.

These verses make it pretty clear that we should be sharing the Gospel and declaring the glory of the Lord as we live our daily lives. When we become believers, we are transformed from being spiritually dead to spiritually alive! This, alone, should give us a desire to share our faith. What a wonderful and incredible thing! And, yet, so often, we are so frightened by the opinions of those around us that we keep quiet.

So I want to encourage you today to speak up! Don’t be afraid. And I want you to know that I face this battle on a daily basis, too! But we know from the verses in Peter (above) that suffering for Christ is a trial we should expect. It is a trial that should produce no shame for us as believers. This verse in Matthew sums it all up rather nicely–

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew 10:28)

Let us live bravely and boldly, declaring the Word of the Lord as He gives us opportunities. Let us fear God and never men as we live in a culture that grows increasingly hostile to biblical Christianity. We need not fear, for the Lord is on our side.

The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?
Psalm 118:6

 

Learn to Discern: Introduction

Learn to Discern (with blog name)

I have found myself wondering recently what my grandmother would think of the church if she would be here now. She died twenty-six years ago–two weeks before my first daughter was born. Like the proverbial frog in the pot, I don’t think we truly realize how much things in the mainstream church have changed in those years. But what if she could come back for just a day? How clear would the changes be to her?

I guess it is rather like when we haven’t seen a child for a few years. To those who are living with the child, the changes are so subtle and imperceptible that they are hardly noticed. But to someone who hasn’t been with the child, the changes are radical.

I believe that this is exactly what is happening now. The changes to the church have been profound and inconceivable and yet so many of us don’t see.

Why is this?

I believe it is for primarily four reasons–

1. We don’t know the Word of God. There is serious biblical illiteracy in America today. This is from Al Mohler’s post on the subject

Researchers George Gallup and Jim Castelli put the problem squarely: “Americans revere the Bible–but, by and large, they don’t read it. And because they don’t read it, they have become a nation of biblical illiterates.” How bad is it? Researchers tell us that it’s worse than most could imagine.

Fewer than half of all adults can name the four gospels. Many Christians cannot identify more than two or three of the disciples. According to data from the Barna Research Group, 60 percent of Americans can’t name even five of the Ten Commandments. “No wonder people break the Ten Commandments all the time. They don’t know what they are,” said George Barna, president of the firm. The bottom line? “Increasingly, America is biblically illiterate.

How can we discern if we don’t have any idea what we are comparing the false doctrine to?

2. We don’t care. What I mean by not caring is not a blatant and hostile disregard for the truth, but rather a distracted, apathetic disinterest towards truth. We are busy with other–seemingly more important–things. Things like jobs, education, the arts, sports, church, family, health and fitness, hobbies, vacations. These are all good things, but when we allow them to consume all of our passion, time, and enthusiasm then we are left too drained and exhausted to be concerned with God’s Word and what it says.

(How do we fix this? There is an easy solution! Time spent in God’s Word, diligently studying it, eliminates apathy towards the truth.)

3. We have been brainwashed to believe that truth is not absolute. Even those of us who call ourselves Christians will fall for this if we aren’t careful. I have heard Christians say things like this:

“That book was such a comfort to me, how could it possibly be wrong?” and “This book really helped me understand who God is”–even though the books in question were blatantly and clearly against what scripture teaches.

or

“How can you argue against so-and-so’s experience?” regarding someone’s account that was in direct opposition to the Word of God.

We have allowed truth to be defined by our subjective experiences instead of by the Word of God.

4. And, finally, we are afraid. I get this one. I truly do. It is no fun at all being the one who gets mocked because you point out that yet another book or movie or band is not biblical. And now it seems like there are far more that are not biblical than those that are. I agree that it is far easier to be ignorant of what’s going on in the church.

But are these excuses good enough? Will they stand up when we stand in front of our Holy God and give an account of our lives? Or will we one day deeply regret just how how deceived we were and, in being deceived, how we aided in the deception of other souls–both lost and saved–as well?

Sadly, the choice to discern can come with some heartache (see #3 below) and it will cost us in ways that hurt. And so we have to decide if we want to follow God or if we want to be popular; If we want to follow God or if we want to have our ears tickled; If we want to follow our perfect God or if we are going to follow imperfect man.

I have a great passion for the truth that was passed on to me by my father. He instilled this love for truth in the hearts of both my brother (Pastor Dean) and myself and, in many ways, the ministries that we both have are his legacy.

It is my hope that Growing 4 Life has helped you grow in your knowledge of the Word and in your love for truth. For this is why I write. It is with this in mind that I am going to start a series called “Learn to Discern”. What I hope to do through this series is to give you a broader understanding of what exactly is going on in the church (and the world) today, comparing it all to what scripture says.

So what is discernment? We hear this word, but perhaps you aren’t quite sure what it is. We find this definition on an excellent post titled Defining Discernment over at Grace to You–

In its simplest definition, discernment is nothing more than the ability to decide between truth and error, right and wrong. Discernment is the process of making careful distinctions in our thinking about truth. In other words, the ability to think with discernment is synonymous with an ability to think biblically.

