Grace That Changes

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Sometimes I wish I could go back and re-live high school. I know so much more now than I knew then. I’d treat people so differently. I’d be so much kinder. Mostly, I have grown a whole lot in the grace I have for others.

I think God started changing me in college with my first roommate. We couldn’t have come from more different family backgrounds. She was a new believer from a broken family and I was a “holier than thou” believer from a good Christian family. Instead of trying to help her, I judged her from my proud heart. I just cringe when I think about how little grace I had towards her. Thankfully, God, in His Sovereignty, drew us back together after that first {terrible} year and, ironically, we became best friends and she is still one of my best friends today. Funny how God works.

As I look back over my life, I can see that this was the starting point of God’s grace affecting how I live. But I still had a long way to go.

A long way.

I think I really started changing when I started to understand God’s grace towards me. As I already mentioned, I had been blessed as a young person to be in a wonderful Christian family. Not only had I not experimented with the typical teen-age temptations (such as sex, smoking, drugs, and drinking) I didn’t even want to try them. Unfortunately, while I don’t regret not doing those things, I do regret the pride and lack of grace that grew out of that. Obviously, I was more focused on the outward than the inward at that point in life. And I wasn’t in the Word like I should have been.

But then I grew up and got married and started a family. I started studying my Bible and actually listening to sermons. And God, in His great kindness and mercy, started opening my eyes. And I began to see myself as who I really was instead of who I thought I was. I saw what I could have been were it not for God and His marvelous grace towards me. I was a wicked sinner just like everyone. I wasn’t anything special at all. And instead of pride, I was filled with gratitude. Instead of judgment, I was filled with sorrow. Where in the world would I be if not for Jesus?

As I have grown in the Lord, I have come to understand that grace for others is something we Christians should be known for. We should extend it freely and kindly, because of the great grace we have been shown.

Of course, this doesn’t mean we never confront sin or speak truth. We are clearly mandated to do both in scripture. But we should do so out of a heart of grace and love, not pride and arrogance.

The world will tell you that if you disagree with them you aren’t showing grace. You are critical. You are unkind. Actually, the church will often tell you the same thing. That if you say something that is negative (even if it is biblical), you are critical and without grace. But this just isn’t true.

God’s grace towards us doesn’t cover up sin. God doesn’t simply say “you are okay now.” Even in salvation, we must face the negative (we are wicked sinners) to grasp the import of salvation. God sent His son to take away our sin through Jesus Christ. We aren’t freed on our own merit. We are freed because of Christ’s merit! God’s grace doesn’t pronounce us sinless, it pronounces us forgiven!

Do you see? We Christians are not doing anyone a favor by saying they can just live the way they want to live. We aren’t helping by not speaking the negative. This is not grace. It is cowardice. But grace does mean we speak words of truth from a heart filled with grace and love.

Pride and arrogance destroy but grace and mercy build up.

I am still growing in this area. And I hope you are, too. As our understanding of God’s grace towards us–desperate, wicked sinners–deepens each year, so, too, should our grace for others.

 

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.

 

 

Learn to Discern: How Do You Determine What Is True, Right, and Good?

Learn to Discern (with blog name)

I don’t think I can count the amount of times that I have heard something like this as a defense for a false teacher or a doctrinally unsound book or church–

But it has helped so many people!

(or its sister comment: It has really helped me.)

The item or person in question is judged on this fact alone– if it has helped someone, it must be right (and the opposite: If it hasn’t helped anyone, it must be wrong.)

But here is something we must consider: Is this how the Bible teaches us to determine truth? Does the fact that something is helpful automatically make it true, right, or good?

The belief that this is how we determine truth is called pragmatism.

Officially, the definition for pragmatism is: An approach that assesses the truth of meaning of theories or beliefs in terms of the success of their practical application.

In essence, it is the belief that the end justifies the means.

Most of us would say, of course, this isn’t true. We would never agree that we can get from point A to point B any way we want to. But, when it comes to how we actually approach what is true, we have taken on this philosophy far more than we would care to admit.

For example, when the book The Shack first came out, many, many Christians loved it! If anyone dared to suggest it wasn’t doctrinally sound, the defense was that “it helped me understand who God is” or “it comforted me.”

Of course, we can see that the measurement being used by most people to judge this book was a practical, subjective method (how it makes me feel or what I have perceived) rather than using scripture as the measurement tool.

All these years later, William Paul Young shows us clearly that He does not believe what the Bible teaches in his latest book, Lies We Believe About God. In this book, he clearly denies tenet after tenet of the Christian faith.

So why were so many Christians fooled? Why did they not recognize this early on? And why did it take a book that finally clearly espouses what he believes to convince them?

For many, it is because they are pragmatists. They judge what is right and what is wrong by what works for them or by what feels right or good.

I guess it is only natural that this would eventually enter even the most conservative churches. After all, it started in the secular culture awhile ago now. But it is important that if we are going to learn to discern, we do not fall prey to this deadly philosophy.

And so in order to protect ourselves it is critical that we learn what scripture teaches us about how we determine truth. Let’s take a look–

John 17:17Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 

In this chapter, Jesus is praying for believers. He is asking the Father to protect and keep us. And to sanctify us. And He adds this interesting line: thy word is truth. The Bible is truth.

John MacArthur’s writes about this verse–

“Sanctification is accomplished by means of the truth, which is the revelation that the Son gave regarding all that the Father commanded Him to communicate and is now contained in the Scriptures left by the apostles.”

In 2 Timothy we find another verse showing us that the Word is truth–

2 Timothy 2:15Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.

So from these two verses, we can see that the Bible is truth.

