The                                              
Christian Pilgrim

 

Blog 2013




Index

The Do-it-Yourself Gospel

Falling Away Unto Perdition

Rejoice in the Lord

Church Disputes

Assuming Things

The Man of Sin

More than a Mere Decision

The Guidance of the Holy Spirit

The Biggest Problem in the Church Today

Marriage

Spiritual Growth

Attracting Youth

The Train Now Leaving



The Do-it-Yourself Gospel


What do you think if a preacher comes along and tells you something like, you need to “decide for Christ” or you need to “choose” Christ? Many of us think that, well, it is not exactly the way we would put it, but it is still preaching the gospel, so it is all right.

I have been thinking about this a lot recently, especially because over the last few months, I have been regularly attending such preaching. The more I have heard what these people have to say, and the more I think upon these things, the more I come to the conclusion that it is not just a different way of preaching the gospel at all, but it is a completely different message altogether, and needs to be exposed as such, not least because it leads people into a false sense of security.

The way it works is as follows: First of all, they say, we need to "choose" or "decide" to follow Christ. Many Christians mistake this call for the true call of the gospel, which is to repent and believe in Christ for salvation, but the preachers of this message mean no such thing. Repentance and salvation in someone other than ourselves, are alien concepts to them. All the preacher means by “deciding to follow Jesus,” is that we choose to follow Christ’s teachings. That is it. It is just a decision we make ourselves to stop following the teachings of the world any more and to follow the teachings of Christ instead, just as we may “decide” to follow the teachings of Buddha or Confucius or some other man. This “decision” involves no heart change, no repentance, no salvation in a Saviour.

Once we have “chosen” to follow Christ, we are immediately told that now we are a Christian, so consequently all our sins past, present and future, are instantly forgiven and we can relax. We do not need to think about sin any more, and should not let it bother us again. In fact it is a sin to think about sin at all from now on. We can now instead think positively, have a sense of self-worth and self-acceptance, and be confident about ourselves. This is nothing else but modern humanistic psychology dressed up in religious clothing, and it is the complete opposite of true Christianity, which should rather produce humility, meekness and self-abasement. No wonder the preachers of such a message appear so proud and self-confident.

If we really should not let sin bother us any more, then we get further and further away from seeing our real need of a Saviour. This message leads people away from the true gospel, not closer to it.

But it does not stop there. Now we have “chosen” to follow Christ, we must in future make sure that we “choose” to live by every one of His precepts, taking each one in turn. So, we must “choose” to stop lying and “decide” to tell the truth. We must “choose” to stop cheating people and “decide” to live honestly. etc. etc. Notice that everything is done by ourselves, there is no concept of our need of the Holy Spirit to perform these things in us at all. If the Holy Spirit is even mentioned by these preachers, it is merely as a sideline to give us some secondary gifts, such as joy in the heart, or maybe in some cases, exciting abilities to perform miracles. The primary function of the Holy Spirit, namely, to change us and make us able to keep the commandments in the first place, is completely ignored.

I have heard this message spoken of in this way: In the parable of the sower, some of the seed falls on stony ground. We therefore need to remove the stones to make good soil so the seed can grow good roots. The stones are described in the following passage:

"For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: All these evil things come from within, and defile the man." Mark 7:21-23.

We, according to this message, need to remove these "stones" ourselves first, then we can grow in Christ properly.

Apart from the fact that this was not Christ’s explanation of the parable, have you spotted the huge error in this false message yet? WE CANNOT DO IT!!!!!

We cannot remove these "stones," they are too heavy for us. Only God can. The whole point of Christianity is that we cannot do these things by ourselves, we need a Saviour to do it for us. The gospel is not that we should stop sinning by our own effort, because we cannot. The gospel is that we need the Lord to save us from our sins which we cannot get rid of ourselves, and then to work righteousness from within us by giving us a new heart. Only then can we serve the Lord, and not before.

By nature, we cannot "choose" anything, except sin. We must be born again:

"Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." John 3:3.

We need a new heart:

"Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die, O house of Israel?" Ezekiel 18:31.

This is something that we cannot do ourselves, it is the gift of God:

"A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them." Ezekiel 36:26,27.

So we need to repent and cry to God for mercy:

"Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord" Acts 3:19.

"God be merciful to me a sinner." Luke 18:13.

THIS is the gospel. It is a gospel of God's grace, not a gospel of self-help. With the true gospel, boasting is excluded:

"Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith." Romans 3:27.

If this false gospel of self-help was true, then when we get to heaven, we can always say that the difference between us being in heaven and our neighbour being in hell is that we "chose" Christ and our neighbour didn't. That is boasting, and so cannot be a true gospel.

We need to expose this false gospel of self-help and the proud perpetrators of it, and show how it is leading people further away from the true gospel and from seeing their real need of a Saviour. Every one of us ought to see our sin for what it is, and flee from the wrath to come by embracing our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ as the only Saviour from sin. Only then will boasting be excluded, when we realise that salvation is by grace alone.

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” Ephesians 2:8,9.



POSTSCRIPT: Shortly after writing this article, I met the caretaker of the church we had been attending. He told us that he had been a drug addict for ten years. During this time, he longed to be free from the addiction, and tried everything he could, but nothing could help him. Then, to cut a long story short, the Lord met with him. The Lord put a new heart within him and now he is a new creature, and is completely clean of his old habit.

Does this mean he will never fall back into it? Well, it would be a good idea for him to forsake his old friends and to stay close to the Lord by the diligent use of the outward means of grace, namely, the Word of God and prayer; but, with the Lord’s help, yes, he has really got the victory.

Have you ever wondered why God has created a world which has terribly addictive drugs such as cocaine and heroin in it? Don’t you think that it is cruel of a loving God to create such things? Many people think so, but here we have the answer. Just as the Exodus from Egypt, the animal sacrifices and the Jewish dietary laws were all physical pictures of spiritual realities, so hard drugs are in the world as a physical picture to show us the spiritual reality of our bondage to sin by nature, the impossibility of our being able to cleanse ourselves from it, and our need of the Lord alone to be able to save us. We are born in trespasses and sins, and conceived in iniquity:

And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins” Ephesians 2:1.

Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.” Psalm 51:5.

No matter what we do, we cannot get free from our bondage to our sin. We certainly cannot “choose” to stop at all, it is impossible! But once the Lord changes the heart, we are free indeed!

If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” John 8:36.

December 2013

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Falling Away Unto Perdition


Occasionally we come across what seem to be some very frightening verses in Scripture, such as:

For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace? For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Hebrews 10:26-31.

It appears at first glance that this text is teaching that true believers can fall from grace. After all, these people have “received the knowledge of the truth,” and were “sanctified” by “the blood of the covenant.” Surely these are true believers, aren’t they? Yet the passage states that they will go to “judgment and fiery indignation,” i.e. hell fire.

Well, we ought to understand at the outset that nothing can separate the truly born-again believer from the love of God:

For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38,39.

And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.” John 10:28,29.

I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” Hebrews 13:5.

In the light of these comforting scriptures, which pertain to all those who have had a new heart put within them and are truly born-again of the Spirit of God, how do we explain texts which seemingly talk about believers falling away?

The answer is that we should look closer at the text, and we will soon see clearly that this is not what they are saying at all. In the above passage, we see that one can receive “the knowledge of the truth” and fall away. Of course this is speaking of those who have only heard the truth of the gospel outwardly, without it changing their heart. But what about being “sanctified” by “the blood of the covenant”? The word “sanctified” means to be “set apart.” It still does not refer here to being born-again, although those who are born-again have been “set apart” in a special way. But in another sense, church-goers who have not been regenerated at all, have at least been “set apart,” or “sanctified” outwardly, in that they have the name “Christian” attached to them, albeit they have never truly had a changed heart. Similarly, the children of believers (or even where only one parent is a believer) are also “set apart” and called “holy”:

For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.” 1 Corinthians 7:14.

This is actually a proof text for baptising children, but even paedobaptists would not argue that this means that all children of believers are born-again. They are simply “set apart” in an outward manner as “Christians,” just as the Israelites in the Old Testament were “set apart” as the people of God, yet not all of them by any means were true believers, but rather, most of them were overthrown in the wilderness:

Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and did all eat the same spiritual meat; and did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ. But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness.” 1 Corinthians 10:1-5.

So, similarly, the people mentioned in Hebrews 10:26-31, are “sanctified” in the sense of outwardly professing the true religion, but they are not truly born-again. Note that the writer goes on to explain that what he is talking about here does not apply to truly born-again believers:

But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul.” Hebrews 10:39.

A similar passage exists in chapter 6 of Hebrews:

For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.” Hebrews 6:4-6.

Such people here have “tasted the heavenly gift,” were “made partakers of the Holy Ghost,” and have “tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come.” Surely they are true believers? No. They fall away. None of these things accompany salvation:

But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak.” Hebrews 6:9.

Peter also mentions this subject:

"For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them. But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire." 2 Peter 2:22-24.

Here, they "escape the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord," and they "have known the way of righteousness," but again, they have never had a new heart put within them.

Also, we cannot help thinking of what Christ Himself said:

Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” Matthew 7:21-23.

One can even prophesy, cast out devils and do many wonderful works in Christ’s name – as Judas Iscariot did – and still not be a true believer.