And so it is my hope that this series will help you learn to run any new philosophies, trends, and methods through the grid of scripture. It is my hope that your loyalty to God and His Word will grow through this series and your loyalty to fallible man–whether they be preachers, authors, musicians, or friends– will be subjected to the Word of God, first and foremost.

The first two posts in this series will be written by my brother (Pastor Dean), who will first give us a definition of biblical Christianity according to the Word of God and, second, an overview of how this definition has been warped and twisted and perverted in what we call “Christianity” today. After those two posts, I will break it down by writing on topics that will {hopefully} give you greater insight. It is my hope and prayer that this series will be simple and understandable.

There are a few things to keep in mind as we begin this series–

1. We are all called to discern. Sometimes I will hear someone say something like this–“I don’t see that stuff. You just have the gift of discernment.” There might be some truth to that, but I would actually say that all of us–by diligently studying the Word and training our minds to compare all we hear and see with what the Word says–can (and should) become effective discerners. It reminds me a bit of evangelism–not having the gift of evangelism doesn’t mean we never have to do it. It may be a little easier for those who are gifted but it is something we all are called to do. The same principle applies to discernment (Hebrews 5:14; Philippians 1:9-11).

2. The only thing that matters is the Word of God. It matters not what I think at all. If you read this blog often, you will already know this but let me say it again– my opinion matters ZERO. Zilch. Not. At. All. I don’t want you to rely on me for truth. Or on Pastor Dean. Or even on your own pastor. While we are certainly able to learn and grow from the teachings of other men and women, our job is to search out what the scriptures say for ourselves, running everything anybody says through the grid of the Word of God (Acts 17:11). As believers, we must hold to the inspiration, inerrancy, and sufficiency of scripture. Each topic in this series will be studied in light of the Word as it has been traditionally interpreted since it was first written (2 Thessalonians 2:14-15).

3. Discernment is not popular. As you learn and your eyes are opened, you may be excited to share what you are learning. Please be aware that many people will roll their eyes, change the subject, call you things like harsh, unloving, or hyper-critical, and/or talk about you behind your back. Some will even grow angry with you. Walls will go up between you and friends whom you love. Just as trying to swim upstream feels impossible, so, too, does going against the flow of the mainstream church. Most people are very comfortable swimming downstream and the fact that you are swimming in the opposite direction–no matter if it is based clearly on scripture or not–makes most Christians extremely uncomfortable. Prepare yourself for this and make sure you are always loving, kind, and gentle as God gives you opportunity to discuss the things you are learning. And always remember that it is the Holy Spirit who opens eyes. Remembering this helps us to stay calm and to back away without rancor when someone just can’t see. None of this is worth a heated argument. It just isn’t. Walk away and pray. That’s the best thing we can do.

4. We can never judge someone’s relationship with God. As I give you examples of men and women who may have fallen for some of these false doctrines and philosophies, the inevitable, panicked questions will be —Do they know what they are doing? Does that mean they aren’t saved? I can tell you up front and right now that I don’t knowThere is really no way to know if they have been deceived or if they are purposely deceiving. Only God knows the heart of a man (Jeremiah 20:12). My goal is to show how these philosophies have infiltrated the ministries of those in mainstream Christianity, as well as even many of those that are associated with conservative Christianity. I am not judging hearts, motives, or eternal destinies. Please keep this in mind.

5. What you do with this information is up to you. Some of you will be uninterested and ignore the series. Some of you will read it and grab hold of it and determine to not read or listen to anything by anyone who you know has compromised. And others of you will try to walk the fine line of sorting through the good and the bad as you continue to do the Bible Studies or listen to the sermons of those who are teaching false doctrines. I cannot tell you what to do, but I can tell you what I do. When I become aware that someone is teaching false doctrine, I eliminate them from having any input into my life. This has been my practice for a very long time. I do not have enough confidence in myself to believe that I would be incapable of being deceived. I never want to knowingly subject myself to anything that doesn’t agree with scripture. Just as I would never eat a brownie or a bowl of soup that contained even 1% poison, so I choose not to knowingly ingest anything into my mind that contains 1% poison.

It is my hope and prayer that this series will be a great blessing to those of you that really want to understand what is going on. And may I humbly ask you to pray for me as I work on this series? I feel the weight of such an important series in this current day and age. I don’t want to lead anyone astray but desire only to lift high God and His Word, while exposing the evil darkness that is cloaking itself as “wonderful” and “good” in the church today.

If you are still here and reading after this unusually long post, I thank you. Have a great day!

(p.s. This series will be presented on most Mondays over the course of the next few months, as my schedule allows. Thursdays will be reserved for normal Growing4Life posts.)