Now let’s take a moment and look at a few verses that clearly show we will not be the popular ones, the successful ones, and that it will appear our methods are not working (at least according to human, worldly standards)–

Romans 12:2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Luke 6:26Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.

James 4:4You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 

We can know from these verses that true believers will generally not be favored and followed. (Generally. There are exceptions, of course.) This is because we cannot be friends with the world. Therefore, even when we are faithfully following God and doing as He commands us in His Word, it will often appear as if what we are doing is “not working”. And, because we are basically told both inside and outside the church that “if it isn’t working, God isn’t in it”, we are tempted to measure ourselves by the success we experience in the mainstream church or the world, rather than by using the barometer of scripture.

I would also like to remind you that Satan has to make false teachers look appealing. If he didn’t, no one would follow them. Therefore, the indication that their methods or ministries seem to be working according to human standards should never be our measurement of what is true, right, or good.

Of course, there are also the real-life experiences of Jesus, Paul, Jeremiah, and of countless others throughout the history of the world to also assure us that what we are doing will not always appear to be working. Followers deserted Jesus (John 6:66), Paul was attacked by the crowds (Acts 16:22-24), and Jeremiah’s pleas for change did not work (Jeremiah 44:4-5). Research a little church history or read a few missionary biographies and you will find many more examples of this.

So should we judge whether or not something is true, right, or good by if it is working? Should we determine our own course of action or ministry by how it appears to be working?

I hope I have convinced you that this isn’t a good idea. This is a big topic that cannot really be wholly covered in a short blog post. But I do hope I at least got you to start thinking about how to judge the popular “Christian” books and the celebrity pastors that are in abundance today. I am going to include a short video below that will probably do a much better job than I can. I hope that this will help you see even more clearly not only how this thinking has invaded the church but how deadly it is to the church–

 

Find all posts in the Learn to Discern series here.

 

 

Don’t Expect a Crowd

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I confess I never saw this coming. I never saw a time when so many trusted pastors and authors would associate with known false teachers or even defect to a religion called “Christianity” that is nothing like the genuine version. I never would have ever believed that so many Christians would have been deceived by books like The Shack or Jesus Calling and not see anything wrong with them. And I certainly didn’t see the accusations and the marginalization that would become the way of life for anyone who dare speak out against those that are destroying biblical Christian faith. Nope, I didn’t see this coming.

I was so disheartened yesterday when I saw that yet another author I had loved and trusted was included in a book compilation with known false teachers. It seems like it has become a weekly occurrence now. There is almost a feverish attempt to draw all people into the one world religion. And if you speak up about it, you are the one accused of being divisive. Which seems so backwards, doesn’t it?

But it is exactly what is happening, proven by my own experience, as well as by many others, including Michelle Lesley and the folks over at Lighthouse Trails (as evidenced by prayer requests shared in their newsletters). It takes a lot of courage to stand for what’s right today and perhaps even more courage to stand against what’s wrong.

If you have decided to enter this battle for discernment on the front lines or to join the rescue effort (as I put it in this post) you will become extremely unpopular. There will be no adoring crowds around you. Even if you speak up in a godly way–lovingly, gently, comparing all false teachers and doctrines to what scripture teaches–you will feel the sting of antagonism and the chill of disapproval.

So what does scripture teach us about false teachers? Let’s examine some of the passages that show us what we are to do about false teachers–

1. We are to avoid them. Romans 16:17-18 puts it this way–

Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. 18 For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus[d] Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple.

This passage makes it clear that we are to avoid all false teachers. They cause divisions. The curious dynamic we see today is that instead of the ones teaching a “doctrine contrary to what you have learned” being called divisive, that term is reserved for those that would cry “wolf!” It’s surely an upside down backwards world.

2. We are to expose them. Ephesians 5:11 couldn’t be any clearer–

And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them.

We are not only to avoid them, we are to expose them and their deeds of darkness.

3. We are to contend for the faith. Jude 3-4 shows us 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.

Contend is a very strong word, meaning “to struggle in opposition”. This implies that we are in a battle. And so we are–as confirmed for us in Ephesians 6:10-12.

We are in a fierce battle. It is very important that we not only acknowledge the battle, but that we put on our whole armor (Ephesians 6:13-20) so that we can withstand the attacks both from outside and from within the church. They are growing more frequent now and I’d guess that they will continue to grow not only in frequency but also in ferocity.

This is when it is a good time to remember our focus. What are we fighting for? Is it our own opinions? Is it some personal stand? No! We are fighting to protect God and His Holy Word! We are Christian soldiers and we dare not lay down our weapons.

Biblical Christianity is almost extinct now. And we Christians have allowed it. We are to blame. We have listened to, watched, read, joined with, and promoted false teaching so often that it has become an integral part of the fabric of the church. To say anything against it–in fact, to say anything against anything or anyone– is what has become the great sin of the age.

So, my friends, if you have made the decision to join the rescue effort, this post is for you. Don’t give up. Stay in the Word, know it, love it, study it. And contend for the faith. Speak up gently and lovingly against those who would teach that which is not found in scripture. Avoid fellowship or input from those who are false teachers. And expose the darkness. For this is the right thing to do, according to the Word of God.

But don’t expect a crowd.

 

 

Hanging on to the Life Ring

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If it wasn’t so sad, I would have laughed. Someone put an article that praised (or excused) a false teacher (I didn’t read the actual article) and below it was a comment about how this teacher had “saved their faith because they focused on love, which was exactly what Jesus did”. I found myself wondering if this commenter had actually ever read the Bible, since he didn’t seem to know the biblical Jesus at all.