"When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none. Then he saith, I will return into my house from whence I came out; and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there:and the last state of that man is worse than the first. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation." Matthew 12:43-45.

In this parable of Christ’s, the man's house is "empty, swept and garnished." He appears outwardly to have been converted to the true religion, and to be living a clean life, because the unclean spirit has gone. But he hasn't been born-again. The Holy Spirit has not replaced the unclean spirit, consequently there is no real fruit produced in him at all. This eventually shews itself by his falling away, and ending up in a worse state than before.

Indeed the Scriptures solemnly teach that all such persons who fall away from the truth, will eventually find themselves in a far worse position than they were before – even ending up in a state that cannot be repented from – unless of course they see the problem early enough and repent in time. To profess, or appear to be a real Christian, when in reality we are an hypocrite, is therefore a very dangerous state to be in, as it can lead eventually to committing the unforgivable sin, of which, if we know a person has committed it, the Lord says that we should not even pray for them:

"And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come. Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt: for the tree is known by his fruit." Matthew 12:32,33.

If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it. All unrighteousness is sin: and there is a sin not unto death.” 1 John 5:16,17.

So, let us make sure our hearts are not hardened like Pharaoh's, or Esau's:

"Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled; Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright. For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears." Hebrews 12:15-17.

Such like passages are a warning to all of us. We MUST be born-again to escape the wrath to come:

Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” John 3:3.

I have sadly, recently, come across some real, genuine Christians who argue that because they continue to sin (which all of us do, even after receiving the new heart), they really think that these passages apply to them. This is exacerbated by the fact that the phrase “keep on sinning” occurs in modern versions of the Bible in place of “sin wilfully.”

They have also probably come across other verses in Scripture, particularly in 1 John, which teach that the believer “cannot sin,” and they become confused when they know full well that they still do sin:

Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him.” 1 John 3:6.

Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.” 1 John 3:9.

We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not.” 1 John 5:18.

But we must remember that John had already said earlier in his epistle:

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” 1 John 1:8.

So, when John says that the true believer “cannot sin,” he is not teaching that all believers are sinless. Yes, we do sin, indeed we sin continually and cannot and will not be able to get rid of it all our lives. So these Christians I mentioned, have a serious concern with passages which speak of a falling away.

The difference we need to make is between “wilful sin” and being “overtaken by sin.” The true believer cannot wilfully, presumptuously sin. The Holy Spirit in his new heart prevents him from doing so. Now we have a new heart put within us, we hate sin, we want to flee from sin. When we do get overtaken by sin, which happens all too frequently, it grieves us, it bothers us, and we hate ourselves more and more for doing it. We truly and properly sin, and we should be ashamed and sorry for it, but it is not wilful sin.

In the Old Testament, “wilful,” or “presumptuous” sin was punishable by death only. The animal sacrifices, which otherwise symbolised cleansing from sin, were of no avail for such people. God set up the sacrificial system only to cater for what the Bible terms “sins of ignorance” as opposed to “presumptuous” sins:

But if a man come presumptuously upon his neighbour, to slay him with guile; thou shalt take him from mine altar, that he may die.” Exodus 21:14.

Ye shall have one law for him that sinneth through ignorance, both for him that is born among the children of Israel, and for the stranger that sojourneth among them. But the soul that doeth ought presumptuously, whether he be born in the land, or a stranger, the same reproacheth the Lord; and that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Because he hath despised the word of the Lord, and hath broken his commandment, that soul shall utterly be cut off; his iniquity shall be upon him.” Numbers 15:29-31.

So I spake unto you; and ye would not hear, but rebelled against the commandment of the Lord, and went presumptuously up into the hill.” Deuteronomy 1:43.

And the man that will do presumptuously, and will not hearken unto the priest that standeth to minister there before the Lord thy God, or unto the judge, even that man shall die: and thou shalt put away the evil from Israel. And all the people shall hear, and fear, and do no more presumptuously.” Deuteronomy 17:12-13.

When a prophet speaketh in the name of the Lord, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him.” Deuteronomy 18:22.

Truly born-again believers cannot sin presumptuously, or wilfully:

Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.” 1 Corinthians 12:3.

Those with the Spirit of God truly in their hearts, cannot bring themselves to say “Jesus is accursed.” They just cannot do it, they would find it horrifying to even think of saying such a thing. The new heart within a true believer is horrified at the thought of any kind of sin. Unbelievers do not understand this. The main criticism of the Protestant doctrine of salvation by grace through faith, is the idea that if we Protestants think that we can be saved by grace, therefore, so the criticism goes, we can sin all we like and still get to heaven. To such a statement, we true believers say, “God forbid!” Our critics do not understand the concept of the new birth. If anyone has truly been born-again, they would be horrified at the very thought of wanting to carry on sinning. The new heart wants to please God, it wants to keep the law, it hates sin. Yes, we continue to sin, because we still have the old man very much alive within us, a fact which Satan takes full advantage of, but whenever we do sin, we fall into it, we are overtaken by it, we do not do it wilfully, and we hate ourselves for doing it:

Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.” Galatians 6:1.

What a blessing and comfort it is to know therefore that when true believers do fall into sin, if they confess their sins, they can be cleansed by the precious blood of Christ, and need not fear falling away:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 2:9.

Who can understand his errors? cleanse thou me from secret faults. Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me: then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression. Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer.” Psalm 19:12-14.

November 2013

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Rejoice in the Lord


There are many exhortations in Scripture to rejoice in the Lord, particularly such passages as:

Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you, to me indeed is not grievous, but for you it is safe”  Philippians 3:1.

Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice.” Philippians 3:4.

Rejoice evermore.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16.

However, most sermons I have heard on this subject (and there have been many) are very vague about why we should rejoice, and most end up being no more than a simple positive thinking exercise, telling us that we ought not to be negative, but rather accentuate the positive and be happy.

Such a sermon is of absolutely no use to anyone. By nature all of us are born in sin:

Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.” Psalm 51:5.

And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.” Ephesians 2:1-3.

As a result of this, nobody can ever have anything to truly rejoice about at all in this world:

Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.” Ecclesiastes 1:2.

If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.” 1 Corinthians 15:19.

For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.” James 4:14.

For any of us to have anything to rejoice in at all, we need to have an eternal hope, not just one for this world. Yet so many people all around us are quite happy here, living their cosy little lives. And when the Lord intervenes with a sore trial, such as a family death or what we term a "natural disaster," rather than turning to the Lord, they turn away from Him and hate Him even more:

And I also have given you cleanness of teeth in all your cities, and want of bread in all your places: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the Lord. And also I have withholden the rain from you, when there were yet three months to the harvest: and I caused it to rain upon one city, and caused it not to rain upon another city:one piece was rained upon, and the piece whereupon it rained not withered. So two or three cities wandered unto one city, to drink water; but they were not satisfied: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the Lord. I have smitten you with blasting and mildew: when your gardens and your vineyards and your fig trees and your olive trees increased, the palmerworm devoured them: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the Lord. I have sent among you the pestilence after the manner of Egypt: your young men have I slain with the sword, and have taken away your horses; and I have made the stink of your camps to come up unto your nostrils: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the Lord. I have overthrown some of you, as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and ye were as a firebrand plucked out of the burning: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the Lord. Therefore thus will I do unto thee, O Israel: and because I will do this unto thee, prepare to meet thy God, O Israel.” Amos 4:6-12.

It actually takes a lot of will power and positive thinking to turn away from God, but this is exactly what the world wants to do, and they would rather listen to sermons and encouragements to think positively about themselves, than messages telling them that they are sinners in need of a Saviour.

We cannot just try to whip up rejoicing outwardly, when there is no inner motive for doing so in our hearts. In the end it will not work, and, no matter how much of a show we are able to put on for others, we will fail in ourselves eventually. In order to truly rejoice, we need a sure, concrete reason for rejoicing, deep within our hearts and minds. And only true believers have this in the Lord.

The Bible mentions two sure reasons, which give true believers the motivation to rejoice continually. The first one is the knowledge of their own personal salvation:

Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.” Matthew 5:12.

Rejoice ye in that day, and leap for joy: for, behold, your reward is great in heaven: for in the like manner did their fathers unto the prophets.” Luke 6:23.

Notwithstanding in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven.” Luke 10:20.

Therefore did my heart rejoice, and my tongue was glad; moreover also my flesh shall rest in hope” Acts 2:26.

By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” Romans 5:2.

Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations.... Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory” 1 Peter 1:6,8.

But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.” 1 Peter 4:13.

Do you have the full assurance of hope in your heart, that you personally are saved to eternal life? Pray and pray again until you have this, because it is most certainly attainable, but only from the Lord.

And the work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever.” Isaiah 32:17.

That their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgement of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ” Colossians 2:2.

For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake.” 1 Thessalonians 1:5.

And we desire that every one of you do shew the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end” Hebrews 6:11.

Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.” Hebrews 10:22.

Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure:for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall” 2 Peter 1:10.

The second sure reason that the Bible gives the Christian for his rejoicing, is God's upholding all things in His providence.

There is a very popular (but false) teaching around which speaks of God being in control of some of the world, with Satan in control of the rest, both of them battling it out for overall control – although we who have read the Bible know that God wins in the end. This is a terribly wrong way of thinking. Let there be no mistake: God is in control of all things in His over-arching providence, yes, even over all the sins of men.