 

Killing Sin

killing sin

Is victory over sin possible in the life of a believer? We are constantly hearing about how broken we are. But is that all there is? There is so much talk about how we are all sinners but so little talk about overcoming sin.

And, of course, it’s true–we will fight our flesh and its sinful desires until the day we die. But that does not mean that we won’t be victorious over sin. It simply means that we will go from one victory right on into another battle. Life here on earth is one battle after the other for those of us who truly desire holiness. No sooner do we fight an intense battle with one sin and win the victory but then the Holy Spirit convicts us of a different sin. It is a lifetime of battles but there are victories. We are not destined to flounder in the same sins all of our lives without hope of rescue. There is growth and change and victory in the Christian life!

This week we found ourselves traveling home from a trip on Sunday and so we were unable to go to church. Since my husband and I are both reading our pastor’s Bible Reading Challenge (which also happens to be the 2017 Growing 4 Life Bible Reading Challenge), we decided to turn on a sermon that had to do with the passage we are currently reading, which is Romans 8. We found it on the Grace to You app, where they have all the sermons broken down by scriptures and topics. We chose a sermon based on Romans 8:12-13 called A Key to Spiritual Victory.

As we drove along listening to John MacArthur expound the Word, we were challenged. One section I found particularly helpful and I started writing notes. As I wrote, I thought of you. I realized that you–my reader–may find this helpful, as well.

He was talking about victory–the power, the people, the pattern, and the passion. When he got to the pattern of victory, he gave five things we can do to “kill sin” in our lives. While this does not mean we won’t ever sin, these steps will help us live a more victorious Christian life.

(The steps are from the sermon, the commentary includes some things from the sermon, as well as some of my own thoughts.)

–HOW TO KILL SIN–

1. Recognize the sin within yourself.  Pastor MacArthur talked about how much we like to place the blame for our sin on others or things around us–we blame the world, or other people, or Satan. Have you ever heard one of your kids blame a sibling for their sinful choice to hit or kick? And, honestly, they learn this from us, don’t they? We lose control of our tempers and then blame our spouses or kids for frustrating us. But we will never be able to kill sin until we are willing to take the blame for our sin. This is a crucial first step.

2. Have a heart fixed on God. This sounds so easy, doesn’t it? And yet, it’s so hard. I find that my heart is so often fixed on me. If I am struggling with sin it is because my heart is fixed on myself. Pastor MacArthur went on to say how this is an important function of church. Church should bring us back to the Word, taking our minds off of the temporal and putting them back on the eternal. It is one of the reasons why we fellowship with Christian brothers and sisters–to sharpen each other spiritually (Proverbs 27:17) and to encourage each other (Acts 11:23).

3. Meditate on the Word of God. Notice that he doesn’t just say “meditate” but specifies that we meditate on the Word of God. Meditation is a word that has been completely hijacked. Most of what you read or hear about meditation today is taken from mysticism and is the opposite of biblical meditation. (check out my post A Vast and Irreconcilable Difference, where biblical meditation is compared to new age/mystical meditation.) When we meditate on the Word of God, we fill our minds with the commands, promises, and knowledge of God. One of my daughters has been doing quite a bit of memory work and she was telling me how doing this has really deepened her walk with God. It is because she is meditating as she memorizes. She is thinking about what the Word says while she is hiding it in her heart. By the way, memorizing scripture is a good way to meditate on it.

4. Be diligent in prayer. Not only should we praying for victory over sin, but we need to be daily confessing our sin and repenting of wrong deeds. We need to ask the Lord to help us hate sin and to love righteousness. John Owen puts it like this: He who pleads with God for remission of sin also pleads for his own heart to detest it.

5. Cultivate obedience to the Word. We need to make it our goal to obey scripture. This sounds so simple but it is a very difficult thing to actually do. Some of the things this includes is forgiving when all we want is revenge; loving when we don’t feel like loving; and turning away from the world’s entertainment when all those around us are filling their minds with it (and mock us when we choose not to). As we study God’s Word, we need to apply what we learn, instead of constantly looking for loopholes that will help us rationalize our sin and our desire to keep feeding our flesh.

 

So those are the five steps. I found it a very helpful exercise to take a hard and honest look at my own life to see how (or if) I have been incorporating these steps. It is my hope that sharing this with you today will be a blessing to you as you evaluate your own battles against sin.

 

Velvet Soft

velvet softIt has been a long winter around here so far. My husband and I have been fighting colds on and off for about a month now. And so the other day I was out and about and found that I needed a tissue. I looked for the nearest box and found one with a label that said Velvet Soft. This makes one think of a luxuriously soft and plush fabric. My nose was expecting to feel something akin to velvet. What if felt was something that was more like sandpaper.

Oh, what a great example of false marketing! It happens everywhere. As if somehow a label on something will actually make it true. I see this especially happening with the label “Christian”. As if putting the word “Christian” on a book or a movie will mean that it is representing biblical Christianity. However, more and more, this label is bringing into the Church books, entertainment, and even sermons that are decidedly unbiblical in their approach to God and His Word.

