Sunday, October 27, 2013

Depart From Me

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. “Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’         Matthew 7:21-23  NKJV
This passage has always been one to grab and hold my attention for the stark warning it gives us all as true believers who have received the gift of salvation offered in the sacrifice of our Savior, Jesus Christ.  Many have looked at these verses and asked the question “how can I know for sure if I am saved”?  That question may become even more relevant when you consider what we have been studying the past few weeks and the warnings Peter, Paul, and John gave us concerning false believers infiltrating the Church in the last days.

But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction.        2 Peter 2:1  NKJV
But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived.       2 Timothy 3:13  NKJV

They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us.       1 John 2:19  NKJV
I believe the answer to the question as to who is really a true believer in the eyes of God can be found in the word “practice” which in the Greek is ergazomai, and is translated; to work or labor at, to do business.  Most of us have, or have had a job at which we work in order to make a living and to provide for ourselves and our families.  We also understand that working at a full-time job requires an investment of the vast majority of our time. Looking at this passage, and the definition of “practice”, it would seem we are being told to ask of ourselves do we spend the majority of our time “working” at our relationship with God?

In order to “practice lawlessness” one would obviously have to live in such a way as to ignore the commandments that God has given us. These verses make a clear distinction between people who “say” they are believers, and those who choose to “do” what God commands. In other words, obedience is what our Father is looking for when He examines our claims to be His follower. So it would appear that the question really becomes just what is your lifestyle?  Do you just “say” you are a believer or do you “submit” to God and obey His commandments?
Notice too that these people say to God that He should consider all the great and wonderful things they have done for Him during their lives as proof that they are true believers.  Yet notice what God has to say in response to them and their claim of doing so much good for Him; “I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me,”.  The point God is making here is that no matter how much good you might do in this world and regardless of all the seemingly “Christian” service you might perform, if you are not a true believer everything you have ever done is worthless in His eyes.

If that seems harsh to you look closely at how Jesus explained it in these verses which immediately precede the passage we are looking at.
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. “You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? “Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. “Therefore by their fruits you will know them.      Matthew 7:15-20  NKJV

What Jesus is telling us here is that although a person might give the outward appearance of being a true believer, God knows the heart of a man.  People like this can look like a “good tree” and even do good things, but in God’s eyes the fruit of a bad tree is always bad no matter how good it might look to us.  Only good trees can produce what God considers good fruit.  God has made it perfectly clear what He expects from us if we claim to be a follower of Christ and that is obedience to His commandments to us.  It falls on us then to examine our own lives and ask the question “do I obey what God has told me or do I “practice lawlessness” by living a sinful lifestyle?
Do Christians sin? Of course we do, yet a true believer acknowledges his sin, confesses his sin, and repents or turns away from his sin.  A true believer knows what God has said, listens to what God has said, and obeys what God has said.  The unbeliever knows what God has said, but chooses to ignore it.

“But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say?         Luke 6:46  NKJV
What troubles me the most about this passage, and what I find to be the most discouraging is the word “many”.  Not a few, not some, but on that day of final judgment “many” will say “Lord, Lord”.  This is a terrible commentary on how effective Satan’s deception can be in that many people choose to live a lifestyle that not only practices but embraces sin yet still believe they are true followers of Christ.  You may know that standing on the train track is a bad idea, but if you don’t make the choice to get off and a train comes along what good was the knowledge?  Knowing what God expects from us is not enough; we must make the choice to do.  Anyone who says they are a believer, yet chooses to practice a sinful lifestyle will, unfortunately, one day hear the words “depart from Me”.

“Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock:       Matthew 7:24  NKJV
Keep watching.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Protect At All Cost

But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!        2 Timothy 3:1-5  NKJV
It goes without saying that we could not discuss the subject of the last words of the founders of the Church without considering what the Apostle Paul had to say.  His last words were to Timothy, a young man who had come to know the Lord through Paul’s teaching in Lystra.  He later was to accompany Paul on his second missionary journey and became a disciple and friend for the remainder of Paul’s life.  Paul sent him to Ephesus to pastor the church there, and his second letter to Timothy is regarded as the last letter of his life before he was executed in Rome.