And the Lord said unto Satan, Behold, all that he hath is in thy power; only upon himself put not forth thine hand. So Satan went forth from the presence of the Lord.” Job 1:12.

And the Lord said unto Satan, Behold, he is in thine hand; but save his life.” Job 2:6.

Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain” Acts 2:23.

But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.” Genesis 50:20.

To begin to think of the fact that God is in control of all things, despite the trials we all go through and all the sin that is in the world, is another sure source for our rejoicing in Him:

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28.

So, Christian, for these reasons we can exercise the spiritual fruit of joy, which the world cannot have. Exhortations to rejoice in the Bible are so much more than merely an exercise in positive thinking, but rather they are there because true Christians have a sure hope of eternal life that can never be taken away from them. Hallelujah!

Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.” 2 Timothy 2:19.

October 2013

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Church Disputes

I was in a church last week, and after the service one of the elders started shouting and screaming at the minister for some reason. The minister, rather annoyingly, just stood there with a serene smile on his face, trying to keep calm in the face of all the people looking on. I got outside the church and someone, presumably this elder, had scrawled graffiti all over the notice board calling the minister “a devil.” Well, you don’t see that every day. But it got me thinking.

Nearly every church I have been involved with has at some time or other had some kind of dispute rumbling on. This is nothing new. What usually happens is that the powers that be in the church try to sweep the whole thing under the carpet and pretend outwardly that nothing is amiss, but that only makes things worse, and it festers under the surface without being healed, and so gets worse and not better.

Most often the dispute is not even a matter of theology. If it were, we could at least understand that:

For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you.” 1 Corinthians 11:19.

But rather, the dispute is usually a matter of some people objecting, rightly or wrongly, to a decision made by the leadership or decision-making body of the church.

Of course, in a church where everyone blindly follows the leadership, and are trained not to question them or think for themselves, no-one will ever detect a problem at all when one comes along. (Is this your church???). But the Westminster Confession of Faith is very helpful here when it says that:

All synods or councils, since the apostles’ times, whether general or particular, may err; and many have erred. Therefore they are not to be made the rule of faith, or practice; but to be used as a help in both.
Proof texts:
Ephesians 2:20 – ‘And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone
Acts 17:11 – ‘These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.’
1 Corinthians 2:5 – ‘That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.’
2 Corinthians 1:24 – ‘Not for that we have dominion over your faith, but are helpers of your joy: for by faith ye stand.
Isaiah 8:19-20 – ‘And when they shall say unto you, Seek unto them that have familiar spirits, and unto wizards that peep, and that mutter: should not a people seek unto their God? for the living to the dead? To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.’
Matthew 15:9 – ‘But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.’ 


                                                 –  Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 31, Paragraph 3.

Needless to say that the people who become leaders in the church are more often than not those that have a lust to be in control all the time. Indeed the people who object loudest to them, tend to be those who would rather want to be in control themselves. Having said that, in the past, even as a truly regenerate believer, I have been caught up in such disputes, especially when there is substance to the grievance in question. Maybe a good minister has been unjustly deposed by the powers that be. Maybe a bad minister has been put in charge of the congregation. Maybe the leadership as a whole have decide something dreadful, such as to allow practising, unrepentant homosexuals into high places in the church hierarchy. All these things, and many more, I have seen, and quite rightly I have had my soul vexed for the injustices involved:

For that righteous man dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds”  2 Peter 2:8

But whereas true believers should rightly hate wickedness wherever it is found:

Ye that love the LORD, hate evil”  Psalm 97:10

Do not I hate them, O LORD, that hate thee? and am not I grieved with those that rise up against thee? I hate them with perfect hatred: I count them mine enemies.”  Psalm 139:21,22.

Yet there is only so much we can lawfully do to stop it. Shouting and screaming at the minister, even if he is in the wrong, is not the Christian way. Most of the time, the decision-makers are far too powerful for us, and we need to simply walk away and leave the whole situation with the Lord:

Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.”  Romans 12:19.

On the one hand, we should indeed be sighing and crying over all the abominations that go on in this world in the visible church, because this is what the world thinks is Christianity (although we know it is not real Christianity at all):

And the LORD said unto him, Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and that cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof.”  Ezekiel 9:4.

On the other hand, we should not fret when the wicked are exalted in this life, in fact we should expect it:

Fret not thyself because of evildoers, neither be thou envious against the workers of iniquity. For they shall soon be cut down like the grass, and wither as the green herb. Trust in the LORD, and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed.”  Psalm 37:1-3.

I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay tree. Yet he passed away, and, lo, he was not: yea, I sought him, but he could not be found.”  Psalm 37:35,36.

Rather, we should realise that our true home is not in any visible organisation which calls itself a church in this world. We are free, free, free, from church politics. Hallelujah! Therefore we should not get unduly stressed or surprised by anything  that goes on here. Yes, ordinarily, we should join ourselves to a visible church if we can do so, and we should get actively involved, that is good:

Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.”  Hebrews 10:25.

But let us cut our emotional ties to such organisations. Our true home is in heaven, where Christ dwelleth:

If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.”  Colossians 3:1-3.

And no man is going to split that church!

But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel.”  Hebrews 12:22-24.

Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”  Matthew 6:19-21.

Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.”  John 14:1-3.

September 2013

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Assuming Things

It is amazing how much we blindly assume about the things of the Lord, only to be halted in our tracks many years later in our ongoing reading and understanding of Scripture, as we come to the realisation that we were wrong.

I was reading the following passage in John 13 the other day:

John 13:1-2,21-30 - “Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end. And supper being ended, the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simons son, to betray him.... When Jesus had thus said, he was troubled in spirit, and testified, and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me. Then the disciples looked one on another, doubting of whom he spake. Now there was leaning on Jesus bosom one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved. Simon Peter therefore beckoned to him, that he should ask who it should be of whom he spake. He then lying on Jesus' breast saith unto him, Lord, who is it? Jesus answered, He it is, to whom I shall give a sop, when I have dipped it. And when he had dipped the sop, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon. And after the sop Satan entered into him. Then said Jesus unto him, That thou doest, do quickly. Now no man at the table knew for what intent he spake this unto him. For some of them thought, because Judas had the bag, that Jesus had said unto him, Buy those things that we have need of against the feast; or, that he should give something to the poor. He then having received the sop went immediately out: and it was night.

I have always assumed in the past that this passage referred to the Last Supper. But after reading it the other day, I really don’t think it does at all. I need to show why I have come to this conclusion.

In the past I have seen the phrase “And supper being ended” in v. 2 and assumed it referred to what we commonly call “the Last Supper,” namely the supper which took place on the same night Jesus was betrayed (1 Corinthians 11:23) at which Christ instituted the Lord’s Supper. So, until now, I have always believed that Jesus washing the disciples’ feet, Jesus giving the sop to Judas and Judas leaving the meal early, all happened at the Last Supper. Now I do not believe they did at all. I believe this passage rather refers to the supper given by Simon the Leper in Bethany two days beforehand. If we just take John’s Gospel on its own, it is perfectly logical to come to this conclusion, as this is the only supper John ever refers to in the whole of his gospel, occuring in the narrative in the previous chapter, chapter 12.

In Matthew 26:6-13 and Mark 14:3-11 we have parallel passages, which state that two days before the Passover, Jesus, His disciples, and Mary, Martha and Lazarus all had a meal together in the house of Simon the Leper in Bethany, during the course of which, amongst other things, Mary took a pound of very costly ointment and anointed Jesus with it.

A similar event happened in Luke 7:36-50, but I don’t think that was the same incident. It occurs a lot earlier in the narrative. An unnamed woman who was a sinner anointed Christ’s feet with ointment, but there is no mention of the cost of the ointment and no mention of any complaint about it either. The whole thing occurred in a Pharisees house, who is later named as Simon, and who complained of Jesus allowing this notorious “sinner” to touch Him. Now, this incident could well have the same players - the woman who was a sinner could have been Mary, and Simon the Pharisee could be the same as Simon the Leper, but I suggest it is really an earlier incident because the differences are too great.

Now, In John 12:2-11 we have the meal in Simon the Leper’s house described again. It mentions in v.1 that “Jesus six days before the Passover, came to Bethany” and in v.12 that the triumphal entry into Jerusalem took place “on the next day.” The narrative of the meal is sandwiched between these verses, but I do not think it unreasonable to believe that the meal actually took place two days before the Passover (as stated in Matthew and Mark’s accounts), as the day of the meal itself is not actually mentioned in the passage in John 12. We just know that it took place at some point during the six days Jesus was staying in Bethany, that’s all.

There is a lot of teaching from Christ in the rest of chapter 12, then we come to chapter 13 v.2, where we see the words “And supper being ended.” In the past I have wrongly attributed this statement to the Last Supper, but I really believe now that this refers to the same meal as described in chapter 12, namely the meal two days before the Passover in the house of Simon the Leper.

