Letters to My ChildrenLeaving an Inheritance in the Lord
Message from Malachi
A Prophetic Warning to the Church
Dealing Treacherously with Those We Love
“For the Lord God of Israel says that He hates divorce, for it covers one’s garment with violence.”
Beginning in Malachi 2:10, there is a shift from God’s chastisement of the priests to His reproof of the people in general. Lack of priestly leadership, it seems, is no excuse for unfaithfulness to the Lord. However, sheep follow the shepherd. So judgment begins, as the Scripture states, in the house of the Lord, with the shepherds, the priests, and the preachers of today (1 Peter 4:17). Malachi employs some strong words in this chapter to convey God’s dealings with His people and their attitude towards Him. He uses treacherously five times in 8 verses. We also find profane or profaning, abomination, and God saying He literally hates something. Those two words alone, God and hate, should get our attention.
These are strong words for erring people.
Why Do We Deal Treacherously with Each Other?
The first question God directs to the people in Malachi’s day, and to the church today, is “Why do we deal treacherously (or, unfaithfully, deceitfully, traitorously) with one another?” (Mal. 2:10). Why do we betray each other? Why do we deceive, mislead, and victimize each other? Why do we hold each other, especially within the Body of Christ and in our own marriages, with such contempt, disdain, and disrespect? Why do we, as brothers and sisters in Christ, as family, heavenly siblings, those chosen by God and created in His own image, profane the Lord by destroying His children, those for whom He died, by our unfaithfulness to each other? Why would we do that?
Our answer is, of course, we don’t. We categorically deny any responsibility or knowledge of the offense. But God sees it differently. He says all of His people, Judah, Israel, Jerusalem, have “profaned the Lord’s holy institution which He loves.” And what institution is that? we ask. Marriage. And how have we profaned marriage? We have “married the daughter of a foreign god” (Mal. 2:11).
At this point, most of us would look at the national statistics and our own experience and know we stand guilty regarding our rejection of the sanctity of marriage. We, the church, divorce each other as fast as those outside the church, sometimes even faster. It’s now so hard to find someone who is still the “husband of one wife” to serve as our pastor, deacon or elder that we go to great efforts to redefine what “husband of one wife” means so more people in our congregation can qualify (1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:6). And, as the church, we do this to our own shame and peril.
One Man, One Woman, One Lifetime
This passage, primarily, deals with the marriage covenant— one man, one woman, for one lifetime— and how the people and priests in Malachi’s day, and in our own day, have forsaken and profaned it (Mal. 2:11). Divorce is the greatest betrayal most will ever experience in their lives. And the children of divorce, those who suffer the most, carry the scars of that betrayal to their graves, often inflicting their pain and hurt on their own children. Divorce becomes a generational curse, children suffering for the pain of their parents.
Because divorce has become such a part of the fabric of our church life, we’ve become desensitized to it. After all, every family I know has been impacted by divorce. Everyone, including my own. My parents divorced. My wife’s parents divorced. My only brother divorced, and on and on it goes. And since “familiarity breeds contempt” we have turned a blind eye to what God says about divorce.
Malachi is our wake-up call.
Worship, Church-life, and Divorce
The permissive, tolerant, “don’t ask, don’t tell” attitude towards the sin of divorce by the priests in Malachi’s day, and from the pulpits today, is the reason the church is in the shape it’s in regarding marriage. Pastors today tend to shy away from controversial topics that may incite the congregation and divorce certainly is top of the list. But truth is to be proclaimed from the pulpit and from the man of God regardless of how uncomfortable that truth may be. Pastors, priests, and shepherds are to preach “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27) and not simply what the people want to hear (2 Tim. 4:2-3). Pastors today should view the sanctity of marriage much like Nehemiah did when he rebuked the marital infidelity of the priests and drove the grandson of the high priest from his presence because he had “defiled the priesthood and the covenant of the priesthood and the Levites” (Neh. 13:29). His crime? He had divorced his wife to marry another woman, a foreign woman (Mal. 2:11). Where are the men of God today who will not allow divorce as an option among those he shepherds!
When Malachi speaks of the “daughter of a foreign god” (Mal. 2:11) he is referring to a woman who is not from Israel nor holds to the beliefs and values of the people. He’s talking about a pagan woman, one the Lord warned would lead His people to worship foreign gods (Ex. 34:11). It’s a classic case of mixed marriage, being unequally yoked, a believer with a non-believer, which God explicitly forbids (2 Cor. 6:14). God is speaking about a believer, one under covenant, who divorces his own wife to marry a pagan, a heathen, someone who is not a believer (Mal. 2:10). And this sin, dealing treacherously with your spouse, had crept into the camp of Israel while the priests, the watchmen and shepherds of God’s people, did nothing to stop it. In fact, they encouraged divorce and were divorced themselves. Same can be said of the church and the pastors today.
But why is this so important?
Simply put, as hard as it is to accept, God says He will not receive your worship if you are unfaithful to the “wife of your youth” (Mal. 2:13). Why? Because “He hates divorce” (Mal. 2:16). Cut and dry. Not open to negotiation or compromise or political correctness.
God says the man who divorces his wife and marries the “daughter of a foreign god” will be “cut off” from Him and His people since he is fully aware, willfully aware, of what he is doing. Then that very man, while showing such contempt to His covenant, has the arrogance, the audacity, the blatant hypocrisy to come and bring an offering to the Lord and expect God to be pleased (Mal. 2:12). Not gonna happen.
Malachi 2:13 reads:
And this is the second thing you do: You cover the altar of the Lord with tears, with weeping and crying; So He does not regard the offering anymore, nor receive it with goodwill from your hands.
Regardless of how much emotion you put into your worship of the Lord, even with tears and weeping and crying, God will not hear you nor receive your worship as long as you profane His covenant. In what way are we profaning His covenant? you ask. “Because the Lord has been witness between you and the wife of your youth, with whom you have dealt treacherously (or, unfaithfully, deceitfully, traitorously); Yet she is your companion and your wife by covenant” (Mal. 2:14).
In other words, until this sin of treachery and betrayal against our spouse is made right, God and the church can go no further. They stop at this point. The pride and belligerence of those who are called by His name (Isa. 43:7), those who defiantly refuse to change their attitudes about something God calls an abomination (Mal. 2:11), must be confessed and repented of. Must. Why? Because God “hates divorce” (Mal. 2:16). He hates divorce because it is the breaking of a covenant between a man and a woman (Mal. 2:14), between two who are now one flesh (Mal. 2:15; Gen. 2:24), and the violation of an oath given before God of our vow, our pledge, and our solemn promise of faithfulness in marriage (Mal. 2:14). It’s the very definition of dealing treacherously with each other (Mal. 2:10).
There’s no middle ground with God on this issue. None. In fact, it might be that the anemic spiritual condition of the church in the West, and of you and me as Believers in Christ, is caused by our willing acceptance of divorce as a viable option in relationships covenanted by God— which is the furthest thing from the truth. In fact, the Bible gives us only two acceptable reasons for divorce: sexual immorality (Matt. 5:32, 19:19) and the abandonment of a believer by an unbeliever (1 Cor. 7:15). No where do we find popular phrases like: irreconcilable differences, incapability, or lack of fulfillment, as reasons for divorce.
How Did We End Up Here?
How did we get in this place?
By lowering our standards and accepting the political correctness of this fallen age more than the unchanging truth of Scripture (James 4:4). By leading our churches via consensus and not by the truth of God’s Word. In essence, as our congregations begin to experiment with divorce, instead of standing tall and strong for the truth and offend those who are sinning, we change our preaching and morph our Biblical standards just enough to keep those in dire need of repentance coming back. We want to make church comfortable, even for those in the very throes of sin. And in doing so, we systematically diminish the holiness of God and the covenant relationship of marriage. “After all,” we say, “it’s the loving thing to do. We don’t want to offend anyone.”
Really? Looks like the only One offended is the Lord.
There’s a conversation that takes place in the movie Courageous that sums up the attitude of the church today regarding divorce. If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll recognize the following. And if you haven’t seen the movie, you need to watch it today.