Yes, Jesus did focus on love. He also focused on sin (Mark 7:20-23), hell (Matthew 10:28; 23:33), persecution and the expectation that the world will hate us (John 15:18; Luke 6:22). And He focused on obedience (Matthew 7:21; John 14:15), the narrow way (Matthew 7:14), and truth (John 4:24; John 8:32; John 17:17).

For a teacher–any teacher–to say there is no hell or to negate the need to follow the commands of God or to promote any other doctrine that is not found in scripture is a departure from God’s Holy Word and automatically designates them as a false teacher.

And this, my friends, is why we have to study the Word of God. There is no other way to know if a teacher is false. Sure, you can ask someone who knows more about the Bible than you do, but the bottom line is that there is only one place that you can go for counsel that is trustworthy 100 percent of the time and that is to the Bible. It never fails, it never changes, it never betrays.

But the one thing the Bible does do is to mess with our fleshly, carnal desires. And it challenges our worldly lifestyles–the one where we want to be and look like everybody else in the crowd. And so we find that most unsaved people are understandably not interested in true Christianity which calls us to deny ourselves (Luke 9:23-24) and to turn away from the world (Romans 12:1-2; James 1:27) and from our sin (Galatians 5:18-21). THIS is why so many people gravitate to a “love only” religion which is as false as Buddhism or Islam. We need to understand this. This is key to comprehend in our Western culture–

The “Jesus focused only on love” religion is a FALSE religion.

We only need to read the Gospels to understand this. There are critical pieces missing in this false religion that makes it null and void in the site of God such as God’s wrath (Romans 1:18), hell (Luke 12:5), repentance (2 Peter 3:9), turning away from sin and the world (verses above), and the call for holiness (I Thessalonians 4:7).

We cannot simply remove hell because we define it as unloving. We cannot remove the need for atonement simply because man has chosen to believe he is innately good. We cannot remove the need for obedience just because we don’t want to obey. We have no right.

God’s Word is either true or not true but we have no right to change it and still call ourselves Christians. And this is exactly what is happening all across the world. Many are changing the core of Christianity and still calling it Christianity.

A sorry, sorry state indeed.

One I honestly never dreamed I’d see. But here we are. And this leaves us with only the life ring of God’s Word. As we hang on to it to survive the massive wave of apostasy flooding over us, sweeping through our churches, and flooding our homes through our tvs, books, and podcasts, may we hang on to it for dear life. For this is the only way we are going to survive, my friend.

So, once again (I feel a little like a broken record), I urge you to pick up your Bible. Read it. Study it. Pray and ask God for insight. Know the Word of God so that you can not only stand strong against those who would twist and malign the Word but also so that you can give a defense for the hope that is within you (I Peter 3:15) to those that are lost, sinking, and crying for help in this roiling sea of apostasy.

 

 

Engaging the Enemy

Engaging the Enemy

As a young person, I have to confess that I had this “pie in the sky” dream that if I could just talk to someone long enough, I could change their mind. That somehow God would use my wise words or carefully crafted email to help someone see the light. I recognize now that it was my pride and immaturity that drove this dream. I started to understand, many years ago now, that there are few happy endings and that people who don’t want to hear the truth just don’t want to hear the truth. I could talk constantly for a year and, without the working of God in a person’s heart, never move their opinion even an inch in any direction.

I have also learned to be much more discerning on what is even worth confrontation. Many times, haughtily thinking I knew all the answers, I would confront people about inconsequential things. I have since learned that A.) I don’t have all the answers and B.) That so many things should be simply ignored and covered by grace. Only biblical issues are worth defending. Oh, how often I would get caught up in stupid, little arguments that were just about my selfish pride! I still do this on occasion. It is a great weakness of mine!

So, while we do know that much grace should cover non-biblical issues, how exactly do we deal with the really important, biblical issues? Jesus gives us some insight in Luke 20. Here He sets an excellent example for us in engaging our enemies. Let’s take a look at it.

1. Long debates and arguments over issues are a waste of time. Speak the truth in love and then walk away.

If you notice in Luke 20:8, Jesus refused to get in an argument with them over His authority. So, too, should we refuse to argue. If the Holy Spirit isn’t working in the heart of the person we are engaging, we are wasting our time. While some people do enjoy a healthy debate about important biblical issues, we must always be extremely careful not to cast a negative light on God and His Word through our words and actions. We are His ambassadors here on earth and, for some, we are the only contact they will have with true Christianity.

2. Be consistent. It is critically important to live a life that matches our words.

We know that Jesus’s life matched His words perfectly since He was God and could not sin. We, on the other hand, struggle with this. Do our lives match what we are saying? If our kids or grandkids hear us talking about spiritual things, does what we say match how we live? If not, we are better off just not saying anything. On the other hand, we will never be perfect. This is about a humble heart and a consistently examined life and not about waiting for perfection before opening our mouths. If we wait for perfection, we will never say anything!

3. Ask them a question.

In Luke 20:24, we see that Jesus asks the Pharisees a question. How often do we get put on the defensive and just freeze? Or answer in a way that is angry or irritated? We can slow that process down and give ourselves time to think by asking a question.

4. Recognize that our greatest hostility will often come from those within the church.

The Pharisees were the religious leaders of the day. It was these organized church leaders that felt most threatened by Jesus and His claims. We have seen this play out over and over throughout church history. The organized “church” was often responsible for the cruelest campaigns of persecution. And even now–in this post-modern era–the believer who is committed to a literal, inerrant, and sufficient view of scripture will find their greatest enemies are those that use the name of Jesus Christ. We must be prepared for this sad and discouraging fact as we defend true Christianity.