As you might have expected by now, the subject of Paul’s letter to Timothy shows the very same concerns of those of Peter and John, namely the health of the Church that they had founded and nurtured in the first century.  All of these men were concerned with the appearing of false teachers and prophets who would cultivate apostasy within the Church and change the message of the Gospel that Jesus had brought to an unbelieving world by His death and resurrection.  Protecting the purity of the Gospel message is the common concern of all of these great men of the faith.
Yet the inescapable conclusion we must come to after acknowledging their concerns is just who does the responsibility to protect the Church fall upon?  The answer to that is obviously anyone who has responded to the message of the Gospel and made the decision to accept the sacrifice of Jesus Christ as remission for their sin.  The result of that decision is membership in the body of Christ, the Church, and the responsibility to protect it and the message of the Gospel at all cost.  Just what is the cost of defending the faith?  Paul goes on to explain to Timothy just what to expect when you make that choice.

Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.                              2 Timothy 3:12-17  NKJV
While warning Timothy to expect persecution Paul also tells him that his best defense against that persecution is the knowledge of the Scriptures, and continual study of the Word.  Doing that, according to Paul, will make us “complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.  Now I have to confess there have been many times in my life that I have doubted my ability to be a good defender of the faith, and have mentioned to God just what I think my shortcomings might be.  His response was to look at Timothy through the eyes of Paul, and specifically notice what Timothy’s shortcomings were by the warnings Paul chose to direct to him.

Timothy apparently was; timid (2 Tim. 1:7), ashamed (2 Tim. 1:8), afraid (2 Tim. 1:14), weak (2 Tim. 2:1), undedicated (2 Tim. 2:5), insecure (2 Tim. 2:12), distracted (2 Tim. 2:15), selfish (2 Tim. 2:22), and impatient (2 Tim. 2:24) just to name a few.  Oh, and let's not forget that Timothy was only in his early twenties.(1 Tim. 4:12)  You see, if Paul took the time to mention these specific things to Timothy, there must have been reason for him to do so.  Unfortunately for me, I can see where many of these admonitions could and can apply to me as well. 
I believe as followers of Christ and members of the Church, we all are responsible not only to defend the Gospel we were given but to also look closely at ourselves and acknowledge that we all have shortcomings that need to be addressed. While it would be easy for us to decide in our own minds that we might not be “suited” to be a defender, I believe this passage, and both of the letters to Timothy tell us different.  Paul does a wonderful job of removing all of our excuses, and making it perfectly clear that the responsibility to defend the faith falls upon us all.

I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.  2 Timothy 4:1-5  NKJV
The message from each of these great men of faith as they approached the end of their lives was essentially the same.  They worried about the health of the Church that was founded on the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and to which they had personally labored the past sixty years to nurture and protect.  Their message to us is to continue that fight and to not allow those who would enter the Church with the intent to weaken it by presenting a false gospel not based on the Word of God.  It is these people that we are warned to not only watch out for, but to oppose with the strength of the Gospel of Christ which is found in His Holy Scriptures.

Peter, John, and Paul all warned of what we could expect as the end drew near.  Is it just me, or do you see what I see?
Keep watching.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Don't Be Ashamed

And now, little children, abide in Him, that when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming. If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone who practices righteousness is born of Him.   1 John  2:28-29  NKJV
Have you ever been ashamed or embarrassed of something you have done or not done?  Do you remember that feeling of wanting to just disappear or somehow turn back the clock so you could have another chance to do it all over again?  I’m sure most of us have, and it is not a very pleasant experience to go through. I’m also sure that most of us have probably wished that someone would have warned us of what we were or were not doing right so that we could avoid the embarrassment we felt when it was all said and done.

