Thursday, December 30, 2010

Faith Accounted for Righteousness (Romans 4:1-5)

There is an ongoing debate among religious people concerning the conditional nature of salvation. Some argue that "works" are not essential for salvation while others argue that "works" ARE essential for salvation. At the center of this debate is Romans 4, a chapter in which the apostle Paul tackles this controvery in the most eloquent way!

Let's read verses 1-5 of this chapter as we begin this important discussion: "What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scipture say? 'Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.' Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness."

It is clear upon reading this passage that Paul, by inspiration, is emphasizing faith and grace over "works." Works lead to boasting and ultimately run counter to the very grace of God. The apostle says in verse 5 that those who believe are truly righteous, NOT those who "work." At first glance, this section of scripture seems to coincide with the popular doctrine of "faith only" but let's take a closer look.

The main question is: what are works?

Most people assume that the term works refers to anything that we do including our acts of obedience to God. Thus it is posited that we do not have to obey God to be saved because that would be "earning salvation by works." Any and ALL outward acts are said to be works...

...but this is absolutely false.

In the New Testament, God distinguishes between works of obedience and works of merit. This is evident by the fact that obedience is spoken of positively while meritorious works are condemned and shunned.

Jesus says in John 14:15, "If you love Me, keep My commandments." In keeping His commandments, are we earning His love? Not at all. Obedience is a proper and necessary expression of our love for Christ. Without obedience, we cannot rightly say that we love Him.

Paul says regarding baptism in Romans 6:17, "But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered." True obedience is motivated by the heart; it is not merely outward. And according to Paul, obedience is what delivers us from the bondage of sin. Again, obedience is spoken of positively.

Hebrews 5:9 says, "And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him." A similar point is made by Peter in 1 Peter 1:22, "Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth..." We must obey to be saved.

You see, works of obedience are spoken of positively in the New Testament. And more to the point, true obedience is not coupled with arrogance or a "give me what I've earned" attitude. TRUE biblical obedience is motivated by the heart and is coupled with faith. It is obedience that James is speaking of in the second chapter of his epistle when he says "faith without works is dead." We cannot be saved by a dead faith! True faith is obedient faith.

AT THE SAME TIME, the New Testament condemns meritorious works. We have already seen this in Romans 4. But notice also Ephesians 2:8-9: "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should BOAST." While obedience is spoken of positively, these works in Ephesians 2 are spoken of negatively. Why is that? Because Paul is not speaking here of works of obedience. These works are what I call "meritorious works," works that cause us to boast before God.

Also notice Titus 3:4-7 which says, "But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life." The works of righteousness are not works of obedience. Again, consider the context. In verse 3, Paul is speaking of the condition of the world when Jesus came to die for our sins. God didn't send Jesus to a deserving world, but to an undeserving world. Mankind had done nothing to earn the love of God; we were as unloveable as we could be. It was an act of kindness and mercy. That's the point here. In no way is God discouraging or slamming obedience.

Do you get what I'm trying to say?

There's a difference between obeying God's commands and trying to earn salvation. It's really all about our attitude. Am I humbly doing what God has commanded me to do, or am I arrogantly demanding that God give me something that I think I deserve (when in fact, I don't deserve it).

We have to understand this distinction if we're going to rightly interpret Romans 4. Paul is contrasting a "system of works" and a "system of grace," an attitude of faithful obedience and an attitude of arrogantly demanding salvation. The Jews, according to Romans 3:27 boasted in their works; they felt superior and viewed salvation as their right, while viewing the Gentiles as unworthy and undeserving. Paul is demolishing that mindset. He's telling these arrogant Jews that if salvation can be earned, then God's grace is cheapened and in fact rejected. Yes, we must obey God, just as Abraham had to submit to the commandment of circumcision (Gen. 17), but we better not think that God OWES us because of our obedience.

Jesus put it best when He said, "So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, 'we are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do'" (Luke 17:10). God sent His Son to die for our sins! Why? Because He loves us and wants us to be with Him in heaven. But God's not going to give the gift of salvation to everyone. Just as He expected Adam and Eve to abstain from the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, so also does He expect us to obey His commands today. We must come to Him. We must believe. We must obey. Not because salvation can be earned, but because God tells us to obey.

It's that simple.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

My Basic Plea (Part II)

In yesterday's article, I talked about some of the differences between biblical Christianity and what I call "modern Christianity." Although the average religious person never stops to think about the aforementioned distinction, Christendom today is the result of 1,800 years of apostasy; we see in recent history the gradual transformation of the church from what God created it to be to what MEN have turned it into.

When we read the New Testament, we don't read of Baptists, Methodists, Catholics, Lutherans or any of the other modern-day denominations for that matter. We simply read about churches that were all the same because they adhered to the same standard: the word of God. Indeed, the word of God (i.e. the New Testament) is the means of unity; it's when men leave the common standard that division occurs. GOD DEMANDS UNITY OF HIS PEOPLE (Jn. 17:20-21).

The question today is: how is unity achieved? And what do we do about all of the doctrinal differences that exist today? Yes, the Bible ought to be our common standard, and yes, in theory it ought to produce sameness, but isn't that easier said than done? Should we therefore abandon all hope of New Testament Christianity, or is there something that can be done?

In the system of biblical Christianity, there is no central headquarters that governs all the local churches, issuing forth doctrine and law. In the New Testament, churches were self-governing. We see this fact in places like Acts 20:28 and 1 Peter 5:2 where the elders were simply told to shepherd their own particular flock. So I cannot tell you what to believe neither can my church (or any church for that matter) tell your church what to believe, how to worship, what to do, etc. So unity is not forced, it is not imposed, it is not delegated by a group of men somewhere.

In the New Testament, various local churches are identical to one another because they are following the same rulebook. At the same time, it is inferred that we must all examine the word of God for ourselves to determine what it means. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, "If anyone things himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord" (1 Cor. 14:37). We are all creatures of free-will. We must read and examine the Bible for ourselves. But Paul infers here that spiritually-minded people WILL obey the inspired scriptures and thus be unified. Ephesians 3:1-4 says, "For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles--if indeed you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you, how that by revelation He made known to me the mystery (as I have briefly written already), by which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ." Later, in Ephesians 5:17, Paul writes, "Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is."