Why is this?

To put it simply, I believe it is because the focus of Christianity has been removed from our perfect and holy God’s objective truth to sinful, fallible man’s subjective experiences. I like how David F. Wells puts this–

“…And many in the Church have now turned in upon themselves and substituted for the knowledge of God a search for the knowledge of self.”

And this–

“And are we not consumed with what is changing in cultural and personal circumstance rather than with what is unchanging about life, the great universal truths about God, the world, and human nature? Have we not substituted the relative for the absolute, the Many for the One, diversity for unity, the human for the divine, our own private religious experience for truth that was once also public and universal in its scope?”

He wrote this in 1994. What this tells me is that this battle for truth has been going on for many more years than most of us realize. Of course, it has been going on forever. But, within the church, we have had an especially vicious attack and it would appear that Satan has won. Most people who call themselves Christians are far more concerned with their own personal happiness and supernatural experiences than they are with who God is. They are more concerned with being fulfilled and satisfied than they are in taking up their cross and denying themselves. They are more interested in dialoguing than in studying the Word of God.

Where does this leave us true Bible believers? How should we respond? I have a few observations and suggestions–

1. First, we must be aware that not all things labeled velvet soft are actually velvety soft. In other words, just because something has a label that looks appealing or true doesn’t mean it is. We must be willing to discern. If we aren’t, false doctrine will steal in and change what we believe so subtly that we may be completely unaware. We must be on guard at all times. We cannot rest.

2. We have to stop thinking with our hearts. Unlike the “velvet soft” tissue, which revealed its deceit the moment it touched my nose, false doctrine and apostasy will actually feel pretty good. If we use our hearts to judge something to be right or wrong, we will most likely come up with the wrong answer.

Of course, we are being told to listen to our hearts. It’s everywhere–from Disney to Hallmark movies to church. What makes you happy? What works for you? These have become the two litmus tests for truth. But this should never be a believer’s test for truth. We, of all people, should know better. We have the very Word of God and we should know that this is where we discern truth.

Interestingly enough, the other day I heard a Christian song from the 90s that I had loved and listened to often. I guess I never listened to the words because right there in the song was the line–

Until I stop thinking with my head
And start listening to my heart
And there I find my assurance

Wait! What?!? This goes completely against the Word of God (Matthew 15:19; Jeremiah 17:9). This was a song by a popular Christian artist, although I don’t believe the actual song was ever that popular. The whole song is actually a ballad of mysticism and I had never, ever caught it–until yesterday. This is what we have been feeding ourselves for years without even thinking about it. No wonder so many of us are listening to our hearts. We have been told to from all directions we turn. But this is not how or where we find truth.

3. When we find out that something labeled “velvet soft” isn’t velvety soft, we must turn away from it and encourage others to turn away from it, as well. It isn’t enough to turn away and then pretend like it never happened. If we truly love God and our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ we must advise others to turn away, as well. If we understand that a book (for example, The Shack or Jesus Calling) is doing great damage to the hearts and minds of fellow believers, it is our duty out of the love we feel for God and our fellow Christians to speak the truth.

But most of us don’t want to do this because it is downright difficult. In fact, we will often be called unloving and judgmental when we are doing the most loving thing possible. People will mock us and make jokes about us. They will talk about us behind our backs and decide they don’t like us. All this while we, with nothing to gain and everything to lose, are reaching out in love to them with the truth of God’s Word. Personal discernment is hard, but actually telling others about what you have learned can feel almost impossible in this current church culture.

(Of course, there are always those who are not loving when they share truth. Instead, they are prideful and arrogant. They have no social sense of when or when not to speak. This is unacceptable for discerning believers. We must be quite sure we are not one of these types! We can hold firmly to the truth without being unkind and annoying.)

If we are trying to lovingly tell someone the truth and it is not so lovingly received, we must remember to keep our focus on Christ. This is when it is critically important to remember that we must find our hope, peace,and joy in God alone. Of course, we want people to like us. We want them to think we are fun and cool. But it is not our calling to be liked by the world (In fact, Jesus tells us we won’t be liked by the world in John 15:18-19). We have one calling only: to know God and make Him known. This includes defending His Word amidst the mass apostasy going on in our churches.  I love how Jude puts this–

Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God[b] and our Lord Jesus Christ.

And so, as we find ourselves surrounded by things labeled velvet soft that are actually daggers poised to destroy our faith in God and His Word, may we be wisely discerning. May we look to God’s Word for truth instead of our own wicked hearts. And may we bravely and honorably contend for and defend the faith that was delivered to us once for all in God’s Word.

 

Resolutions and Goals

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This time of year abounds with New Year’s resolutions regarding weight loss, exercise, and better eating habits. Articles, commercials, and Pinterest pins about these things really rev up as the new year approaches because this is often when people determine they are going to change their habits. In fact, I know a young man who said he plans to skip the gym the first couple weeks of the year. Two weeks is about the amount of time it takes for all of those gym newbies to lose interest and settle back into their old way of life.