David: I had a good dad, I guess. I mean the guy wasn’t perfect. My parents split up when he had an affair. But I think he regretted it and I struggled with it for a while. But, you know, divorce just comes with the territory now.
Nathan: I disagree, man. Divorce happens because you make it an option.
David: Nathan, you don’t always know what’s gonna happen. People change. You can’t always work stuff out. Sometimes you need to part ways.
Adam: I think I agree with Nathan. People don’t fight for their marriages anymore.
The church needs to step up, to take charge, to boldly lead in the fight to save our marriages. Why? Because divorce can no longer be accepted as an easy option for the believer in Christ. We, as the people of God, desperately need the blessings of God to once again freely flow in our churches, families, and in our nation. And tolerating what God calls an abomination is not the way to make that happen.
Evil is Not Good in the Sight of the Lord
One final thought. Are you tired of hearing and reading messages like this one? Are you weary of preaching that makes you feel bad, uncomfortable, or uneasy? Would you rather come to church, or read a post, and be blessed and told how good and wonderful you are?
Sure you would. Most people would. In fact, that’s what they wanted in Malachi’s day. But God had another idea.
Malachi 2:17 reads:
Statement: You have wearied the Lord with your words;
Question: Yet you say, “In what way have we wearied Him?”
Answer: In that you say, “Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and He delights in them,” or, “Where is the God of justice?”
Just so you’ll know, the Lord doesn’t delight in those who sin and do evil. In fact, His Word says just the opposite, “God is a just God, and God is angry with the wicked every day” (Psalm 7:11).
Repent of the sin that separates you from His blessing and enjoy the freedom only He can give.
As I’ve studied John 7, I’ve become somewhat fixated at verse 46. This verse has spoken truth to me and has forced me to face some blind spots, some shortcomings, some failures in my relationship with my Lord Jesus. And these failures come in the form of childlike trust. Or my lack of childlike trust in my Lord.
Let me set the scene for you.
As Jesus was preaching His Word to the unbelieving crowd gathered in Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles (John 7:2), the Pharisees and chief priests were conspiring together to have Jesus arrested and removed from their midst. They did not want the Romans involved, at least not yet, so they ordered the Temple officers, or Temple police, to “take Him” when the opportunity presented itself and bring Him back to them for trial (John 7:32).
It appears the officers shadowed Jesus for a least one full day, maybe more, before returning to the Pharisees empty handed. In John 7:32, they are given the command to “take Him” and at least one other day passes by the time we get to John 7:37 when Jesus stands up on the last day, the great day of the feast, and offers His “thirst, come, and drink” invitation. They listened to Jesus for at least one full day. They also heard the promise of the Holy Spirit swelling to rivers of living water to those who believed (John 7:38-39). And something in the words of Jesus changed them.
The crowd who heard Jesus’ message was divided (John 7:43) as to what to think about the man. Some said He was the Prophet and others the Christ. Still others couldn’t make up their mind and argued about Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah and how many, if any, Jesus fulfilled (John 7:40-42).
But the officers weren’t divided. They listened and they knew and they returned to the Pharisees without Jesus, without excuses, empty handed. When the Pharisees demanded, “Why have you not brought Him?” (John 7:45). They simply replied, with bewildered expressions on their faces, “No man ever spoke like this Man!” (John 7:46). Yes, no man had the words of truth like Jesus and no man ever said the things Jesus said.
No one. Ever.
They Believed Jesus at His Word. Do We?
I wish I could trust the words of Jesus more than I do. I wish I had the faith to believe everything He said, even the hard stuff. For example, in Matthew 6:33 Jesus promised, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” And what things was Jesus talking about? For starters, the very things I worry and fret over: my life (Matt. 6:25), how will I provide for my family (Matt. 6:31), and what the uncertain future holds (Matt. 6:34). But Jesus clearly said if I seek His Kingdom and His righteousness first, before anything else, then He will take care of my needs. As a good and gracious Lord, He will provide food, shelter and clothing for me. And not only that, but He said He knows me so well that the very hairs on my head are numbered (Matt. 10:30). Not counted, numbered. He know and loves us that much!
But that’s a hard thing to believe. And I don’t know why.
Jesus says if I, being evil, know how to give good gifts to my children, how much more will my Heavenly Father give good gifts to me? (Matt. 7:11). Why is this truth so hard to live by? Why is it so hard to believe?
These officers were listening to Jesus speak while they were strategizing for the best time, the most opportune moment, to arrest Him and bring Him back bound to the Pharisees. But His words changed their heart. His words changed their view of life, their view of true, eternal authority, and their view of their purpose, meaning, and destiny. They were no longer pacified with the temporal, passing, transitory trinkets of life— now they were enamored with the Kingdom of God, and the King Eternal.
What Did They Hear Jesus Say?
One, they head Jesus proclaim, over and over again, He was sent from God (John 7:28-29). Not sent by God, but sent from God. This implies a pre-existence with the One who sent Him. You and I can be send by God. But Jesus was sent from God. And there is a great difference between the two.
Two, they heard Jesus say His life was not His own, but was planned, ordered and arranged by God (John 7:6). Jesus said everything is in His Father’s hand and He was here to do His Father’s will. In fact, the very words these guards heard Jesus speak came from the Father, and not from Jesus (John 7:16-17). Jesus spoke and modeled true submission to authority.
Three, they heard Jesus say that He, and He alone, was the answer to man’s deepest needs. He invited the guards to come to Him and drink and let Him satisfy their thirst for peace, joy, and purpose in this life (John 7:37-38). Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).
Four, they heard Jesus say He comes to offer them the greatest blessing imaginable (John 7:38). He promised the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Trinity, to live inside of each of them, to take up residence as our deposit, our guarantee of our future inheritance to come in Him (Eph. 1:14).
And the officers were so mesmerized by the words of Christ, so thankful for what they heard, they went back to the Pharisees empty handed, willing to suffer whatever consequences awaited them. But they didn’t care. Because they had been in the presence of the Living Lord Jesus and had learned to trust Him at His word.
I pray that you and I, the church, would learn to do the same. To simply trust Him at His word.
After all, “No man ever spoke like this Man!” (John 7:46).
All throughout Scripture we see examples of people who have faith, but it’s non-saving faith. After all, everyone of us have some type of faith and we exercise faith every day. We have faith a car will stop while we cross the street, we have faith our prescriptions will actually do what our doctor told us they would do, we have faith a chair will hold us up when we sit down in a crowded restaurant, and we have faith the sun will come up in the morning as we prepare to go to the job we have faith we still have. We all have faith— but we have faith at different levels and in different things. And not all faith is the same.
For example, we have a certain type of faith in our government or in our economic system or in the media. But that faith is not as strong, nor of the same substance, as the faith we have in the sanctity of our marriage, or in the trustworthiness of our best friend, or in our ability to keep a promise to those we love. Each of these kinds of faith are as different and varied as the objects of that faith. And none of these reaches the level of faith or trust or dependence we would expect to have in Christ. Hence, we would call these examples, non-saving faith.
But what happens when a seeking person, just like you or me, comes to Jesus for salvation with nothing more than non-saving faith? Would that person be saved? Or would they be deceived into thinking what faith they had, bordering on intellectual curiosity, was sufficient for salvation?
The Deception of Non-Saving Faith
The Scriptures repeatedly warn about the deception of non-saving faith. In the Parable of the Sower, seventy-five percent of the seeds sown did not lead to salvation (Matt. 13:3-9). Those who sowed in the shallow soil and in the thorny soil were deceived into thinking mere growth, without corresponding fruit, equates to salvation. Or, to put it another way, faith, without corresponding fruit, leads to salvation. And the Scriptures clearly state they don’t.
Additionally, the Scriptures talk about having a “form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!” (2 Tim. 3:5). We see people like Hymenaeus and Alexander, both lost, serving as prominent members of the church (1 Tim. 1:20). There are those who come to the wedding feast dressed in clothes of their own righteousness. The end result? They were bound, hand and foot, and “cast into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 22:13). We have the warning from the Lord about the wide road that leads to destruction and the narrow gate that leads to life (Matt. 7:13-14). And, in the book of Hebrews, there are those who were “once enlightened and have tasted the heavenly gift” but never fully drank of the living waters of salvation (Heb. 6:4).
