The quickest and surest way to bring about change in a society is to instill a sense of panic. In a nation, in a community, and yes, in the churches, if you can convince people that we are in peril, that their very survival is at stake, they will welcome many changes that under other conditions would not be tolerated.
For some time now church leaders have been hitting the panic button and issuing dire warnings about the future of the church in our society. We must get our heads out the sand, see what is happening and above all else respond with appropriate change. We can’t do things the old way, people don’t want that, they won’t embrace that, you can’t say it that way, we have to change, change, change.
The statistics regarding the number of churches closing and the rate of declension in membership among American bible believing churches should certainly have our attention.
I recently came across these words written by a prominent pastor, “Our lot is cast in an age of abounding unbelief, skepticism and, I fear I must add, infidelity. Never, perhaps, since the days of the early Roman persecution of the church was the truth of revealed religion so openly and unblushingly assailed — and never was the assault so speciously and plausibly conducted.” And then carefully consider these words that I cam across on the internet a few weeks ago by another prominent pastor, “It is come to be taken for granted by many people, that Christianity is not even a subject of inquiry, but that it is now at length assumed to be fictitious. And accordingly they treat it as if, in the present age, this was an agreed point among all people of discernment, and nothing remained but to set it up as a principal subject of…ridicule, for its having so long interrupted the pleasures of the world.”
Pop quiz? What prominent pastors wrote these dire warnings?
The first prominent pastor I quoted is J. C. Ryle. He wrote those words in 1879. The second quotation is from Bishop Butler who wrote in 1736.
When Paul wrote to Timothy and told him to be steadfast in the faith and to preach the Word he did so against the prospect of great changes coming to the church. People would not want sound doctrine and if Timothy gave them sound doctrine he could anticipate that tthe flock would likely go eleswhere and find preachers and teachers to give them what tthey wanted.
There are certainly churches that need to change and that need to change drastically. The Bible calls for repentance and for reformation. Churches who are unfaithful to their calling and commission must change. Churches aware of sin in their midst and compromises in their doctrine and practices must change. But we must not change due to fear and we must not alter due to the pressures of society. Every pressure we feel to change must be produced by the weighty pressure of exegesis and not the enormous pressure of an empty pew. Before we push that panic button, let’s remember it’s been there for a long time and let’s remember how faithful men responded in the past.
One of the marks of a true believer is that they have seen their utter poverty of spirit before God and have been brought to the place where they are mourning over their sin. Such people are driven into the arms of Christ and there find comfort in the knowledge that their sins, not in part, but the whole have been nailed to the cross. When this happen the rule and reign of sin in the life of the believer has been broken. We are transferred out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son. Really. Truly. Actually. Those who had been slaves of sin are now slaves of righteousness (see Romans 6:5-20). The Christian is made a new creation, he has a new heart which has the law of God written on it (2 Cor. 5:17, Jere. 31:31). As Paul says to the Philippians, God has begun a good work in you. Jesus spoke of ‘good men’ who, out of treasure of their ‘good hearts’, bring forth good things (Matt. 12:35).
Many of us struggle to understand who and what we are now that Jesus has saved us. We can speak, preach, pray, and sometimes sing as though no real change had taken place. We still have a black heart, a dead heart, a thoroughly corrupt and sinful heart. It is as though Christ has saved us from the penalty of sin and not the power of sin. The bible teaches us that believers not only possess a perfect righteousness before God in their union with Christ, but that they are now set free to pursue holiness and ‘practice righteousness’ (see Heb. 12:14 and 1 John 3:7). When we see ourselves preeminently, contiually and defeatedly as sinners then sinning regularly and slavishly is in accordance with our nature. What can we do? Dogs bark, cats meow, birds fly, and sinners sin. But sin, for the believer, is now out of character. They not only enjoy a new position, but a new nature as well. We are no longer under the sway of evil one, we have been given a way of escape, we are the slaves of righteousness, we have God’s seed in us, the Holy Spirit dwells within, we are being made more and more like Christ. This perspective is not only exegetically accurate, but necessary for the believer to think rightly about himself and his attitude towards God’s commandments and his temptations to sin. Paul could speak of his confidence that the Romans were ‘full of goodness’(Romans 15:14). They were full of the grace of God which produces fruit unto holiness. This is your true identity in Christ. This is the work of the Spirit in you. Rejoice in the transforming power of the gospel!