I’d love to tell you how you keep from losing interest but A) that isn’t what this post is about and B) I truly have no idea. If I figure it out I will let you know!

But as I thought about a new year and new beginnings, one thing occurred to me. How many of our resolutions or thoughts about beginning anew have to do with our spiritual health? Oh, I know lots of us don’t even make resolutions or set goals at all. But for those of us that do–how many are spiritual? How much effort do we give to growing us a believer? Or are we content to just be?

Physical health is good. We should desire to be the healthiest we can be because healthy people are able to serve God better. But Paul says this in I Timothy 4:8–

For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come.

This tells us that–while physical health is good–godliness is better!

So if this is the time of year you often spend some time thinking about where your life is going and setting some goals for yourself, I hope that you will consider setting a goal that has to do with getting into the Word of God. For this is the only way true and lasting growth will occur. Start the Growing 4 Life 2017 Bible Reading Challenge or some other Bible reading plan. Commit to doing a book of the Bible study (using a solid, biblical study method). Or pick a passage to memorize.

Whatever you decide, I know that it will yield great dividends in your walk with God. Studying the Word takes work, but it is richly rewarding.

Remember–there is nothing wrong with goals to be healthy or more organized or to set a budget and stick to it. This can be a wonderful way to serve the Lord better, for sure! But sometimes we can get so caught up in the temporal things of this life that we neglect the eternal things. So, along with other goals you are setting, how about setting a goal that gets you in the Word of God for 2017?

 

 

Conditions for Profitable Bible Study

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One of the saddest things I see going on today by professing believers is how little they are actually studying the Bible. We instead fill our hearts and minds with books about the Bible or with short blog posts, videos, or soundbites of devotional thoughts. We do this and feel pretty good about ourselves, believing we have accomplished our “devotions” for the day.

This kind of thinking leads to biblical illiteracy, which we see in vast numbers today within the church. This is the year that I want to really point people back to the Word of God for life and strength. I hope to show that it is through the Bible that we know our heavenly Father and experience spiritual transformation. I want to encourage people to read and study the Word of God with a submissive spirit and a heart ready to obey.

I also want to encourage people to ask the question: “What does this mean?” Instead of the dangerous question: “What does this mean for me?” These two questions are in direct contrast to one another. The first leads to an objective and literal study of God’s Word, while the second leads to a subjective and mystical study. We will talk more about this as the year progresses, but this is a basic thought to keep in mind as you prepare to dig into the Word this coming year.

As I was talking to Pastor Dean about this recently, he highly recommended the book How to Study the Bible by R.A. Torrey. Thankfully, I had a copy of this laying around that had never been read and so I picked it up. It is worth buying for the first chapter alone and I highly recommend doing so. (I have linked the book title to Amazon for your convenience; I get no proceeds from this).

But I would like to share a skeletal version of Chapter One for you here, entitled Conditions for Profitable Bible Study. I think you will find this most helpful as you start any study of the scriptures–whether it be the Growing 4 Life 2017 Bible Reading Challenge or a different one that is completely unrelated to the challenge here at Growing 4 Life.

And so here we go–some thoughts on preparing yourself to study the Word of God. Torrey starts out by writing this:

The secret lies in meeting certain fundamental conditions before you begin to study the Word of God. If you meet these conditions, you will get more out of the Bible, while pursuing the poorest methods, than the one who does not meet them while he pursues the best methods. What you will need is far deeper than a new and better technique.