Remember, Jesus said He “did not come to bring peace on the earth, but a sword” (Matt. 10:34) and “a man’s enemies will be those of his own household” (Matt. 10:36). How? Because our commitment to Christ must be greater than our love and devotion for those we hold most dear, even our own family. Jesus, when asked “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” said of His own family, “For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother” (Matt. 12:48-50).
The sad truth is many people come to Christ but never fully partake, or drink, of Him (John 7:37) and are deceived into believing they are truly saved. Many people, most in fact, go part of the way towards Christ and end up short of true salvation. They feel and recognize their need for Christ and acknowledge He is the only One that can satisfy their deepest longings, yet they fail to appropriate Him into their lives on His terms. They thirst, they come— but they fail to drink. They create their own gospel, their own way of salvation, and their own standards of righteousness, holiness and sanctification. Yet they are deceived— because a man-made Gospel does not lead to Christ.
Thirst, Come and Drink
On the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles, approximately six months before Jesus was to celebrate His last Passover in Jerusalem and was later betrayed and crucified (John 13:1), He stood in the midst of the crowd and gave the following invitation: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water” (John 7:37-38). Jesus gives His gospel presentation to a group of people who have very different views about who He is. And whenever Jesus presents us with Himself— He always forces us to chose. We are forced to either accept Him on His terms or to reject Him outright. There’s no middle ground, no gray area, and it’s not open to personal interpretation. It happened to the crowd at the Feast of Tabernacles and it happens today every time the Gospel of Christ is proclaimed.
The questions are always the same: Who is Jesus? What is truth? (John 18:38). Is Jesus who He really says He is? And, if He is, what does that mean for me? Is it really possible to have my sins forgiven? How can I be reconciled with God? Tell me, what must I do to be saved? (Acts 2:37).
In this passage, three key words describe the path of true salvation. The words are thirst, come, and drink. And the promise, of course, to those who thirst, come, and drink: eternal life with God and the filling of the Holy Spirit, the living water Jesus talked about (John 7:39).
Thirst – those who thirst recognize a deep longing, an intense craving, an unsatisfied need in their life. It’s those who come to grips with the reality that their life has no eternal purpose or meaning and they are “dead in their trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1). They instinctively perceive there’s more to life than what they’re experiencing and, therefore, they try to fill the void they feel with all sorts of carnal sensations— sex, drugs, food, false religions and philosophies, immoral relationships, pride, selfishness, arrogance— until they finally admit only Jesus can bring light into their darkness.
Come – when the personal longings become unbearable and the promise of redemption seems so alluring, so captivating, and enticing, many come to Jesus for what He promises to offer. These understand who Jesus claims to be, the exalted Son of God, the Messiah, the Christ, the Lord, and they understand what He has done for them, redeeming them from the penalty and power of sin by dying for them on the cross. What they know and understand about Jesus is true. The problem, however, is what they do with that truth.
In other words, there’s more to salvation than simply coming to Jesus. You can’t just come and receive Him on your terms as some sort of trade or barter transaction. You must enter through the narrow gate (Matt. 7:13), on His terms, and His terms are not open to negotiation. His terms are all or nothing, total commitment, His life for yours. He doesn’t come to make us better or to enhance certain aspects of our life… no, He comes to put us to death and raise us to life again in His image, as His child, to do His will and not our own (Rom. 6:3; 1 Peter 3:18). He is the Lord, the Sovereign One, God Almighty (Phil. 2:10-11), and we are now voluntary slaves, bondslaves, of His. Remember the words from Romans 10:9: “That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Note, it’s Jesus as Lord and nothing else. You cannot come to Jesus as Savior only. He is Savior, because He is Lord.
Most people never make it this far. They never move past simply coming to Jesus and they never progress to true salvation. Most view Jesus as an enlightened master or great teacher or the supreme moral example for all mankind, but never as Lord. They fail to take Him at His Word, or count the costs of salvation (Matt. 8:19-22), and to give their lives to Him in abject submission and humility. They want what He can do for them to make their life better, but they do not want Him as their Lord. So they say a prayer and try to incorporate some behavior, moral changes into their life and maybe even experience a deceptive sense of salvation, like a sensation of peace or contentment, but they have never yielded or surrendered their life to Him nor submitted to His Lordship. And, as sad as it may seem, they’re still lost. Why? Because their nature has not been changed (2 Cor. 5:17), redemption and conversion have not taken place, and the Holy Spirit does not indwell them as their deposit, their guarantee of their future inheritance in Christ (Eph. 1:14). And then Jesus will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!” (Matt. 7:23).
Drink – this is where true salvation takes place. You have a thirst and you come to Christ to quench and satisfy your thirst, yet simply coming to where the Living Water flows does not, in itself, quench your thirst. You must drink. You must partake. You must be engulfed, enveloped, saturated in Christ, the Living Water. He must be everything to you if you are to receive anything from Him. Salvation, being a joint-heir with Christ (Rom. 8:17), requires more than reciting some prayer as a nine year old at VBS. It’s a radical, unconditional, total and complete, without reservation and with reckless abandonment, pledge, vow, promise, commitment, allegiance to Christ as Lord. You are no longer your own to do what you wish with your life (1 Cor. 6:19). You have been bought with a price, you now belong to Him, and you are to live to bring Him honor (1 Cor. 6:20). You are now pilgrims and strangers on the earth (Heb. 11:13; 1 Pet. 2:11), because this world is not your home (Heb. 13:14).
This is this kind of all or nothing relationship that marked the disciples, the early church, and every true believer since Pentecost until today. And, if you truly know Christ and are known by Him, it will mark your life also.
Those Who Believed Jesus… Kinda
The Scriptures tell us when Jesus finished His invitation to the unbelieving crowd to come and drink of Him and those who would come and drink would receive, in themselves, the flowing rivers of eternal life in the person of the Holy Spirit (John 7:37-39), the crowd was divided. Some believed His words, but only partially. Some didn’t believe at all, and wanted to destroy Him (John 7:44).
Nothing much has changed. As it was back then, so it is today.
Truly this is the Prophet
John 7:40-41 states: Therefore many from the crowd, when they heard this saying, said, “Truly this is the Prophet.” Others said, “This is the Christ.” Note, they said He was the Prophet, capitalized, and not a prophet. This first group was asserting that Jesus was the fulfillment of Deuteronomy 18:15 where Moses said, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear,” For centuries this passage had be interpreted to prophetically speak of the coming Messiah, the Christ. However, by the time of Jesus, the Jewish scholars, from their understanding of Malachi 3, believed the passage spoke more of the forerunner of the Messiah (Mal. 4:5-6). and not the Messiah Himself. Now the Prophet was someone who would show men their need for a Redeemer, for Christ, and then faithfully point them to the only One who could satisfy their need. But the Prophet was not the Messiah and could not, himself, satisfy their thirst, need or longing. He could just point the way or be a path or channel, but He had no power or authority to grant salvation.
Unfortunately, many people still believe this about Jesus.
They believed Jesus came to point men towards the truth, but they would fervently deny He was the Truth (John 14:6). They would declare Jesus came to point men to someone or something coming to satisfy all their needs, but He was not that Someone and He did not possess the something they were looking for. The men who said, “Truly this is the Prophet” (John 7:40), recognized and affirmed the special status Jesus had as a one-of-a-kind religious leader who did things and taught things unlike any religious figure before (John 7:46). He was in a class all by Himself. They would even go so far as to say Jesus was sent by God and had a special relationship with God (John 3:2). But they would not receive Him as God or serve Him as Lord. They wanted Jesus and something else, anything else. These were those who thirsted and came, but never drank.
