Christianity 201

August 13, 2019

The Flesh, The Flesh!

by Russell Young

Much of the Word deals with the flesh. Although its power for good is limited, it’s attraction to evil is great. To live in the flesh is to live according to its persuasions and interests. Those who honor its demands are appeasing a dying animal since life is in the spirit, not in the flesh which will go to the destruction of the grave.

The flesh is the greatest weakness of humanity. To accommodate its desires, people steal, live in sexual immorality, are pretentious, exhibit anger and hatred, and are enticed to lie, to cheat, and to take advantage of the weak. Paul calls it “the body of (that brings about) death,” (Rom 7:24)

The attractions of the flesh caused Adam and Eve to fall into sin according to the appeal of the forbidden fruit and the flesh is the sole cause of the ruination of those who live on this earth. John has written, “For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world.” (1 Jn 2:16) Those who have a worldly interest and a desire for its things, have fallen prey to the demands and temptations of the flesh and, from God’s perspective, are idolatrous (Col 3:5) and his love for them has departed. “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1 Jn 2:15) God will not be mocked!

People interact with their surroundings through the senses of the flesh—taste, touch, smell, hearing, and sight. The Lord taught that it was better to cut off a hand or a foot, or to pluck out an eye if they cause a person to sin than to go into hell. (Mk 5:43−47) Trying to appease the flesh, as tempted through the senses, produces sin. As understanding that pleasure can be derived through the senses develops, that knowledge feeds the soul and stimulates the mind and the natural spirit to submit to temptations and to seek the unlawful pleasures before them.

The flesh, if allowed to be gratified, will destroy the soul and with it a person’s hope of glory. The “evil inclination” of the thoughts of the human heart grieves God and pain his heart. (Gen 6:5−6) Because of this pain he has determined to eliminate humankind except for those who would, through the leading and power of the Spirit, be conformed to the likeness of his Son. The Lord taught, “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.” (mt 13:41) Sin should remain an issue of concern.

Paul taught that salvation could not be gained by the works of the law because the law had been weakened by the sinful nature that plagued humankind. God’s righteous requirements had to be accomplished in another way if his creation was to be preserved.

God has provided an effective solution; the presence and help of the Holy Spirit. “[God] condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met by those who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” (Rom 8:3−4) Paul had agonized about his wretched state which his body produced and found that the solution to righteousness came through Jesus Christ our Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Cor 3:17, 18)

The interests of the flesh have destroyed God’s creation. They have caused wars that pit nation against nation, and anger that destroys relationships among neighbors, acquaintances, and family members, but when the soul has been transformed and the perishable has become imperishable righteousness will reign forever bringing peace, love, and the absence of pain.

We have not been left without a caution. “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Pet 5:8) Believers have been told to put on the full armour of God so that Satan might be defeated. (Eph 6:10−18) Where the flesh is weak and will bring about the confessor’s downfall, the Word and the Spirit provide all that is necessary to gain victory over the flesh and over Satan’s tactics to bring destruction through it. Faith in Christ, obedience to his leading, will allow the believer to overcome all that can be hurled at him or her.

Paul’s encouragement that “there is no condemnation for those in Christ,” (Rom 8:1) is often misrepresented. Freedom from condemnation applies to those “in Christ” and it is dependent on their willingness to live according to the Spirit. (Rom 8:4) Accordingly, Paul remained conscious of his need. He wrote, “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) While the flesh is weak, the Spirit is strong. Justification through the blood of Christ frees the believer from slavery to the law of sin by giving him or her the promised Spirit (Gal 3:14) who can provide victory over all that Satan can entice through the flesh. Victory is not a gift of the Spirit, however; the believer must live in obedience to him (Heb 5:9) and must choose to contend for victory. Be on guard! The flesh is your enemy when its interests prevail over the convictions of the Spirit. Believers have been called to “count” themselves dead to the flesh as pledged through baptism and they have been reminded to carry their cross so they can commit the body to death when it takes on life and its interests re-emerge.



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

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link. There is also an extended article at this link.

March 11, 2019

Discernment: Hard to Define

NIV 2.Tim.3.12-14 In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it

NLT.Phil.1.9 I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding.

CEB.Col.1.9 Because of this, since the day we heard about you, we haven’t stopped praying for you and asking for you to be filled with the knowledge of God’s will, with all wisdom and spiritual understanding.

TPT.1Cor.1210b And to another the gift to discern what the Spirit is speaking.

NCV.1John.4.1 My dear friends, many false prophets have gone out into the world. So do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see if they are from God.