5. It is okay to name or warn against false teachers.

There is this ploy of Satan’s to deceive Christians into thinking we cannot mention specific names of false teachers. This is extremely clever, since–if this would be true–it would keep many undiscerning, immature believers in the dark, continuing to read and listen to those that taint and destroy true biblical faith. But here in Luke 20, the Lord Himself sets an example by warning His disciples (within the hearing of all of the people) of the scribes (v. 46-47). He says, “Beware the scribes.” He names them and says beware! We can and should do no less.

6. Biblically think through the hot button issues of today.

I have to confess that I am not a great debater. My heart starts beating, my mind starts to race, and I start talking without thinking. I am not great when I am in “defense” mode. Jesus, on the other hand, was completely composed. He not only knew the answer to any question they could ask, He knew the reason they were asking the questions. While we don’t have the same advantage that Jesus had, we can and should wisely prepare ourselves to defend a biblical worldview by spending some time studying and researching. We must especially be prepared to defend the Gospel. I Peter 3:15 puts it like this: but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.

7. Our first priority should always be to preach the Gospel.

We must remember that the Gospel is the heart of our message. The Gospel is the means by which people are saved. We must keep this first and foremost in our minds as we engage our enemy. This is the heart and soul of our message. We offer nothing but empty hope and useless words without it. While we don’t see this specifically in Luke 20, we know that Jesus’s whole ministry was focused on people understanding who He was and why He was there.

8. You will be viewed as the enemy if you preach an unadulterated Gospel. Plan on it and be prepared.

Jesus was the arch enemy of the Pharisees. He ruined their selfish plans and cast {very valid} doubts on their false religion. We see in other passages of scripture and also in church history that any believer who defends the true Gospel is going to be attacked by Satan, by the world, and even by the organized “church” (which is really just the world in disguise). This is not a very “fun fact” and has caused many to close their mouths and just go about their lives quietly. Not only do we not want to be attacked, we have this great desire for the praise and laud of men. We want to be liked. This may drive some of us even more than the desire to not be attacked. The Bible tells us to expect the hatred of the world (John 15:19; I John 3:13) and that the devil is our enemy (Ephesians 6:11-13; I Peter 5:8). Ephesians 6:10-20 gives great insight into how to prepare ourselves for attack. This is worth some study as we find ourselves thrust more and more often into battles over Christian principles that are ridiculed and rejected.

 

Instead of expecting our dreams to be fulfilled and a life unhindered by problems, let us recognize that true believers must engage themselves for battle! Being a Christian–a real, biblical one–is not fun and games. Instead, we must have courage and boldness. We must spend time in the Word and on our knees, humble and teachable before the Lord. And we are called to turn away and deny our own selfish lusts and pleasures. This is not the Gospel preached today and, like Paul, I find myself wondering how the church has turned so quickly away from the true Gospel (Galatians 1:6) but I guess that is a post for another day! I hope these principles for engaging the enemy have given you some food for thought as you face whatever spiritual battle is before you today.

 

Four Important Principles of Battle

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This morning in church we had a brave Viet Nam war veteran share a bit of his testimony. I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been to condense such an experience to just a few short moments on a Sunday morning. He concluded by comparing his experiences as a soldier to our duty as a soldier for Christ. As he talked, I found myself engrossed in what he was saying. How little we talk about the battle that is going on and what our duties are as a soldier for Christ. Most don’t want to focus on the negative. And, yet, scripture makes it clear that we are in a battle. If you have time, read 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 and Ephesians 6:10-20, which is where we will find some description of this spiritual battle and also some keys to victory.

Even though it was just a short testimony and challenge for our congregation, I came away with four things we should all know about fighting the spiritual battle we Christians become a part of as soon as we are saved. Like it or not, if you are a Christian, then you are a soldier in Christ’s army. While this isn’t a specific Learn to Discern post, I do believe that these principles are key to our understanding of discernment and also help to clarify the importance of discernment in the church today.

Here are Four Important Principles of Battle

1. Stay Focused on the Enemy. He said this several times–how important it was that they stay focused on the enemy. If they lost sight of them, if the enemy stay hidden, they knew they could very well be taken out in a heartbeat. Our enemy, as believers, is Satan. And we must keep an eye on what he is doing. So often we will hear the opposite–that we aren’t to focus on the enemy, but instead just keep our eyes on Jesus. And, yes, the center of our faith is Jesus Christ, our Lord. But if we aren’t keeping an eye out for Satan and his devious plans, we are going to be deceived! And while Christians are being deceived, the lost are being told a false gospel. There is so much that hangs in the balance. We must keep our eyes on the enemy.

2. Someone Needs to Stand Guard. One of the keys to keeping the company safe was to have someone stand guard. The consequences were severe for the guard–sometimes even execution–should the enemy enter the camp while he fell asleep on duty. These guards could save the whole troop. The same is true spiritually. How interesting that instead of thanking the guards of the church, they are so often mocked, belittled, and marginalized. To stand guard in protection of the church generally means not only fierce attack from the enemy on the outside, but it also often brings on attacks from the inside. Instead of being grateful for the protection–for someone brave enough to point out how something doesn’t match scripture–churches and Christians grow angry and are constantly telling the guard that they are imagining things–that it isn’t the enemy they see. This never fails to befuddle me.

The guard has absolutely nothing to gain by calling out a false teacher and–in this current church culture–they have everything to lose. If they are brave enough to speak up to protect the church, then we’d better take heed and listen.

3.War Isn’t Pretty. As this man described some of the things that happened and the experiences he faced (and I know he gave us the “G” version, as a full description of the horrendous and awful sights he saw wouldn’t have been appropriate in a church service), I cringed. I couldn’t even imagine facing anything like this. One of the reasons for this is because I like my world comfortable and well-ordered and without conflict. Thank you very much.