You see, we do not need a church headquarters or a creed-book to bind us together. All we need is the Bible. The Bible is not some overly-complicated divine discertation; there is no footnote on the page before Genesis saying "for scholars' eyes only" or "only those with a seminary degree can understand this book." No, the Bible can be understood by ALL, and I would suggest to you that we can and MUST all understand it the same.

"But Casey, it's IMPOSSIBLE for all of us to understand the Bible the same!" Really? Is this not an attack on God's power? Do you really think that God gave us a book that is TOO hard to understand...nay, impossible to understand? That would be awfully unfair considering it's our standard of judgment (Jn. 12:48; 2 Jn. 9). We will all stand before the judgment seat of Christ and we will be judged based upon our obedience or lack thereof to THIS BOOK...and yet it's too hard to understand...really?

Sure, unity is hard, but not impossible. Understanding the Bible alike is...challenging, but it is absolutely possible. We all must have humility, and there must be in each one of us an unwavering determination and zeal to believe and do JUST what the Bible says. We must never back down from the truth. We must STRIVE to grow daily in our knowledge of God's word.

The problem is that, today, no one is willing to take a stand. Truth is relative. Believe what you want to believe, worship the way you want to worship, join the church of your choice. After all, we're all going to heaven anyways, right? With this kind of attitude, it is no wonder why denominationalism and division are tolerated. Please understand, dear reader, that in the Bible such an attitude was repulsive and in fact, condemned...

Jesus told the apostles to "Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees" in Matthew 16:6. Leaven here is doctrine (vs. 12). So He was really telling them to beware of the false teachings of the Jewish leaders!

Back a chapter, in Matthew 15:8-9, Jesus made the point that the "doctrines and commandments" of men lead to vain, or unacceptable worship. Inferred in this passage is the fact that God's word promotes ONE KIND of worship; it's when we abandon this common standard that differences arise and vain worship ensues.

Acts 15:1-2 is a wonderful case-in-point: "And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, 'unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.' Therefore, when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and dispute with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem, to the apostles and elders', about this question." When the Judaizing teachers came to Antioch teaching error, what did Paul and Barnabas to? Did they just accept it? No! A different doctrine was taught...a doctrine that was not from God...and so they refused to accept it. In fact, they argued and debated with these false teachers! Such a response would be condemned by the denominational world today as "harsh" and "judgmental."

Romans 16:17 says, "Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them." When someone teaches a different doctrine, we're not to accept or condone that doctrine.

Paul writes in Galatians 1:6-9 that we're to reject any gospel that is different than the one taught in the inspired scriptures. Let's make this personal. The Calvinist says that Jesus only died for a select few while the non-Calvinist says that Jesus died for ALL! These are two completely different gospels. They cannot both be right. The one that is wrong (the Calvinist's gospel) must be rejected as FALSE.

So many other passages could be considered. Read 2 John 9 and Revelation 2 and you'll see that God expects as individuals to not only stick to the scriptures, but to reject those who abandon this common standard. When error is taught, we are to take a stand.

Unity IS possible if we lay aside all of our traditions and manmade creeds and denominational affiliations and get back to the Bible. We must resolve within ourselves to be the Christians that GOD wants us to be rather than the Christians that WE want to be; to be a part of GOD's church as HE designed it, rather than MAN's church as MAN designed it. Sure, it'll be hard. Yeah, we'll still have some differences that we'll have to work on, but if we are willing to study and follow just the New Testament, then we'll be at least moving in the right direction; we'll be well on our way to biblical Christianity.

One last thought, and I'll step down from my soap-box. We cannot accept that which is wrong. You may be thinking, "Casey, I like what you're saying; I agree that denominationalism is wrong" and then continue to participate in it. No, you can't change the world, and no, we can't topple denominationalism in one day, but we CAN change ourselves.

Are you willing?

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

My Basic Plea

There are so many spiritual issues that could be chronicled and debated, from Calvinism to Premillennialism, from Catholicism to Pentecostalism, from the works of the church to the organization of the church, and so on.

But these are just symptoms of a greater problem.

I can talk to a Calvinist about the five tenets of Calvinism, and there are benefits in having that debate, but in the end, there is still a fundamental separation between myself and the ex-Calvinist (assuming that he was persuaded by the truth). I can talk to a Catholic about the errors of the papacy and the veneration of Mary, but again, when it's all said and done, we have only settled one or two issues when there are dozens, perhaps hundreds that divide us.

When I talk to people, I am certainly willing to discuss these issues, but if I can swing it, I always try to redirect the conversation to the fundamental problem that divides all of modern Christendom: seeing the difference between biblical Christianity and what Christianity has become after 1,800 years of gradual evolution and apostasy.

Think about it. I mean, really think about it. Does the divisiveness of modern Christianity compare to the Christianity we read about in the New Testament? In other words, when you read the New Testament, do you find Baptists, Methodists, Catholics, Pentecostals, Episcopals, Lutherans, Mormons, etc? Did Peter establish a First Baptist Church in Joppa and was Paul busy establishing Lutheran churches throughout Asia Minor? Do you find a multitude of different denominations in the Bible that were sanctioned by the Holy Spirit?

The answer is obvious to anyone who honestly assesses the first century world! There were no denominations. There was no complex, sectarian system resulting from hundreds of different doctrines and human creeds. Sure, there were problems among the first century churches; yes, there were some who taught different doctrines and at times we see a denominational mindset, but overall, we see unity...or at least the DEMAND of unity.

Let's consider the churches of the first century...

Peter the apostle, inspired by the Holy Spirit, preached the first gospel message in Acts 2. As a result of his efforts, three thousand individuals were baptized (Ac. 2:37-41). These Christians in Jerusalem were unified. Their means of unity? The "apostles' doctrine" (vs. 42)!

In Acts 8, Philip took the gospel to Samaria. The inspired text says that he "preached Christ" to the people of Samaria. As a result, people believed and were baptized (vs. 12-13). These new disciples formed the church in Samaria (Ac. 9:31).

The same thing is seen in Acts 11. Christians were scattered, "preaching the word" as they traveled abroad (vs. 19). In Antioch, the message was the same; they were "preaching the Lord Jesus" (vs. 20). As a result of their efforts, "a great number believed and turned to the Lord" (vs. 21). The new converts in Antioch formed the local church in Antioch (vs. 26).