Here are the conditions–

  1. You must be born again. Little is to be gained from study of scripture if your spiritual eyes have not been opened.
  2. You must have a love for the Word of God and an appetite for spiritual food. Perhaps you are concerned about this one. Let me assure you that when you start to study in earnest, this will be developed. The more you study, the stronger your appetite will grow.
  3. You must have a willingness to work hard. Few things are gained without work and Bible Study is no exception. You will get out of it what you put into it.  Torry puts it this way: “The reason many people get so little out of their Bible reading is simply because they are not willing to think. Intellectual laziness lies at the bottom of a large percent of fruitless Bible reading.”
  4. You must have a will that is wholly surrendered to God. The old hymn “I Surrender All” takes on a whole new meaning when we actually think about living the words we sing. This is a tough one but it is key if we are to truly get anything out of our Bible Study. We must say–like Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:42)–“not my will, but Thy will be done.”
  5. You must be willing to obey all commands in scripture as soon as you become aware of them. This is related to #4, but it is a bit different in that it requires action. There are many sins we commit each and every day that we may not even think about until we get in the Word and it shows us –like a mirror–the truth about our souls. James puts it like this– But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; 24 for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. 25 But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does (James 1:22-25). We will get the most out of our study by bringing a heart and mind that is willing to obey.
  6. The sixth condition is a childlike mind. What this really means is bringing to your study a humble and teachable heart. I just love how Torrey puts this: “How can we be babes if God is to reveal His truth to us, and we are to understand His Word? A child is not full of his own wisdom. He recognizes his own ignorance and is willing to be taught. He does not oppose his own notions and ideas to those of his teachers.” Oh, how very important this condition is! This alone may be why so many who claim to be in the Word show no apparent growth or transformation. Whenever we impose our ideas and thoughts on the Word, viewing the Bible through our own already preconceived worldview, we are hindering greatly the work of the Holy Spirit to give us insight into the Word. A teachable spirit cannot be over-emphasized enough in this study of the Word of God!
  7. The seventh condition Torrey gives is that we believe the Bible is the very Word of God! This involves four things– 1) We bring an unquestioning acceptance to all that we find within its pages, even if it seems unreasonable or impossible. 2) We have absolute reliance in all its promises in all their breadth and length. 3) We give prompt obedience to its every precept. 4) We study as if we are in God’s presence–as if hearing the living God speaking the words of scripture to us. This is because the Bible truly is His very words to us and we are always in God’s presence. Torrey puts it like this: “We can have God’s glorious companionship any moment we please by simply opening His Word and letting the living and ever-present God speak to us through it.”
  8. The last condition for profitable study is prayerfulness. Bend over each passage of scripture in prayer. Prayer for a clean and pure heart. Prayer for a submissive and obedient heart. Prayer for insight into what you are going to read in the Word. David puts it this way in Psalm 119:18 Open my eyes, that I may see, Wondrous things from Your law.

I hope that you have found this a helpful post to get you started in the greatest adventure anyone can undertake–a study of the very Word of God! Whether you have studied your Bible for years or this is your first attempt, I pray the greatest blessing on you as you begin a new year of studying the Bible. I know full well–if the above conditions are met–you will not come away unchanged from your time in the Word.

A Response to “12 Reasons Millennials Are Over Church”

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A young friend of mine sent me an article yesterday and asked me what I thought about it. She sensed its unbiblical tone and wanted confirmation. Since I have seen it on my Facebook wall since then, I am assuming that it must be making its rounds on the internet. I felt it deserves a response.

The article is by a millennial who is sick of church. To their credit, they recognize that there is a real problem with keeping their age group in the church. I couldn’t agree more. Where we do not agree is what to do about it.

First, let me state that I am not a millennial and haven’t been for quite some time. However, I am a parent to four of them, from the ages of 17-26. Three of them are out of our home and married. All three couples attend and serve at a local church regularly. I tell you this so you know this dissatisfaction is not inevitable. Some millennials still love church!

So back to this article. The beginning of the article states their dissatisfaction and then we move into what they believe to be the reasons that millennials have abandoned church. I’d like to respond to each one.

1. “Nobody’s Listening to Us.” My response to this is–of course they aren’t. When I was twenty-something no one listened to me, either. That’s because I didn’t know anything. Somewhere in my mid-twenties I started to grasp the fact that I didn’t know anything and started being teachable. I began to respect those who had gained wisdom from life experience and desired to learn from them. I find, nowadays, that this has turned on its head and no one is listening to those who are more mature in the Lord.

In fact, if anyone is not being listened to, it is generally those who are older, whose desires for a more traditional simple service with hymns and expositing God’s Word have been thrown out completely. And this was so millennials would come to church. But you claim we aren’t listening to you. Hmmm.

2. “We are sick of hearing about values and mission statements.” The author goes on to give their {very incomplete} definition of the Gospel. It is clear that the author does not consider the Word of God to be authoritative, as we most certainly must teach and preach about values–for it’s in the Bible. Which is why church exists–to preach the Word of God. (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Timothy 4:2; Romans 10:14)

3. “Helping the poor isn’t a priority.” Yep, that’s true. Because it isn’t supposed to be a priority. But I bet that church this author is talking about is doing a great job ministering to the sick and needy within its own congregation, which is exactly what the church is supposed to be doing. Social Justice–the buzz word that many connect to the church–is not from the Bible. It’s from communism. Read your Bible and you will find out that there is no mention of social justice anywhere. The church’s job is to feed the sheep spiritual food (Acts 2:42). Now, lest I be misunderstood, I am not against helping the poor. But we can see when we read the New Testament that this should never be the first priority of any solid, biblical church.

4. “We’re tired of you blaming the culture.” The author goes on to say that the church is blaming the culture for all that is bad in the church. I can see some validity to this. While I don’t think we blame the culture, I do think we talk about it too much sometimes. The world has changed so fast that those of us who didn’t grow up in this culture–well, our heads are spinning. We are quite dismayed and sometimes we may talk about that too much. Interestingly enough, the author’s solution to this is: Explicitly teach us how our lives should differ from the culture. But my question would be this– how do we do that without teaching you values from scripture?? (see #2)

5. “You ‘can’t sit with us’ effect” This has to do with how we treat those who walk into the church doors. While I agree that this can be a huge problem, I also understand that there are two sides of this story. Getting plugged in to a new church can be difficult and if we aren’t careful we can really put the burden on the people to make us feel like we belong. But–from my own personal experience–I have learned that I won’t feel like I belong until I roll my sleeves up and start working side by side with those serving there. So many people only show up for an hour on a Sunday morning and then wonder why they always feel on the outside. I know because I have been there.

