Thursday, August 16, 2018

The Church, Part 1


Most people identify a church with a location and building. How does the Bible identify a church? Read Colossians 1:21–23 and carefully notice who Paul is addressing: “And you” (pronoun second person plural) refers to the collective—the believers in Colossae, the church, a particular congregation (ecclesia, an assembly), not individuals and not a building. This collective is identified by the former, present, and future condition of its members. They “once were alienated [from God] and hostile in mind [toward the things of God], doing evil deeds [in disobedience to God](v. 21). However, through the gospel, these are “now reconciled in [Christ’s] body of flesh [the church] by his death.” (Note 1:20 where Paul states that Christ is to reconcile all things, making peace by the blood of His cross.) His goal is to present the church “holy and blameless and above reproach before him” (v. 22; Ephesians 5:26, 27). However, there is a condition: “if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard” (v. 23). Is this a warning to individual believers? That would be a mistake, for it is a church thing. Here is where one must focus if he is to understand the current church problem.
If Christ saves a person, it is forever (John 10:27–30). He cannot fall away. Churches, however, can fall away, as evidenced in Revelation 2 and 3. Congregations can be overrun by false believers, deceived through false doctrine, and infiltrated by false teachers. This has been the problem since the church began. For example, Paul admonished the elders from Ephesus: “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:28–32).
The church is compared to a flock needing care and protection, not a corporation that uses people in order to prosper. The church is a collective of redeemed and reconciled people struggling against sin and rebellion in the slow and painful process of sanctification. The church is a body of people sharing the same burdens in their joint pursuit of holiness. The church is an army of spiritual warriors standing shoulder to shoulder against principalities and powers, striving together and persevering in prayer. The church’s condition depends on God and His grace, not human programs and means. Read again Colossians 1:21–23 and study this passage and learn to think of the church in biblical terms.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Exhortations Reveal, Not Convince


The exhortations in Scripture are often misunderstood by casual Bible readers. Yes, they are God’s means to guide His people into holiness, but they are often seen as hopeful but vain attempts to convince the reluctant to obedience. Things could be wonderful if only more people would be convinced to heed His counsel and do what He wants them to do.
There is a notion that the church either succeeds or fails as people are convinced to cooperate. However, when the culture becomes worldly, doing “church” can be difficult if not impossible. “If only Christians could be coaxed to pray for revival, then the church would thrive.” People tend to see God like themselves, wringing His hands in frustration and disappointment at the lack of interest in His program. It would appear that the church’s strategy needs some tweaking. A 2013 statistic reveals that 80% of Americans find more fulfilling ways to spend their weekends than attending church. It is probably worse in 2018.
Scripture, however, paints a totally different picture of God’s kingdom-building program for this age. God does not try anything. He is sovereign over all things. “By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: ‘To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance’” (Isaiah 45:23). “My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose. . . . I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it’” (Isaiah 46:9–11).
Jesus affirmed that He would build His assembly (Matthew 16:18). Acts 2:47 states, “And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.” In Ephesians 1 Paul extols “the immeasurable greatness of His power . . . [when] according to the working of His great might . . . He put all things under [Jesus’] feet and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all” (vv.19–23). In other words, His church is exactly what He wants it to be. “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57).
God’s work in the church will progress “until all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13). His will is unfolding exactly as He planned through the “grace given to each one according to the measure of Christ’s gift” (Ephesians 4:7).
Nevertheless, many have attached themselves to the church who have not received the grace of salvation. As a result, they can be a problem. Paul warned Timothy of those who “will not endure sound teaching but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Timothy 4:3, 4). Therefore, exhortations not only prod the saints to obedience; they reveal the disobedient.