CSB.1Pet.5.8 Be sober-minded, be alert. Your adversary the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour.

13 months ago we ran a devotional containing short excerpts from four different websites on the subject of discernment. If you missed it, you can connect at this link. (Pay special attention to the third and fourth sections.)

I return to this topic frequently because I think that discernment is the gift needed in these times, and in particular this internet age.

Imagine for a moment someone you know is with you looking for insight on a particular Bible passage. They type, “Meaning of Philippians 4:6,” or if they know the language, “Philippians 4:6 commentary.” As they click the search results, you’re not looking at the main body of the screen, but instead you’re checking out the web address (URL) at the very top of the page.

The first link is to a site of a ministry you know and recommend. The second link is to a site that is very obviously connected to what is considered, to be polite, a marginal organization.

But then a third site pops up, “GodThings.com.” (Don’t bother, I made it up, it’s unassigned.) You don’t know who is behind the site. Clicking the ‘about’ page isn’t helping. So you read the commentary with your friend. It sounds great. Then you click another random page on the site, and suddenly something doesn’t feel right.

That’s an example of discernment kicking in. You can’t go by the information you already have, so you need to take a look at the content and discern whether or not this is a voice you want to be speaking to your friend.

Eight years ago we looked at this topic using an article by the late Dr. Greg Burts, at the blog Dying to Live, with the unusual title Are There Too Many Milk Drinkers? But then he goes on with something that suggested to me that perhaps many Christians lack discernment because they’re thinking in terms of the supernatural gift that’s mentioned in a list of other supernatural gifts that perhaps they see as outside their spiritual reach.

Throughout 2,000 years of church history, there have always been those who distorted the Scriptures. Paul provides a “who’s-who” list of false teachers to avoid in 2 Timothy. With increased television and Internet exposure for anyone who wants to promote his ‘take’ on Christian teaching, has there ever been a greater need for Christians to exercise discernment?

We need people with discernment who can detect false teaching (Heb. 5:14), and spot impostors who try to mislead them and others (2 Tim. 3:13-14). You may be saying, “but I don’t have the gift of discernment.” But Paul is not talking about the “gift of discerning spirits” found in 1 Corinthians 14. He is talking about discernment as a quality each of us is expected to grow in (Phil. 1:9).

And you can sense Paul’s frustration as he writes: “You have been Christians a long time now, and you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things a beginner must learn about the Scriptures. You are like babies who drink only milk and cannot eat solid food. And a person who is living on milk isn’t very far along in the Christian life and doesn’t know much about doing what is right. Solid food is for those who are mature, who have trained themselves to recognize the difference between right and wrong [discern] and then do what is right” (Hebrews 5:12-14 NLT).

 

February 17, 2018

Discernment: Helpful for All, Necessary for Leaders

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. I John 4:1

Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. Acts 17:11

Today we offer highlights from a variety of articles which are not included in full. Starting with Floyd McClung of Youth With A Mission (YWAM):

Leading With Discernment

Effective leaders must be discerning. It’s important to look below the surface of people’s words and actions to see the deeper motives and character issues.

Exercising discernment is not about being critical or judgmental, but about looking beyond appearances. Leaders must be discerning if they are to know the strengths and weaknesses of those they lead or work closely with. Jesus was discerning. John 6:61-64 says,

“When Jesus knew in Himself that His disciples complained about this, He said to them, ‘Does this offend you? There are some of you who do not believe.’”

There is a great difference between being a cynic and being discerning. Leaders who have been hurt, experienced betrayal, or have been wounded by criticism and rejection, sometimes become wary of people. They perform their ministry duties—perhaps with great flair—but at the core, they carry an offended spirit. Such leaders sow seeds of mistrust and suspicion in their followers.

A discerning leader reads people’s hearts without withdrawing from them. Discernment and judgment come from the same root word in the Greek language, but are very different in practice. “To judge” comes from the Greek word krino, meaning to judge and separate (and in some cases, to condemn). “To discern” comes from diakrino, which means to distinguish, to hesitate, to investigate thoroughly. The prefix dia means into or through.
 To judge, then, is to pass sentence on a person, to label them, and potentially write them off. On the other hand, to discern means to see through a façade (beyond face value), to look deeper into something, to see what others may not readily see.

Discernment is a vital leadership quality because it creates depth in a leader. Discerning leaders foresee trouble before it arises and prepare for it. They see the difference between talent and character, between right actions and wrong motives. They spot frauds, false prophets/teachers, and those with secret sins before others do. Discerning leaders are not easily deceived. They appreciate good endeavors by others, but notice when actions are not aligned with genuine values. Paul warned the Galatians about the need for discernment:

“But there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the Gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other Gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed…” – Gal. 1:7–9

My father was a Pentecostal pastor. Sadly, he came across many frauds and charlatans in his day. Because Pentecostals place a high value on personal experience, they tend to be more vulnerable to those who can imitate genuine spiritual experience but lack godly character.

Though my dad was a man of passionate spirituality, he was not fooled by superficial emotion. He was ardent for the things of the Spirit, but learned not to confuse spiritual passion with emotional hype. He placed great value on the fruit of the Spirit, which can be imitated for a time by the immature, but cannot be sustained under pressure.

To those who are discerning, people who wear a phony piety come across tinny, shallow, and are easy to spot. It can seem easier and less costly to wear spirituality like a coat, but true spirituality comes from deep within. It is developed through obedience to God’s Word, and through sacrifice and surrender to the work of the cross in one’s life.

The writer of Hebrews says mature Christians have so absorbed the Word of God that they can discern what is of God and what is not, and see the difference between what is great and what is good. They develop a sensitivity to what is true and what is false, to what may be good but is not the best in a situation. Here’s how Hebrews 5:13–14 describes this level of discernment:

“For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the Word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”  …

From the website Precept Austin:

Today in the Word

… Paul doesn’t waste any time in his letter to the Galatians before addressing the dire problem he sees in their churches. False teachers have been given standing in the churches, and the Galatians have been deceived. The error of the Galatians actually threatens their standing in Christ. Paul accused the Galatians of having abandoned God the Father and the gospel of Jesus Christ. They have deserted the One who called them and embraced another gospel.

What Paul wants to emphasize is that the message that the Galatians have now believed is really no gospel at all. The Galatians, of course, didn’t see it that way. Most likely, the false teachers hadn’t asked the Galatians to renounce their faith in Christ. No, their message was probably much more subtle. They’ve criticized Paul’s ministry, trying to discredit him and expose what they see as the error of his preaching and teaching. They’ve elevated their teaching as the “true” gospel. To Paul’s horror, they’ve preached the necessity of circumcision to Gentile believers (cf. 5:2).

Paul answers back emphatically: May all of God’s curses fall on them, or on anyone in fact who preaches anything other than the gospel of Jesus Christ! Paul was not going to cede any ground to these false teachers. He would not compromise the gospel, nor would he give up on the Galatians so easily.

What we start to see in this letter is Paul as a man who’s fiercely committed to the Galatians and who wants to secure their total commitment to Christ…

I believe that every believer should have a measure of discernment. The problem is we often speak of “the gift of discernment” and immediately some people concludes that this isn’t for them; they feel that they are as likely to have this gift as they are to speak in tongues or perform healing miracles (which they regard as unlikely.) That’s unfortunate.

This is from a longer article on the gifts by Susan Ream at LetterPile.com:

Gifted with Discernment?

How do you know if you have the gift of discernment? Here’s a hint. Those who possess the spiritual gift of discernment can see right through smokescreens and obstacles as they uncover the truth.

The source of the gift of discernment is God. Discernment springs from the truth taught in His word. The insights that come from discernment stem from solid knowledge, understanding, and a firm belief in God’s word.

Let me share some manifestations of the gift of Discernment. If you have this gift the following expressions will ring true to you:

  • Are you passionate about truth?
  • When you are placed in a situation where discernment is needed, do you experience an uncanny sense of knowing?
  • Does scripture flood your mind as you weigh the happenings?
  • Do you read between the lines?
  • Are you gifted with the ability to uncover wrong or evil?
  • Do you expose lies and bring them into the light of sound reason and truth?

If this depiction of discernment describes you, thank God for entrusting you with this extraordinary gift. There are many ways to use this ability. If you possess the gift of discernment, you will have the aptitude to minister as:

  • a counselor – adept at exposing the missing piece that stands in the way of healing
  • arbitrator – brings resolution and peace, between parties, by shedding a light on the truth, in the midst of a dispute
  • decision maker – see’s the answer and quickly moves from a decision to an action
  • the person in leadership – knows how to lead and discerns pitfalls and strengths in team members

Every Church is blessed with members who possess the gift of discernment. God uses those gifted to discern truth from lies; pure motives from evil intentions; and to help to settle disputes by communicating a clear picture of what the truth looks like.