This is what we find throughout the book of Acts. When the GOSPEL was preached in a given city or region, the individuals that OBEYED THE GOSPEL banded together, forming the CHURCH in that area. In Romans 16:16, Paul speaks of "churches of Christ." In writing to the Corinthian brethren, he referred to them as the "church of God" (1 Cor. 1:2). The terms "church of Christ" and "church of God" are not names of different denominations; rather, they both emphasize the fact that the local church is owned by Jesus Christ who is God (Ac. 20:28, it was God the SON who shed His blood for the church).

Regarding all of these first-century churches, it is very important to note that they were comparable to one another. In other words, they all had the same basic kind of worship and organization; they all had the same teachings! Don't believe me? See for yourself...

Paul, in 1 Corinthians 4:17, made the point that he taught the same things everywhere in every church. Later, he wrote to the Ephesians that there is "one faith." The word faith in this case refers to a system of beliefs; there is ONE system of beliefs, ONE standard of doctrine and practice, the New Testament!

Think about it, we have just ONE New Testament and yet there are over 1,200 different denominations in existence today! Something's not adding up. If I gave ten people the same recipe for chocolate cake, would they not all bake a chocolate cake? If I gave ten contractors the same blueprints for a house, would they not all build the same basic house? Likewise, if ten groups of people read and follow the same New Testament, the same thing should result each and every time. Without human traditions and manmade creeds...if we set all that aside and just followed the New Testament, there would be unity. Perfect unity, in fact.

"Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be NO divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment...Now I say this, that each of you says, 'I am of Paul,' or 'I am of Apollos,' or 'I am of Cephas,' or 'I am of Christ.' Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?" (1 Cor. 1:10, 12-13). You see, if we all hold fast to the "one faith" we can be perfectly unified, but when we start elevating MEN above GOD, we soon become divided. I would suggest to you that the problem in Corinth is a microcosm of the problem of denominationalism today. People are more interested in their own particular brand of Christianity than they are in true, Biblical Christianity.

If we simply preach the WORD OF GOD and set aside everything else, we can be unified. Throw away the denominations. Toss out the creed-books. Mark out the denominational names such as Baptist and Catholic. Disband the synods and annual church conferences and other such unscriptural organizational entities. Just get back to the BIBLE. We're told in Colossians 3:17, "And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him." What must one do to be saved? How must the church worship? How should the church be organized? What should be taught concerning the return of Christ? If we all humble ourselves before God and commit to following HIS WORD ALONE, walls and barriers will be torn down and we will make ardent strides towards Christianity as God intended it to be (Jn. 17:20-21).

I'll talk more about this tomorrow, because there is much more to say!

I'm Baaaaaack...

Well, I've been without the internet for almost a year now. In that time, I've moved into a new house and I'm working with a new congregation, the Zoe church of Christ. But now we've got internet again and so I'll be returning to the blogging world. Assuming I have the time, I'll be writing new Bible-based articles several times a week. I may even write one later today.

Let me know if you have any questions and as always, comment on my articles, even if you disagree...especially if you disagree. We can help each other to learn more about God's precious word, and maybe, just maybe have some fun in the process. After all, Bible study is fun!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

QUESTION: Are We Once Saved, Always Saved?

"You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace." (Gal. 5:4)

"Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins." (James 5:19-20)

"For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them. But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: 'A dog returns to his own vomit,' and, 'a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire.'" (2 Pet. 2:20-22)

QUESTION: Based on these three verses and many others that exist, how can anyone justify the Once Saved, Always Saved doctrine? Isn't it clear that salvation can indeed be lost if the child of God is unfaithful?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Should the Church Promote Social/Recreational Activities?

"What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you in this? I do not praise you...Therefore, my brethren, when you come together to eat (the Lord's Supper), wait for one another. But if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, lest you come together for judgment. And the rest I will set in order when I come" (1 Cor. 11:22, 33-34).

Based on this one verse, as well as the pattern of scripture, how can we justify the incorporation of social and recreational activities into the local church's work? Where is the New Testament authority for the local church's sponsoring of chicken dinners, pizza parties, softball leagues, basketball nights, gymnasiums, fitness centers, etc?

Friday, February 5, 2010

QUESTION #2: Is Baptism Essential for Salvation?

"He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned" (Mk. 16:16).

"Then Peter said to them, 'Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Ac. 2:38).

"And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord" (Ac. 22:16)

"For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ" (Gal. 3:27).

"There is also an antitype which now saves us--baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ" (1 Pet. 3:21).

Based on these verses, is baptism just an "outward sign of an inward grace," or is it essential for salvation? Must one be baptized to be saved? I think the answer is clearly 'YES,' but I would like to know what you think.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

QUESTION #1: Is Denominationalism Right?

Ephesians 4:4-6, "There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all."

1 Corinthians 1:11-13, "For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe's household, that there are contentions among you. Now I say this, that each of you says, 'I am of Paul,' or 'I am of Apollos,' or 'I am of Christ.' Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or where you baptized in the name of Paul?"

John 17:17, "Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth," and in vv. 20-21, "I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe on Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the orld may believe that You sent Me."

Based on these three simple passages of scripture, how can we possibly justify denominationalism? And if it is not justified, can we justifiably participate in it? How should we react to these verses of scripture?

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Parable of the Two Sons

"But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, 'Son, go, work today in my vineyard.' He answered and said, 'I will not,' but afterward he regretted it and went. Then he came to the second and said likewise. And he answered and said, 'I go, sir,' but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?' They said to Him, 'the first.' Jesus said to them, 'Assuredly, I say to yout hat tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you.'" (Mt. 21:28-31)

Jesus spoke this parable to the self-righteous Jewish leaers. These religious leaders viewed themselves as holy, but in reality they had not given their hearts to God. Outwardly, they looked pious, but inwardly, they were "full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness" (Mt. 23:27). These arrogant men condemned the tax-collectors and harlots, yet they themselves were separated from God because of their own sinful hypocrisy.

Jesus' point in this parable is simple: it is better to be a sinner who repents and does what is right than it is to be a religious fraud. The one brother wickedly rebelled against his father's command, but afterward he recognized his error and obeyed. The other brother acted like he would obey, but really he never intended to follow through.

The lesson is a powerful one, and I hope that you get it. You may go to church every Sunday and you may pray before every meal, but have you given your whole heart to God? Are you outwardly obedient but inwardly rebellious? If so, Jesus condemns you in this passage.