My reasons for coming to this conclusion include:
(1.) It states (13:1) that this meal occurred “before the feast of the Passover.
(2.) After Jesus gave Judas the sop, the disciples thought that Jesus was asking him to (13:29) “buy those things that we have need of against the feast,” i.e. the Passover, which was still two days away.
(3.) Significantly, there is no mention at all here (or indeed anywhere in John’s gospel) of the institution of the Lord’s Supper.
(4.) In v.33 Christ says "Yet a little while I am with you." Now, this could mean an hour or so (which it would be if it was said at the Last Supper), but I would think rather that such a short time would not really be spoken of as "a little while," as His departure would rather be thought of as imminent. It is far more suitable to use the phrase "a little while" to refer to two days.
(5.) Christ predicting Peter's denial is in all four gospels. In Matthew, Mark and Luke it was indeed said at the Last Supper, but notice that in all of these cases Christ stated that it would happen "this night" (Matthew 26:34), "this day, even in this night" (Mark 14:30) and "this day" (Luke 22:34). Here, in John 13:38, it is significant that no time is mentioned. In other words, Christ actually prophesied Peter's denial twice, once here, two days before it took place, and again at the Last Supper.

Judas left the supper in Simon’s house early, but he stayed all the way throughout the Last Supper – there is no mention at all of him leaving that supper early, in either Matthew, Mark or Luke’s account.

The reasons he left this particular supper early were that:
(1.) In John 12:4-6 he complains at the “waste” of ointment and would rather it have been sold and given to the poor (although he really wanted to steal the money).  
(2.) In John 13:2, we see that the devil was at work: “And supper being ended, the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him.”
(3.) The last straw was that Jesus pointed him out as the betrayer by giving him the sop: “And after the sop, Satan entered into him” (13:27). “He then having received the sop went immediately out” (13:30). There is no record in any of the other gospels of such an incident at the Last Supper. At that supper, Judas was never pointed out individually in this way at all. The nearest we get is Matthew 26:25: “Then Judas, which betrayed him, answered and said, Master, is it I? He said unto him, Thou hast said.”

So, at the Last Supper, Christ never pointed Judas out specifically, and neither is there any record of Judas leaving that supper before the end. I suggest that Judas sang the hymn with all the other disciples (Matthew 26:30; Mark 14:26), left with them all to go to the Mount of Olives, and whilst Christ was in Gethsemane praying, Judas then slipped away from the others in order to gather the multitude from the chief priests, scribes and elders to come and arrest Him.

I am thoroughly convinced of the fact that this narrative in John’s gospel does NOT refer to the Last Supper. Which means that Judas was present at the institution of the Lord’s Supper and partook of the elements:

And in the evening He cometh with the twelve” Mark 14:17.

“....and they all drank of it” (i.e. the cup). Mark 14:23.

Some churches want to believe that Judas left the Last Supper early, before the institution of the Lord’s Supper, in order to agree with their idea that only members – or at least people whom the elders have examined beforehand – should be allowed to partake of it, but we have proof here that Judas did not leave the Last Supper early at all, and Christ gave him the elements with full knowledge that he was about to betray Him and was not a true believer in his heart:

Jesus answered them, Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil.” John 6:70.

The Bible says “let a man examine himself” before partaking of the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:28), not “let the elders examine him.” A council of elders who cannot see our hearts should not be the final arbiter as to whether we should partake of the Lord’s Supper or not, rather our own individual consciences should be, always being fully aware that:

He that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.”  1 Corinthians 11:29.

We alone ourselves are then responsible for the consequences of our action.

Now then, why am I telling you all this? Well, for 35 years I have believed a lie. I have always assumed this passage in John 13 referred to the Last Supper, and it doesn’t. It did not help that during that time I received plenty of wrong teaching to this effect. Oh, how we should beware of our assumptions! As we grow in grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, we read more and more of the Scriptures, and we continually receive correction from them. It is so easy to assume something to be correct, when it really isn’t. We are continually growing in what we believe, and this should mean that we are continually changing, and, with the Lord’s help, maturing in the faith. This means that we should not be like the so many Christians who fill our churches these days, who stay the same all the time. They never change. They are happy in their cosy little churches, with their standard body of teaching, their comfortable social scene and their lack of insistence that we should all think through things for ourselves – none of them ever growing and maturing in the faith.

I am not saying we should be continually moving around churches all the time, nor am I saying we should stop going to church at all. But what I am saying is that we should all be changing, maturing, and ripening for glory. And if we are not, we have to ask ourselves, Why not?

August 2013

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The Man of Sin

2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 is an interesting passage:

“1Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him,
 2 That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand.
 3 Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition;
 4 Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.
 5 Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things?
 6 And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time.
 7 For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way.
 8 And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming:
 9 Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders,
 10 And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.
 11 And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie:
 12 That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.”  2 Thessalonians 2:1-12.

In this passage, Paul talks to the Thessalonians about the second coming of Christ and the gathering of the saints unto Him when He comes (v.1). He warns them to beware of false teachers who were teaching that the day of Christ was imminent (v.2).

In v.3, Paul tells them that this was not true because two things would have to happen before Christ would come again, namely, first, there shall come a falling away (an “apostasy”), then, second, the “man of sin” shall be revealed, whoever he is.

There are two completely different schools of thought in Evangelical circles as to who this “man of sin” is. One school would say that he is the pope, and the other school would say that he is a man who will come and deceive most of the world just before Christ comes again.

I have a problem with both these positions, although I can see that there is some truth in them. I really think that this warning Paul gives is far broader than actually identifying any single individual person in this way. We should be on the lookout for anyone who has the characteristics of this “man of sin,” not just looking out for one man in particular.

The apostle John also talks about a similar mysterious figure who he terms the “antichrist”:

Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time.” 1 John 2:18.

It is reasonably clear that John’s “antichrist” and Paul’s “man of sin” are the same.

Now, what are the characteristics of this person? Paul tells us in v.4 that he:

opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.”

John says that he:
(1) denies Jesus is the Christ.
(2) denies the Father and the Son.
and (3) confesses not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh:

Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son.” 1 John 2:22.

And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.” 1 John 4:3.

For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist.” 2 John 7.

Now, does this apply to the pope? Well, yes. He sits in the Roman Catholic church and is worshipped by millions as the vicar of Christ. He sits in the temple of God (i.e. the church) accepting from his followers the worship which should only be reserved for God. But surely, he does not deny Christ, does he? Well, yes he does. He denies the work of Christ on the cross, because he tells his followers that the way of salvation is through sacrificing Christ again and again in the Mass, whereas actually, Christ’s work was once for all:

We are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”  Hebrews 10:10.

This passage can of course also be directly applied to a hypothetical character who may come and deceive the world just before Christ comes again.

However, I don’t think we can stop there. John says that there are “many antichrists” (1 John 2:18) and that they are “even now already in the world” (1 John 4:3). Paul tells us that “the mystery of iniquity doth already work” (v.7). So I think we can conclude that wherever we see these characteristics appearing anywhere, whether in any one person or in any church or organisation, we can say that the “spirit of antichrist” (1 John 4:3) is in such a thing, and we need to be watchful for this and avoid it, wherever it may be found.

It is not just the pope in whom such a “spirit of antichrist” can be found. Protestant churches abound with such men and organisations. From the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who worship the organisation, to the tele-evangelists, who make millions from stupid people blindly following them, believing that they are some great prophet or apostle or man of God. All of these phenomena display the “spirit of antichrist” and should be avoided at all costs. We should NEVER follow men.

But we also see in the passage that there is a “withholding” for the present (v.6), “that he might be revealed in his time.” So it is clear that the man of sin that Paul was referring to, was not revealed in Paul’s day, and indeed would only be revealed “in his time,” i.e. at one point of time ordained by God in the future. In fact the man of sin is called “the mystery of iniquity” (v.7), the word “mystery” meaning something that is hidden for a time, and which is later revealed, such as “the mystery of the kingdom of God” (Mark 4:11), or “the mystery of the gospel” (Ephesians 6:9), or “the mystery of the faith” (1 Timothy 3:9).

Those who believe that the man of sin is the pope, will say that the entity which “withholdeth” was the Roman Empire, which, only after it was “taken out of the way” (v.7) did the pope rise to his enormous power base. Those who think that the man of sin is some future antichrist will say that the entity which “withholdeth” is the Holy Spirit, who will be “taken out of the way” when the church is raptured, so the antichrist can rise. Both of these theories I completely disagree with. Whatever is “taken out of the way” does not “reveal” the man of sin at all. It only makes way for his rising to power.

We have two separate things here: the “coming” of the man of sin and the “revealing” of him. When the Roman Empire fell, the pope was not “revealed” as the man of sin at all. Rather it was the event in providence after which he rose to great power in the church, deceiving most of Christendom for many centuries, before Martin Luther began to “reveal” his true nature. Similarly, there is a world of difference between a future antichrist “coming” to power and deceiving many, and it finally being “revealed” that this person is indeed the man of sin mentioned here. In either case, the whole point is that people are deceived into thinking that the man of sin, whoever he is, is not a man of sin at all, but some great Christian leader, and only when the falsehood is “revealed” as a falsehood and his cover is blown, is the game over for him.

Therefore my opinion is that in v.6, “what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time” is the Lord’s providence (vv.11,12). The Lord has a time set when all those with the characteristics of the man of sin, the “spirit of antichrist” – whether the pope, an antichrist at the end of time or anyone else with these characteristics – will eventually be revealed as a man of sin. Before such time, they will continue to deceive. In v.7, “he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way” is Satan (vv.9,10). We cannot speak of the Lord in a passive tense. The Lord may take himself out of the way, but he cannot “be taken out of the way,” as there is no power greater than Himself to do this. Therefore this verse must refer to Satan, in the same way as when David numbered the children of Israel, it is said that:

The anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he moved David against them to say, Go, number Israel and Judah.” 2 Samuel 24:1.