But war isn’t pretty. It’s dirty. It’s violent. It’s chaotic. It’s terrifying. People get hurt and die. And you know what? Spiritual battles aren’t pretty, either. Gossip flies. Character assassinations occur. Reputations are ruined by false accusations. Christians languish in prisons and sometimes die cruel, horrible deaths. We need to stop expecting this life to be roses and lollipops. Standing up for Christ is not for the faint-of-heart.

4. Don’t Fight With Your Comrades. And, finally, he talked about how important it was that the company be unified. As I thought about this in relation to our spiritual battle, I thought about something that I started to really put in place in my life a while ago now. As a young person, I tended to argue a lot. I’d make big deals out of things that just weren’t. Somewhere in the last twenty years or so, I have learned a very important lesson: Never argue or debate anything that is not in scripture. If it won’t matter in 100 years, it is not worth an argument. Now, this can be tough–especially at home. I don’t do it perfectly (just ask my family!) but I am working on it.

You see, sometimes disagreements and divisions must occur, but only because there is an effort to compromise the Word of God. We can and we must make a big deal out of standing for what scripture teaches. But we can and we most certainly must let the other things go. If we are to gain the respect of those around us, we can’t argue and criticize and judge just because. Only a stand for the Bible and what it teaches is worth a real argument. And if we are lovingly agreeable on most occasions, then when these things come up that compromise scripture and we lovingly disagree, we will have the respect of those around us, even if they don’t like what we are saying. We must endeavor to keep the unity among believers as much as it is up to us! (Romans 12:18)

I hope this has encouraged you today. Life can be so hard. Sometimes it is hard because we are living out the consequences of sinful choices. But sometimes–many times– it is hard because we are fighting this battle against our enemy. If we are sharing the Gospel, if we are pointing out false teachers, if we are taking a stand for Christ and against worldliness, you can be guaranteed he does not like it! Let’s remember these four principles of battle and keep fighting on, bravely giving our all for the One who gave His all for us.

 

For So We Once Walked

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We once walked as the world walks. We were foolish, slaves to our passions and pleasures, and living an ungodly, worldly lifestyle. We were unrighteous, sexually immoral, and idolators. We passed our days in malice and envy and hate. This is how Paul describes those who are not in Christ (see passages below).

But then we were saved through God’s great mercy and loving-kindness! And everything changed! Everything!

You may say “Wait a minute. My neighbor isn’t saved but he is a really nice guy. He doesn’t sound anything like what Paul describes.” But we must remember that even our thought lives and secret sins are known to God. He knows why we do what we do. He knows where our thoughts turn when we are tempted. He knows if our kindness or peace-making are motivated by selfishness.

We are all wicked. There is no exception. No, not one. (Romans 3:11 & 23)

One of the things I have noticed as I have started to study scripture in a more in-depth way is its miraculous cohesiveness and consistency. How often I will read something in one book and then see the same thing reiterated in another. Sometimes by the same human author, but not always. Over and over, we see the same principles repeated.

These past few weeks as I have studied Titus 3, the phrase “But such were some of you” kept coming to mind but I just couldn’t remember where it was from. When I finally did some research, I found it in I Corinthians 6, where Paul lists those who will not inherit eternal life but then goes on to add “But such were some of you.Titus 3 says something similar where Paul puts it like this–“For we ourselves were once…” And then yesterday in church, our pastor read Ephesians 2 and, lo and behold, here was another passage emphasizing what we were and what we are now. Here we read, “…in which you once walked” .

Each of these passages has a similar theme. Paul first describes unbelievers and then goes on to say how we–you and me (and all who are saved)–once walked the same way. But now we no longer walk in this way. We are changed. We are transformed.

How has it happened?

I Corinthians 6 says it this way– “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

Titus 3 puts it this way–“But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,

And Paul writes it in Ephesians 2 like this–“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,

Each of these start with the word “but”. We were once lost in sin, but God! God reached out and saved us. It had nothing to do with our own righteousness or good works, but is solely because of God’s rich mercy, great love, grace, loving-kindness, and goodness.

These passages, as we study them together, hold four important lessons for us–

1. First, these passages teach us to truly appreciate our salvation. We so easily forget just how wicked we were before salvation. We start to think we were pretty good and it makes salvation seem like no big deal–particularly if we were saved as children or always lived a fairly moral lifestyle externally. But these passages remind us of what we really were in our core–wicked; selfish; dead in our sins. And this realization then fills our hearts with gratitude and joy that God loved us so much that He provided a way of salvation and eternal life. Oh, how much more we appreciate salvation when we remember the chains of sin that held us so tightly in hopeless despair!

2. Second, these passages teach and emphasize the significant differences between the lives of the unsaved and the saved. These three passages (and many others) consistently remind us that a life saved by Christ is a life lived in direct contrast to a life not saved by Christ. It is incredibly clear that salvation changes us. I understand that reflecting on this can be frightening when we think of some we know who claim to be a Christian while living in sin without conviction or repentance. But this is what the Bible teaches. Life before Christ looks nothing like life after Christ. While it is not our job to judge any individual’s salvation, it is certainly our job to teach this principle of a changed life when we talk to people about the Gospel. Clearly, throughout scripture, we find that true belief yields true change.

3. As we consider the first two lessons, we also learn (or perhaps are reminded) that the lost are not our enemies! As I read these passages, I was filled with real sorrow and tremendous grace for their terrible state. Dead in their sin, slaves to their flesh, and hopeless that anything will change. This was us! We were there. Can you remember that hopelessness? That feeling of being enslaved? Even though I was a child when I was saved, I have started to comprehend as an adult who I was without Christ–who I would be now without Him. This should fill us with such loving-kindness towards the lost. I am so saddened when I see people who call themselves Christians treat the unsaved with arrogance and judgment. This is never the proper response of any believer– in fact, it is exactly opposite of what Christ would do. We must follow God’s example of kindness, grace, and mercy as we share the Gospel and the truth of God’s Word. Perhaps this is one of our highest callings.