Or perhaps you are the sinner who, until now, has refused to obey the commands of God. Won't you, like the good brother in this parable, turn from your rebellion and submit to the Father's will while you still have breath in you? Have faith in God, repent of your sins, confess Christ as Savior and be baptized for the remission of your sins. If you do these things, you will be saved!

If you have any questions, please let me know.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Building a House

I'm currently building a house in Beattyville, KY. The construction process began back in November, and while there have been periods during which the building process progressed rapidly, the building process has, for the most part, been slow. I have learned in all of this that when you build a house, expect delays. It may rain for an entire week and halt progress completely. There are all kinds of inspections that have to take place, and it can be a chore just to get the inspectors to your property, so you have to wait on them. I could go on, but I'm sure you get the point: it takes time to build a house; it's a lot of work.

At the same time, professional contractors can finish a house in less than a month. They work on it every day. They know exactly what they are doing, and they are so well-organized that the delays don't affect them as much.

Spiritually speaking, we are all building a house. On an individual level, our spiritual growth is compared to the construction of a house (1 Cor. 3:11-12). Christ is the foundation (vv. 11), and different materials are used to build the house. One fact that we must recognize about constructing our spiritual house (spiritual growth) is that the process takes time. A person doesn't become a mature Christian immediately. Rather, one grows from being a babe in Christ to being mature in Christ (Heb. 5:12-14; 1 Pet. 2:1-3). We must nurture our spiritual man, and we must utilize the tools that God has given us so that our spiritual house can be constructed properly.

On an individual level, we encounter delays in our spiritual growth, especially early on. We face peer-pressure (1 Pet. 4:3-4), false teachings that may set us back (2 Tim. 2:17-18). Our former life may tug at us, calling us back to perdition and sin (Lk. 9:62). Just as literal storms hinder the construction of a house, so also do these metaphoric storms hinder our spiritual growth. But there is good news here: the more professional we become as spiritual construction workers, the more easily it will be to overcome these setbacks and to push through them.

What are the lessons here?
  1. Be patient as you grow in the faith. I remember when I was first converted, I looked at the Bible and thought to myself, "I will never understand any of this," but sure enough, after years of study, I have developed a good understanding of the word of God (not that I know everything, because I don't). Growth takes time.
  2. Recognize that setbacks and delays will happen. Satan will do all that he can to hinder and/or reverse your spiritual growth. Be ready.
  3. Use the tools that God has given you. This is huge. In the literal construction business, you have to have the right tools to be efficient. Just the other day, I decided to tie up a few loose ends on some siding work we had done, but I didn't have the tools I needed, and so I couldn't do the work. God has given us all the tools we need (2 Pet. 1:3) to build our spiritual house. We have the avenue of prayer (Heb. 4:16), the local church (Eph. 4:16), and of course, we have the word of God (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Use these tools.

I know that one day, my house in Lee County will be finished. I look forward to that day when I can move in and start my new life there. It is such an exciting process and I am enjoying every minute of it. But do you know what I am more excited about? My spiritual growth...and even more than that, I am excited about the day when I will cast off this temporary house and put on the eternal house spoken of in 2 Corinthians 5:1-2: "For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven."

Monday, January 18, 2010

Is Haiti Being Punished By God?

I'm sure by now that you have heard of the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that has struck Haiti. Great damage has been done to the infrastructure of Haiti, and it is estimated that hundreds of thousands of Haitians have died as a result of this natural disaster. During times like these, we ask ourselves, why did this happen?

Many religious people might argue that the earthquake is an expression of God's indignation towards the Haitians. In other words, because of the sins of the Haitians (I have heard that it is a very ungodly place), God punished them by sending the earthquake.

But can we really make such a claim?

Let's turn to Luke 13:1-5. Here we find an answer to this question. The text says, "There were present at that season some who told Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answered and said to them, 'Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, no; but uless you repent you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower of Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.'"

When we witness tragedy, it may be tempting to say that God is punishing the wicked people who are involved. Many today may say this about the earthquake in Haiti. I know that this same reasoning was tossed around when Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans. But according to Jesus in Luke 13, it is really not our place to make such claims.

John 9 is another great text to consider here. In John 9:2, the disciples' asked Jesus, "'Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?' Jesus answered, 'Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.'" Again, we see that suffering is not always the result of personal sin. In this case, the man was born blind that the works of God might be revealed in Him.

Perhaps the earthquake has struck Haiti so that the works of God might be revealed there. I'm not suggesting that miracles are going to be performed in Haiti, but certainly, this is an opportunity for God's people to show the love of Christ to those people there. We can send financial relief. Perhaps missionaries and evangelists will utilize this opportunity to reach out to the Haitians.

In any case, the tragedy in Haiti reminds us all that God is mighty and infinite in power. As we noticed in Luke 13, instead of exalting ourselves and pointing our judgmental finger at the Haitians, let us instead acknowledge that we are all sinners in need of God's grace.

Having said all that, I also want to point out that it is possible that God is indeed punishing the Haitians. The fact is, God does judge wicked nations. Just read the prophets (Isaiah-Malachi) and even certain parts of the book of Revelation, and this point will be obvious to you. So yes, it is possible that God is judging Haiti, but again, can we as people know the mind of God in this matter? No.

So much more could be said about this subject, but I'll end the article here. May God bless the Haitians during this time of tragedy, and may we do all that we can to help them.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Are Miracles Performed Today?

We read in the Bible of the many miracles performed by the apostles and early Christians. They healed the lame (Ac. 3:1-9), raised the dead (Ac. 20:9-12), spoke in different tongues and prophesied (Ac. 19:6; 1 Cor. 14), and others could be listed.

There are many religious people today who claim to have these same abilities. We hear of healing services where multiple people are supposedly healed during the service. In many of these charismatic churches (i.e. Pentecostal, Church of God, Assembly of God, etc), there are people leaping over pews, rolling in the aisles and speaking gibberish which they claim to be tongues, all of which is allegedly the result of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. I have even heard of "holy laughter." I think most of us recognize how silly some of this is, but is it all fake? What about the claims of divine healing, prophecy and tongue-speaking? Does the Bible give us any kind of answer? Yes, it does!

First of all, we need to understand the purpose of miracles. As we're going to see, miracles were not intended to be a means of profit, nor were they merely a source of excitement for Christians. According to God's word, the purpose of miracles was to confirm the word of God.

Mark 16:20 says, "And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs."

Hebrews 2:3-4 says, "How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him, God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will?"