This is the Christ
The second group said, “This is the Christ” (John 7:41). This group recognized and believed Jesus was the Messiah, the Christ, the Savior of Israel, the One prophesied from the Old Testament (Luke 2:11). Yes, they knew these facts about Him to be true, but they defiantly refused, like the first group, to bend their knee to Him as Lord (Rom. 14:11; Phil. 2:10). They refused to commit their lives and future to Him as the Sovereign One. The Scriptures do not indicate this group followed Jesus as Lord. They simply said, “Yes, I believe He is the Son of God and, yes, I believe He is the Messiah and the Christ. So what? What does that mean to me? Now, pass me the butter and biscuits. I’m hungry.”
This group confessed Jesus as something, but not as Lord (Rom. 10:9). They had non-saving faith in Jesus as the Christ.
This is the Christ… uh, but…
Then there’s the group that fully confessed Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God (Matt. 16:16), but would rather argue and bicker and debate over trivial matters of their own theology and reject Jesus because, in their mind, He didn’t meet every jot or tittle they thought He should (Matt. 5:18). These are the ones who argue saying, “He can’t be the Christ because He came from Galilee and the Christ is supposed to come from Bethlehem. Plus, the Scriptures teach the Messiah must come from the line of David, and I’m not sure where this guy comes from” (John 7:40-42). So they compared what little they knew about Jesus with their own limited and incomplete knowledge of the prophetic Scriptures and concluded He could not possibly be the Messiah because He failed to meet all their sincerely held convictions of what the Messiah would be. We have many in the church today who operate the same way. They smugly elevate their own statement of beliefs or denominational creeds or preferences to the level of infallible Scripture and use them as a litmus test for fellowship or, sadly, salvation, and even truth.
But if this group would’ve investigated further, they would’ve discovered Jesus was from the line of David (Matt. 22:42) and did come from Bethlehem (Micah 5:2) and fulfilled all of the Old Testament prophecies regarding the Messiah (John 5:39). But they were more concerned with being right in the eyes of each other and promoting their own theological brand or position than in knowing the truth. In their apathy and laziness, they failed to look for the truth because they arrogantly assumed they’d already found it. And in their pride and hypocrisy they missed their Messiah.
Again, just like the first two groups, they also missed out on eternal life.
Those Who Did Not Believe Jesus
The final group were those who hated the Lord Jesus and wanted to destroy Him. These were the ones who wanted to take Him by force (John 7:44) but were prevented because, from God’s perspective, it was not yet His time and His hour had not come (John 7:30). Needless to say, the people in this group did not understand Christ nor receive the gift of salvation He offered (John 7:37-39).
To What Group Do You Belong?
So where do you fit in? What is your response to Christ? Do you believe partially, somewhat, kinda, in Him? Do you say, “Yes, He was a good man, and yes, He was sent from God, and yes, He’s a great moral teacher and example, and, yes, He’s a path or a way of some sorts to God.” If so, that’s not enough. Your confession of Him or your profession of faith is severely lacking. Fatally lacking. For Jesus, He is all or nothing. There is no partial with Him. There’s no half way, no honorable mention, no consolation prize, and no kudos for trying. He’s all or nothing, totally in or totally out, through the narrow gate only, and on His terms without negotiation or compromise.
Remember His words,
“Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed” (John 6:53-55).
Or, in other words, Jesus gives eternal life to those who ingest Him into the core of their very being, as their strength, source of daily nourishment, their very sustenance. Jesus did not come to make us better, or to enhance or improve our fallen lives. No, He came to make us new, to put the old man to death and to raise the new man to life with Him. And what kind of life does He promise? It’s beyond anything we can ask or think (Eph. 3:20-21). He offers a peace that surpasses all understanding (Phil. 4:7). And He promises we will be children of God, and if children, then heirs, and if heirs, then joint heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:17). Just think, all that Christ is and all He possesses becomes ours as a joint heir with Him— when, and here is the requirement, we give all that we are to Him. This promise belongs to those who exercise real, genuine, saving faith in the completed work of Christ.
One final thought, the seeds that fell on the path, in a shallow soil, and in the soil infested with weeds and thorns, did not produce fruit (Matt. 13:3-9). They did not lead to eternal life. Why? Because Jesus never said you’ll know My disciples by their profession, nor church membership, nor civic good works, nor non-profit activities, nor from the applause of men — you will know them by their fruits (Matt. 7:16-20).
Fruits. And nothing else.
Do your fruits indicate you belong to Him?
Since we have established the fact that salvation is a spiritual experience and can also involve the emotions or feelings, the question to be asked is what happens when the salvation experience is devoid of any change in emotion or how someone feels? What happens when the person never feels anything, no change, nothing new, after they pray the “sinner’s prayer” and ask Jesus into their heart? What does that mean?
I know, just the mention of the “sinner’s prayer” gives one pause, doesn’t it.
What is the sinner’s prayer and what does it mean? What is a proper “sinner’s prayer”? What specific words have to be spoken in order for true salvation to take place? How much of the actual prayer does the sinner need to quote properly in order to get saved? What’s a passing grade? And how much of the prayer do you really have to believe to make it into heaven? After all, we don’t want to miss the cut by just a few points.
See the confusion? Let’s take a look at the “sinner’s prayer” together.
The Sinner’s Prayer: What it is
In the church today, evangelism is often focused on simply getting someone to say a prayer or a formula that we believe always leads to salvation. Why? Because we have reduced the glorious gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ to a short creedal statement of mere facts about Jesus, or redefined it as a set of steps or laws, much like a cake recipe, one must follow. If we can get the person to pray the formula or recite the facts, or just agree with us while we mouth the magic words, then our theology states salvation has taken place. Why? Because, we reason, they have “confessed with their mouth the Lord Jesus”— and we assume “have believed in their heart that God raised Him from the dead”— hence, we conclude they “will be saved” (Rom 10:9). And, to be fair, a casual look at this Scripture could give you that impression.
This prayer, popularly known as the sinner’s prayer, can vary widely in how it’s administered or recited, but always includes some required key elements in order to make it valid. It’s a prayer that fulfills the confession requirement in Romans 10:9. And we just assume that to confess means to pray and believe what we feel are key components about Christ and His nature and His atonement. It becomes a sort of short mini-catechism or dwarfed creedal statement.
One of the key requirements in the sinner’s prayer are some words that indicate the person understands they are, in fact, a sinner and in need of salvation. This is obvious. In this part of the prayer they would acknowledge their sin and guilt before the Lord and confess they have fallen short of what God’s intention was for them (Rom. 3:10, 23). There would also be an understanding of their eternal state apart from Christ and His forgiveness and a distinction between heaven, the desired place, and Hell, the default place (Rom. 6:23).
Another required component in the sinner’s prayer would be the understanding of what God has provided for them through His Son Jesus Christ in order to have their sins forgiven and forgotten. The prayer would include some words that acknowledge the fact that their sins were imputed to Christ and His righteousness was imputed to them and they are trusting in His completed work for the atonement for their sins.
The sinner’s prayer might go something like this: “Lord, I know that I am a sinner and that I have lived my life for myself and not for You. I confess my sins before You and ask that You forgive my sins because I believe that Jesus paid the penalty for my sins for me when He died on the cross. I believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that He was raised from the dead on the third day and I’m asking You to come into my life to be my Lord and Saviour. I renounce my life of sin and self and accept the healing and cleansing that only You can give. Thank You for hearing my prayer and forgiving my sins. For the rest of my life I want to love and serve only You. Amen.”
Then, as far as we know, we assume the person praying the prayer was sincere and, therefore, is now saved. But the Scriptures tell us the evidence of salvation is not a verbal prayer, no matter how sincere that prayer may be, but fruits that only the Holy Spirit can bring (Matt. 7:17-20). But as not to get sidetracked, we’ll look into the evidence of true salvation at a later time.
The Sinner’s Prayer: What it isn’t
The sinner’s prayer is not an incantation or mantra that always leads to salvation. More often than not, it leads to a false sense of security for the unbeliever and literally innoculates them from true salvation. It can function as the billboard to the wide road that leads to destruction Jesus warned us about (Matt. 7:13). Let me explain.