We have been looking for a few weeks at the concerns of Peter as he understood that his time on this earth was about to conclude.  This week I decided, just out of curiosity, to look at the words of John the Apostle as he too was in much the same situation as Peter.  To my surprise, (and embarrassment for I should have known this), just as Peter had done, John gives believers a warning about what to expect in the Church, especially just preceding the return of Christ.  Along with the warning, however, John also admonishes believers in the hope that we will not be ashamed when we stand before our Lord.  What exactly are we to be watching for?  Again, just as Peter warned, we must be watching for false teachers within the Church.
Little children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come, by which we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us. 1 John 2:18-19  NKJV

The word antichrist is probably familiar to most everyone, believer or not, simply because of how much it has been used.  The vast majority would probably recognize it as a noun, as it is used as the name of the world ruler who will come in the last days.  The word itself, however, is used in this passage to describe both the individual and those who would share his mission by adopting his false gospel.  The Greek word for antichrist is “antichristos” which simply means an adversary of the Messiah.  In the context of this passage, what John is warning us about is that in the last days there will appear many “within the Church” who will deny that Jesus was the Messiah or that He is the only way of salvation.
But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you know all things I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and that no lie is of the truth. Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist who denies the Father and the Son. Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father either; he who acknowledges the Son has the Father also.      1 John 2:20-23  NKJV

If you follow the news from around the world at all, I’m sure you are aware of the fact that the belief in Jesus Christ as the only way to salvation is under attack from many sides.  The most recent and surprising challenge to the Gospel, however, has come from Pope Francis who stated in an interview that salvation by works is possible, and that attempts to convert unbelievers to Christianity is “nonsense”.  There is a word that describes what is going on here and we find it in Peter’s second letter where he warns the Church of “heresy”.
But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction.   2 Peter 2:1  NKJV
Heresy can be defined as an opinion or doctrine that is different or at odds with the original accepted teaching of the Gospel.  This is why John tells us in this passage that we need to remember what we have been taught by the inspired Word of God and listen to the guidance of the Holy Spirit who lives inside of all who believe.
Therefore let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father. And this is the promise that He has promised us—eternal life. These things I have written to you concerning those who try to deceive you. But the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you; but as the same anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you will abide in Him.   1 John 2:24-27  NKJV
The word for abide in the Greek is meno which means to sojourn, not depart, to remain, to remain as one and not become another.  You recall at the beginning of this article I asked the question about being ashamed?  How many will stand before our Father in Heaven and be very ashamed because they have strayed from the truth of the Gospel?  John tells us that in order to avoid this embarrassment we must abide in the Gospel we have been given, and not to be led astray by those who would teach a different gospel than the truth we find in the Word of God.

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life—the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us—that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. And these things we write to you that your joy may be full.  1 John 1:1-4  NKJV
When Peter preached on that very first Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit had come upon the disciples, this is what he said;

“Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”  Acts 4:12  NKJV

If you are reading this today and have never made the decision to accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, I urge you to do it right now. Simply admit to God that you need His forgiveness because you are a sinner,  be willing to turn away from your sins, believe that Jesus died on the cross for your sins, and invite Him to come in and control  your life through the Holy Spirit by praying a simple prayer like this;
Jesus I know I am a sinner in need of salvation. I believe you sent your Son Jesus to die on the cross for my sin, and I ask you now to forgive me of my sins. I want to receive your gift of salvation so please come into my heart and help me to live and follow you as my Lord and Savior. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Keep watching.


Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Waiting Game

Beloved, I now write to you this second epistle (in both of which I stir up your pure minds by way of reminder), that you may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us, the apostles of the Lord and Savior, knowing this first: that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.”  2 Peter 3:1-4  NKJV
We have looked the past couple of weeks at the words Peter wanted to share with us as he approached the end of his life and we have seen that his greatest concern was with the state of the Church.  We first saw that our priority should be living truly godly lives as a witness to those around us, and second we were warned of the appearing of false teachers in the church who would teach a gospel different than the one Jesus taught.  Here in chapter three of second Peter we find a warning of what we can expect from many in the Church, more than likely as a result of this false teaching.