Both of these passages clearly identify the aforementioned purpose of miraculous gifts. They bore witness to, or confirmed, the word of God. What does this mean? Well, the law of Christ had never been preached before. It was new to the world. In Luke 24:47, Jesus told the apostles tat "repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem." Imagine the apostles teaching this new law to thousands upon thousands of Jews (and later, the Gentiles). The apostles are telling all of these people that they have to repent and seek salvation in Christ. Who is Christ? Why do we need to change? How do we know that what you're saying is true? I mean, think about it...would you change your whole life simply because someone told you that this Jesus guy died for your sins? Of course not!

But what if they healed a lame man? What if they gave sight to a man who had been blind from birth? What if they raised the dead? What if they prophesied and spoke in your native tongue miraculously? Then you might start to believe them. Hey, these guys must be from God...and if they're from God, then what they're saying must be true. Jesus is the Lord!

That's what miracles did in the first century. They confirmed the word.

So now we have two questions to answer in order to determine whether or not miracles still exist. Number one, has the law of Christ been fully revealed in that it no longer needs confirmation? And number two, does the Bible teach that the miracles would cease when the law of Christ was fully revealed, or confirmed?

First of all, I think most of us understand that the New Testament canon is complete, and has been completed since the latter part of the first century. Matthew through Revelation comprises what we call the New Testament, and most of us agree that any addition to it would be heresy (from men, not God). And the New Testament actually confirms this point.

2 Peter 1:3 says, "As His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue."

Jude 3 says, "Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints."

These two verses seem to indicate that, in the first century, the entire will of God was indeed revealed. It was ONCE for ALL delivered to the saints, and ALL things that pertain to godliness have been GIVEN to us. This law of Christ has been given to us in the form of writing, or scripture (Eph. 3:3-5). Scripture is able to make us "complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

Is there ongoing revelation? Well, according to these verses, the answer is No. There is no need for ongoing revelation. We have all that we need to be complete in Christ!

But this point alone doesn't necessarily prove that miracles have ceased. All it does is tell us that the purpose of miracles has ceased. And the burden of proof, I believe, is on me to prove that they have ceased. That brings us to our second question (and the main point of the article): does the Bible teach that miracles would cease when the law was fully revealed?

The answer lies in 1 Corinthians 13.

The members of the Corinthian church had the ability to perform miracles, but these miracles were the cause of much division within the church (really, it was their pride and selfishness that caused them to divide, but they manifested these wicked attitudes through the use of miracles). In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul reminded them that while there were many spiritual gifts, they were to conduct themselves as the unified body of Christ. In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul rebuked the Corinthians for their misuse of the miraculous gifts. Instead of using these gifts to promote edification (in the infant-state of the church where they didn't have completed New Testaments like we do today), they used them to exalt themselves.

In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul reminds the Corinthians of the supremacy of LOVE over miraculous gifts, and he plainly tells them that these miraculous gifts would cease (but love would endure).

"Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging symbol. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing" (1 Cor. 13:1-2). You see, Paul is emphasizing the supremacy of love. Love is more important than the gift of prophecy, more important than tongues, more important than miraculous knowledge and miraculous faith.

Of course, in verses 4-7, we find the famous definition of faith, "Love is..." But in verse eight, Paul again returns to the subject of miraculous gifts. "Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away" (vv. 8-10).

The inspired apostle clearly tells us that miracles were not intended to last forever. They would cease and come to an end. In other words, a time would come when there would be no miraculous gifts. When would that happen?

The miraculous gifts were said to be in part (vv. 9). Verse 10 says, "But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away." The miraculous gifts (which were in part) would cease and vanish away when the perfect, or complete, came.

That brings us to yet another question: what is the perfect?

And when did it come?

It is my contention that the perfect is the fully-revealed word of God (in complete, or perfect form). My reasoning goes back to the purpose of miracles and the wording of this passage. Miracles existed to confirm the word of God, right? Yes, we established that. Here in 1 Corinthians 13, the in part (incomplete) is tied to the perfect (complete). It's like a pie. A slice of apple pie relates to the whole apple pie. If miracles existed to aid in the revelation of the word of God, then the perfect here in 1 Corinthians 13 must be the complete word of God.

So Paul is basically saying that miraculous gifts would vanish away when the word of God was fully confirmed and revealed. After all, when the word was fully revealed, the purpose of miracles would cease. Do you see the point?

Some argue (and this is the only other interpretation of which I am aware), that the perfect is Jesus, and so they have miracles ending when Jesus returns. First of all, this seems to make Paul's whole point kind of meaningless, but beyond that, there is, within the text, a rebuttal of this interpretation. At the end of the chapter, in verse 13, Paul says, "And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love." After saying that miracles would cease, Paul says that faith, hope and love abide, or continue. Here's the question: will faith and hope continue after the return of Christ? No. There will be no need of hope in heaven (Rom. 8:24), and faith will end when we see Christ and heaven (Heb. 11:1). This "return of Jesus" interpretation of 1 Corinthians 13 cannot be reconciled with these points. Faith and hope would continue after the confirmation of the word, but it will not continue after the return of Christ.

So are miracles performed today as they were in the first century?


And this is my conclusion only because it is what the word of God says.

Am I wrong? If so, tell me. Answer my arguments. Show me from the Bible that I am wrong.

I'd love to hear from you.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Seven Churches in Asia...Laodicea

Here we are at the end of our study of the seven churches in Asia. We have carefully examined the churches in Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis and Philadelphia, and now we come to the church in Laodicea (Rev. 3:14-22). The Laodicean church was made up of lukewarm Christians who were lifted up with pride and weighed down by materialism. It is my humble opinion that many, many congregations today are just like the Laodicean church...

Revelation 3:14 contains Christ's description of Himself: "These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God." The term Amen in the Greek literally means "trustworthy, sure," and Thayer's defines it as "faithful." So you might say that the expression is akin to that which follows it in verse 14, "the faithful and true witness." As we have established in the past, Jesus Christ is the epitome of truth. John 1:1 defines Jesus as "the word" and we are told in John 17:17 that the word is truth.

The phrase "the Beginning of the creation of God" is somewhat controversial in nature. The Jehovah's Witnesses use this statement to teach that Jesus was the first of God's creation, thus making Him a created being and consequently denying His divinity. The JWs argue that Jesus is merely an angel and not God. But that is not at all what Jesus here is saying. The point is not that Jesus was a created being, but that He was the source of the creation (this point is confirmed in Colossians 1:16-17).