For the past century or two we have been taught, both in seminary and from the pulpit, if a person says the sinner’s prayer they are saved. And, under that assumption, we quickly baptize them to somehow “seal the deal” without any observable evidence of their salvation— no changed nature, no redeemed affections, no spiritual fruit, nothing. We simply accept them at their word and on the authority of the prayer just prayed and forge ahead as if everything was fine.
But when warning sirens go off and they say something’s wrong, they don’t think they’re saved, or they begin to doubt the magic prayer worked, we ignore their pleas and chalk it up to Satan “just trying to make you doubt what God has already done in your heart.” We point to Romans 10:13— “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved”— and say, “Did you call on the name of the Lord? Are you a whoever? If you did, according to this verse, you’re saved! So just believe it and don’t worry about how you feel. The feelings will come later.”
Really? So it’s more like the Amway slogan of “just fake it until you make it.” No, I believe salvation, as we’ve stated before, radically changes every aspect of your life, and so much so, that you would know experientially if you had truly died and been raised to a new life in Christ (Rom. 6:4).
Reciting or memorizing historical facts about Christ does not, of itself, lead one to salvation. For example, at the end of a Sunday service a young man walks down the aisle and tells the preacher he wants to get saved. The preacher would, most likely, say something like this:
“Young man, do you believe Jesus is the Son of God?”
“Do you believe He died on the cross, was raised on the third day, ascended into heaven, is seated at the right hand of the Father, and is coming again in glory?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Are you asking Him to forgive you of all your sins and inviting Him to be the Lord of your life?”
“Yes sir, I am.”
“Great. Then repeat this simple sinner’s prayer with me and you’ll be saved.”
But Satan could also recite these same historical facts about Jesus. He could even pray most of the sinner’s prayer and still not receive the gift of salvation. How can that be if the sinner’s prayer saves?
“Satan, do you believe Jesus is the Son of God?”
“Absolutely! I know it to be a fact.”
“Satan, do you believe He died on the cross, was raised on the third day, ascended into heaven, is seated at the right hand of the Father, and is coming again in glory?”
“Yes, I know what He did on the cross and all about His resurrection. And I also know, and dread the day, when He will come back in glory. I know all these things to be true.”
“Satan, are you asking Him to forgive you of all your sins and inviting Him to be the Lord of your life?”
“No. I will not bow my knee to the Lordship of anyone but me.”
As you can see, salvation is much more than a simple prayer, it’s an acknowledgment, a life-long commitment, a fervent trust, a submission, originating from the very core of our being, that Jesus is Lord. We focus on the confession part of Romans 10:9 because it’s easy, and not the object of that confession, the Lordship of Christ, because it’s so hard. Simple, yes. But very hard. For it’s only belief, or faith, in the object of that confession, Jesus is Lord, that brings about salvation and not the simple confession itself.
That if you confess with your mouth (the confession) the Lord Jesus (the object of the confession) and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved (Romans 10:9).
To restate, there’s more to salvation than just mouthing the sinner’s prayer. And we would all like to think by repeating the sinner’s prayer the seeking person is actually declaring to God their total reliance on Christ as their Lord and Saviour and trusting in His completed work on the cross as all sufficient. And we also understand there are no magical words needed to be said in order for salvation to take place. Why? Because salvation is by faith through grace in Christ alone, plus nothing and minus nothing (Eph. 2:8). But there’s more.
The Sinner’s Prayer: The Caboose of Salvation
The reality is that a believer is actually saved before they even utter the first words of the sinner’s prayer. Are you shocked? You shouldn’t be. It’s not the prayer that makes a sinner a Christian, it’s the prayer of a sinner, already now a Christian, giving God glory by testifying what He has already done in their life. And what has the Lord already done? Election, the effectual calling of the sinner to Himself, conversion, regeneration, and much more. Sound confusing?
Regeneration and conversion have already taken place by the time the sinner places His faith in Christ and, based on that faith, utters the words of the sinner’s prayer. Plus, the very faith placed in Christ is faith given by God for that very purpose. Why? Because Scripture states, “there is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God” (Rom. 3:10-11). So the only way someone seeks for God is if God places that desire for Him in them. And the only way we can place faith in Christ, faith we don’t have in and of ourselves, is if God gives us the faith to place in His Son. Because on our own, as Romans 3:10-11 teach, we would not seek God and would not have saving faith to place in the work of Christ. It’s all a gift from Him, a sovereign act of grace.
From start to finish, from election to glorification, salvation is all God. And since this is true, then we’re saved before we even utter the first words of the sinner’s prayer.
Are you confused? Does it seem strange to you?
We’ll look into this topic in greater detail, next.
Previously we looked at the three phases or tenses of salvation— past, present, and future— from the golden chain found in Romans 8:29-30. We can sum up what we’ve discovered as follows:
Past – Justification – Separation from the Penalty of Sin
Present – Sanctification – Separation from the Power of Sin
Future – Glorification – Separation from the Presence of Sin
But there’s so much more in these few verses. Let’s take a look at them one more time. Romans 8:29-30 reads:
For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.
Once again, this golden chain, as it is called, goes from eternity past (foreknew, predestined) to eternity future (glorification) and includes the point in between where we become aware of our salvation (justification). Some of these links in the golden chain of salvation can be personally experienced by each of us emotionally. Some, we can only appropriate by faith. And this is where confusion enters into the equation.
Faith, Feelings or Something Else?
For centuries, since the Reformation, the church has preached salvation by grace through faith— plus nothing and minus nothing (Eph. 2:8). And this, without a doubt, is true and orthodox. The church has tenaciously fought against adding anything to salvation and somehow cheapening Christ’s sacrifice on the cross or deeming it less than sufficient to redeem those He died for. To add to the completed work of Christ is, in itself, one of the greatest forms of blasphemy. But we will look at that topic in detail in the future.
In addition, to guard against the deception and false salvation that can come when emotions are added to the salvation mix, over the last century and a half much of the church has equated any emotions as of the flesh and the antithesis of faith. In other words, faith is non-emotional. Faith is the opposite of emotions or feelings. And, if our faith is centered on our emotions and not on the tenets of the Gospel, then true salvation doesn’t take place and the emotional, recent convert is still dead in their trepasses and sins (Eph. 2:5).
But not all of that is true. Yes, if someone’s faith is placed in their emotional feelings, such as tears at the altar or a euphoric sensation of bliss or peace, and not on the completed work of Christ on the cross, true salvation doesn’t take place and the individual is still in their sins. That’s a given. But that doesn’t mean faith and feelings are mutually exclusive and cannot even be together in the same room. The Scriptures simply don’t teach that matter is bad and spirit is good, like ancient Gnosticism, nor that all emotions are evil and the opposite of faith. Why? Because repentance and conversion and the dying of the old man and the resurrection of the new man can, and should, be a spiritual and an emotional experience.
This exchange of the old life for the new life should impact the very depth or core of the repentant sinner (2 Cor. 5:17). Salvation and the imparting of the Holy Spirit as our guarantee of our future inheritance with Christ (Eph. 1:14) should dramatically affect the entire person: physically, spiritually, emotionally, morally, socially, and intellectually. There’s not a single door in our makeup that Christ will not now invade. The Holy Spirit now takes up permanent residence in our lives and will create in us “rivers of living water” (John 7:38).
So salvation is by faith through grace and not of any human work (Eph. 2:8) and is first experienced by us at justification (Rom. 8:30). It’s here, at justification, that we first become aware of our cleansing by the blood of Christ and the fulfillment of His promise to give us the Holy Spirit (John 14:15-17; Acts 2:38). It’s at this point the crushing gravity of our sins are revealed and we understand, maybe for the first time, that we are guilty, condemned, and sentenced to an eternity of torment in Hell for those very sins. Our utter hopelessness is paraded before us. Our supposed good works, our ace in the hole, our own self-righteousness, is now seen for what it really is— filthy rags, refuse and putrid garbage (Isa. 64:6).