4. And, finally, these passages remind us that a saved soul is one prepared to do good works. We do not do good works to be saved, but instead do them because we are saved. This is what we are called to as believers (Matthew 5:16; Ephesians 2:10; Titus 3:8) So exactly what are good works? We have gotten a little confused in this world of politically correct “social justice”. Feeding the poor and digging wells are worthy causes (as long as the Gospel is being shared) but so, too, is visiting your elderly neighbor or babysitting for your friend who is a single parent. Cooking a meal for a hurting family or regular visits with a lonely widow are good works. We can do good works for God by being a godly example to those younger than us, by training and nurturing our children, teaching children about Jesus in Sunday School, praying for a missionary, or by writing notes of gratitude and encouragement. How important it is that we don’t narrow our definition of good works down to what is politically correct in the church in this particular era.

I am sure there are many more lessons we can learn from these passages. These are just four that really struck me as I studied. Studying the Word of God starts to open our eyes to the reality that much of what is being preached in the name of Christ today is really not true Christianity. It is heart-breaking to even write that sentence, but, nonetheless, it is true. When we compare scripture to what is popular today, we can easily see that somewhere–sometime–biblical Christianity and popular evangelical Christianity started to part company. Let us not forget what the Bible teaches us about the saved and the unsaved. This is the only reliable resource for answers. No book, no article, no preacher, no author overrides the Bible. Ever.

 

Here are the full passages. Notice their similarities and differences–

Titus 3:3-7 For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

I Corinthians 6:9-11 Or do you not know that the unrighteous[a] will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality,[b] 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

Ephesians 2:1-10  And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body[a] and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.[b] But[c] God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

 

Learn to Discern: What Is Happening to the Evangelical Church?

Learn to Discern (with blog name)

As we learn to discern, we are forced to ask this question: What in the world is happening to the evangelical church? We have been watching men and women we have trusted form alliances with false teachers. Churches present secular rock music as entertainment during their worship services. Pastors have become much more concerned about growing the numbers of their congregation than growing deeper roots of faith in their flock. We have seen the church become zealous to help the poor, while completely negating and ignoring scripture’s clear commands for holiness and separation from the world. And, finally, we have watched the pulpit become a place to provide entertaining self-help speeches rather than the careful exposition of God’s Word. These aren’t all of the changes but these are certainly very tragic and important ones.

Wow.

Just writing all that makes me feel discouraged. But it is here. This is what the “Christian Church” has become. So what is going on? And how did we get here?

Many of you have enjoyed the guest post my brother, Pastor Dean, wrote on the Corruption of Christianity. A few weeks ago, I took the time to listen to the series that was the basis for this post. This was presented a couple of years ago and is an excellent overview to help us understand what exactly is going on and why. I believe you will find this series very much worth a few hours of your precious time.

Here are the links for the entire series–

What Is Happening to the Evangelical Church (Part 1)

What Is Happening to the Evangelical Church (Part 2)

What Is Happening to the Evangelical Church (Part 3)

What Is Happening to the Evangelical Church (Part 4)

What Is Happening to the Evangelical Church (Part 5)

What Is Happening to the Evangelical Church (Part 6)

What Is Happening to the Evangelical Church (Part 7)

 

If you have enjoyed this series and would like to hear more of Pastor Dean’s sermons, you will find all of them here.

 

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

Learn to Discern: Reawakening the Conscience

Learn to Discern (with blog name)

So some of you are going to really hate today’s post. You may decide that I’m a little crazy and never read anything at Growing4Life again. But I’m willing to take that chance. Mostly because I have seen this all play out in my life and in the lives of others around me. I will share about that a bit further on in the post. But here is my premise–

When we fill our minds with worldly entertainment, we deaden our consciences.

Let me explain. Sometimes I wonder how so many who call themselves Christians cannot see what is going on within the church. How can they not understand how ravenous wolves–posing as sheep–are changing the very mission and vision of the church?? As I was thinking about this the other day, I realized that it’s because many of them have so deadened their consciences, that they aren’t even willing (or able?) to call sin sin. Not only can they not tell the difference between true and false, but they are starting to fudge and rationalize about the differences between right and wrong. And when we lose our ability to discern right from wrong, our ability to discern what is true from the false has already left us.

So you may be asking: How does worldly entertainment affect my discernment? I have an answer for that and any thinking person will have to admit these are true. Worldly entertainment changes us in the following ways–

1. It keeps us from our Bibles. While this may not be true 100% of the time, it is certainly often true. How many times have you heard someone say that don’t have time to read the Word but they will somehow have had time to watch TV?

2. It keeps us immersed in the goings-on of the world. When we think of worldly entertainment, we often think of the bad things, but I would submit to you that even the news and sports can steal our affections if we aren’t careful. While these things aren’t bad in and of themselves (most of the time), they will keep us immersed in the culture and, instead of separating from the world (as we are told to do in James 1:27 and James 4:4) we become fascinated by it.

3. It changes our values and hardens our hearts. I can’t tell you how many people have told me they can watch anything they want on TV because they know right from wrong and it doesn’t affect them. That they can listen to worldly music espousing sex, drugs, and alchohol because they aren’t going to ever do those things. Besides a stance like that begging the question why any believer would desire such entertainment (why would we–as a believer–want to fill our lives with the things God has clearly said He hates? Galatians 5:19-21), it also does have to be acknowledged that these things do change our values. They make us less sensitive to sin and harden our hearts.