As we continue our examination of the Laodicean church, we find Jesus' condemnation of the unfaithful church in verses 15-16, "I know your works, that you are neither cold not hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of my mouth." Their first problem was lukewarmness (is that even a word???). In other words, they were not on fire for God; they were not spiritually strong. They lacked zeal and fervor. One might say that they were indeed apathetic.

Christ says that they were neither cold nor hot. Some today argue that the term cold represents complete unfaithfulness while the term hot represents spiritual zeal and fortitude. If this is the correct intrepretation, then Jesus is basically saying that we need to have an "all or nothing" attitude. If you're not going to give God your best, you might as well live in sin. The other interpretation is that both cold and hot represent ideal temperatures while lukewarm represents te unideal...the unacceptable. I tend to take the former position, for it is less redundant. Indeed, if we are not goingto give God our whole heart, if we're going to be lazy, apathetic Christians, we might as well give it up because we're not helping God any and we're not helping ourselves any (see Lk. 14:26-33).

It is hard to believe that an entire church could consist of lukewarm Christians, but I don't think that it's all that uncommon. In the materialistic world we live in, there are countless Christians who have a greater love for the things of this life than they do for the things of God. Sure, people may go to church two or three times a week, and they may have all the right positions on the major issues of controversy, but they neglect personal evangelism, ignore the fruit of the Spirit and they live for self. If we are falling short in these areas, it does not matter that we go to church. Having the fruit of the Spirit is just as critical to our salvation. Having a servant's heart is no less important than faithful church attendance. To be on fire for God is to give God our best in every area of spiritual service!

In Revelation 3:17, we see another one of the Laodicean church's problems: materialism. Jesus told them, "Because you say, I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing--and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked," and then He goes on in verse 18 to remedy the problem, "I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fie, that you may be rich; and white garments that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see." The saints in Laodicea were materialistic, which is perhaps why they were lukewarm. They had all that they needed and desired physically, and this caused them to be complacent, and it caused them to be lifted up in self-reliance and pride. Historically speaking, when people become rich, when they have all that they want in this life, they forget about God.

This reminds me of what Christ wrote to the church in Smyrna: "I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich)..." (2:9). The Smyrna saints may have been poor physically, but they were rich spiritually. From man's perspective, this is not desirable, but from God's perspective, this is the superior way of be spiritually rich even if one is physically poor. It saddens me to say that many Christians today are more concerned about material wealth than spiritual wealth. They stress the value of a college education more than they do the value of spiritual training. We are willing to work overtime in our secular jobs but we are not willing to put in the extra hours studying God's word. We get more excited about a new TV than we do about overcoming temptation or learning some new biblical truth. Do you get the point? I think to some degree we are all guilty of this at times, but let us resist it with our whole hearts!

Ultimately, true riches come from Christ, and the greatest riches of all await us in heaven (Mt. 6:20). Let this be our focus.

In the final verses of Revelation 3, Christ reminds the Laodicean Christians that there is still hope. "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me." In other words, it wasn't too late. Christ was knocking on the metaphorical door of their heart. If they would only turn from their wickedness, open the door, and invite Christ into their life, they would be restored to Him! Likewise, when we sin, Christ is knocking. He wants us to let Him in. He wants to have fellowship with us. Yes, even though He boldly chastized the Laodiceans, He still loved them.

The lessons we learn in Revelation 2-3 are many in number. We learn that faithfulness is hard to come by. We learn that when problems arise within the church, we need to repent and make correction ASAP. We learn that sin and error cannot be tolerated, but we also learn that our personal faith and love for the Lord must not be lost in our zealous opposition of error. But most of all, we learn that we must overcome the trials of this life if we hope to spend eternity with Christ. He is there. He is listening. And He wants to have fellowship with us, but we must not forsake Him.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Seven Churches in Asia...Philadelphia

Finally, we get a reprieve from all of the negativity as the church in Philadelphia was faithful to the Lord! For just a brief moment, we can put out of our minds those sharp rebukes and calls for repentance and focus on a more positive and uplifting message. The Philadephia church of Christ, along with the church in Smyrna (Rev. 2:8-11), were the only two faithful congregations among the seven that were addressed by Christ.

As Christ introduces Himself at the beginning of this letter, He says, "These things says He who is holy, He who is true, 'He who has the key of David, He who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens'" (3:7). We know that Christ is holy. We are told in 1 Peter 1:16 to be holy even as He is holy. We are to imitate the holiness of Christ; we are to be consecrated and devoted to spiritual things. We also know that Christ is true. He is the epitomy of truth.

But what does it mean that He "has the key of David?" Well, we all know that David is a type of Christ (Christ being the anti-type). Over and over again in the Old Testament, it was written that the Christ would sit "upon the throne of David" (Is. 9:7). Jesus is the seed of David (Rom. 1:3), and as we see in places like Acts 2, Jesus, as a descendant of David, did indeed arise to sit on David's throne in heaven.

Christ has the key of David in the sense that He is able to open and shut doors. In Revelation 3:8, Christ continues to use this same wording: "I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name." One might interpret this to mean that Christ had opened up doors of opportunity for the saints in Philadelphia, or one might argue that this was the door unto eternal rest. Either way, the key represents power and authority, and we are reminded that Christ, as King, is in control.

The Lord goes on to say that they had "a little strength." This is not a slam on the church in Philadelphia. Really, Jesus is commending the saints here. Despite all that they had endured, they were still faithful; they had overcome despite the obstacles in their way.

And what obstacles did they face? Revelation 3:9 says, "Indeed I will make those of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews and are not, but lie--indeed I will make them come and worship before your feet, and to know that I have loved you." Oddly enough, this same statement is found in Christ's address to the Smyrna congregation, the only other faithful congregation among the seven found in Revelation 2-3. Apparently, there were wicked Jews who had been giving the Christians a hard time. Christ is here reminding the faithful saints that these individuals would indeed be punished, and ultimately they would humble themselves before the saints. Honestly, I don't know how this was fulfilled or what exactly it means that the Jews would worship before their feet, but I do know that this had to provide a great deal of comfort to the persecuted know that their enemies would be judged.