The Last Enemy


Paul addresses a concern in the Corinthian church regarding some who taught that there is no resurrection from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:12). If these people were right, then Christ must still be dead. If that is the case, Christian preaching is false and foolish; Christian faith is nonsense; Christian doctrine misrepresents God; and, worst of all, there is no salvation—no hope of eternal life (I Corinthians 15:13–19).
The deniers were the ones in error as Paul proved in the first eleven verses of chapter fifteen. Christ did indeed rise from the dead as confirmed by irrefutable testimony. On that fact Paul drills down on the hope that this truth brings to those in Christ. Christ’s resurrection is the firstfruits, the beginning of the greater harvest to follow. In other words, because Christ was raised from the dead, having borne the penalty of His people’s sin, they too, must be raised from the dead because they are no longer under the curse of sin (Romans 6:23).
All for whom Christ died will be raised just as He was raised. That is Paul’s argument in verses 21 and 22. The first man, Adam, was the representative head of the human race. Because he sinned, all his posterity sinned in him. Like Adam, all in him incur sin’s penalty, death. In the same way, all in Christ will benefit from Christ’s obedience and will pass from death to life. They will, like Christ, be raised from the dead to eternal life.
So, when will this resurrection take place? In the following verses (23–28), Paul lays out a simple and profound map of the end of time. Christ, as firstfruits, was raised in the first century of the “last days” with the promise that He would return to earth again (John 14:3). Paul confirms this by showing that all who belong to Him will be raised at His coming (1 Corinthians 15:23). In four words (v. 24), Paul literally destroys most of the popular and sensational teachings about end times: “Then comes the end” (v. 24). The end is when Christ delivers the kingdom to God.
Christ defeated the devil at the cross and took back the kingdom Satan usurped from Adam. Christ rose from dead and ascended to the right hand of God where He is to reign until all God’s enemies are conquered (Psalm 110:1, 2). Paul clearly references these verses from Psalm 110 as his proof of argument (vv. 24, 25). When all the enemies are subdued, the King gives the kingdom back to God.
 Finally, the nail in the coffin is verse 26, “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” Jesus will raise all the dead for judgment (John 5:28, 29; note also Daniel 12:1–4). This means that Christ’s ruling and the conquering of all his enemies must take place before His return and the resurrection of His own. This simple teaching eliminates any future “millennial” kingdom on earth in which people will die, if death has been destroyed. Neither can this kingdom end with the battle of Armageddon if the last enemy is no more.  

What Is Wrong with the Church?


I recently read an article entitled, “Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore.”* The piece debunked an article by Ed Stetzer (Christianity Today) contending that the church in America is not dying, just transitioning. Steve McSwain countered by citing the Hartford Institute of Religion Research that more than 40% of Americans “say” they go to church weekly, but less than 20% actually do. “In other words,” says author McSwain, “more than 80% of Americans are finding more fulfilling things to do on weekends.” To him, the church in America is dying and he has the evidence to prove it.
I contend biblically that the church is not dying. No, the true church is doing just fine. Indeed, “In all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us” (Romans 8:37).
One might disagree and turn to Jesus’ letters to the seven churches of Asia minor recorded in Revelation (2 and 3). Ephesus lost her first love. Pergamum tolerated false teachers. Thyatira suffered a professed prophetess, Jezebel, to seduce Christ’s servants to commit terrible sins. Sardis pretended life, but her works were incomplete. Self-deceived Laodicea shut out Jesus in her supposed prosperity. Only suffering Smyrna and obedient Philadelphia escape the Lord’s the stinging rebukes.
The issue here, however, is not apostasy but sanctification. Every true church is made up of imperfect believers who are on the path of sanctification, becoming progressively more like Jesus (Romans 8:29).  Each church is admonished, “He who has an ear let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22). True believers have ears to hear, the Spirit speaks to them through His word so that they will overcome, persevere, and conquer (2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21). Nevertheless, Satan has infiltrated the churches with false believers, and there lies the problem.
There will be a great apostasy ending the new covenant era, involving those who refused the truth and take pleasure in unrighteousness (2 Thessalonians 2:3). These will be deceived and perish (2:9–12). On the other hand, the true but confused saints in Thessalonica were reminded that they were chosen to salvation and sanctified through the spirit for belief in the truth (2:13). These were called through the gospel to obtain the glory of the Lord (v. 14). Understanding this, they should “stand firm and hold to the traditions” taught them (v. 15).
The victorious and conquering church is not always evident because of the overwhelming number of false believers who obscure, suppress, and discourage the saints. The hope of true saints is God, for whom they are to do good (1 Timothy 6:17–19). They “put on” “as God’s chosen ones” “compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience,” forgiving offenses, and holding to “love which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Colossians 3:12–17).
The encouragement of the true church rests in Jesus’ work to “put all his enemies under his feet” (1 Corinthians 15:25). This work will appear to the uninformed observer that the church is failing. For example, in 2013, 7000 churches closed up permanently. However, that is actually good news. Let the true church shine forth!
* The Blog (www.huffingtonpost.com), updated January 23, 2014.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Our Great Evil