6. “Distrust and Misallocation of Resources” I agree with this author that there should be transparency in a church budget. The church’s members should know the breakdown of everything and secrecy isn’t good.

But the author goes on to say this–“Why should thousands of our hard-earned dollars go toward a mortgage on a multi-million dollar building that isn’t being utilized to serve the community, or to pay for another celebratory bouncy castle when that same cash-money could provide food, clean water and shelter for someone in need?”

While I am certainly not in favor of unnecessary building projects, I believe that once again this author has a grave misunderstanding of ecclesiology (the study of the church) according to the Bible. The church’s purpose is not to take care of the poor. It is to grow believers.

I also find it interesting that there is zero mention of the Gospel by this author. They seemed to only be concerned with meeting temporal, material needs of the poor. And yet, we know that without Christ, any material need met is only helping for a moment.

7. “We want to be mentored not preached at” I am not sure when life became about what we want instead of what we need, but the Bible tells us clearly that preaching is to be part of a Christian’s life (I Timothy 4:13; I Corinthians 15:1). It is the godly pastor who will feed and encourage us in our walk. There is no precedence set for dialogue that I can see. What this author wants to see completely changes the definition of “church” and turns it into some kind of group conversation. Interestingly enough, I see this happening in churches all across America, where preaching has taken a back seat and dialogue and subjectivism is reigning supreme. If this is a prerequisite for a church for this author, I am sure they could find one in their neighborhood somewhere.

8. “We want to feel valued” I agree with this author that it is nice to receive a thank you. But sometimes you don’t get one. All church people of all ages feel under-valued sometimes. Life is very much about perspective and when we focus on whether or not we are valued, we will always come up short. Part of growing up (something we can learn from our elders) is doing what needs to be done just because it is the right thing to do and stop worrying about if anyone appreciates us or not.

9. “We want you to talk to us about controversial issues.” Now, from my own personal perspective, I would love to talk to anyone about these issues. Let’s talk about sex, homosexuality, entertainment. But can we do so without all of the relativism? Can we show you the answers from the Bible? Because–again–how do we have these important discussions without teaching values (#2)?? (Hebrews 4:12)

10. “The public perception” This author seems to think we need to change the public’s perception about church. But I heartily disagree because the church doesn’t exist for the community, it exists for believers. And the bottom line is that if we choose to have a biblical church in the way scripture commands, the world will find us distasteful (I Corinthians 1:23; John 15:18-19). We need to be more concerned about growing strong and courageous believers than we are about how the public perceives us.

11. “Stop talking about us (unless you are going to do something)” The fact is that many people are trying to do something about this, they just don’t like what is being done. They don’t want to be told that the Bible is inerrant and infallible. They don’t want to be taught there are absolute values. Their focus is on their experiences and their feelings rather than on the Word of God and what is absolute truth.

I would like to add here that our church has a wonderful group of millennials who are nothing like this author. They are plugged in and serve with joy. They are teachable and ask questions about how they can grow as a Christian. This article is not representative of all millennials by a long shot.

12. “You’re failing to adapt” The author uses three quotes for this point–all from secular sources. To me, this is very telling. This author–I have no idea if they are saved or not–is focusing only on worldly values. They used one Bible verse in the whole article. Is the church supposed to “adapt”? And, honestly, I am shocked that this is an accusation, because from my perspective the church most certainly is adapting. In fact, I would say the church has become mostly ineffective at sharing the true gospel because it has become so effective at adapting. But the true church should never adapt. Oh, we can use technology or change a few things here and there, but we never change our message. And we never change our mission.

So do we listen to what this author has to say? I would say, overall, the answer to that is a resounding NO. There is no biblical basis for any of it. And, yet, I see churches all across this country–perhaps across the world–scrambling to make these changes to appeal to this generation. Let’s stop. Just stop. And let’s get back to preaching the Word of God without apology. Let’s feed good, solid spiritual food to the parents and the grandparents of the next generation so we don’t repeat what just happened. And let’s stop thinking that we need to do something to draw people to church and start praying that God would do a mighty work in the hearts of this generation. For only God can change the heart.

 

Does God Only Care About My Heart?

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I remember having a conversation many years ago with someone about what to *wear to church. The verse used to support their argument for dressing down was I Samuel 16:7–

 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees;[a] for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Since that time I have also heard that verse used many times to support licentiousness (which–simply stated– means the freedom to continue living in sin after salvation). The argument is that God only cares about my heart and He doesn’t care about my behavior. And it has had far-reaching effects on families and churches, as it condones living in sin while still having assurance of salvation.