Psst…did you hear (read) about…..????
There is an old story about a certain celebrity who is said to have quipped, “If you have nothing nice to say about someone please sit next to me.” Few things are more intriguing to the sin that clings in our heart than those things which tend to harm the reputation of another. The ability to slay the character of another in the hearts of men has become alarmingly easy through the internet.
In my devotional reading the other day I came across these words by my dearly departed Mr. Spurgeon.
Malicious gossip emits a threefold poison, for it injures the speaker, the hearer, and the person who is the subject of the accusation. Whether the report is true or not, God’s Word forbids us to spread it. The reputations of the Lord’s people should be very precious in our sight, and we should consider it shameful to help the Devil dishonor the church and the name of the Lord. Some tongues need a bridle, not a spur, for a number of people take pride in pulling down their brothers as though it lifts themselves higher. Noah’s sons Shem and Japheth wisely “took a garment … and covered their father’s nakedness” (Gen. 9:23), but Ham spoke of his father’s nakedness and earned a horrible curse as a result. We too may have a dark day ahead, one in which we would appreciate self-restraint and silence from our family in Christ. Thus, let us cheerfully offer the same courtesy to those who need it now. May this be our family rule and personal pledge:“Slander no one” (Titus 3:2)! The Holy Spirit, however, permits us to criticize sin but prescribes exactly how we are to do so. We are to rebuke our brother to his face rather than complain behind his back. This useful method carries God’s blessing and is therefore brotherly, Christlike, and powerful. Our flesh will shrink from this approach, but we should consider the greater stress upon our conscience if we refuse to do the right thing. By ignoring the problem we allow our friend to continue in sin, and then we ourselves actually become participants in it.
Many people have been saved from shameful sinfulness through the timely, wise, and affectionate warnings of faithful ministers and friends. And our Lord Jesus Himself has set a gracious example for us in dealing with erring friends. We see His warning to Peter regarding his boastful statement of support being preceded by prayer and delivered with gentleness.
Those of us who are parents know what it is like to teach gratitude to our children. ‘Say, thank you!’ we charge repeatedly. Our hope is that the repeated exhortations will pay off and they will automatically and respectfully remember to thank any person who shows them some kindness. While we may be able to effectively deal with their outward behavior, we cannot, without divine power, change their hearts. That is, we cannot make them grateful. When God saves a person and fills them with His Holy Spirit one of the sure signs that He has done so is that they will give thanks always and for all things to the Father through the Lord Jesus (Eph. 5:20). Some time ago my wife and I came across this statement by Alexander Mclaren which has had a profound effect upon our home. He said, “Seek to cultivate a buoyant, joyous sense of the crowded kindnesses of God in your daily life.” To help with this my wife created the poster shown above which hangs in a prominent place in our home. Through the months various members of the family have written down the things, people, and places that stir gratitude in our hearts toward God. In the center of the poster are those things which are unchanging and eternal, on the outside are the things that are of this age. Of all the things that you will do this week, few will be repeated in eternity. But every time you are thankful to God you are engaging in a heavenly and eternal work. If you do not create your own poster to hang in your home (and if you make one, make it big–there is much for which ought to render thanks), at least create one in your heart!
This is not a post about employment, it’s about people. To put it another way, I am talking about capital ‘J’ Jobs. You know, the Job of the bible. If I were to ask you if you wanted to be like Job or if you wanted your church to be full of Jobs you would, no doubt, cringe. What kind of sadist wishes Job’s condition upon another person? We live in a world which is full of suffering and the Bible addresses for us the benefits that come to the body of Christ through suffering (James 1:2ff) These things being so, Job’s reaction to suffering, in it’s initial stages, in it’s full flower, and following the Lord’s self revelation, have much to commend our attention, instruction, and imitation. But I want to focus for a moment upon the description of Job before his suffering.