Isaiah 14:12–14 records the five “I wills” of Satan. Ezekiel also records the same prideful spirit as the power behind the king of Babylon. Satan is driven by prideful ambition, the same ambition he works in “the children of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:1).
The great evil of human existence is pride—the self-deception that one can rightly trust himself (Proverbs 8:13). God says that He hates evil, which is identified in the proverb as pride. Pride drives a person to destructive living and speaking. The Hebrew for perverse or froward means “habitually disposed to disobedience and opposition.” Eve sinned in Eden when Satan deceived her into believing God was dishonest, keeping something good from her. She was convinced she deserved this power to choose for herself and would have it if she just disobeyed God’s prohibition. Adam, however, was not deceived but knowingly followed Eve in her experiment. Pride now controlled their hearts and would be genetically passed to all their offspring (Romans 5:12). Of the seven things God hates, a proud look—the exalting of oneself—heads the list (Proverbs 6:16–19; Psalm 18:27).
God’s remedy for pride is humbling (Isaiah 2:11, 17; Zephaniah 3:8–13). God charged His remnant in Zephaniah 8 to “wait for me (for salvation) in the day I pour out my indignation and remove the proudly exultant ones” (paraphrasing vv. 8 and 11). The same catastrophic judgment that destroys the proud saves the “humble and lowly” (v. 12; James 4:10).
Pride is deceptive, often lurking in a believer’s expectations of God. There is a very pervasive but false doctrine that God is just waiting to bless and reward people with greatness and prosperity if only they will believe that He will. Someone may greatly desire something, praying long and hard. He expects that God will grant his request simply because the one praying wants it? When the request is not realized, the expectant believer becomes discouraged, discontented, and perhaps angry, frustrated, and filled with doubt. That is a reaction of pride. The truth is that God is not there to reward our ambitions or to fulfill all our dreams and desires. 
True faith believes what God says in His Word, acting in obedience to God’s will, not the believer’s. In Gethsemane, Jesus asked God to remove the cup of suffering. However, He humbly submitted to God’s will and trusted God’s purpose. God did not remove the cup, but “saved” Him through His suffering, raising and exalting Him and, thereby, “bringing many sons to glory” (Hebrews 2:10).
Humble saints wait on the Lord. They know that He is working all things for their good and His glory. While they do have desires and seek His face in prayer for these, they also submit to His will and rejoice in His goodness, even when their request is denied.
Jim Elliff of Christian Communicators Worldwide recently posted about what God wants of us: “to always know how much we need Him, and to always be amazed at Him.” How simply and profoundly does this describe a truly humble believer who has died to himself to live in Christ (Colossians 3:3).