But also it is said that:

Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel.”  1 Chronicles 21:1.

Satan only works under the Lord’s providential control.

The very last thing Satan wants is for the man of sin, whoever he is, to be “revealed.” He would rather want him to be hidden, so that he may deceive many people by him.

So it is very important that we separate the “coming” of the man of sin from his “revealing.” His coming is in deception:

whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, and with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” (vv.9-12).

The man of sin is only “revealed” as the man of sin when the deceit is exposed.

Throughout the centuries, “many antichrists” shall arise and deceive many (1 John 2:18). Only a few true believers will actually recognise this “spirit of antichrist” namely those who are close to the Lord and have the spiritual gift of “discerning of spirits” (1 Corinthians 12:10). However, antichrists will come and go, and as the Lord in His providence removes the “withholding” they will be “revealed” to most people as men of sin, and their time of deceitful influence will come to an end. Ultimately, all these deceitful men of sin will be finally “revealed” and fully exposed when Christ comes again:

Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.”  1 Corinthians 3:13.

This will particularly be the case with an antichrist who comes at the end of time:

And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming.” (v.8).

So, we therefore need to look out for the “spirit of antichrist” wherever it may be found, and keep close to the Lord in all circumstances, because this spirit of deceit “doth already work” (v.7) in the church, and is deceiving many right now.

Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is.”  Mark 13:33.

July 2013

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More than a Mere Decision

I was surfing the internet the other day and came across what seemed on the face of it to be a good sermon. The subject matter caught my attention: Why has wordliness come into the church? The preacher was very sober and clear in his preaching, and it seemed like a very good sermon to listen to, so I did.

He gave two reasons why the world has infiltrated the church in his mind:

(1) Once people have become a Christian, their sins have been forgiven, so they believe that they do not need the law any more, and therefore can live how they like.

(2) The doctrine of "once saved, always saved" leads to the same thing.

With regards the first part, I agreed with most of what he had to say. Antinomianism – the belief that we no longer need the law now – is rife in the churches. People do not seem to realise that whereas we are indeed saved by grace and not by the works of the law, this does not mean that the law is no longer necessary. The law is necessary to show us what pleases God, and guides us as to how we should then live, not as a means of salvation – it was never that anyway – but as to how we should live in gratitude for what the Lord has done for us.

With regards the second part of the sermon, it became abundantly clear that the preacher was way off-beam. He denounced the doctrine of predestination, and the idea that once a person is saved, he can never be lost. Of course his view goes completely against Scripture:

"And this is the Father's will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day." John 6:39.

"And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand." John 10:28,29.

"For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified."  Romans 8:29,30.

It is impossible to be "un-born again." The true believer realises this, and it is a great comfort to him after he has sinned the thousandth time, to know that the Lord hath said:

"I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee." Hebrews 13:5.

But I can understand how unbelievers – people who have never been born-again – can think that we can lose our salvation. It is because they have no concept of the new birth. They think that becoming a Christian is only ever a decision we make and nothing else. They do not understand that the true Christian is born-again, and had a new heart put within him, which is completely different from the old heart. This new heart wants to keep the law, it wants to love God, and it would be horrified of the very thought of thinking that we can want to live in sin any more:

What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.”  Romans 6:15.

The natural man, with no concept of this new heart, can only believe that Christianity is merely making a decision to follow Christ and that is all – just as some people make a conscious decision to follow Mohammed, or Buddha or some other great teacher. Consequently, they believe that one day we can decide to follow Jesus, and the next day, or month, or year, we can decide not to.


Modern-day Christianity is all like this. All you have to do is make a decision at a meeting and that is it, you are accepted as a true Christian, even though your heart has never been changed. No! The fact is we must be born again:

"Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again."  John 3:5-7.

So, how do we get "born-again"? Well, we do have to make a decision, that is true – a decision to repent of our sins and believe in Christ. But we must be absolutely genuine, or God will not hear us. We need to see our inability by nature to please God, and we should not stop praying to Him for the gifts of faith and repentance until He grants them to us. If we are totally genuine, we need not worry, God will hear us and give us the new heart we so desperately need. We will know when the Lord has heard our cry:

"If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new."  2 Corinthians 5:17.

"For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature."  Galatians 6:15.

So, the gospel is more than just merely telling people they need to repent and turn to Christ. It is that, but a bare decision on its own is not what the Lord requires. He needs us to be born again, He needs us to have a new heart:

"Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die, O house of Israel?" Ezekiel 18:31.

Of course we cannot make ourselves a new heart, it is impossible. But the Lord can give us one:

"A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh." Ezekiel 36:26.

So we must cry for mercy to Him, and we have the promise that:

"All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out." John 6:37.

The gospel needs to come to us not just in word only, with no consequent change of heart. Rather, it needs to come to us in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance:

For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance” 1 Thessalonians 1:5.

You will know when this has happened. Keep praying until it does!

And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:13.

June 2013

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The Guidance of the Holy Spirit

Not unlike today, the church in Corinth in Paul's day were dividing into factions:

"Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul." 1 Corinthians 1:10-13.

Our situation today however is far worse than that of Corinth. At least in Corinth there was still one visible Christian church:

"Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours..."  1 Corinthians 1:2.

In our day we have many visible churches, all of which have absolutely no connection with each other. And one can begin to understand why. After having been to several of them over the last few years, it is obvious that they are separate because they just cannot work together. Each of them have their own cosy way of doing things, and nothing and no-one can change them (humanly speaking, of course).

What a terrible situation! How can the Christian church be effective in its witness to the world if this is the case? We should never cease to be amazed at how genuine, true believers – who are collectively the one body of Christ – can become, over time since their conversion, so different from one another, all of them believing that they are growing in the faith, and that the others are not.

We all know that there are hypocrites in the church, i.e. people (a lot of them in high places) who have never been born again, have never had a new heart put within them, and who therefore are not the Lord's true people. Christ warns us of these:

"Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity." Matthew 7:21-23.

But we have gone far beyond the right understanding of this phenomenon, and decided for ourselves that many who are truly born-again are really not, and we exclude them, or at least marginalise them, from our fellowships because they are not like us. Five-point Calvinist churches think they are so superior to all the others and look down on the rest for their inferior understanding of theology. Pentecostal churches look down on all the rest because they don't speak in tongues, and so cannot possibly have been filled with the Holy Spirit. Brethren assemblies think they are so superior because they alone have the New Testament outward pattern for the church. All these profess to be Christian, and indeed can be mainly populated by true, genuine believers, but their vision of the body of Christ is so limited. How can their attitude ever be called a Christian one?

Yes, we are talking about real, true believers that can so easily get caught up in such things. We are not speaking here of the hypocrites who we will always have with us. Paul found this problem:

"But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision. And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation."  Galatians 2:11-13.

A false teaching was coming in, and even the apostles were succumbing to it. James was totally convinced of it, because these false teachers "came from James." Barnabas was "carried away with their dissimulation" for a time. And even Peter "was to be blamed." How can this be? Surely true believers – especially apostles – have the Holy Spirit within them to lead them into all truth:

"Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come."  John 16:13.

The above passage is often thought of as referring to all believers, but it was only actually spoken by Christ to the apostles, and only refers to them. But even so, this did not stop even Peter and James, who were apostles, still being led astray for a time by false doctrine.

"But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him."  1 John 2:27.

This verse does apply to all believers, and so we see that all of us should be able to discern the truth clearly to some degree, because we all have the Holy Spirit within us to guide us. But we still see so many true believers being led astray by what they are convinced is the Holy Spirit, yet it is not.

I know an old lady who doesn't believe in hell, yet if you challenge her, she will say "the Holy Spirit has told me this." How can we argue against that! I saw a lady on TV once say, "I really felt the Holy Spirit moving in the studio when that music was played." The tune referred to was an instrumental with no words. Yet we are clearly told in Scripture, with regards the Holy Spirit:

"And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment"  John 16:8.

A tune with no words can never reprove the world of anything.

I have no reason to suspect that either of these ladies is not born-again, I cannot presume that. In other respects they are good Christians, but in the end, we find it very difficult, if not impossible, to work with such people because of their completely different understanding of how they have been guided by the Holy Spirit.

Oftentimes we true believers can be led into by-path meadow. Of course the Lord allows this for a time to teach us things – no experience is useless in the life of a Christian. But we should be aware of how easy it is even for mature Christians to be led astray. We need constantly to keep close to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, who uses the Word of God as His main instrument, and make doubly sure we are not being led astray by other things – our own feelings, the teachings of a powerful, persuasive human being, and so on. In every decision we need to make, we should be so very careful that it is the Lord who is leading us, and not something or someone else.

Let us all stay close to Him and His Word, and not be led astray by anything. This involves true humility of mind.

"Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths." Proverbs 3:5,6.

May 2013

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The Biggest Problem in the Church Today

I have just had a very sad experience. Of course, everything is in the Lord's providence, and the situation we simply commit to the Lord, who knows exactly how to deal with it and what He is doing.

We have recently had some good conversations with some friends with regards the Lord, although they are not believers at all. At least they listened, and indeed began to take an interest in reading their Bible. In fact one day we had a Bible study, which was very simple, but they enjoyed it and wanted to know more. Everything seemed to be going well.