Job is described by the Holy Spirit in these terms, “that man was blameless and upright, and one who feared God and shunned evil.” There are other folks in the Bible described in similar language (more of this in an upcoming post). In the words of 1 John 3:7, he practiced righteousness. He had a perfect justifying righteousness before God in Christ and a practical, demonstrable and real practice of righteousness on earth. He lived his life in the fear of God. He lived for the eyes and ears of God. He lived for the smile of God–and he had it. When sin presented itself he fled. When it corrupted him inwardly or outwardly, he repented, forsook it, was cleansed, empowered and went on. When the pathway of duty was made known, his heart would have cried, “I will run in the way of your commandments” or in the words of his coming Savior, “I have come to do your will, O God.” (Psalm 119:32 and Hebrews 10:7–see also Psalm 40:8). Does that sound like someone you know? Does it sound like your pastor, your deacon, your father or mother, your husband or wife, your brother or your sister? Does it sound like the average Joe (or Josephine) at your church? Does it sound like someone you would want to know? Does it sound like the kind of person you would want to be part of your fellowship? Does he sound like a dreaded Legalist or Pharisee?
As you read the book of Job and the rest of the Bible it becomes apparent that the Holy Spirit is not speaking about sinless perfection. But the Spirit is speaking truthfully. The Lord speaks of the rarity of such an individual at this time, “Have you considered my servant, Job, that there is none like him on the Earth?” Sadly, this description is rare in our own day as well. There seems to be an almost perverse joy in Christian’s speaking about how bad they are. The more they fail, the more they indulge, the more ‘raw’, ‘authentic’, ‘wounded’, and hence ‘useful’ they are in ministering to believers and unbelievers. We’re just a bunch of sinners, a bunch of failures we are told repeatedly. We have black hearts, deceitful hearts, cold hearts. What we seem to be saying is that grace has not made much of a difference to our daily lives. We have gained little in regard to the fear of God and the pursuit of holiness. The putting off of the old man, the crucifying of the flesh, and the refusal to make provision for it in regard to its lust is somehow seen as dangerous and contrary to the gospel. I would argue that Job’s character epitomizes the gospel. Paul told Titus that the ‘the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age (Titus 2:11, 12) and that Jesus ‘gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.’
Is there evidence that He has and is doing this in your life and in your flock? Where are those in our midst notable for their God fearing? Notable for shunning and hating evil (as defined by God)? Notable for their uprightness and blamelessness (that is, they obey God–including confessing and forsaking their sin, consistently and actually)? Our faith is not only to be proclaimed, it is to be lived. Sinners must not only hear our gospel, they must see the effects of the gospel (Matt. 5:16, 1 Tim. 5:25, Titus 3:8, 1 Peter 2:12). In this is the Gospel proven, in this God is glorified, in this the church is strengthened, in this we shine as lights.
True sorrow over sin is very practical, for no one can truly hate sin while living in it. Repentance makes us see the evil of sin, not merely in theory but experientially, as a child who has been burned now fears fire. We should be just as afraid of sin as someone who recently has been robbed is afraid of thieves. CHS
Every now and then I will have a conversation with a pastor friend who will ask the question…did you hear about so and so…the tone of the question lets me know that what follows is not going to be pleasant. It normally happens that so and so is out of the ministry, perhaps that he has left his wife and his family, that he has brought some horrible shame upon the church because he failed to watch over his heart.
Whenever I hear such things, and, I have heard them far too often in my life, I always ask, when did it start? When did that preacher stop fearing God? How did he excuse the compromises that have led him to where he now is? How did he get into the pulpit and preach like that when he knew where he was and what he was doing the week before? What happened to that man the first time he trespassed? What emboldened him to do it again and again till his conscience was hardened and his prayers ceased and his faith went cold and he become something he thought he would never become.
1. You should fear sin because of it’s separating, power-sapping effects
Isaiah 59:1 Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, That it cannot save; Nor His ear heavy, That it cannot hear. 2 But your iniquities have separated you from your God; And your sins have hidden His face from you, So that He will not hear.
Judges 16:20 20 And she said, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” So he awoke from his sleep, and said, “I will go out as before, at other times, and shake myself free!” But he did not know that the LORD had departed from him.
In the battle that we are in and in the battle that is upcoming, we do not need to have God’s arm shortened or to purposefully dull His ear.
The church of this age is asking ‘where is the power’, ‘why are we so ineffectual’. May not part of the answer to these questions be the compromises we have made and the sins we continue to indulge in?
2. You should fear sin because God has promised to openly expose it
I take this from the well known words of Numbers 32:23 23 “But if you do not do so, then take note, you have sinned against the LORD; and be sure your sin will find you out.
Luke 12:2-3 2 “For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, nor hidden that will not be known. 3 “Therefore whatever you have spoken in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have spoken in the ear in inner rooms will be proclaimed on the housetops.