Revelation 3:10 is also very interesting. Jesus says, "Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth." In reading the book of Revelation, it is obvious that an hour of trial was coming. God was going to judge the enemies of the church (which judgment would affect the whole region), but even before that, the saints still had more persecution and suffering to endure (Rev. 6:10-11). The saints in Philadelphia, however, would escape that trial. Again, I don't know how this was fulfilled, but I know that it indeed happened. Because they had endured so much already, Christ knew that they could not bear much more, and therefore He showed them mercy by excepting them from the tribulation to come.

Christ reminds them in verse 11 to hold fast what they had, that no one would take their crown. The crown here represents the salvation that comes at the end of a faithful life (Rev. 2:10). Their crown could be taken away from them if they did not hold fast. So this is a reminder to remain faithful. Those who do overcome, Christ says, "I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. I will write on him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name" (vv. 12). What wonderful promises! The faithful can anticipate a home in heaven (the ultimate temple, or dwellingplace, of God). We will finally possess the New Jerusalem, which here is another allusion to heaven (described later in Rev. 21). These highly symbolic descriptions of what is to come ought to recall to our minds the fact that we are "sojourners andd pilgrims" (1 Pet. 2:11) on the earth. This world is not our home. Our home is in heaven...with God.

We learn here in this passage that there are some Christians who endure so much for the cause of Christ. Yet they are promised rest and comfort. And yes, faithfulness is possible even in the face of seeminly insurmountable obstacles. Let us all endure and seek that heavenly reward!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Seven Churches in Asia...Sardis

So far in this series of articles, we have considered four of the seven churches in Asia. There are three churches left to study, and all three of them are found in the third chapter of the book of Revelation. Today, we will study Christ's letter to the church in Sardis.

Christ's description of Himself here in Revelation 3:1 is short and simple. He describes Himself as the One who "has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars." To understand this, we have to turn to other passages within the book of Revelation.
  1. The seven Spirits are defined as the "seven lamps of fire...burning before the throne" (4:5). Or perhaps the seven lamps are defined as the seven Spirits which are "sent out into all the earth" (5:6). Some conjecture that these spirits are literally angels...which would line up well with the theory that the seven angels of the seven churches are also literal angels. Others posit that these seven spirits are symbolic of the seven graces of the Holy Spirit, and thus the Holy Spirit is here intended. It appears more likely that these are angels, and not the Holy Spirit, for these spirits appear to be animated beings (5:6).
  2. The seven stars are defined in 1:20 as "the angels of the seven churches." Are these the same seven spirits, or are these seven angels, i.e. stars, distinct? It is hard to say. Again, we are dealing with a highly symbolic book. We could spend hours discussing the different theories and in the end we may convince ourselves that one interpretation is more reasonable, but ultimately, it is most important that we understand the significance of the statement in Revelation 3:1...and the point is this: Christ has all power and all knowledge. He is higher than the angels, and not a mere angel. He is the Son of God...He IS God! Christ here is simply establishing His supremacy.

Once Christ introduces Himself to the saints in Sardis, He immediately sets in on their error. Jesus wrote to them, "You have a name that you are alive, but you are dead." In other words, they had a good reputation; when people thought of the Sardis church, they thought of an active congregation that was doing well. But in reality, they were inactive and spiritually decaying. This kind of reminds of what Jesus said to the Pharisees back in Matthew 23:27: "For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness." God knows our hearts (Lk. 16:15; Ac. 15:8). Even when we look good in the eyes of men, we may look dead to God. And this only motivates us to not only do what is right outwardly, but to do and think what is right inwardly.

It is important to understand that the Sardis saints were not completely dead. According to Revelation 3:2, they were told to "strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die." You see, they were on the verge of complete apostasy, but they were not there yet which is why God chose to rebuke them, and not condemn them. Spiritual death doesn't always happen all at once. Sometimes, yes, we embrace sin and we leave God, but all too often, we simply begin to drift slowly away from the Lord. We grow more and more apathetic until eventually we have withered away to nothing. Please, don't let this happen to you.

What is the remedy? "Remember therefore how you have received and heard: hold fast and repent" (vv. 3). We need to first of all remind ourselves of who we are and why we are who we are. Reestablish yourself in the truth of God's word. Study the basic principles of the New Testament. Regain that zeal and love for the Lord. Then, you must repent...change your mind and your actions; commit to a new start. And finally, you must hold fast. In other words, don't let it happen again. Be faithful and do what is right inwardly and outwardly.

If we do not repent and make things right, Christ promises that He will come upon us like a thief, when we least expect it (vv. 4). Some people may thing that they have "the rest of their lives" to change, but we do not know that for a fact...which means that we must take advantage of the time we have now. Do not postpone repentance or salvation, for when you finally make the decision, it may be too late.

Not all the saints in Sardis were this way, however. There were "a few names" who had not "defiled their garments." As a result, they would walk with Christ (vv. 4). Even when those around us are spiritually weak and decaying, we must stand strong.

In verse five, Christ wraps up this letter by saying, "He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels." There are several interesting points here:

  1. White garments represent purity and holiness. As God's people, we are to strive for purity and holiness here on earth, but if we overcome, it is said that we will wear "white garments" in heaven. Again, this is symbolic, but there is something here for us to consider. Now, we have to battle temptation and resist sin to be pure, but in heaven, there will be no temptation or sin. We won't have to fight to be pure...we will always be pure, and we will be surrounded by perfection and bliss!
  2. The Lord goes on to say here that if we are faithful, our names will NOT be blotted out of the Book of Life. The Book of Life is the book which contains all the names of the saved. If one's name is in the Book of Life, they are heaven-bound, but if their name is NOT in the Book of Life, they are bound for eternal damnation (Rev. 20:14-15). Christ implies here in Revelation 3:5 that our names can be blotted out of the Book of Life. This is a crushing blow to the doctrine of Once Saved, Always Saved. Our names can be added to the Book of Life, and then blotted out (if we are unfaithful). So yes, we can lose our salvation.
  3. Finally, Jesus says that He will confess our names before the Father and His angels. This point is also made back in Matthew 10:32. Can you imagine the Son of God uttering your name in the presence of the Almighty God? What a privilege! What an honor! But it only comes upon those who overcome and are faithful.

Do you have a name that you are alive, but indeed you are dead? If so, please repent and make things right with the Lord before it is too late!