I know we’re running long today, but I also wanted to include some excerpts from an article by author Laura J. Davis:

What is the Spiritual Gift of Discernment?

Everyone has a certain level of discernment. Some might call it intuition, or their “Spidey sense”, whatever you want to call it, we all have it. But, the spiritual gift of discernment is somewhat different…

The Greek word diakrisis is translated as “distinguishing, discerning or judging” and so this gift is used in various ways. In the verse above Paul points out one of its uses – that of discerning spirits, in other words, those with this gift are able to distinguish between good and evil. Now, you would think that is something most people are able to do. After all, don’t the Ten Commandments teach us the difference between right and wrong? Ah! But discernment isn’t about knowing right from wrong, it is about distinguishing between good and evil and yes there is a difference. For example, those with the gift of discernment have the uncanny ability to meet a person for the first time and perceive if that person is hiding something, has good or evil intentions, is trying to manipulate them, or is lying…

…An excellent example of how this gift was used, happens in Acts 5:1-11, where the Apostle Peter was able to discern that Ananias was lying to him when he and his wife Sapphira told Peter that they had sold land and were donating all the proceeds of the land to the church. But Peter knew they were both lying. How did he know? He had been given the gift of discernment and was able to clearly see through to their true nature and knew immediately that their motives were evil.

Most believers have a certain amount of discernment which increases as they mature in their faith (Hebrews 5:13-14)…

However, as I stated above, there are certain believers, who have “the uncanny ability to meet a person for the first time and perceive if that person is hiding something, has good or evil intentions, is trying to manipulate them, or is lying.” They also have the spiritual gift of being able to distinguish between the truth of the Word and deceptive doctrines. We are all exhorted to be spiritually discerning (Acts 17:11; 1 John 4:1), but some in the body of Christ have a unique ability to listen to a message on Sunday and know without a doubt that something was “off”…

If you know someone who has the gift of discernment, pay careful attention to their perceptions as they are usually right. Those with this gift are invaluable people to have on church boards, as Bible Study leaders, or in establishing new ministries. If you are looking for a minister of any kind in your church, you definitely want someone with the gift of discernment on the search committee!…

November 13, 2016

Relish Meat in Your Spiritual Life

by Russell Young

Teachings about spiritual maturity are of more importance than might be appreciated at first glance.  The Word speaks of the necessity of being “born again,” but a new birth is the production of a baby, or in a spiritual sense, of a spiritual infant.  An infant is incapable of doing anything; he or she is there in body, soul, and spirit but needs constant attention and cannot function as a contributor to the kingdom.  This is not the permanent state to which the believer has been called.

The believer has been delivered from the law and from his or her sinful state so that they might be useful to the kingdom of God. (Ep 2:10; 1 Cor 11─15) The writer of Hebrews has recorded: “Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teachings about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” (Heb 5:13─14 NIV) Spiritual maturity comes from training about righteousness and it is something that every believer needs to pursue if he or she is to grow to spiritual adulthood. The teachings that are often presented as being of greatest importance have been referenced in Hebrews as being elementary or “milk.”  “Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.” (Heb 6:1─3 NIV)

As important as the foundational teachings are, they do not provide the understandings that develop spiritual maturity.  In fact, the writer has revealed that if a person falls away through lack of righteous practices after having “tasted” the presence and the power of the Spirit—enjoying milk–, it is impossible to bring him or her back to repentance.  They are not to become “lazy” or indifferent concerning issues of righteousness. Paul stated that, “Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness.” (Rom 6:19 NIV) “Without holiness no one will see the Lord.” (Heb 12:14 NIV)

Spiritual maturity is a matter of applying the knowledge that the believer has that compels him or her to live righteously before the Lord.  During the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” (Mt 5:6 NIV) To hunger after and to thirst for demands an earnest seeking for righteousness so that their thirst and hunger might be quenched. The Lord is eager to assist in this matter. Righteousness is not given at the time of confession of faith; Paul said that it is being “awaited” through the Spirit (Gal 5:5), but those seeking it must deliberately train themselves to distinguish good from bad. Spiritual maturity comes through training and practice, from seeking and following, from crucifying one’s interests and through suffering in order to defeat temptations. Its development often requires the Lord’s discipline and the acceptance of punishment. Paul taught that we must “offer [ourselves] to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.” (Rom 6:13 NIV) If a person is to live he or she must “put to death the misdeeds of the body.” (Rom 8:13 NIV) Spiritual maturity demands the development of a special kind of living where a person’s natural spirit with its interests is put to death and the life of Christ is lived. It is obedience that brings righteousness and life. (Rom 6:16)

