Christianity 201

April 11, 2012

The Problem With Looking at Outward Appearances

This appeared at It Is Well, the blog of Eric Douglas, under the title Would You Let This Man Teach Sunday School?


What would you think of one who possesses the following characteristics?  This person:

  • Makes a great effort to be near Jesus
  • Bows before Jesus in an act of worship
  • Has a solid theology, recognizing that Jesus is the “Son of the Most High God”
  • Recognizes the sovereign power of Jesus Christ
  • Does not act apart from the permission of Jesus

We would be thrilled to have one like this as our pastor!  If such a man attended our worship services, we would quickly make him a Sunday School teacher or even a deacon.  After all, the piety described above exceeds much of what we see in our churches.  Many who have been Christians for years still do not yet possess these wonderful characteristics.  What are we to think of a person such as this?

While these are wonderful attributes to have, the worship-attender I just described is not a Christian at all.  Instead, the one just described is demon possessed and under terrible oppression.

There once was a man who lived in the country of the Gerasenes on the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee.  The man lived among tombs and the local villagers were quick to keep distance from him.  He was out of control; no one could do a thing him.  Locals attempted to bind him with chain and shackle, but it did not help.  The man was so strong that he broke the shackles into pieces.  No one was able to subdue him.  Night and day, he would scream among the tombs and in the mountains.  He inflicted pain upon himself as he would gather stones and gash himself with them.  The locals were terrified as they heard the screams bellow from among the tombs.

The man was not mentally ill; he was demon possessed.  The demon had complete control over the man, affecting his actions and speaking through him.  The demon said his name was “Legion”.  The name Legion represented the multitude of demons working together to destroy this man’s life; enough to possess 2,000 pigs.

The man was not a true follower of God.  He did not know Jesus Christ and had not trusted his life with Him.  He did not have the Holy Spirit, but instead had a demonic spirit.  Mark chapter 5 details the actions of the man which exceed the piety of many church-goers.  Though his actions were controlled by Legion, notice the actions of the man when he encountered Jesus.

The man sees Jesus from a distance and runs up to him (v. 6a).  He makes a great effort to be near Jesus.  While others did not seek after Jesus in this way, this man dropped whatever it was he was doing and ran to Jesus.  Neither did he wait until Jesus came to him; he eagerly ran to Jesus.  The man did not just run to Jesus to shake His hand.  He ran to meet Jesus so he could bow down in worship (v. 6b).

Here’s the picture: When Jesus was not around, the man was out of control to the point where all who knew him feared him.  Yet when Jesus comes on the scene, the man is under control and even also humbles himself in a prostrate position before Him.  He is publicly bowed in worship before Jesus Christ.

In our context, the man has attended a worship service with one of our churches and is on his knees at “the altar”.

The outward act of humble worship is just the beginning.  The man begins to speak to Jesus and calls Him, “Jesus, Son of the Most High God” (v. 7).  What great theology!  He knows who Jesus is better than many Christians.  He knows His name (Jesus) and His position (Son of the Most High God).  Surely such a great theologian must also be a great man of God!

It does not stop here.  The man (with the demon speaking through him) implores Jesus to not torment him (v. 7).  Obviously the demon’s theology is so developed that he understands judgment, end times, and eternal torment.  He also recognizes that Jesus has the power and authority to bring about judgment and torment.  Thus, the man not only speaks well about who Jesus is, but also unquestionably recognizes what He can do.

But it does not stop even here.  The demons implore Jesus to not torment but to rather send the them “into the swine so that we may enter them” (v. 12).  Jesus “gave them permission” and the demons obediently followed (v. 13).  The obedience demonstrated here is remarkable!  How many Christians ask Jesus for permission before acting, and then do exactly as Jesus permits them to do?

The point here is not the discussion of the actions of the man vs. the actions of the demons.  Neither is the point determining the extent of the possession or seeking to determine when the man acted on his own vs. being overwhelmed by the demons’ actions.  The point is this:

Here is a man who runs to Jesus, bows down in worship before Him, has a great theology and a remarkable obedience.  Yet, he is unsaved.  He is possessed by a demonic spirit rather than the Spirit of God.

How can this be?  How can a person with all of these wonderful qualities be unsaved?  This is because it matters less about which actions your possess and matters more about who possesses you.  All of the outward religion action in the world won’t get you an inch closer to God unless you are possessed, empowered, sealed and delivered by the Holy Spirit of God.  This is only possible by the atoning work of Jesus Christ through His death, burial and resurrection, and only comes about in those who have turned from their sin to trust in Christ.

Outward worship means nothing if it is Christless.  Many will preach and minister in the name of Jesus even though they do not know Him (Matthew 7:21-23).  Many will spend their lives in ministry but will spend eternity in hell.

Theological knowledge means nothing it if is Christless.  James writes, “You believe that God is one.  You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder” (James 2:19).  There is hardly one who knows the content of the Bible better than Satan himself.

Outward obedience means nothing if it is Christless.  When it came to testing Job, Satan obediently listened to God and did not exceed the boundaries He had set (Job 1:12).  If anyone understands his lack of ability apart from the power of God, it is Satan himself.

A person can walk an aisle, weep at an “altar”, gain perfect Sunday School attendance, bow in worship, teach a Sunday School class, minister in the name of Jesus, go on mission trips and praise Christ from his lips everyday for the rest of his life only to die and go to hell.

There is but one way to God and it is through Jesus Christ alone.  There is but one way of salvation and it is through the cross.  There is but one proper response to the Gospel of the cross and it is repentance from sin and faith in Jesus.  There is but one great evidence of conversion and it is a changed life.

Though the demon possessed man outwardly worshiped, it was not until he met Christ that his life was forever changed.  After truly meeting Christ, those who had known him before were “frightened” at his new life (Mark 5:15).  He wanted to follow Jesus wherever he went (v. 18) and became one of the first great missionaries to the Gentiles (v. 20).  Though these actions did not save the man, the dramatic change in life is evidence that he had met the Savior.

Are you going through the motions?  Are you depending on your good works?  Are you trusting in your experience of weeping at the altar?  Are you resting on your Sunday School attendance?  Are you confident in your ministry?  Or, are you trusting in Jesus Christ?  No amount of religious activity will bridge the sin gap that stands between you and your Creator.  It is only Christ.  It is only the cross.

Do you trust in Him and what He has done?  Or are you trusting in what you have done?  Has your heart and life been forever changed after meeting Jesus Christ?  What possesses you?

~Eric Douglas

1 Comment »

  1. This is a great word. Thank you for posting. Very well put.

    Comment by Jason Ministries — April 11, 2012 @ 6:06 pm | Reply


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