Ecclesiastes 12:14 14 For God will bring every work into judgment, Including every secret thing, Whether good or evil.
2 Corinthians 5:10 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.
Whether in this life or more importantly..in the life to come, who and what you are will be exposed. There will be no hypocrisy in the age to come.
3. Fear the power of sin to disturb your peace and assurance of salvation
Psalm 32:2-4 2 Blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity, And in whose spirit there is no deceit. 3 When I kept silent, my bones grew old Through my groaning all the day long. 4 For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; My vitality was turned into the drought of summer. Selah
Proverbs 28:13 13 He who covers his sins will not prosper, But whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy.
4. Fear the power of sin to wreck havoc your community
You know the narrative of the effects of Achan’s sin. Shame and defeat was brought upon the nation, real men with real families died as a result of his actions. Though the nation was not complicit in his crimes, they shared in his punishment. Like it or not, we are joined to one another in the body. If the liver has cancer the whole body suffers. Think of the threat that Jesus made to the church in Ephesus (See Rev. 2) that He would remove their candlestick if they did not repent and do the first works. Were there no believers in that church who had clung fast to their first love? The sins of some effect the whole.
5. Fear the power of sin to both quench and to grieve the Holy Spirit
1 Thessalonians 5:19 19 Do not quench the Spirit.
Ephesians 4:29-30 29 Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.
I believe one of the greatest problems of our modern age is that we do not truly believe in the power of the Holy Spirit as the means of accomplishing our mission. We pay lip service to prayer but our real hope is in men and programs. Modern evangelicals have abandoned corporate prayer meetings and rare and brief are the prayers uttered in public worship. Cursed is the man who trusts in man!
6. Fear the power of sin to corrupt and turn you from the path of righteousness and heaven
Consider the case of the man Demas. We first read of him in Colossians 4:14 14 Luke the beloved physician and Demas greet you. He is then mentioned by Paul in Philemon 1:23-24 23 Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, greets you, 24 as do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, Luke, my fellow laborers
And then we read of him again in 2 Timothy 4:9-10 9 Be diligent to come to me quickly; 10 for Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world…
This present world…more literally this present age…what Paul calls in Galatians this evil age.
Matthew 5:28-30 28 “But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 “If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. 30 “And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.
Hebrews 10:24-31 24 And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. 26 For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries. 28 Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. And again, “The LORD will judge His people.” 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
7. Fear the Power of Sin To Silence Your Witness
And that in two ways.
The first is those who know of your hypocrisy
Romans 2:23-24 23 You who make your boast in the law, do you dishonor God through breaking the law? 24 For “the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you,”
And the second is the inability of you to bear witness when you know your own life does not promote the very thing you are trying to teach others.
It is the righteous man who is as bold as a lion.
1 Peter 3:15-16 15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; 16 having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed.
8. Fear the consequences of unforgiven sin
It was sin that brought the curse into the world, sin cast angels from heaven, it was sin that brought about a great flood, it was sin that brought down fire on Sodom and Gomorrah, it was sin that brought death to David’s family and pestlience in the land, sin that brought about the invasion of Israel and the bloody soaked destruction of Judah, it was sin that nailed the Savior to the cross and it sin, sin unrepented of and unforsaken, that has and that will cast untold millions into eternity separated from God.
Matthew 25:41 41 “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
For all we profess to believe about our faith being rooted in the power of the Holy Spirit, far too much of daily life and ministry is conducted in our own strength. The proof of this is our prayerlessness. Francis Schaeffer once asked his wife:
“Edith, I wonder what would happen to most churches and Christian work if we awakened tomorrow, and everything concerning the reality and work of the Holy Spirit, and everything concerning prayer, were removed from the Bible. I don’t mean just ignored, but actually cut out—disappeared. I wonder how much difference it would make?” We concluded it would not make much difference in many board meetings, committee meetings, decisions and activities.
A sure sign of God’s grace at work in our hearts is when we not only fear and hate the consequences of sin, but sin itself. We know God has done a work of grace in us when we long to be saved from the power and presence of sin and not just it’s effects. Here is A. W. Pink on this subject,”The nature of Christ’s salvation is woefully misrepresented by the present-day evangelist. He announces a Savior from hell rather than a Savior from sin. And that is why so many are fatally deceived, for there are multitudes who wish to escape the Lake of Fire who have no desire to be delivered from their carnality and worldliness.”