Spiritual maturity comes from dedication to obeying the Spirit; it is not freely given.  Those who rest in the nourishment of milk as their spiritual food will remain unskilled in in achieving spiritual maturity and even risk dwelling apart from the Lord. (Mt 13:41; 1 Jn 3:10; 2 Pet 2:21) And, those who teach that milk is sufficient food for life will produce spiritual babies and are even deceptive in their teachings. (1 Jn 3:6; Gal 6:7─8)

Spiritual maturity is to be sought; it is to be pursed with all a person’s heart, soul, mind, and body so that the believer can gain victory over the flesh, the evil one, and the world.  It is those who “overcome” who will dwell with the Lord in the New Jerusalem. (Rev 21:7)


eternal-salvation-russell-youngRussell Young’s book is available now in print and eBook.  The title is Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? It is available through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  9781512757514 $17.99 US


 

February 7, 2016

Beware the Teachings of Man

We’ve asked Russell Young to become a regular contributor here; in addition to being active in our comments section. This article got me thinking about how we have a clergy class who we expect to be the arbiters of all things spiritual, instead of learning how to go to the source

 

See that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. (Colossians 2:8, NIV)

A god of this age is philosophical thought. Its expression has been seen in teaching about the issues of life (abortion, euthanasia, same-sex marriage, tolerance, etc.) and even in spiritual teachings. Our institutions of “higher learning” have derailed the gospel message; philosopher-theologians often leave the confines of God’s Word in search of understanding so that Believers might be ‘better informed.’ Their proclamations are often accepted as “truth” and they are honored as being the source of all knowledge and the founts of wisdom. The problem is that their “truths” often come from “principles of this world” as Paul has warned. Their philosophies are deceptive.

The reason why our pastor/teachers are accepting the deceptions of these philosopher-theologians must be discerned by themselves. Is it that the Holy Spirit only speaks to a few? Is it that they do not hear the whisperings of the Spirit? Is it due to the ease that comes from relying on another’s mind? Is it that they have been convinced of authenticity of a world system that honors institutional learning?

Why is it that our theological institutions have replaced the ministry of the Holy Spirit in His teaching role with that of esteemed men? Through John’s gospel our Lord stated,

“When he, the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you in all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you.” (John 16:13-14, NIV)

Modern ChurchThe neglect of cherishing the Spirit and of seeking Him as the source of truth, and the practice of relenting to human understanding has led many astray and is resulting in the destruction of the modern church. The LORD said that He would not give His glory to another, and in the end He will not give it to those who have honored themselves or who honor others for their human thought. This is a serious matter!

Paul wrote,

“Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please the sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Galatians 6:7-8, NIV)

This passage is straight-forward. How do believers know the leading of the Spirit if they are led by men? What teaching is being provided to help them avoid destruction? Teachings about righteousness that allow the believer to mature and to “train himself to distinguish good from evil” are the “solid food” of God’s Word. (Hebrews 5:14) The nature of one’s “sowing” will lead to his eternal life or to his destruction. This teaching and the many that require the practice of righteousness, the transformation of the heart to one that pleases God, and the awaiting judgment have all be cast aside in favor of man’s persuasions of provision provided through God’s grace. This is a very serious matter!

Paul taught that “the righteous requirements of the law are fully met in us who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:4, NIV) It is the teaching of our Lord that He did “not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17) He fulfills them through His life lived in the believer which is one’s hope of glory. (Colossians 1:27) In the end the LORD is going to destroy the earth and its inhabitants because “it has been defiled by its people; they have disobeyed the laws, violated the statutes and broken his everlasting covenant.” (Isaiah 24:5)

What disappointment awaits those who have relied upon man rather than upon God! Woe to those who teach man’s philosophies rather than God’s truths. Those who do so will face God’s wrath. Concerning the “distortion” of truth and the destruction that follows, Peter wrote:

“He [Paul] writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do other Scriptures, to their own destruction.” (2 Peter 3:16)

Teachers will be judged for their deceptions!

The world has a great pull on the interests of man. The Israelites wanted a king so that they might be like the rest of the world and the Lord gave them one. Philosophical-theologians want to honor the institutions of man just as do teachers of other disciplines and the body is reaping its reward.