We repent of our sins, our failures, our arrogance, pride and rebellion and receive, by grace through faith, the forgiveness provided only by the death of Christ— an eternal forgiveness and reconciliation offered by Christ alone. Conversion takes place. Regeneration. And now we take the faith God sovereignly provides us and place it in the hands of the living Lord Jesus believing, above all else, that His death atoned for our sins, satisfied our eternal debt with God, and were paid in full (1 John 2:2). As Jesus said from the cross, “It is finished!” (John 19:30), or “Paid in full!” Our sins were imputed to Him and His righteousness is imputed to us and we are free, forgiven, saved and justified in the sight of God (2 Cor. 5:21).
Sorry, but what we just described, the salvation experience, would also involve your emotions as well as your spirit. Just look at the emotions involved in repentance alone.
And behold, a woman in the city who was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at the table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil, and stood at His feet behind Him weeping; and she began to wash His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head; and she kissed His feet and anointed them with the fragrant oil (Luke 7:37-38).
You also have the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-24) and Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10) and many other examples of those whose repentance of their sins was accompanied by great emotion. Emotions of joy, emotions of gratitude, emotions of shame, emotions of hope. They run the gambit.
So, you ask, “What is this so important? Why are we making such a big deal of this?”
The reason is simple, part of our golden chain of salvation can be experienced by us in real time, in the flesh, emotionally. We know for example, and not just on blind faith, when justification took place in our lives and the old man died to sin. We can also know, looking back, of God’s effectual call on our lives when we could sense Him moving us towards Him. Any testimony you hear will include elements of God’s effectual call. “I was listening to the radio and, well, I don’t know… something a preacher said just resonated with me. I couldn’t get it out of my mind. Later, when I came to Christ, I realized God was calling me to Him long before I actually came and surrendered my life to Him.”
The entire journey of sanctification can be known emotionally as well as spiritually. We know when we fail God and we know when we can feel His pleasure. We know when we are convicted of our shortcomings, driven to our knees in repentance, suffer the grieving of His Spirit for some selfish sin, and can feel the joy and exhilaration of experiencing a renewed relationship with Him. We’ve all experienced some, or most, of these and we know when they happen. They are both spiritually and emotionally appraised.
On the other hand, glorification is something we can only know by faith. And so is God’s foreknowledge and His predestined us to be conformed to the image of His Son (Rom 8:29). We accept these on faith since we have no emotional way of knowing or confirming when they happened or if they happened to us at all. Some of the golden chain is known spiritually by faith alone and some is known spiritually by faith with an accompanying emotional aspect to it. No, make that a wonderful emotional aspect to our salvation. After all, simple love is more that faith, it is also emotion
But what happens when someone claims to be saved, to love Jesus more than anything, and yet has no, none, nada, zero emotional affection to the Lord, His church, His Word, or other Believers? What would we say about a person like that? Are they saved? Or, are they just quiet, not a people person, private, withdrawn, an introvert, stoic, or maybe… “Uh, I don’t like to talk in front of people”? What happens when someone tells you they love their wife and kids more than anything but feel nothing towards then? Do they really love their kids? Are they a liar?
Or maybe they are deceived?
We will look deeper into this issue next.
“It may be that the Deity can forgive sins, but I do not see how.” – Plato
In Romans 8 we have what is commonly known as the golden chain of salvation. It goes from eternity past (foreknew, predestined) to eternity future (glorification) and includes the point in between where we become aware of our salvation (justification). Romans 8:29-30 reads:
For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.
This golden chain also speaks of the three tenses of our salvation: past, present and future. In essence, “I was saved, I am being saved, and I will be saved” all accurately and Scripturally describe salvation, or the phrase “you are saved” found in 1 Corinthians 15:2. Let me explain.
Justification – Free from the Penalty of Sin
In the past, God saved us from the condemnation of sin, or the penalty of sin. He did this on the cross and it is appropriated to us at the moment of our conversion— when we believe, in faith, the words of God regarding the Gospel and our faith was “accounted (or, reckoned, imputed) to him (and us) for righteousness” (Rom. 4:22). This is called justification. It’s defined as a legal act whereby God views our sins as forgiven in Christ and then views Christ’s righteousness as now belonging to, or imputed to, us. It is the point in the golden chain when God “declares us to be righteous” in His sight (Rom. 5:9; Gal. 3:24).
Justification separates us from the penalty of sin and it is the time when we first become aware, personally and experientially, of our salvation. We know something has changed in us, some sort of “new birth” has taken place (John 3:3), our old man has died and the new man is now alive and we are now dead to sin but alive to Christ (Rom. 6:11). For us, this is where our salvation begins. This is when we say, “I have been saved”— it is the time when my sins were forgiven by the blood of Christ. This is the past tense of our salvation.
Sanctification – Free from the Power of Sin
The present, active tense of our salvation is called sanctification. It’s in this phase or tense when we are separated from the power of sin that previously ruled over our lives and we are in the process of being conformed to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29). It’s the “I am being saved” aspect of our salvation. It’s when we desire to walk like Him (1 John 2:6), to think like Him (1 Cor. 2:16), and to live like Him (Gal. 2:20). It’s the maturing process of our salvation when we learn, often gradually and by trial and error, to put off the old man in practice and continually put on the new man and grow in our likeness to our Lord (Eph. 4:22-24).
Sanctification can be defined as a separation unto God, and is the same Greek word, hagios, as holiness. So we are separated unto God in holiness, to reflect His nature and to be holy as He is holy (1 Peter 1:13-16). It has an eternal component to it whereby we are eternally and positionally separated unto God, once and for all, by the blood of Jesus Christ at salvation (1 Cor. 1:30). But it also involves the practical, day by day, experience of separation unto God by obedience to the Word of God and faithfulness to the commands of Christ while we wait for the Lord’s return. In essence, through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit the Believer, through trials and hardships, temptations and testings, or the everyday ups and downs of life, is transformed into the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29) and free from the power of sin. Thus sanctification is the present, on-going, real-time, current aspect of salvation for the Believer.
Glorification – Free from the Presence of Sin
In the future, in the “I will be saved” phase of salvation, the Believer will be forever freed from the presence of sin. Forever freed. This final removal of the presence of sin in the lives of all Believers is called glorification and will take place at the Lord’s coming when His glory and honor and praise and majesty and holiness— literally all His wonderful characteristics and attributes, will be realized in each Believer (Rom. 5:7).
According to Philippians 3:20-21, our true citizenship is in heaven with our Lord and when He returns He will “transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself.”
How do We Live in the Past, Present and Future?
So how are we to live knowing our salvation as revealed in the past, present and future? How are we to spend our days serving our King knowing what glory awaits us with the Lord? Consider and reflect on the words of John, the Apostle Jesus loved (John 13:23), as he answers this very question:
Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure (1 John 3:2-3).
We are to purify ourselves, just as Christ is pure. We are to be holy, just as Christ is holy (1 Peter 1:16). We are to walk according to the Spirit and not according to the flesh (Gal. 5:16) as we take every thought captive in obedience to Him (2 Cor. 10:5). We are, in other words, “once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light” (Eph. 5:8). And how do we do that? By striving to discover what is acceptable to the Lord (Eph. 5:10) and what the will of the Lord is (Eph. 5:17)— and then obediently following, without looking back (Luke 9:62).
Amen and amen.
Come Lord Jesus.
The following is the Gospel, the good news, the euangélion in the Greek, that we are blessed to preach to all the nations. Are you faithful in proclaiming the wonderful Gospel of God to others?
And, if not, why?
In accordance with the Father’s good pleasure, the eternal Son, who is equal with the Father and is the exact representation of His nature, willingly left the glory of heaven, was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of a virgin, and was born the God-man: Jesus of Nazareth (Acts 2:23; Heb. 1:3; Phil. 2:6-7; Luke 1:35).
As a man, He walked on this earth in perfect obedience to the law of God (Heb. 4:15).
In the fullness of time, men rejected and crucified Him. On the cross, He bore man’s sin, suffered God’s wrath, and died in man’s place (1 Pet. 2:24, 3:18; Isa. 53:10).