4. It makes us more susceptible to needing the world’s approval. When we become immersed in the world the approval of the world can be all-consuming. When we love the world, we want to be loved by the world. But this, carried out to its fullest, will keep us from salvation. In John 12, this very thing happened, when we are told that some of the Pharisees believed but they so feared man’s opinion, rather than God, that they did nothing. John 12:43 simply puts it like this: for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God. When we fill our minds with the world, we become much less interested in truth and much more interested in popularity.

5. It keeps us from caring about what matters in life. Entertainment is meant to entertain. Its goal is to distract us from real life for a little while and give us some refreshment. It is not a bad thing in and of itself. But we have become so enthralled with being entertained that we are distracted from our real lives much of the time. With our smart phones, our tablets, and things like Netflix and Youtube, we are constantly entertained. Many of us can’t even stand in a line at a grocery store or sit at a booth in a restaurant without pulling out our phones. This has exponentially compounded our interest in the trivial, while eliminating interest in the serious stuff of life at the same time. How many Christians do you know who ever discuss God? Or heaven and hell? Or the Bible? When serious matters do arise, most arguments are based on popular opinion rather than the Word of God. I believe this is in much part due to our obsession with entertainment.

So why do I say this? What proof do I have? Let me share three different testimonies about this–

First, I want to share something my brother, Pastor Dean, has shared with me. Shortly after college, he made two decisions. He stopped watching football on Sunday afternoons and instead read the Word. And, second, he removed all rock music from his life (including Christian rock). He credits these two decisions with changing his life completely. He says it was like withdrawing from a drug (if you have ever tried to give up rock music, you will find that it is extremely addictive) but that it was a life-changing decision. These two decisions not only strengthened His walk with the Savior, but also deepened his love for the Word and his hatred for the world.

Second, I want to share my own testimony. Mine is a little more like one of those jagged lines that goes up and down and all over the place. While I have always been conscious that worldly entertainment has great potential for evil in my life, I have not always been as careful as I ought. And I have had stages in my life where it has drawn me into its snare. And let me say this: It does change me in all of the ways listed above. I have seen these things in my own life. I know it is true.

And, third, I want to share the testimonies of two of my children. Both have told me this at two separate times. But let me back up a bit. When my kids became teenagers, we loosened up our standards a bit. Oh, not near so much as most of their friends, but we didn’t want them to look like complete losers and not be aware of anything in the world and so we caved. At that time we allowed secular rock into our home, as long as it didn’t have “bad lyrics”. We regret that choice. Even if one song of a particular artist doesn’t have bad lyrics, the others probably do. And, to add to that, the artists’ lifestyles are rarely anything we want modeled. About five years ago or so, I just started pleading with God that my children would love righteousness and hate evil. And He has answered this prayer in incredible ways! One of those ways was that two of my children decided–on their own–to eliminate secular music from their lives. And both have told me (in two separate conversations, without the other one’s knowledge) what a difference this has made in their own discernment and spiritual walk with God.

You have to know this: What we fill our minds with does affect our discernment. But there is good news! We can reawaken our consciences! It is not too late. If we start eliminating or drastically reducing (in the case of things like news and sports) the world’s entertainment and filling our minds with the Word of God, we will find our consciences will get back to work, informing and enlightening us about not only what is right and wrong, but also about what is true and false.

Okay, so now I have given you several ways our conscience is affected by worldly entertainment and I have given you three real life examples of how this has happened. As you read, you probably found yourself in one of four places and I’d like to speak to all four.

First, you may be one of those who doesn’t really have strong feelings about entertainment. You may like to watch a show or two, but you aren’t addicted. You may have a pop station on in your car but it’s just there. I would like to encourage you to continue to purify your life and to deepen your desire to please your Savior and to worry less about being “cool” in the eyes of the world.

Second, you may be one who is truly addicted to Netflix binges or your smartphone or to rock music. You realize you should change but you just don’t really want to. You enjoy your addiction and to change it now seems completely overwhelming. I want to suggest to you that you start praying that God would give you the desire to change. Or you may know you need to change and want to start now. Pray for strength and guidance. You cannot do this alone. God is faithful and He will answer these prayers!

Third, you may be someone who thinks I am completely crazy. This post makes you genuinely angry and you honestly believe that I am wrong. If you are one of these, then I ask you–beg you–to go to God’s Word to research what I am saying. Turn away from the viewpoints of popular authors or speakers and turn to the Word of God before you make your final determination.

And, fourth, you may agree with me. You may have witnessed this dynamic in your own life. (If that’s true, I’d love to hear your story. Please share by commenting below.) I would ask those of you in this group to share this unpopular message with your family and friends as the Lord gives you opportunity. So many of us Christians love the world. But this love is stunting our growth and keeping us from discerning. It is removing our effectiveness as a witness for Christ and it is making us so vulnerable to wolves who are invading the church in droves now. If you see this and you believe it, please don’t be afraid to say it. This is the time to be brave and speak up!

God bless you as you continue to learn to discern. Be in the Word, basing all your views on what you find there. And take all your concerns regarding the learning process to the Lord in prayer. He is so faithful and He will answer.

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

Learn to Discern: Philosophies in Opposition

Learn to Discern (with blog name)

Has anyone caught the very real differences between mainstream Christianity and biblical Christianity? They aren’t just different–they are in complete opposition to one another. This has happened so subtly and so gradually that many of us haven’t picked up on it.