It is “hollow and deceptive philosophy,” as Paul has presented, that is deceiving many. The church needs to rest its understanding on the teachings of God’s Word through the Spirit’s revelations and not on the musings of man. Destruction is going to fall on many for their neglect of the precious “gift” of the Spirit and of His ordained ministry. In the end the wisest philosopher will receive no exaltation over the humblest servant of the Lord. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. (Psalm 111:10)

April 12, 2015

The Law is Not a Substitute for Moral Judgment

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2 Cor 4:1 NIV Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.

read the full chapter at this link

Today we pay a return visit to Mark Love, Dean of the School of Theology and Ministry and Director of the Resource Center for Missional Leadership at Rochester College, Rochester Hills, MI; who writes at the blog Dei-Liberations. Click the title below to read at source.

Appealing to the conscience of everyone

I’m not a philosopher or psychologist, so my functional anthropology lacks the precision and care that it deserves. But I’ve often been fascinated by what Paul means by the term “conscience.” It appears in the 2 Cor 4 text that I’ve been writing these meditations on. But the notion of the conscience also features prominently in the Pastorals (1,2 Tim, Titus). (I know this makes any claims about Paul dubious, since authorship of the Pastorals is highly disputed. While I’m open to someone else writing under Paul’s name, I’m more convinced that Paul wrote the Pastorals than Ephesians or Colossians).

In 1 Timothy, Paul urges Timothy to distinguish himself from those who would be teachers of the law. While the law is good, it’s usefulness is primarily for the disobedient, “for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral,” etc. You get the picture. The problem by insisting on the law is that it “shipwrecks” faith and good conscience. It is contrary to “sound doctrine,” literally “healthy words,” which build a capacity in those of faith for faithful judgment.

Now in my faith tradition, we flipped Paul’s notions of sound doctrine to be the black and white things (like the law), which could not be veered from without straying from the faith. For Paul, those who insist on breaking life down into black and white are the ones who shipwreck their faith. The faithful are those whose imaginations are funded with “healthy words” from which faithful judgments can be made. The place where these judgments occur Paul calls the conscience.

I think for Paul, the conscience is like a muscle that can be developed or trained for God. Using the law as a substitute for moral judgement is like always riding a bike with training wheels. It can get you only so far with God and you’ll never really know what riding a bike is like.

Faith depends on the capacity of the conscience to make godly judgments in the innumerable situations we will find ourselves in. To foreclose on this capacity with appeals like “God said it, I believe it, that settles it” is to put faith at risk. Though Paul doesn’t say it this way in 1 Tim, I think he would say that this is the place where the Spirit can influence us, change us, guide us. In fact, I wonder if this is what he means in Romans by a “renewing of the mind” which allows the believer to “discern what the will of God is, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

So, when Paul says in 2 Cor 4 that he “appeals to the conscience of everyone,” I think he might have two things in mind. First, unlike the tradition of Sophistry valued by the Corinthians, Paul makes his appeal to something other than people’s affections. He is not trying to secure his audience by flattering or entertaining them. Second, he is trying to build a capacity within them for discernment, for making judgments, for exercising a Christian imagination which will be open to the Spirit in all circumstances. He does not spoon feed his listeners principles for godly living. Instead, he funds their imagination with the gospel so that they can live faithfully in the wildly improvisational art of life.

August 17, 2014

Deceivers Can Be Deceptive

 

I Timothy 4:1 (NIV)

The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. 

At first glance this appears to be one of several verses discussing rising apostasy (falling away) in the last days. We can read this verse on that basis and clearly understand its main point.

But there’s something else going on here in the phrase “taught by demons.”

When we think of demons, we often think of movie images of slimy creatures in dank sewers with horrific sounding voices and threatening words.

When we think of teaching, we think of well-dressed men and women in well-lit classrooms speaking perfectly in clear voices all contained within the realm of the academic life of high schools or colleges or universities, or even seminaries.

We know that some teachers can be deceived, or misguided, or badly informed, but we ought to see the phrase “taught by demons” as somewhat oxymoronic. (“He’s on a Christian TV station and he’s wearing a tie; he must be trustworthy.”)

Nonetheless, The Enemy of our souls can appear quite respectable. II Timothy 3 (NKJV) states:

1 But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come…   having a form of godliness but denying its power.

It speaks of very self-centered people who, as The Message Bible puts it, “make a show of religion, but behind the scenes they’re animals.

II Cor. 11:13-15 (NLT) reminds us that Satan himself can appear on your doorstep appearing perfectly honorable, even supernaturally honorable:

These people are false apostles. They are deceitful workers who disguise themselves as apostles of Christ. But I am not surprised! Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no wonder that his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness…

Just because someone has what appears to be ‘a teaching ministry’ does not mean you should turn off your discernment filters. You need to always be on the lookout because deception is…well…so deceptive.

