Christianity 201

December 5, 2017

The Church of Sardis Needed Strengthening

by Russell Young

At the beginning of his revelation to humankind, the Lord pronounced blessings on those who would hear and take to heart the fullness of that revelation. Following this he commended the seven churches for their strengths and admonished them for their failures. At the end of his revelation he promised a presence in the New Jerusalem for those who overcome. (Rev 21:7) They were to do something to find eternal fellowship with him, not to passively rest in mental “belief” or in the “acceptance” of his gift of grace.

His address to the churches was not to the church corporate but to the body of the churches. To the church in Sardis he stated, “I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard: obey it and repent.” (Rev 3: 1─3 NIV) The blessing that the Lord had proclaimed rested in the need for those of Sardis to wake up and to obey what they had received.

It is easy for a church to have a reputation of being alive. A reputation is derived from the impressions of others. A church can be very active within itself and within the community, as was likely the church in Sardis. However, the Lord declared it to be “dead,” or perhaps, its members to be dead. He left them with the call to “obey” and dismissed their reputation of being alive.

The issue of concern to him appears to be that of personal righteousness, since he addressed the state of their coverings and commented that a few people had not soiled their clothes. These he proclaimed would walk with him dressed in white. “White” raiment stands for purity and holiness. Those who don’t wear white will be left shamefully exposed. He admonished the church in Laodicea to buy “white clothes to wear, so so[they] could cover [their] shameful nakedness.” (Rev 3:18 NIV) Apparently the need for personal righteousness had been lost in the church of Sardis and in the minds of its people. The Lord said that he or she who “overcomes” like them would be dressed in white, that their name would not be blotted from the book of life, and that he would acknowledge them before his Father and his angels.” He did not say that they needed to confess him as Lord but that they had to live out their confession through obedience–to do something, if they were to avoid death. Even though the church had a reputation of being alive, the Lord’s assessment was that most of its members were dead.

The need for personal righteousness is seldom declared; it is assumed to have been given as an act of grace by the Lord. Many claim to rest their hope “in the righteousness of Christ alone” without exploring the meaning of their pronouncement. Paul warned his readers not to be deceived. “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Gal 6: 7─8 NIV) Pleasing the Spirit requires obedience to him. The writer of Hebrews declared that “[Christ] became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” (Heb 5: 9 NIV, Italics added.) Those who have chosen to walk in darkness—apart from the Spirit, or who do not recognize the need for obedience due to deceptive teaching will reap destruction even though they may have attended church many times a week and have a reputation for being alive because of their busyness and activity.  The Lord commends his children for their righteous acts and gifts of mercy; however, without holiness no one will see him. (Heb 12:14 NIV)

There are many false doctrines being presented that bring comfort to the dead, but the Lord cautioned the church of Sardis, and his people through them, to “Wake up!” The promise of a place in the New Jerusalem is only offered to those who “overcome.” (Rev 21:7) Does your walk need strengthening? Do the teachings of your church need strengthening? The church in Sardis was found wanting and needed strengthening.

Author Russell Young’s column appears on alternate Tuesdays. His book Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? available in print and eBook through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo. 9781512757514

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link.

Our Thursday contributor, Clarke Dixon, also looked at the church of Sardis earlier this year. Click here to read Dead Churches, Like Sardis.

Yes, today’s first scripture text did indeed form the basis of a Bob Dylan song, When You Gonna Wake Up.

January 8, 2017

A Variety of Rewards in God’s Eternal Kingdom

by Russell Young

It is the believer’s greatest hope that he or she will be able to enjoy eternity in God’s presence.  Modern teaching often leaves the perception that all “believers” will enjoy uniform rewards and pleasure in the kingdom to come, but is this so?  The concept of God’s heavenly kingdom has been simplified to the point that its truth has been lost. A careful consideration of the scriptures can shed some light on the nature of his heavenly kingdom.