Anyway, last Lord's Day we suggested to them the idea of going to church, which they were very keen to do. Now, that's wonderful, isn't it. A profitable time spent with unbelievers, who became interested in spiritual things and reading the Bible. That doesn't happen very often! Usually, when one has to spend time with unbelievers, I at least usually get depressed because most of the time it is they who call the shots with regards the conversation, and when the subject comes around to religion, they usually change it back to the things of this world straight away!

So, anyway, we decided to find a church to go to in the city in which they lived (a place we were not familiar with). We knew to avoid anything liberal (where the basic doctrines of the Bible would be denied), and also to avoid anything which seemed remotely Charismatic (as such would be too interested in their supposed "signs and wonders" than in reading the Bible). Eventually we settled on an "Evangelical" church.

We were right in that it was not liberal or Charismatic, so that's a good thing. But the chatter before the service really put us off. No reverence before the service at all. When the service eventually started, it consisted of 45 minutes of worship (flogging three tunes to death!), followed by a 45 minute sermon from the pastor. Just before the sermon, the children left, so they had absolutely zero Bible content whilst they were in the main service. After they had left, I don't know what they were doing in the back room, but there was shouting and screaming throughout the sermon. It seemed as though they were playing games rather than having a proper "Sunday" school of any kind.

Well, humanly speaking, it was a disaster for our friends! Their only comment afterwards (which we had to heartily agree with) was that "the people were only there for the social life, and no-one seemed to take God seriously." These unbelievers saw precisely the problem with modern Evangelicalism straight away!! Now, why can't the modern Evangelicals see that? It seems they are completely blind to the problem, and do not know what a non-witness they are being to the truth.

Well, we are continuing to pray for our friends, thanking the Lord that they at least had the discernment to see when people are not taking the Lord seriously, and hoping that despite their experience in that church, they may become more interested in spiritual things regardless.

Friends, stick to the Bible and take it seriously. Yes, we have the problems of liberalism and Charismatic behaviour to contend with in the modern church scene, but I suggest that chatter, laughter, and not being serious about spiritual things is by far the most overwhelming problem in the Western church today

April 2013

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Marriage

Please, please don't be put off by the title of this article! In my experience, every time I have heard a sermon or message on the subject of marriage, it has always been given by a pastor or preacher who is married and who, outwardly at least, seems to have such an idyllic, obedient, perfect family. Indeed, most pastors believe that this is a witness in itself, and completely possible for the real Christian to attain unto if he works hard enough at it. But, I have to disagree. Single people, and those in dysfunctional marriage situations, keep reading!

All I have ever heard from such preachers is a very light sermon on how nice, cosy married families (like the pastor's) should love and forgive each other, and that's just about all there is in the message. Now, of course we should love and forgive each other, I agree, but the problem I have is that people in this fallen world do not live in the ideal situation the pastor assumes. How are they actually supposed to cope in real situations? This is what we need to know.

For example, single people are told, "When you choose your life partner, make sure they are in the Lord." Well, yes, the Bible does teach that it is absolutely vital that true believers should only marry other true believers,

"Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?"  2 Corinthians 6:14.

I have no problem with the instruction as such, but what about this part: "When you choose...." As if anyone has a choice out of several or even many! This sort of language is an example of not living in the real world.

Also, singletons, how many times have you heard the pastor say something like, "Some people have the gift of continence" - the implication being that such people can willingly remain single all their lives. Really? The fact is that there are so, so many single people out there who are longing for a life-partner, and know that they do not have such a "gift of continence" (if it exists at all!). What good is such instruction to them?

We need to get away from such idyllic nonsense and face reality.

One of the most common verses preached upon with regards the subject of marriage, is:

"And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him."  Genesis 2:18.

No wonder present day pastors are filled with idyllic nonsense! This verse applies to before the Fall! It does not apply to us today, yet it is still one of the most common verses preached upon with regards the subject of marriage!

Before the Fall, it was not good that man should be alone, so marriage was ordained and indeed commanded of God in those days. But not any more.

Similarly, we have instruction with regards our glorified bodies at the end of time:

"The children of this world marry, and are given in marriage: But they which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage: Neither can they die any more: for they are equal unto the angels; and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection."  Luke 20:34.

This seems to imply that a celibate life is of higher value than a married life, so some people in this world have taken this to mean that they should become monks, nuns or Roman Catholic priests, thinking, wrongly, that by doing this they are putting themselves in a higher, holier state than the riff-raff who gets married. But again, we cannot apply these verses to this present evil world - they only apply to our glorified bodies, where we will all be single. So Moonies and others who believe marriage is eternal are all wrong too. Marriage ends at death.

Actually, I have in the past been puzzled why the Lord allows people to marry again after the death of a spouse. I have known of several examples of people who have been married for a very long time, their spouse dies, then within a year they marry again. I used to think that the first spouse must be sitting in heaven fuming over this, shouting, "You told me you'd love me for ever!" Of course the fact that the Lord allows remarriage after the death of the spouse proves that in heaven, we will be totally free from any of these emotional entanglements that so easily beset us in this life.

So, if we cannot use the above verses to speak on marriage in this fallen world, what Scriptures can we turn to? Well, in the Old Testament, we have Moses. And what did Moses give us? Divorce. Christ tells us:

"Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so."  Matthew 19:8.

So we see that because of the hardness of our hearts, which came about upon all of us as a result of the Fall, the possibility of divorce has entered in.

There is a big split in the church on the subject of divorce and remarriage. I have met people on both sides of the argument. I remember meeting one person who seemed to bring up the subject all the time, arguing vehemently in favour of divorce and remarriage. I found out later - guess what - he was married to a divorcee! Someone who has such an emotional attachment cannot think rationally. I have also met people who are just as vehement against divorce and remarriage, and I can't help wondering if their marriages have had some incident in them which brings them to be so vehement in holding this conclusion (with this position, one spouse can commit adultery and the other is bound to have them back!). There are also other people who just blindly follow their denomination's position on the subject, of course.

This brings us to the New Testament. Which two New Testament characters give us all the information we need on marriage? Paul and The Lord Himself. Note that both were single, with no emotional attachment to anyone (God forbid we should speak of the Lord in that manner). So, married people, don't dismiss single people who try to help you. Don't ever think to yourself, "Single people, what do they know about marriage!" A lot actually, as they would be able to see things far more rationally than you can, whoever you are who are emotionally involved in a situation.

The most comprehensive chapter in the New Testament on marriage as it pertains to this present, fallen, evil world is 1 Corinthians 7. It would be a good idea to study this passage very carefully, whoever you are, because there is just as much instruction for single people there as for married people. I here only really skim the surface and bring out the salient points.

"Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman. Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband."

Here we see that singleness and marriage are completely equal in status in this fallen world. It is good to be single, whereas before the fall it was not good. But to avoid fornication, marriage of one man to one woman (and no other combination) for life is also good, if a partner should come along in the Lord's providence.

"Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife unto the husband. The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife. Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency."

Here we are, married people, instructions about how to contain and control yourselves within marriage. All good wholesome instruction.

"But I speak this by permission, and not of commandment. For I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that. I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I. But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn."

This seems to imply that singleness is a better state than marriage, but this is not so. Paul is stressing that every man has his proper gift from God. Unmarried people, it is better off for you to stay unmarried because of the present distress (i.e. this fallen, evil world). Paul expounds this more later. But if you have a partner and cannot contain, there is no advantage in staying single in such an instance. Your lack of being able to contain will get in the way of the work the Lord has for you to do. Get married and give each other their due benevolence.

"And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife. But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away. And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy. But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace. For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?"

Here we have vital instructions for those who are in a marriage where one partner is a true believer and the other is not. This would never have happened before the Fall, it is a peculiar situation pertaining to a fallen world. This situation may have come about by various means. Of course, we are taught to only marry in the Lord, but we cannot see the heart, and people will make mistakes. Many will get involved with someone who is an unbeliever and think they can convert them by preaching the gospel to them. It doesn't work. Others will genuinely think their partner is born again, because they are zealous in the church and so on, only to find out later, after they have married, that their seemingly zealous partner gives up going to church altogether. Friends, I have seen these things happen in the church. Please don't get so emotionally involved that you cannot see rationally and not be able to get out before it is too late.

But of course the most common way we end up in unequally yolked marriages is if two people got married whilst they were unbelievers, and subsequently one is converted. What to do in such a circumstance? Here we have the answer. Continue in the marriage. Let your light so shine before your partner that he or she may come to a true knowledge of Christ for themselves. Of course, only God can convert the heart, but you could very well be the instrument He uses. But if the unbeliever cannot stand living with a Christian and leaves and wants a divorce, then let them go. This is where divorce for wilful desertion comes from, but note it is only the unbeliever who can do this, the believer's responsibility is to keep the marriage going if at all possible, so that in the divorce the believer will come out as the innocent party. Of course, if your unbelieving partner goes on to commit adultery, the believer is then free to sue out a divorce themselves anyway, as other Scriptures teach.

It is also possible to extend this example a little. What about marriages where one partner is more zealous for the Lord than the other? Surely this is a very common situation, in fact every marriage is included here! Again, this situation would never have existed before the Fall, but in a fallen world, everything is dysfunctional, including every marriage to a greater or lesser extent. So that pastor, who had an outwardly idyllic marriage and family, who gives you such sweet sermons on what an ideal marriage you can have if only you listen to him; even he has something dysfunctional about his situation. We do not know what goes on behind the manse doors after all the congregation have left and the cheesy grins have been discarded.