Today we find in the passage above that Peter warns of people who claim to be believers actually “scoffing” at the idea of Christ returning for His Church.  The word for scoffers can also be translated “mocker”, carrying with it the idea that these people simply do not believe in the rapture of the Church.  Not content to cognitively disbelieve, these people choose to spread their unbelief by openly deriding the idea by asking the question “what is taking Him so long?”  They then point out that nothing has changed since the creation of the earth, as if this explains their belief that Christ will never return.
While many of us might wonder at how someone within the body might hold to this belief, I think this is simply a result of the false teaching we discussed last week that occurs within the Church.  Notice that when Peter describes these individuals he not only calls them scoffers, he goes on to say that they are “walking according to their own lusts”.  If you take a closer look at the “gospel” false teachers are spreading within the Church today you will find that the vast majority of them are telling people that it is just fine to “listen to your heart” and make up your own mind about what to believe rather than to listen to God’s Word. 

I put it to you that this is simply another way of telling someone to walk after their own lusts, and in effect turns them into those who would mock others who choose not to follow that path.  Now you might ask the question “how could someone exposed to the truth make such a wrong turn?”  You would think that knowing the truth of the Gospel would certainly cause someone to think twice about believing something different.  If we look further into this passage we find that Peter gives us a surprising answer to that question, and one that I personally find very hard to believe.
For this they willfully forget: that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water, by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water.  But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.  2 Peter 3:5-7  NKJV

When I first read this passage my eyes were immediately drawn to the word “willfully”.  It is translated from the Greek word thelō, and look closely at what it really means;  to will, have in mind, intend; to be resolved or determined, to purpose; to desire, to wish; to love to like to do a thing, be fond of doing; to take delight in, have pleasure.  In essence, Peter is telling us that these individuals do not simply “forget” the lesson of God’s judgment in the days of Noah, but rather they are resolved and determined to take pleasure in choosing to ignore that warning.
Now did a light bulb just go off in your mind like it did in mine?  Two thousand years ago Peter told us a day would come when the Church would suffer from an influx of false teachers who would tell us that God is a God of “love” and would never “judge” or “punish”!  Why stop there?  The next thing you know there will be teachers telling us there is no Hell!  Sound familiar?  But this is not all that Peter was told by God as he wrote this letter, and what follows should certainly be of interest to those who would have us believe that a “loving” God won’t return to “judge” His people.

But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.  2 Peter 3:8-9  NKJV
The word for slack in the Greek is bradynō, which means to delay, be slow, to render slowly, retard, to be long, to tarry, loiter.  Obviously Peter is trying to help us understand that God’s clock runs a little different than ours does and what appears to us as a very, very long time is but a moment to God.  God has not forgotten His promise of what is to come, but rather He has chosen to give those who mock the opportunity to come to their senses and repent.  The most important word for those who choose to mock that we find in this passage is “longsuffering”.  It is the Greek word makrothymeō, which means to be patient in bearing the offenses and injuries of others, to be mild and slow in avenging, to be longsuffering, slow to anger, slow to punish.

Have you ever spent any time around someone who has no patience?  Have you ever observed, or experienced what happens when someone runs out of patience?  What would our lives be like if our Father in Heaven was that impatient with His creation?  We as the Church should fall on our knees in gratitude that God did not choose to judge the world when His very own Son was rejected as the Messiah.  The very fact of His patience has allowed the Church to exist, and has given us the opportunity to choose to love and follow Him. 
It may have been two thousand years, but Peter reminds us that the time will come when the world will experience firsthand the judgment of the Father.  Fortunately for those who choose to believe, we will be spared what Peter calls “the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.”

Keep watching.