Saturday, June 23, 2018

The Day of the Lord


There is a coming day of God’s final judgment on earth referred to as the “day of the Lord.” Its “first mention” is Isaiah 13:6: “Wail, for the day of the Lord is near; as destruction from the Almighty it will come!” (See also Jeremiah 46:10; Ezekiel 30:3; Joel 1:15; 2:1, 11; 3:15; Amos 5:18, 20; Obadiah 15; Zephaniah 1:7, 8, 14.)
There have been a series of “days of the Lord” in history, such as the flood of Noah. Peter reminds nay-sayers denying Christ’s coming that they should remember the flood (2 Peter 3:3–10). The Jews experienced two days of the Lord: the first was the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem (587 b.c.), and the second was the Roman destruction of the city (a.d. 70). All these were, as Peter shows, precursors for the grand and final day (2 Peter 3:10).
The Revelation introduces the seven-sealed scroll, which is the title deed to the earth over which He has been exalted to rule (Revelation 5:12–14). Jesus declared that God had given all judgment over to Him (John 5:22, 27). Thus, the Lamb is given the scroll, and opening the seals commences that “day.” Upon opening the sixth seal, the elite, both rich and poor alike, flee to caves and dens in the mountains, “calling” for them to hide them from God and the Lamb, “for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand” (Revelation 6:17).
The seventh seal is that day of wrath, but the first five seals precede and prepare the earth. Seals one through four describe the fall of the globalist world-system under the image of the four horsemen bringing in the apocalypse (Revelation 6:1–8). The rider on the white horse is generally viewed as the coming “man of sin” (2 Thessalonians 2:3, 4) or antichrist. It is my opinion that the rider is Jesus Christ Himself, metaphorically conquering the kingdom of Satan and building His earthly kingdom through the gospel (compare Revelation 19:11–16). The other three horses and their riders describe the New World Order satanic cabal that is ruling the world, responding to the advance of Christ’s kingdom. The fifth seal reveals the martyrs of Jesus “slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne” (6:9). They prayed that the Sovereign Lord would avenge their blood (v. 10). The answer to their prayer is the sixth seal, threatening the wrath of the Lamb. Christ returns to judge the earth in the day of the Lord, described by the seventh seal (8:1–5).
    A secret cabal rules the earth through the power of Satan, hiding behind duly constituted governments. They often reveal their plans in coded messages through music, movies, games, symbols, and other means that few even notice, much less understand. The horsemen of the apocalypse mimic globalist tactics to subdue nations and keep them in tow, showing that God is aware. They use wars, conflicts, famines, and pestilence, from which they profit greatly while remaining isolated from the just retribution they deserve. God is keeping account, and the day of the Lord is coming soon!

Keeping and Holding


In Revelation 12 the dragon, Satan, is powerless against the woman because she is protected by Almighty God. The woman is God’s covenant community, identified in this age as Jesus’ covenant assembly, the church (Matthew 16:18). In that reference, Jesus declared that the gates of hell would not be able to withstand the advance of His church. That advance involves the rest of her offspring (v. 17), individual believers living on earth engaging the enemy. They are soldiers on the frontlines of this eternal conflict. This means that they are us—right here, right now.
Specifically, note how these soldier/saints are identified. The Lord will not put His troops on the frontline ill-equipped and unprepared. That would be foolish. So, His ideal and necessary preparation of these servants to engage in this spiritual conflict is enabling their obedience to His orders. Thus, they are described here as keeping the commandments of God—obedient to the Word and the Spirit. Jesus said, “He who has my commandments, and keeps them, he it is that loves me” (John 14:21). Tell me, what does the army do with soldiers who won’t obey orders?
Second, they hold the testimony of Jesus. What is it to hold the testimony of Jesus? The Greek word here for testimony is the one from which we get the word martyr. A martyr is a witness, one who gives a true testimony, no matter what it costs him. Jesus gave orders to the faithful church at Smyrna, “Do not fear what you are about to suffer. . . . Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10). Why? A faithful witness to Jesus is more important that self-preservation. Every true child of God is a first-hand witness to the truth of Jesus and His great work of salvation. They hold this truth faithfully, keeping it close, and proclaiming it widely, letting the Lord deal with the consequences.
More importantly, this is the testimony of Jesus—it is Jesus’ own testimony. It is not our testimony about Jesus. It is not about what we do or believe; it is about Jesus. The whole hope of eternal life rests on Christ and His work on our behalf—what He has done, is doing, and will do, not only saving us from our sin and its penalty but saving us from ourselves (Romans 6:10, 11). Soldiers must let go of their own self-interests to serve the king rightly (2 Timothy 2:4). Tell me, what does the army do with soldiers who are so self-involved that they can’t work together against the enemy?
Jesus’s testimony is that He came to do the Father’s will and to finish His work (John 4:34). He promised His followers that they will also have His life in them so that they, too, will do His will and accomplish His work (John 14:12, 13).  Let me ask you again: what does the army do with disobedient soldiers who get so distracted with their own pursuits that they fail to engage the enemy? Are you doing the will of the Father (Matthew 7:21)?