But is this what that verse is saying? Does God only care about our hearts? If you are a regular reader, you probably already know the answer to this, but let’s go to scripture and unpack this a bit. I think it’s kind of interesting.

First, let’s talk about what’s going on behind I Samuel 16:7. Samuel has been told by God to anoint Israel’s new king. Things have gone badly with the people’s choice (Saul) and now God is going to choose the king. Samuel travels to the home of Jesse as directed and quickly spots his tallest, strongest son: Eliab.

Surely this is whom God has chosen for Israel! Or in Samuel’s words: “Surely the Lord’s anointed is before Him!”

This is when God says to Samuel that He looks at the heart, not at the outward appearance. By the way, aren’t you so glad God doesn’t care anything about how we look? He has made us all so different. Some are short, some are tall. Some have large feet or big noses and some do not. We have a variety of shades and colors for our skin, eyes, and hair. And this is all good! We are told in Psalm 139:13-14 that God made us fearfully and wonderfully, which means our physical features are not only good but are actually  just the way He designed us!

So this is what God is talking about in I Samuel 16:7. He will often choose the weakest or the youngest or the most unlikely candidate to use for His glory.

So why do people so often use this verse to defend their sin or their own personal agenda?

It is the age-old temptation to twist a verse in the Bible to make it mean what you want it to mean. And I’d like to prove from the Bible why this verse could never mean that God doesn’t care about our outward behavior. There are an abundance of New Testament verses that will show that God most certainly does care about how we behave. Here are two of the most compelling–

Romans 6:1-2What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?

James 2:17-19Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!

We can see very clearly from these verses that I Samuel 16:7 does not give us any right to continue in our sin at all.

BUT–you may say–I thought I don’t have to do anything to be saved. Isn’t what you are describing legalism?

No! A thousand times No! This is the lie in which Satan has so many ensnared.

Let me clarify–Legalism is believing that you have to do something to be saved. That you have to do x, y, and z in order to go to heaven. And if you don’t do x, y, and z, you can’t be saved. The Bible shows us that this is false! In fact, this is the easiest way to tell if a religion is true or false–does it require works or is it simply based on faith?

But this does not let us off the hook to continue in sin, as we read in Romans 6. We have been saved from sin to go and sin no longer! We have not been saved from sin to continue in its destructive path. True faith in Christ yields a transformed life. It isn’t a based on some legalistic set of rules but on a deep and abiding love and desire to please our Savior.

O, how tragic that so many are deceived. How many Christians are living weak, powerless lives because they are living in sin–believing that God only cares about their heart.

If we think about this further, we can see that someone can have a clean outward appearance and be filthy inside–like the Pharisees. But it is impossible to be humble, holy, and pure on the inside and not have that shine forth on the outside. True believers are yielded to God and He is the one who works in them for His will and good pleasure (Philippians 2:13). This shines forth as fruit in a saved life (Matthew 7:20).

Of course, we can understand how appealing it is to think that we can be saved but still continue in our sin. This would mean that no sacrifice or self-denial or hard work would be required. Who doesn’t like the idea of that? A free ride to heaven with no sacrifice here on earth. But, of course, again, there are a myriad of scripture verses to dispute this, as well. My favorite is Luke 9:23-24. This passage makes it very clear what we should expect when we choose to follow Christ–

Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily,[a] and follow Me. 24 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.

The Christian life is hard work. It is a life of sacrifice and denial. If we are saved we have an overall desire to stop sinning and to please the Lord. While we still battle our flesh every day–even every hour–we have the Holy Spirit to convict us of our sin and help us to overcome it. We experience victory over sin and develop a hatred for evil and a love for righteousness, growing slightly more like our Savior with each passing year. The Christian life leads to victory over sin not to a broken, sin-ridden life!

I don’t know why God placed this on my heart this morning, but I hope that it may help at least one of you who is struggling with this–or perhaps even help some of you use the Word of God to help someone else caught up in this lie.

Let’s never be satisfied with status quo and may we continue to grow in our faith for our entire lives!

*Of course, conversations about what to wear to church are completely irrelevant now but that was at the time when everyone still dressed up to go to church and there was this movement–that was quite successful, I might add–for churches to dress down so as to appeal to the lost. If you would like to know my thoughts on how to dress for church you can find them here. But one thing I didn’t see when I was writing that post was the reason behind this push to dress down and how unbiblical it is. The argument was that we needed to make the lost feel comfortable at church and our suits and dresses just didn’t do that. But here is the problem: Church is for the saved. And the saved are to seek the lost. But everyone wants a shortcut now and they just want to bring their lost friends to church instead of having tough conversations about sin and hell and eternity. It is my opinion that this philosophy has deprived Christ’s bride of boldness and has really curtailed their knowledge of scripture, as churches dumb down their teachings for goats instead of feeding the sheep.