1. Rewards will not be the same for all.  Although it probably makes sense when carefully considered, the one who has given his life in service to the Lord will reap different rewards than those who have confessed Christ’s lordship, but who have enjoyed the pleasures of the world.

Jesus taught that rewards would be person specific. “For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done.” (Mt 16:27 NIV) “And, “Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done.” (Rev 22:12 NIV) Paul taught similarly: “The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labour.” (1 Cor 3:14 NIV) And, “If what he has built survives [his ministry for Christ], he will receive his reward.” (1 Cor 3:14 NIV) It is the Lord’s expressed revelation that every person will eventually be rewarded according to their believing (continuous) in him and according to their degree of service. Rewards in the heavenly kingdom will be varied. The Lord prophesied through Malachi, “And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve (labour for) God and those who do not.” (Malachi 3:18 NIV)

2. Daniel has revealed that some of those raised at the return of the Lord will awaken to “everlasting life,” while others will awaken to “shame and everlasting contempt.” (Dan 12:2 NIV)

These “rewards” or “inheritances” apply to those who will be resurrected following the Great Tribulation and before the Millennium; consequently, they apply to the children of God, or to those who are of the first resurrection, those whose names are written in the book of life. It should be noted that “shame and everlasting contempt” do not belong to those sentenced to the “lake of burning sulphur.” Contempt does not originate from those of like mind but from those who have recognized and committed to higher standards, and shame is what is felt by those who have been made to recognize failure due to their own lack of commitment. The shame and contempt will belong to those who have pledged Christ’s lordship but who have not lived it.

3.Reason would suggest that not all would be assigned the same responsibilities within God’s heavenly kingdom.

For instance, not all can be rulers.  If some are rulers, there must be some who are being ruled. Thought needs to be given to this reality.  Although some might debate this observation, once the New Jerusalem descends to earth, it will be the seat of God’s government. Outside are “the nations.”  (See Rev 2:26, 21:24) The Lord cautioned the church in Thyatira that he would repay people according to their deeds and that those who “overcome” by doing his will to the end will be given authority over the nations. (Rev 2:26) Outside are those who love to live the lie. (Rev 22:15) They have pledged Christ’s lordship, but haven’t lived it.” (Rom 10:9─10; 1 Jn 1:6)

Jesus also stated, “I say to you many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast (wedding) with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Mt 8:11─12 NIV) God’s kingdom will have both rulers and subjects.  The rulers will be inside the walls of the New Jerusalem while the subjects will dwell outside where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Many envision the Heavenly Kingdom as being somewhere in space.  Revelation 21 suggests that it will be on earth but will be heaven-like. “Heavenly” does not necessarily mean “in heaven” but ‘like heaven.’ The Merriam Webster’s Dictionary states that -ly means “like in appearance, manner or nature; having the characteristics of” Those in it will be holy and will walk righteously with their God.  The Word does not speak of people dwelling in the heavens above, but reveals God’s kingdom as being present on earth. A great deal of fantasy has been allowed to exist concerning the nature of heaven.

It is very possible that some of those in the eternal kingdom will never enjoy rest.  Paul stated that “And so all Israel will be saved.” (Rom 11:26 NIV) On the other hand the Lord told Moses, “I have forgiven them, as you asked. Nevertheless, as surely as I live and as surely as the glory of the Lord fills the whole earth, not one of the men who saw my glory and the miraculous signs I performed in Egypt and in the desert but who disobeyed me and tested me ten times—not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their forefathers. No one who has treated me with contempt will ever see it.” (Num 14:20─23)

The nature of God’s eternal kingdom needs to be understood. There is room for a variety of honors and positions of responsibility and for the place of shame.  Within God’s kingdom some will enjoy his presence, while others will be separated (2 Thess 1:8─9) from him eternally and be banished to outer darkness. (Mt 8:12, 22:13, 24:51, 25:30) Only those “worthy” will dwell with God. (Lk 20:35)

April 24, 2016

God’s Love is NOT Unconditional

•••by Russell Young

The Christian mythology of God’s “unconditional love” has entrenched itself solidly in church teaching and is often promoted without being given adequate thought.  Many people are resting their adoration of Christ and their eternal hope in the thought that God’s love is unconditional and that their sin practices will be over-looked.  It almost sounds heretical to refute such an idea.