On the third day, God raised Him from the dead. This resurrection is the divine declaration that the Father has accepted His Son’s death as a sacrifice for sin. Jesus paid the penalty for man’s disobedience, satisfied the demands of justice, and appeased the wrath of God (Luke 24:6; Rom. 1:4, 4:25).
Forty days after the resurrection, the Son of God ascended into the heavens, sat down at the right hand of the Father, and was given glory, honor, and dominion over all (Heb. 1:3; Matt. 28:18; Dan. 7:13-14).
There, in the presence of God, He represents His people and makes requests to God on their behalf (Luke 24:51; Phil. 2:9-11; Heb. 1:3, 7:25).
All who acknowledge their sinful, helpless state and throw themselves upon Christ, God will fully pardon, declare righteous, and reconcile unto Himself (Mark 1:15; Rom. 10:9; Phil. 3:3). This is the gospel of God and of Jesus Christ, His Son.
Wait no longer. Go to those whom God has placed in your life and share with them the Gospel of God and of Jesus Christ. Nothing else matters.
Just to make sure we are all on the same page, Acts 2:42 reads:
And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.
The early church, the faithful group of 120 (Acts 1:15) which instantaneously swelled to over 3,000 after just one sermon (Acts 2:41), now had a logistical problem on their hands. How were they to disciple all those people from all those different nationalities, backgrounds and languages?” (Acts 1:9-11). What was their course of action?
We, today, would spend hours upon hours bringing them through our Membership Class which would primarily focus on, well, us— our church, our vision, our mission statement, our history, our beliefs, our values, our ministries, our affiliation and, of course, our pastor. In fact, if they were lucky, our celebrity pastor might even show up at the end of the last session, say a few parting words, shake a few hands, and work the room, much like a politician on one of his election year fundraisers. We would leave them some literature, maybe a tote bag with the church logo embossed on it, and we would be sure they understood their responsibility to the church. They were to (1) support the vision, (2) support the leadership and, most important (3) support the ongoing ministry of the church with their tithes and offerings.
But the early church was different. They had been with Jesus and had heard Him speak. They had first-hand knowledge of the Sermon on the Mount and had seen, with their own eyes, the loaves and fishes, Lazarus’ discarded grave clothes, and the incredible wine made from simple water. The early church clearly understood that the best way to mature a believer is to bring them to Jesus and let them learn from Him. Therefore the focus of all their discipleship was love and loyalty and obedience to Jesus, not the church, nor the institution or the denomination, not even the apostles— but simply to Jesus. And to Him alone.
Instinctively, and without any formal theological training, the apostles directed the church to focus on four things, four disciplines. And they did more than just direct them. The word for “continued steadfast” means to be “continually devoted.” It’s more than Sunday morning, maybe Sunday evening, but seldom Wednesday night. It’s to fully embrace something, to be immersed in something, almost to the point of being a fanatic. In other words, the early church totally and completely devoted and fully immersed themselves, even to the point of the exclusion of everything else, to (1) the apostles’ doctrine, (2) fellowship, (3) in the breaking of bread, (4) and in prayers (Acts 2:42).
And why not, the simple fact that they had met the Messiah and had been forgiven all their sins, by definition, would require a realignment of their priorities. It would seem that what had been important to them before Christ— possessions, family, money, retirement, prestige, entertainment, popularity, land, security, and the like— would seem like nothing to them after Christ. Why? Because they had just met the Son of God! And what does the creation have that compares with the Creator?
So what are we “devoted” to? What do we, as the church, “continue steadfast” in? Is it the things of the Lord? Or, are we still wallowing around in the stuff of this world, the stuff of today, the stuff that centers around us?
I have found that one of the easiest ways to figure out our priorities is to look closely at what we pray for. You know, to examine the content, time and frequency of our prayers. After all, Jesus said it was what comes out of a man that defiles him. Remember? He said that “out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” and it was these things that defile a man (Matt. 15:18-20). And defiling words can also come out of our lips in prayer.
Think about it. How much time do you spend in declaring the beauty, majesty and holiness of the name of God?
“Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name” (Matt. 6:9).
How much time do you spend praising Him for His sovereignty, for the fact that He see the “end from the beginning” (Isa. 46:10) and that “our God is in the heavens, and He does what He pleases” (Ps. 115:3)?
“Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matt. 6:10).
Or do you spend most of your prayer time fixated on the me, on the here and now, on the common, day to day needs that He has already promised to take care of (Matt. 6:33)?
“Give us this day our daily bread” (Matt. 6:11).
If you find you spend more time in prayer on Matt. 6:11 than you do on Matt. 6:9-10, then you also appear to need some re-adjusting of your priorities and learn how to be “devoted” to something more than you and your life. Maybe the selfish, narcissistic words you pray are actually an act of defilement to a pure and holy God. If you spend little time praising the One Who created you but spend all your time with a selfish grocery list of the things you want and need, much like a child’s letter to Santa, maybe those very words show the condition of our own heart. Maybe they reveal more about your priorities than you would dare to admit. Maybe you need to take a lesson from the early church. In fact, maybe we all need to take a lesson from the heroes of old.
We’ll look more into that tomorrow.
The early church had a problem. Peter had just preached a scathing sermon that was sure to rile the ranks of those who rejected the message of personal responsibility for the death of Christ. His climactic statement is found in Acts 2:36:
“Therefore let all the house of Israel know (and that includes you) that God has made this Jesus, (here it comes) whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”
Now the crowd was split. There were some who rejected Peter’s message as vehemently as they had rejected Jesus some 2 months earlier. But the Scriptures don’t tell us much about this crowd. Then there was the other group, the ones who were “cut to the heart” in guilt and conviction and cried out in desperation, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37).
The message to them was simple and direct. “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” (Acts 2:38). And they did— 3,000 of them in one day! They had grown from the faithful 120 (Acts 1:15) to what we would now call a mega-church after one sermon.
So what was the church to do now?
I know, they would probably do what all large churches do today. They would form a committee and try to determine the best way to keep the crowds coming. They would:
• Immediately move into a building plan for new facilities. After all, “you can’t have a church without a church building.”
• They would segregate their congregation by age and then hire paid professionals to take care of their needs. They would employ young youth pastors, with tight fitting shirts, fledging facial hair and NY Yankees flat bill ball caps, to take care of the teenagers. They would need children’s pastors, with exaggerated expressions and over-the-top mannerisms, to babysit the children while their parents worshiped in “big church” on Sunday. Oh, and they also had to be pretty good at puppets. Music? Well, that’s a category all by itself.
• They would send out questionnaires to determine what kind of secular music the congregation was listening to before they came to Christ and, instead of trying to direct them to music that glorified the Lord and edified each of them, they would just mimic the world’s music but change a few of the lyrics so they could sleep well at night and still call it Christian. You know, go with the rock band theme: long hair, skinny jeans, pulsating lights, loud music designed to elicit an emotional or physical response and then try to pass it off as something spiritual. “Wow. Sure felt the spirit today. Our worship band rocks!” Ahem.
• They would come up with a Mission Statement. “All organizations need a Mission statement, right? I mean, that’s what they taught us in Marketing Class.” Exactly. Marketing Class. Ahem, again. And the Mission Statement needs to be broad in order to cast a large net, broad to press all the hot buttons of those believers they want to attract, and broad so as not to exclude anyone. The Mission Statement is their sales pitch, it tells their prospective clients, their new members, what they want to hear about the church, whether they actually live by their statement or not. It tends to be the statement that helps them perform their mission: which is to get you to come and stay loyal to their church… uh, er… I mean Christ, in order to help them grow.
• They would develop a Statement of Faith. And this, for the most part, needs to be simple. The statement of faith in a megachurch has a tendency to drive people away rather than draw them in. So, let’s keep it simple, something that no one can disagree with.
Our Statement of Faith: We Love Jesus, and We Love You. Aw, how sweet.