Similarly, the Bible describes a situation where Jesus might be said to using his discernment filters in reference to humankind. I like how the [Old] Living Bible handles verse 25 in John 2:23-25; although it amplifies one particular phrase in ways the other translations do not, it really gets the point across:

23-25 Because of the miracles he did in Jerusalem at the Passover celebration, many people were convinced that he was indeed the Messiah.   But Jesus didn’t trust them, for he knew mankind to the core. No one needed to tell him how changeable human nature is!

If human nature is that changeable, it means that even within the context of respectable Bible teaching an individual could be led astray and their core message change from truth to deception.

Don’t let appearances fool you.

August 25, 2013

A Fresh Word from God?

“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” John 10:27

Today many are seeking a fresh word from God, but will God speak something to their hearts that he has not already said before? Brad Whitt looked at this question recently in a blog post titled, Devotional Thought – If It’s True It Isn’t New. (Click to read at source.)

“But we have renounced the hidden things of shame, not walking in craftiness nor handling the word of God deceitfully, but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.” 2 Corinthians 4:2

I once heard my pastor Adrian Rogers say, “If it’s true it isn’t new.” Had the apostle Paul heard him he would have given a loud and hearty, “Amen!”  I say this because I believe this is the essence of Paul’s point in this statement to the church at Corinth. I understand Paul to teach that there shouldn’t be anything purely original in a revelation. When he writes about “commending ourselves to every man’s conscience,” I believe he’s talking about commending truth to the “consciousness” of man.  Paul’s point is that divine truth, like any other truth, must first speak to man’s experience. It must appeal to something that the hearer already knows to be true. In other words it is “a faithful saying worthy of all acceptation.”

To be sure, this is not the normal way of thinking. Most people believe divine revelation must be something that is completely and totally new. They believe that if God wants to speak or reveal something to man that He will say something that man has never heard before. This is certainly the way most people view “getting a fresh word from God.” They hear a sermon and God speaks to them and they something like, “That was a fresh word from God. I had never seen that before.” What do they mean? Do they mean that it was a completely new and novel thought? I don’t think so. I believe what they mean to say is that they recognized something that wasn’t expected. It was a fresh thought that was suddenly discovered once the Holy Spirit pulled the veil aside. It didn’t suddenly appear out of nowhere. It had been there all along, covered by the veil. Finding it, in the most literal of sense, was truly a discovery. It was the removal of something that had covered and concealed it from view. When it was seen, it was immediately recognized as something that had belonged to them all along, something that they never should have been without. It’s not something strange, but oddly familiar. The freshness of the revelation comes from the fact that while it wasn’t consciously known, it had been there all along.

Paul says that this is true with regards to the revelation of God’s truth. Yes, it is divine in its nature, but it presents itself to the consciousness of man and appeals to his personal experience. In fact, this is the simplest meaning of the word “revelation.” It speaks of pulling aside the veil to see something that had always been there. It’s not talking about creating something absolutely new, but rather of uncovering something old. It has been wrapped up, covered, concealed, lying just withing reach all throughout our lives without our knowing that it was there.

What God’s revelation – His light – reveals to me is actually myself. He has hung a mirror in my room that all during the night I thought was simply a dark, blank spot on the wall. However, when the sun began to rise and I saw by His light the reflection of my heart in His mirror it was then that I really realized that I was a man.

Don’t ever forget that God has distinct voices for different souls – He speaks to the  conscience of every man. And even though His light “lights every man that comes into the world” it doesn’t have the same beam for every soul. God shines into separate rooms, each one furnished differently from the next, of man’s heart. Do I have the right to require that my brother’s room be furnished the same way as mine? Elijah’s table was spread in the desert and what he needed was a human voice so God sent him a friend. Peter’s food came to him in dreams – let down on a sheet from heaven. What he needed was to be woken by reality, so God sent him into a stormy sea. John expected to immediately be seated at Jesus’ right hand. What he needed was to learn how to patiently wait, so God sent him on a long journey that ended on the rocky outcroppings of Patmos. Paul had the burden of too much light and was prone to be unappreciative of a brother’s difficulty. What he needed was the experience of human weakness, so God sent him a thorn in the flesh. Matthew had too many thorns. Everywhere he went he faced hardship, contempt, hatred and scorn. He didn’t need God to give another thorn, but a flower. So, he received a revelation of the Lord’s presence in a feast.