God’s love is expansive and beyond understanding but it is not “unconditional.”  If His love is accepted as being expressed as one’s presence in His Eternal Kingdom, and if His love is without condition, salvation must be universal.  Further, if His love is without condition, there will be no place for judgment since judgment implies the assessment of one’s faithfulness in meeting conditions.

The nature of fullness of God’s love is seldom taught.  That is, the Lord not only gave His life on the cross so that past sins might be forgiven (Hebrews 9:15) and a new covenant provided, He dwells “in” the believer so that the righteousness demanded by the law might be achieved by those who are willing to obey Him. (Romans 8:4)

Since salvation is NOT universal, condition(s) for it must apply.  According to the Psalmist the first condition is contrition of spirit.  “The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit.” (Psalm 34:18, KJV; 51:17; 57:15) A second condition is that they must “obey” the Spirit.  “He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” (Hebrews 5:9, NIV; Romans 8:4) A third condition is that they must stand firm to the end. All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 10:22, NIV).  A fourth condition is that they must share in His suffering (to overcome temptations),” Now if we are children [of God], then we are heirs—heirs of God and coheirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” (Romans 8:17, NIV; Romans 6:5)

All will be judged at Christ’s return for the things done in the flesh. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each may receive what is due him for the things done in the body, whether good or bad.” (2 Corinthians 5:10, NIV).  There will be a separation of those “who do not obey the gospel” from those who do.  “He will punish those who do not know [appreciate] God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.  They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power on the day he comes to be glorified.” (2 Thessalonians 1:8-10)

God’s love is expansive, but not unconditional, and those who teach otherwise are deceivers leading many into a false hope for their disobedient behaviors.  Paul told his readers to “work out their own salvation with fear and trembling.” (Philippians 2:12) Christ told His followers to “make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. (Luke 13:24, NIV)

The mythical concept of God’s “unconditional love” is so pervasive that it has overwhelmed contemporary Christian music and has lulled believers to sleep concerning the need for their own righteousness.  God’s love is expansive, but He is also HOLY and “without holiness no one will see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:14) The Kingdom of God was not created for man; it is God’s kingdom created for Him and those in it must be suitable for His Presence.  “The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil.” (Matthew 13:41)  “Only a few” will find life. (Matthew 7:14)

July 27, 2012

Wanting to End Well

CEB- II Chron. 29:2 He did what was right in the Lord’s eyes, just as his ancestor David had done.  II Chron. 32:33 Hezekiah lay down with his ancestors and was buried in the upper area of the tombs of David’s sons. All Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem honored him at his death.

Dr. R. T. Kendall shares some of his greatest fears in this article.  If you don’t know him, he is the author of many, many books and pastored at Westminster Chapel in London for 35 years.  There are a number of scripture references here; for your convenience, here is the link to Bible Gateway.

The older I get, the faster time flies; the older I get, the more I find myself crying to God, ‘Let me end well’. I have been stunned to discover how many esteemed leaders in church history did not end well. Even some of my Puritan heroes went to their graves with a lack of assurance of their own salvation, and many today – for various reasons – may find themselves in this situation. Oh Lord, let it not be so with me!

I share with you some of my own greatest fears.

First, that God would take his hand off me – and leave me alone. Billy Graham expressed that this has been his greatest fear. It is what actually happened to King Saul (as I said in this column before) – a man who was chosen of God (1 Sam.9:15-16), who had a brilliant beginning (1 Samuel 10:9-10), who lost his anointing (1 Sam.16;1, 18:12), yet whose prophetic gift flourished on his way to kill his enemy, young David (1 Sam.19:19-24). When I ponder the thought that if the Holy Spirit were completely withdrawn from the church today, ninety percent of the work of the church would go on as if nothing happened, I fear that could happen to you or me. It is so easy to let either a natural or spiritual gift camouflage our true, secret relationship with God.