"But as God hath distributed to every man, as the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk. And so ordain I in all churches. Is any man called being circumcised? let him not become uncircumcised. Is any called in uncircumcision? let him not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God. Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called. Art thou called being a servant? care not for it: but if thou mayest be made free, use it rather. For he that is called in the Lord, being a servant, is the Lord's freeman: likewise also he that is called, being free, is Christ's servant. Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men. Brethren, let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God."

When we are converted, we come from all sorts of different backgrounds. Some are servants, some free. Some are Jews, others Gentiles. Some are married, some single. Whatever position we are in, so long as it is a lawful calling, we are not to just give it all up now we have become a Christian. Of course, if we were in an unlawful calling before conversion, we must give it up. Maybe we were a prostitute, or worked in a betting shop. Yes, we would have to give all wicked suchlike things up, but every lawful calling we must carry on with, unless the Lord later on in our walk with Him calls us elsewhere. This is important. So many people, upon becoming a Christian, give up their "secular" jobs to "go into full time Christian service." As if a "secular" job is second rate. No it is not. It is just the same with our marriages. Buddha was a wicked evil man. He dumped his wife and family to "seek enlightenment." What a terrible thing to do! Whatever position we are in, we are not to leave it or change it in any way as long as it is lawful. Stay married to that horrible, selfish man. This might sound hard, but everyone under the sun has some sort of difficult situation to have to confront. It is a fallen world. We have to come to terms with that. Yes, some people will always have a better situation than others, but we are not to get jealous of anyone else. If we are truly the Lord's, He has ordained whatever position we are in, for our benefit, and He will look after us and keep us in it.

"Now concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Lord: yet I give my judgment, as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful. I suppose therefore that this is good for the present distress, I say, that it is good for a man so to be. Art thou bound unto a wife? seek not to be loosed. Art thou loosed from a wife? seek not a wife. But and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned; and if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned. Nevertheless such shall have trouble in the flesh: but I spare you. But this I say, brethren, the time is short: it remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none; And they that weep, as though they wept not; and they that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not; and they that buy, as though they possessed not; And they that use this world, as not abusing it: for the fashion of this world passeth away."

Are we single? We should seek not a wife. Of course, if one comes along in the Lord's providence, all well and good, but we should not go actively, aggressively seeking for a partner. It is not worth it. Single people, please understand that marriage in this fallen world is not the idyllic thing it is cracked up to be, because of the Fall. I know plenty of people who have got married, and then find it was not the wonderful thing they imagined at all. For example, maybe children come along, and the husband has to work long hours and is never at home, whilst the wife is at home all the time from morning till night with several screaming babies to take care of and no-one to help and no time off to think for herself. Single people, remember this! Do you really want to be burdened in this way? Married people, you know all this, you have learned it the hard way, but in whatever situation you find yourself in, don't seek to be loosed from your marriages either. Remember

"Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord: and the fruit of the womb is his reward."  Psalm 127:3.

Whatever estate you are in, the Lord has put you there. Trust in the Lord and be thankful.

"But I would have you without carefulness. He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord: But he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife. There is difference also between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit: but she that is married careth for the things of the world, how she may please her husband. And this I speak for your own profit; not that I may cast a snare upon you, but for that which is comely, and that ye may attend upon the Lord without distraction."

This again seems to imply that single people are in a better estate than married, because it states specifically that single people care for the things of the Lord and married people for the things of this world, but this still does not imply one is better than the other. Both have their own peculiar miseries. Single people, yes, I know you long for companionship in this world, but look at the extra time you have been given to care for the things of the Lord. Married people, I know you are burdened and have very little time for Bible study or prayer, but look at the privileges you have in this world. You have the human companionship the single person craves, and maybe you have children the Lord has given you to bring up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. What a privilege! The Lord has given married people more responsibilities in this world.

"But if any man think that he behaveth himself uncomely toward his virgin, if she pass the flower of her age, and need so require, let him do what he will, he sinneth not: let them marry. Nevertheless he that standeth stedfast in his heart, having no necessity, but hath power over his own will, and hath so decreed in his heart that he will keep his virgin, doeth well. So then he that giveth her in marriage doeth well; but he that giveth her not in marriage doeth better. The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord. But she is happier if she so abide, after my judgment: and I think also that I have the Spirit of God."

These last few verses seem again to strongly imply that the single life is better. But really it is not saying that. Both marriage and singleness are gifts from God and we need to see them as such. I really believe that there are so many single people out there who long to get married so much that it is affecting their lives to a great extent. Hence Paul needs to give this special instruction to them. Think of a secular example. Say you are in the middle of a war and you need to flee quickly. A single person can just get up and go, whereas a person with a wife and family, can't just leave them, he is responsible for their safety as well as his own. He can flee, but he would be a lot slower than someone with none of these responsibilities in this world. So a single person has many advantages. Friend, seek not a wife. If one comes along, good, praise the Lord, but because of the present distress, please, please don't worry about it. Maybe you'll never get married. That's the sober truth in this fallen, dysfunctional world. I know you don't want me to say that, but, I am sorry, it is sadly true. However, you have such an advantage. Don't think you are being left out by the Lord, even when seemingly idyllically married pastors give endless sermons which are totally irrelevant to yourselves.

"For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother's womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it."  Matthew 19:12.

April 2013

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Spiritual Growth

We all know that the Bible gives us specific instructions on how to build up and run an outward manifestation of the church:

"These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly: Butif I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth." 1 Timothy 3:14,15.

There are many different ideas as to the interpretation of what the Bible teaches on these things, and men disagree with each other profoundly. For example, some think that the Presbyterian church system is the Biblical one, others think that we should be Congregational, or Baptist, or more like the Brethren churches ...er.... sorry, assemblies. Whichever one is the true Biblical outward pattern for the church (and there is only one true interpretation of Scripture), even though men disagree, we all must still agree that the Bible does speak about this matter, and so it cannot be unimportant.

We also know, as true believers, that we need spiritual food to grow in the faith:

"As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby"  1 Peter 2:2.

We all differ as to what food we think necessary, but nevertheless, whatever we think, the fact remains that we need the good nutrition of the Word of God. It is vital for our spiritual health. True believers have also been given the Holy Spirit to lead them into the truth whenever they read the Scriptures. Spiritual growth is vital to our sanctification, and so this too cannot be unimportant.

"For everyone that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil."  Hebrews5:13,14.

So the question arises: Is it more important to be in a church where the outward pattern is Biblical but the spiritual food is wanting, or to be in a church where the outward pattern is not completely Biblical but the spiritual food is excellent?

This is particularly a dilemma in the modern age, where we have many different Christian denominations, and we are all free to choose which one we attend on a regular basis.

There are many, many people who fully believe that the church they are going to has the correct Biblical pattern, and they will not leave for anything (whether they were born into the church or whether they have come into it at a later point is not an issue here). They will not leave, even if, just up the road there is another church belonging to another denomination, with far more spiritual food available, where they would grow in the faith a lot, lot more.

Of course the opposite extreme is that we should not just follow the best preachers all the time. This is idol worship. Even the best of communicators of the Word are fallible and can teach wrong things. We must pray for the spirit of discernment wherever we go.

Spiritual growth is the most important thing that the Christian needs, and he should be thirsty for it. We all need to:

"grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ"  2 Peter 3:18.

Because no church is perfect, and indeed no preacher is perfect, our condition in this world is that we will always be foraging for our spiritual food, which we can only find ultimately in Christ:

"I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture."  John 10:9.

Where can Christ be found today? In good teaching, yes, but also in good spiritual fellowship with other true believers. We need to weigh things up, wherever the Lord has placed us in this world. If we can find all these things in one particular congregation, then fine. Otherwise, we may need to move around a bit to find good pasture. Does this mean an outward Biblical pattern for the church is not important? No, it is there in the Bible! But our spiritual growth is by far the most important thing to us, and this can only be found if each one of us seriously asks the Lord to guide us into where we ought to be going to church, what we ought to be doing for the Lord, and who we can have true Christian fellowship with. With each one of us this will be different, depending on the situation the Lord has put us in.

Outward form is important, but far more important is our inward, spiritual life. If this is being starved due to lack of good teaching or fellowship, we need to do something about it and move on.

"Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines. For it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace; not with meats, which have not profited them that have been occupied therein."  Hebrews 13:9.

"For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God." Romans 2:28,29.

March 2013

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Attracting Youth

This is not the case everywhere by any means, but certainly in the West we have a declining church. In fact here in the UK there are so many church buildings lying empty, converted into other uses (including being turned into mosques), and if there are still services continuing at all, we see the evening service being dropped, and those who attend being mostly of retirement age.

The question is often asked, "How can we attract younger people, so that the church will continue and not be forced inevitably to close down?" Modern ministers have their own ideas. Many use gimmicks to try to attract the youth, not realising that all they are doing is making themselves look silly, and the church irrelevant. Others try to introduce a youth group, where the youth of the church (where there are any) are given lively activities to do, like playing football or going ice skating, making the church no different from a glorified secular youth club. What about those young people who don't want to play sport? What's in it for them?