I’m, for one, am thankful to God that not only does He knock on every heart’s door, but that He always varies His knocking. He called quietly to Martha. He met Mary in a social setting. He cried with a loud voice to Lazarus. Today He supplies my life, not where it is the strongest, but where it is the weakest. He knows me better than I know myself and He loves me enough that He reaches into my conscience through my consciousness of need.

July 20, 2012

Seven Letters; Five Problem Churches

John’s Vision of Christ

(NIV) Rev. 1:9 I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10 On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, 11 which said: “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.”

12 I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. 14 The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. 15 His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.

17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. 18 I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.

19 “Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later. 20 The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.

Not a week goes by when someone doesn’t tell me they’ve heard a sermon, or are doing a study, or want to do some reading on the letters to the churches recorded in Revelation.  I think this particular passage simply strikes so close to home that it reads like a very contemporary message.  Caleb Jennings Breakley wrote about the five problem churches in a post entitled: 5 Kinds of Messed Up Churches—Should We Stay?

In the last book of the Bible, Revelation, Jesus speaks to seven different churches (5 messed up), acknowledging them for what is good, rebuking them for what is not (except for the churches in Smyma and Philadelphia), and lovingly calling them to turn from their wrongs.

Some people believe these churches are representative of seven church ages. I’m of the peeps who believe these were seven actual churches in Asia minor. Either way, we can learn from them today, especially the 5 rebuked ones. As you read, consider how these churches mirror churches of our age.

5 Kinds of Messed Up Churches

  • To the church in Ephesus, Jesus speaks highly of the people’s hard work, perseverance and how they do not tolerate false teachers and doctrine, but rebukes them for abandoning their bleeding-heart zeal and joy of when they first believed (passionless church?)
  • To the church in Pergamum, He speaks highly of the people for staying true to the name of Jesus and not denying Him in spite of terrible times of tragedy, but rebukes them for mixing doctrines and following wicked teachings of sexual immorality (biblically shaky church?)
  • To the church in Thyatira, He speaks highly of the people’s ever-growing love, faith and service, but rebukes them for tolerating the teachings of a seductive prophetess (letting leaders say what they want, even-if-it’s-against-God church?)
  • To the church in Sardis, He only acknowledges that there are a few followers who have not soiled their garments, then rebukes them for being known as a church that’s alive, when it’s actually dead (self-centered church that doesn’t focus on the truth and love of Jesus?)
  • To the church in Laodicea, He acknowledges nothing, then rebukes them for being neither hot nor cold in their faith, which He considers wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked (this one might be the most scary).

Churches are good in some areas, messed up in others, and God is calling us to overcome the messed up stuff and to run into His arms. The question is: should we stay in messed up Bodies of Christ? Should we be the hands and feet for God in the 5 messed up churches? To what extent? Is there gray area?

~Caleb Jennings Breakey

January 25, 2011

Only God’s Spirit Can Reveal Truth and Counter Error

I posted this earlier today at Thinking Out Loud, and decided it belongs here as well. Classic Christianity by Bog George remains one of my all-time favorite Christian books. This excerpt is from an early chapter where he talks about separating truth from error.

There’s a big difference between knowing what something says and knowing what it means. Millions of Christians know what the Bible says, but many do not know what it means, because that can only be revealed by the Spirit. Man’s pride rebels against the idea that he cannot understand spiritual truth on his own but this is what the Bible clearly says:

The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God for they are foolishness to him and he cannot understand them because they are spiritually discerned. (I Cor 2:14)

The reason why is very simple, there is no human alive who can read another man’s mind and if we cannot know what another human being is thinking how much less can we ever know what God is thinking? I Cor 2:11 reminds us of this:

For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.

How then can God teach us his thoughts? “We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God that we may understand what God has freely given us.” (v. 12) Man does not need the enlightening ministry of the Holy Spirit to understand the law; the law was given specifically for the natural man. We need the Holy Spirit to open our minds to the things having to do with the unfathomable riches of His love and grace, those things that “God has freely given us.” Those truths are described in I Cor. 2:9 this way:

No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him.

In order to understand the things that God wants to teach us regarding His grace we must have a humble, teachable attitude for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6) Just as the same sun that melts wax hardens clay, the same message of God’s grace that softens the heart of the humble hardens the proud. The proud cannot receive grace because the proud will not receive grace…

That is why an uneducated but humble person will receive far more genuine and intimate knowledge of God Himself than a highly educated but arrogant theologian…

Bob George, Classic Christianity