Second, that I would teach what is not exactly true. I cannot bear the thought that I would pass on any measure of theological error. Some people do not worry too much about sound theology. But I do. I want to get it right in my thinking before I stand in a pulpit or take pen in hand. I will have to give an account of every word I have uttered, including every ‘careless’ word (Matt.12:36). What is my assurance that I will not accept or teach heresy? One thing – but not my training, reading or level of intelligence; it is unconditional obedience to the Holy Spirit. I put all my eggs in this basket, Jesus’ words: ‘If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself’ (John 7:17 – KJV). I conclude from this that if my relationship with God is right, I will be kept from any serious error.

Third, that I could be out of the will of God and not know it. If this could happen to Joseph and Mary, it could happen to you or me. They went an entire day without Jesus but assumed the whole time ‘he was in their company’ (Luke 2:44). I based my book Sensitivity of the Spirit (Charisma House) largely on this. I am sobered to recall that God is no respecter of persons, that he will not bend the rules for any of us. If we proceed without him, we too are on our own. The only prevention that I know of is to develop such an intimate knowledge of the ways of the Holy Spirit that I instantly sense his absence when I move ahead without him. To be fair, I don’t think anyone can get seriously out of God’s will for very long whose heart does not long for his Presence. But I do not want to go a day, not even an hour, knowingly, without his conscious Presence.

Fourth, that I might discover that I could have had much more of God and be used in a greater manner but for my stubbornness to recognize his warnings. I have just finished writing a book called How to Forgive Ourselves – Totally. I have made so many mistakes, would give anything to have a second chance in certain areas (especially with my family). I know I am a forgiven man. I have forgiven myself – totally. Furthermore, I hang on to Romans 8:28, that all things work together for good to them who love God and are the called according to his purpose. I believe this promise with all my heart. But at the same time I cannot help but wonder how much better it might have been had I listened to clear cautions from the Lord over the years. This is why I am so keen not to brush aside any loving word from a friend or stranger – lest I miss all that God would do with me. The older you get, the more you want to avoid any past mistakes.

Fifth, that I might not hear God say to me, ‘Well done’. You may say that all Christians get that very same commendation when they get to Heaven. I don’t agree. A ‘rich welcome’ is promised on certain conditions (2 Pet.1:11). I hold that not all who go to Heaven also get a reward at the Judgment Seat of Christ (2 Cor.5:10). Some will be saved by fire – their works burned – and lose their reward (1 Cor.3:15). I have heard people say, ‘I don’t care about a reward, I just want to make it to Heaven’. I reply: you won’t feel that way then! You should know that a reward (also called ‘crown’, ‘prize’ or ‘inheritance’) was very important to the Apostle Paul (1 Cor.9:27). Martin Luther once said that when he gets to Heaven he expects three surprises: (1) there will be people there he did not expect to see; (2) there will be people missing he expected would be there; (3) that he is there himself! If I could paraphrase that, I expect three surprises: (1) there will be those who receive a reward at the Judgment I did not think deserved it; (2) there will be those saved by fire I thought would receive a reward; (3) that I get to hear from the lips of Jesus himself, ‘Well done RT’ at the Judgment Seat of Christ.

In a word: I want to end well. Like you, I want to live a long time. We all want to end well. In a day when there are more and more shocking revelations of those we esteemed so highly, I urge every reader to fall to his or her knees and cry out, ‘Oh Lord, let it not be me’. This means following Paul’s example: ‘I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize’ (1 Cor.9:27). One of the reason we are told about the Judgment Seat of Christ is that it would make a difference in the way we live.

~ Dr. R. T. Kendall