But of course we see that the main change that is usually made is in the music. If only we give the youth of today the music they like, they will come, is the argument. And in some cases, with a vibrant leadership team and a go-getting young minister, this has been a success. They will come. But huge problems occur as a result. What about the old people who are still there? They will be sidelined. What about young people who don't like modern music? Again, there will be nothing for them. Above all, what about the message preached? Sin is no longer mentioned (it will put people off coming!), and only a positive thinking, simple message about Jesus healing our little hurts and giving us a meaning to our lives is proclaimed in the short time they have left between songs for a message of any kind.
Over the last 15 years or so, a new form of church has emerged, whereby the grand idea has been to take away all the older, traditional ways of "doing church" and to introduce an interactive style (some of them even changing their churches into a "less threatening," "cafe" type environment – no pews, just coffee tables!) where people can believe what they want to believe and have a jolly good discussion in the process. Absolute doctrine is no longer necessary. They "do" theology, just as they "do" life together in their little (no longer "Bible study groups", but) "life groups." These type of churches are booming today,especially among the youth.

But true religion has suddenly all gone. If there are no absolutes any more, then there is no more need of atonement for sin, no need of repentance, no need of faith in Christ, instead they believe that the feeling they get from their prolonged worship sessions is the Holy Spirit moving in their hearts, and this, to them, is their religion.

Music is indeed an important part of true worship, along with the three other elements prescribed in the Bible, namely, prayer, the reading of Scripture and the exposition of it. But we have a situation today, in which music almost defines a church, and people choose which church they want to go to depending on the music on offer. This is all wrong. We need to get back to concentrating on the message, rather than the style of music. After all, in heaven, we will only be singing two songs – the Song of Moses and the Song of the Lamb:

"And I saw as it were a sea of glass mingled with fire: and them that had gotten the victory over the beast, and over his image, and over his mark, and over the number of his name, stand on the sea of glass, having the harps of God. And they sing the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints. Who shall not fear thee, O Lord, and glorify thy name? for thou only art holy: for all nations shall come and worship before thee; for thy judgments are made manifest." Revelation 15:2-4.

So in eternity, all today's modern Christian songwriters will be out of a job. What do you call works that believers do on this earth, but which have no bearing in eternity? Answer: "Wood, hay and stubble":

"For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon,he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned,he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire." 1 Corinthians 3:11-15.

I personally am thoroughly convinced of exclusive psalm-singing in the worship of God.

"Be filled with the Spirit; speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord" Ephesians 5;18,19.

"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord." Colossians 3:16.

I take the phrase "Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs" in the above passages to be a threefold description of the Psalter, in a similar way to "The law the prophets and the psalms" being a threefold description of what we today would call the Old Testament:

"And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me." Luke 24:44.

However, I fully understand people who take the phrase "Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs" to mean the psalms of the Old Testament, plus other hymns and songs. I don't agree with this interpretation, but I am not going to split the church and form a new denomination because of a difference of opinion on this. I only wish to comment that we here have a New Testament injunction to sing psalms. In other words, the psalms were not just a Jewish, Old Testament thing, now no longer necessary. Yet where is psalm singing in the modern church today? Very, very occasionally Psalm 23 and Psalm 100 are sung, but only because they have made their way into modern hymn books and are treated as hymns. I therefore long to promote the singing of psalms again in the church. This would be a great step for the better I am sure, even if only to get people's theology a bit more sorted out.

But, even then, what about the tunes? We have no Biblical precedent for what tunes to use, we have to make them up ourselves. This will not be the case in heaven, of course, but only whilst we are down here. How do we go about composing God-honouring tunes? Well, the tunes, at the very least, need to be serious, and worthy of singing to Almighty God, who is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29). We certainly should never sing frivolous, jolly tunes by any means. And this comment is not just aimed against modern worship bands either. I was in a Brethren gospel service the other week, and just before the service started, I closed my eyes,and I felt as though I was in a Victorian pub – there was a low volume of chatter, and someone playing the popular tunes of the day on the piano in the background. The pianist was actually playing hymns from the "Sacred Songs and Solos" hymn book, but I don't think we realise that Victorian hymnwriters often took the popular tunes of the day and wrote Christian words to them. The tunes that we sing should never be from "pop" songs in any generation. They should be far more grave and serious than that. Most psalms-only churches today are Scottish, but I have to admit that some of the peculiarly Scottish tunes are far too much toward the opposite extreme, and at the best of times, like wading through treacle when singing them. Not so much grave and serious, but dour, dirgy and too much like hard work, it being a relief to get through to the end of them! This should not be!
Well, what do we do? Again, I have to argue for seriousness in the church. Maybe you are fed up with me going on about this, but that's all right, I don't mind. I look forward to the next world, where I will be praising God for evermore in the way that He has ordained, not in the fancy ways of sinful men. If we want to attract youth back to the church, we should not go for gimmicks, popular music and frivolous behaviour, because it might attract them for a while, but like the pop songs of the sixties and seventies which were popular then but which grate on us now, the attraction will not last, and I fear that (except the Lord intervenes) they will become more alienated and bitter against Christianity as a result.

Surely we are in the last days.

"Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron" 1 Timothy 4:1,2.

"This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away." 2 Timothy 3:1-5.

February 2013

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The Train Now Leaving

Since the advent of the world wide web, we have never before seen such an explosion of information battering our senses from all directions. Now everyone can publish their thoughts for all the world to see, and it costs next to nothing to be able to do so.

There used to be an old Dutch saying, "Every heretic has his text." Now we can say, "Every nutter has his website." All sorts of crazy ideas are now publicly available for anyone to read and embrace if they so wish. Of course, my website is no exception, it is just one of millions. Why should my site be so special? Why should anyone listen to me?

Well, for a start, we should always be aware that we are all responsible for our actions, and accountable to the one true living God, Lord of heaven and earth. So we should all be careful what we say and publish.

"God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few." Ecclesiastes 5:2.

Every last word of every individual is going to be judged by God. Especially those words which we put in the public domain, such as on a website, because many others can so easily be hurt or influenced by them.

"But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment."Matthew 12:36.

Secondly, as individuals, whether we are writing material or reading it, we always need to pray earnestly for the Holy Spirit to guide us. He will keep us in the right path, so that we may discern right from wrong, true from false. He is an infallible guide, BUT we all make mistakes, because we have far too much of self remaining in our hearts. Only the Holy Spirit inspired Scriptures are free from error. Even so, our responsibility is still to make sure as best we can that what we are writing or reading is the truth as the Holy Spirit guides us.

"And thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left." Isaiah 30:21.

"But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you,and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him." 1 John 2:27.

Despite all the crackpots on it, the web is still very useful. Individual churches can use it to promote their brand of Christianity. Official church websites give us very handy information, not only of location and times of services and so on, but also details as to what the church actually believes. It is always good to read material straight from the horse's mouth as it were, rather than trusting in the opinions of other people who want to be critical, whether their criticism is justified or not. Next time a Jehovah's Witness comes to your door, ask them for a copy of their booklet "What Does God Require of Us?" It is about the same size as a Watchtower magazine, and it is an excellent resource, full of information as to what they actually believe, in their own words. (Don't believe any of it though!! It's rubbish! I'm just saying it is very useful for us to get to know where they are coming from, that's all!).

In my recent trawling of the web, I have become very interested in the many testimonies that are up there from people who have left churches for whatever reason. Just Google "people who have left churches" or something similar, and see what I mean. Some testimonies will just be from those who never were Christians, maybe they were born and brought up in the church, found it irrelevant with regards their worldly lifestyle and so they left. These testimonies are easy to spot, and are not relevant here. Other testimonies are from people who have become bitter, and have some kind of hang up. These are not relevant either. But there are many, many other testimonies of those who seem to be truly born-again believers who have had problems and had no option but to leave a church at some time or other in their Christian walk. These are the interesting ones. They didn't go looking for trouble, but simply found themselves in the mess they were in, just by trying to be honest, genuine and wanting to do the right thing. They have nowhere else to go, hence they publish their experiences on the web.

One site I have come across is

www.batteredsheep.com

This site seems not only to have some interesting testimonies on it, but also some useful links to other sites that help people in such positions as I have described. Sadly, the latest entry is dated 2008, and some of the links no longer seem to work, so the site seems to have been abandoned, but all the same I found it very useful.

I met an elderly lady the other day, who told me that she used to play the piano in the ladies' meeting at church for many years, then one day she was told not to do it any more, they had got someone else. She was really upset at this happening, and still is (otherwise she wouldn't have bothered telling me about it). Now, maybe the church had a perfectly good reason for asking her not to play the piano any more, I don't know the details of the situation. But she is still upset, several years later, rightly or wrongly. And the church just carries on regardless, and has never dealt with the situation.

Many times, to me, the church (whatever church) seems like an express train that will not (maybe cannot) stop for anything. Some people are telling it "Slow down!" Others are wanting the train to go to another destination. Others are jumping off, falling off, hanging off, getting thrown around and hurt – you name the metaphor. And the church just carries on at full speed regardless. What a condition to be in! What can be done?

I really feel for such genuine Christian people who have been hurt in some way by a church situation. All of them end up, without trying, "outside the camp." Which is not a bad place to be actually, as that is exactly where Christ was!

"Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach." Hebrews 13:13.

January 2013

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