For example, many years ago I read a novel. When I was through with it, I read the whole series. I loved every single book in that series! Since then, I have grown stronger in learning to discern. When I picked up this same book a year or two ago, I saw it for what it was–an engaging story that encouraged nice Christian ladies right on into mysticism.

But I didn’t see it the first time. I didn’t see it because I didn’t know the Word of God like I should and also because I had no idea how subtle and crafty Satan is in his all-out invasion of all things Christian.

As I have mentioned, I have learned a lot over the past twenty years or so. What I have learned is what I am trying to share here in this series. In a future post, I hope to provide definitions for some of the big words that are really changing the landscape of the church. But in today’s Learn to Discern installment, I’d like to take a look at the everyday philosophies that Mainstream Christianity is purporting and compare it to what the Bible teaches. If we can understand some of these basic things, we will be that much further along in our efforts to discern.

So here are some of the lies that are being taught by many in the mainstream church. Keep in mind that not all are teaching these and that it varies in churches. But these are things to look out for!

1. Mainstream says Find Your Purpose and Fulfill Your Dreams.

The Bible says to surrender everything to Jesus and live only for Him.

Matthew 10:28-29; Matthew 16:25; John 12:24-25; Philippians 3:7-10

2. Mainstream says that Unity is the Ultimate Goal.

The Bible says that truth is more important.

Matthew 10:34-35; Romans 16:17-18; I John 4:1-3; Galatians 1:8

3. Mainstream says that The Church’s Purpose is to Help the Poor.

The Bible tells us the church’s purpose is to teach the Word and share the Gospel.

Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 2:42; Titus 1:7-10

4. Mainstream says that We Need to Make the World a Better Place.

The Bible makes it clear that this world will never be a better place.

Matthew 24; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12; 2 Timothy 3:1-9

5. Mainstream says that We Need to Experience God in Order to Be Close to Him.

The Bible tells us that we grow closer to God by submitting to Him and obeying His Word.

John 14:15; John 15:10; Romans 6:16; James 4:7 ; I Peter 5:6; I John 2:3-6

6. Mainstream says that We Should Expect Special Revelation from God.

But the Bible teaches that it alone is sufficient for all we need.

Psalm 19:7-14; 2 Timothy 3:15-17; Jude 1:3

7. Mainstream says to Be Like the World.

The Bible tells us we are to separate ourselves from the world.

John 15:18-21; Romans 12:2; James 4:4; I John 2:15-17

8. Mainstream says We Must Learn to Love Ourselves.

The Bible tells us, as we already do love ourselves, we must learn to love others.

Matthew 22:39; Mark 12:31; Ephesians 5:29

9. Mainstream says that Christ’s Sacrifice Covers Everyone In the Whole World, No Matter Their Religion.

The Bible tells us that we must believe on Jesus to be saved.

John 3:16; John 3:36; John 14:6; Romans 10:9

10. Mainstream says YOU Are the Center of Your Religion.

The Bible teaches that it is God who is to be glorified.

Romans 11:36; I Corinthians 10:31; Philippians 2:9-11

Ten major philosophies in opposition. And this is not an exhaustive list. Now, of course, most pastors, authors, and song-writers are not coming right out and saying these things. Instead, they are carefully and cunningly using out-of-context Bible verses to craft these philosophies. They are preying on a people who do not know their Bibles and are even less informed about church history. The lack of understanding of these two things has left the church defenseless. Utterly defenseless.

And if we don’t know our Bibles, we can most certainly understand how easily it would be to be swayed. What they teach sounds great! Who wouldn’t want a religion that is all about them? That feeds their own lusts and desires and dreams, while still giving lip service to a Holy God and a fire insurance policy from eternal damnation?

The humanistic appeal of these philosophies–combined with the fact that there has been a major push to make these a part of the mainstream, evangelical church–is making them hard to resist. The popularity of these philosophies is due in much part to three powerful men (I can’t even bare to call them pastors): Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, and Andy Stanley. These three, more than any others, have totally changed the church from the inside out. So much so that now, when we turn our backs on these philosophies that are in opposition to God’s Word, we are viewed as divisive and narrow-minded and irrelevant.

But be not deceived! Truth and popularity are rarely used in the same sentence. I know that it is so much easier to follow the crowd. But this church situation–perhaps more than any I have ever seen before–is where the crowd is going to lead us right off a cliff. The church is moving closer and closer to being swallowed up by the coming one-world religion and the subtle, appealing, and extreme differences in philosophies are paving the way.

While we can’t control the crowd, we can keep ourselves informed. We can understand some of these basic philosophy differences (and as we learn what to look for, these things will start to show themselves everywhere you turn). And we can work to keep these philosophies from entering our own families and churches.

The level of deception is so great now that I can hardly believe it. In some form or another, many of these philosophies–under the leadership of unsuspecting pastors who truly want to do what’s right–have entered the doors of even the most conservative of churches. And they have entered many homes– under the watchful, albeit naive, eyes of parents who think they are helping and guiding their kids.

I’d like to conclude with a short and profound portion from John MacArthur’s commentary on the book of Titus regarding the dangers of false teaching–

One of the purposes for silencing false teachers was to remove the poison of their corrupt ideas and corrupt living, which threatened not only the spiritual life of believers themselves but also the very salvation of those to whom they witnessed.

Not only does the spiritual health of a believer hang in the balance with these false teachings running rampant, but the very salvation of those who would believe may also hang in the balance. While we recognize that it is God who draws and saves, it is also of value to consider how false teaching blinds the eyes and deafens the ears of so many.

It is my hope and prayer that, through these posts, at least a few will be awakened to the dangers and deception going on in the modern day church and that it will embolden us to teach our families and impassion our zeal to witness to the unsaved.

 

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