• They would then need to come up with a logo and a brand and a website. They would have to hire professionals who would design the best color schematics for their church brand. And then they would need to take their logo and brand and build identity and loyalty to the church…again, uh… I mean loyalty to Christ. They would print their logo and website on their t-shirts, bumper stickers, pins, flash drives, hats, tote bags, chip clips, key rings, refrigerator magnets and on and on ad nauseum. Why? “Because we want our people to feel a part of something bigger than themselves, to recognize who we are, to market our church to their friends, you know, to become repeat customers. We want our church to have brand recognition like Starbucks.”
• Also, they would need to promote their pastor as a celebrity. It’s his picture and his blog and his books that they prominently display on their website. They need him to become bigger than life so the crowds would continue to come, week after week, to hear him speak, to dress like he dresses, to drink the coffee he drinks, to think and look and act just like him. After all, they are a personally driven church and it’s the pastor’s personality, and not Jesus, that “keeps ’em coming” each Sunday.
• Finally, because no one can do it better than their celebrity pastor, they would need to franchise their church, their brand, their pastor, out to other locations. They would set up satellite campuses all over the city and park their people in front of a HD, 1080p image of their celebrity pastor “doing his thing” on a flat, two dimensional video screen. And they proudly call that community, fellowship, koinonia. But in reality, it’s not about the people who will never meet the pastor let alone actually talk with him when they have a problem in their life. No, it’s about the church, the institution, the brand and the budget, and how they can grow their business bigger. It’s spiritual entrepreneurialism at its worst.
That’s how we do it today. But the early church did things different, completely different.
Listen to what they devoted themselves to (and it’s not the church or the brand):
And they continued steadfast in the apostle’s doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers (Acts 2:42).
In addition, they sold their possessions so they could take care of others. There was no sermon on tithing “because we are short on the budget this year.” Acts 2:44-45 states:
Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.
Sounds like us today, doesn’t it?
They also didn’t just show up for the Sunday service once a week and feel like they had done their duty to God. No, they met together daily in the temple for worship and they took their meals together in each others’ homes (Acts 2:46). They simply loved being with each other. In other words, church was not something they did, but something they were. They wanted to look each other in the eye, they wanted to share each others’ burdens (Gal. 6:2), they wanted to get their hands dirty together in ministry for their Lord. And they wanted to do that together. Fact is, you can’t do any of this sitting in an auditorium watching a well-rehearsed 60 minute show on Sunday morning. Especially when you view that show on a video screen sitting cheek-to-cheek with people you have never met before nor will probably ever see again.
So what appeals to you? The early church or the megachurch?
I guess that all depends on what you’re looking for in church. If you crave the show, the feel-good messages, celebrity pastors, Madison Avenue branding, and the like— I think you’d better check the megachurch box on your church preference form. But if you’re looking for true intimacy, a church family, a pastor that you can invite over to your home for a meal (and he will actually come), life-long friends you worship with each Sunday and hang out with the rest of the week— then you’d better check the box for the church that only has as many members as you can personally know. And if the church you attend grows to the point that you can’t possibly know all the people, well, it’s probably time for a church strategic split and the birth of a new church with a new pastor.
I think it’s called growth by getting smaller.
Something to consider. It’s the Acts 2 way.
John 6 is the longest chapter in the book of John at over 70 verses. And of those 70 plus verses, over half of them are the words of Jesus, the red print as we like to call it. The chapter begins with two great miracles of Jesus: one, the feeding of the 5,000 (John 6:1-14) and, two, Jesus sending His disciples away and then walking on water to them (John 6:16-21). From there, the rest of the chapter shows the difference between the true followers of Jesus, the true Believers, and those who sought Him only for the bells and whistles, the temporary trinkets and toys, the loaves and fish that He gave them in the first miracle. They were the fickle thrill-seekers who wanted Jesus as their Genie in a Bottle and not as their Lord.
“Feed me Lord, and I’ll follow you anywhere.”
“Take care of my needs, Lord, and I’ll love You as long as You continue to take care of my needs.”
“Make me number one in the world, Lord, and I’ll make You number one in my heart. Uh… that’s until You and I clash over something You want me to do, then I’ll be number one and You’ll be… well, not number one. You’ll be my co-pilot.” Just like the bumper sticker says.
But nestled between these two miracles is a captivating verse that sets the foundation for all the subsequent teaching, the red print, that completes the chapter. That verse is John 6:15 which reads:
Therefore when Jesus perceived that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, He departed again to the mountain by Himself.
Think about it, the feeding of the 5,000 led the stuffed, overfed multitude to demand that Jesus serve as their King, as the Head of their government, as the Commissioner of their IRS, as their Food Stamp Administrator. And as King, He obviously would want to make His subjects happy by supplying them with bread and fish and whatever else they wanted whenever they were hungry. He was to meet their every need and want when they beckoned Him to do so. After all, isn’t that what He did for them earlier? Of course. And that would mean they wouldn’t have to work or save or budget or want… because Jesus, as Head of their government, as their King, would exist to meet all their needs and all their demands. He would be like their personal ATM machine spitting out $20 bills as fast as they could punch in their PIN and their balance would never be depleted nor their account overdrawn. Cha-ching, cha-ching and cha-ching. Wow! This is great! Cha-ching, cha-ching, cha-ching. I can “live long and prosper” or exercise my right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” or I can have “My Best Life Now.”
“Come on Jesus, I’m bored. What are You going to do to wow me now? And hey, what’s for lunch?”
This same message is often preached from some of the most prominent pulpits in America to some of the largest crowds. It’s like the ancient adage from the Roman Caesars to give the people “bread and games” and appease the masses. As Rome ruled to feed its own belly and its insatiable appetite for entertainment, so the church today exists to do much of the same. We’ve embraced church branding and marketing, self-affirming messages that make us feel good about our sin and lukewarmness, cutting-edge light shows and pulsating music that make us think we are at a rock concert, or the sensual, highly choreographed dance routines that are the envy of any Broadway producer all point to the fact that we “have left our first love” (Rev. 2:4). We, the church, seem to desire the praise and affirmation of the world rather than the pleasure of the Lord. And to desire to be a “friend of the world” brings with it horrific consequences (James 4:4, 1 John 2:15). Remember?
“Panem et circenses.” Bread and circuses. Just bread and games.
When Jesus saw the crowd begin to want to make Him their personal Servant by force, He purposely put His disciples on a boat and sent them away from the cultural mindset of the day so they would not become tainted or contaminated or deceived by what they heard others say. Like a loving parent or a faithful Shepherd, Jesus was protecting those He loved. Did He not say that He would lay His life down for the sheep, for those He loves? (John 10:15).
And what about us? Instead of shielding our young and impressionable from the deceiving lusts of the world, we open wide our church doors and say, “Come on it! Show us how to draw a crowd in here like you do out there.” And the world has gladly accepted our invitation, and we have enthusiastically embraced the carnality of the world and the culture, and the holiness of the church has suffered much. In fact, holiness has become a byword among Believers. It is banished, taboo.
One final thought, when the crowds caught up with Jesus the next day and wanted to know what He was going to do for them to satisfy their craving for excitement and wonder and awe, He did not give them an answer, but instead, a rebuke:
“Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled” (John 6:26).
Jesus revealed to them their heart.
In essence, you did not come to Me because of the signs I performed that pointed to the reality that the Father and I are One, that I am the Messiah, the Christ, Who has come into the world. Or the simple fact that I am Emmanuel, God with us (Matt. 1:23). No, you came because you wanted another free meal, another discount coupon, another paid day off from work, another $20 bucks out of the ATM machine so you could go and have yourself a good time. You wanted Me to take your breath away like a trapeze artist at the circus. You wanted another feel-good thrill, more goose bumps, a tingling up your spine. But that’s not why I came.
Never has been. Never will be.
Oh, and how about you? What are you seeking from Jesus? Do you seek Him as Lord and Master, on His terms, following Him through the narrow gate? (Matt. 7:13-14). Or have you created a Jesus that works for you? A hip, cool, politically correct Jesus who died just to make your life better now? You know, a Jesus you wouldn’t feel uncomfortable introducing to your friends? Which one is it?
Because please understand, one Jesus leads to eternal life and the other to a life of torment in Hell. Two roads, but only one way.
So, which one is it?