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Seven Churches in Asia...Thyatira

The Thyatira church of Christ (Rom. 16:16) was indeed an unfaithful congregation, although as we see later in the passage, there were many faithful saints present here. Such wonderful lessons can be drawn from this text, and I am very much looking forward to this brief study.

In Revelation 2:18, as Christ addresses "the angel of the church in Thyatira," He identifies Himself as "the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet like fine brass." While the initial part of this description is self-explanatory and a fundamental point of the Christian faith, the latter portion of this description is symbolic and, as a result, somewhat more difficult. Matthew Henry says, "The description we have here of Him is in two characters: - (1.) That His eyes are like a flame of fire, signifying His piercing, penetrating, perfect knowledge, a thorough insight into all persons and all things, who who searches the hearts and tries the reigns of the children of men (Rev. 2:23), and will make all the churches to know He does so. (2.) That His feet are like fine brass, that the outgoings of His providence are steady, awful, and all pure and holy. As He judges with perfect wisdom, so He acts with perfect strength and steadiness." This description of Christ is very similar to that found in Daniel 10:6 (there is so much Old Testament imagery in the book of Revelation).

In verse 19, Christ begins to emphasize the positive characteristics of the church in Thyatira. Through John, He wrote, "I know your works, love, service, faith, and your patience; and as for your works, the last are more than the first." I love this about the Lord, and I think there is a good lesson here for us. It is always helpful to emphasize a person's positive qualities before we criticize them. It makes them more receptive to the criticism because it tells them that we are not against them and that we are balanced in our thinking. As with any form of discipline, there needs to be this positive reinforcement.

As far as what was specifically written to these saints, it is clear that they had many things going for them. While the Ephesian church was told to return to doing its first works (2:4-5), this church was told that its recent works were more than the former. This is how it ought to be. We should be growing and advancing spiritually. We should be doing more now, we should be more mature now, and we should be stronger now than we were before. All too often, saints become stagnant in their growth, and as a result they become apathetic. But like the saints in Thyatira, we must be constantly advancing in our walk with Christ.

But the church in Thyatira was far from perfect as the following passage indicates. And do you know what their problem was? It was not that they openly adovcated error or that they were carnally-minded and sensual. It wasn't that they gave in to all the sinful customs of Asia-Minor, or that they were half-dead spiritually. No, they fell short in that they tolerated sin. They didn't advocate sin, but they tolerated it, they put up with it...they didn't boldly stand against it when it entered the church. Their sin was inaction.

Revelation 2:20 says, "Nevertheless I have a few things against you, because you allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols." Some believe that this woman's name was Jezebel, while others believe that this name was simply symbolic of her character and her beliefs. Whatever the case may be, it appears that she taught the doctrine of Balaam. In verse 15, as Jesus addressed the church in Pergamos, He defined the doctrine of Balaam as the tolerance of fornication and the eating of things sacrificed to idols.

Can you imagine these kinds of things going on in the church? Can you actually picture someone advocating fornication and idol worship? In a sense, I cannot, but in another sense, I also recognize that this happens ALL THE TIME today. Sure, preachers may not be telling church-members to go commit fornication with harlots, but adulterous marriages are tolerated in nearly every denominational church. The Bible says in Matthew 19:9 that "whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery." There are countless religious people today who have been married three or four times, and yet nothing is said. There are cases where church-members divorce their spouses for reasons other than adultery, and then they remarry. According to God's word, the end-result of remarriage in this case is an adulterous marriage...but nothing is ever said. These folks are accepted. The Christian world needs to get back to the Bible when it comes to the issue of marriage and divorce, because the fact is, adultery is tolerated in churches and that only warrants Christ's rebuke and condemnation. This is a serious matter.

Jezebel had been given "time to repent of her sexual immorality" but "she did not repent" (Rev. 2:21). Christ gives us all time to change; that is how He shows mercy to us. Many people believe that Christ shows mercy to us in that He overlooks certain sins, but that is not the case. Christ is merciful to us in that He gives us time to repent. This may involve giving us time to humble ourselves and make the confession, or it may involve giving us time to realize exactly what we have done wrong. Sometimes we pray for loved ones that God give them more time to realize their sin and repent of it. That is an expression of mercy, and this woman Jezebel had been given time to repent.

Because of her lack of repentance, Christ would "cast her into a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of their deeds." He would "kill her children with death." As a result, all of the churches would know that Christ is the one "who searches the minds and hearts" (vv. 22-23). In other words, Jezebel was in sin and she had led many to sin, and as a result, God's judgment would come upon her. God desired to purge the church of her wicked influence, and He would do so providentially.

But not all of the church-members were guilty. While there were some who engaged in idol worship and fornication, and while there were others who tolerated this sin, there was clearly a minority group within the congregation that had remained faithful. In verses 24-25, Christ said to these obedient saints: "Now to you I say, and to the rest in Thyatira, as many as do not have this doctrine, who have not known the depths of Satan, as they say, I will put on you no other burden. But hold fast what you have till I come."

There is such a powerful lesson here. When a church develops problems, our gut reaction should not be to leave the church in search of a congregation that is problem-free. In other words, when problems arise within the church, those who are faithful need to remain and do all that they can to fight the sin and error, and to restore the purity of the church. Maybe the church is tolerating some false doctrine, or perhaps the church's leadership is not taking a bold stand against sin. Whatever the issue or controvery may be, we need to fight as soldiers of Christ and not give an inch to the devil. Sure, there may come a time when we must leave, when we've done all we can do and we've given it time, and now we're in an environment that is not conducive to our spiritual growth or that of our family. I understand that completely. But at the same time, we should not be hasty to leave. If we are the kinds of people that leave a church whenever problems arise, we will never be at a church for long because all churches have problems.

These faithful saints in Thyatira didn't leave when problems arose, and they were not told to do so by the Lord. They were simply told to "hold fast" and overcome (vv. 25-26). Let that be our mindset as well.

Local churches today should not tolerate error and sin. We as church-members need to do all that we can to maintain the purity of the church. Do not be complacent. Do not be apathetic. Do not be a coward. DON'T BACK DOWN! These are some of the lessons that we learn from Revelation 2:18-29. If we learn these lesson, if we overcome and keep Christ's works, we shall "rule...with a rod of iron" (vv. 27) and we will be given the "morning star" (vv. 28). The morning star represents splendor and glory according to Adam Clarke. What a wonderful thought!

Will you hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches?