Blending in with the culture

In the previous articles in this series we talked about why we do not view where we live with the same focus and intensity as we do when we go to other countries for missions because we spend all of our time focused on making this life our home.  But why do we do that?

The reason we get so sucked into the comfort of this world is because we have adopted the philosophy and ideals of our culture. In many ways we have become part of the world.  What is it we do that sets us apart from non-believers?

Every year hundreds of billions of dollars are spent in advertising; just to tell you why having those Nike’s will make you run better, why you need the latest iPhone (or Android) or how Coca-Cola will refresh you more than any other drink.  They spend that much money because it works.  We are bombarded with those images every single day while we try to entertain ourselves with television and then we get obsessed about needing the next new thing.

But in order to get all that fancy stuff you need to make more money, which means spending more time going to school for that better degree and working overtime.  You spend all this time dwelling on these obsessions and it steals our thoughts and our time away from the family and away from our mission, the gospel.

Then we get hindered even more because we don’t want to share the gospel with those we work with because someone might get offended and we will get in trouble which means no raise this year or even loosing your job.

Welcome to the American Dream.

The American Dream is a vicious cycle that we get ourselves trapped in.  We have fun with all of the latest stuff but then it catches up to us.  I got so caught up with this trap that I had to borrow money to buy more stuff because I did not want to wait a few months to get my iPad or a second car with cash.  Now I have to work just to pay off the credit cards and loans from things I purchased in the past that I do not even use anymore because I replaced them with other things I bought with yet more borrowed money.

And then we think nothing about it because the rest of the culture is the same way.  Even the culture of the church is caught in this trap.

But while you or your church and your pastor may not think much of that lifestyle, God is offended by it.  God even goes as far as calling those who do live like society enemies of the Cross.

For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. – Phillipians 3:17-19

By focusing on the things of this world instead of God you are not just failing to do what is best, but you are being an enemy to Christ, to His mission, and to the cross.  Christ came for a mission and if you are so distracted by the things of this world that you are ignoring those around you that are dying, then you have become an enemy to that gospel.

You can’t be in the middle, there is no neutral position, we are either For Christ or against Him (Luke 11:23) and this verse in Philippians 3 makes it clear that we are really seen as the enemy of the cross.

You will, of course, deny that you are the enemy of Christ, I mean, who would admit that?  Unless you are an atheist who directly opposes God you would not consider yourself an enemy of God.

But then look at the rest of the passage.  Does that describe you?

“Their god is their stomach”… Do you care more about what you eat and drink than you do about serving Christ?  Does eating and drinking consume more of your time than you give to God?

“Their glory is in their shame” really hit me.  How many times have you bragged about something and found joy in something that, in comparison to God, you should be ashamed of?

“I got so drunk last night I don’t remember what happened.”
“She’s hot. I would sleep with her.”
“Check out this new beamer I got. Only $500 per month.”
“Last Saturday we had a Lord of the Rings marathon… It literally lasted all day”

How  many of these things that we brag about would we, or should we, be ashamed of if we thought about bragging about it to God in light of our mission?

Simon Cowell at the National Television Awards...
Simon Cowell at the National Television Awards at the Royal Albert Hall, London, October 2006. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I boasted for a while that I got to meet Simon Cowell (You know, from American Idol).  I would tell everybody that I met that I thought would be slightly interested.  “Hey there guard on the military base, did you know I got to meet Simon Cowell?  Yeah, I did! Met him in a hotel hallway, I even got my picture taken with him!”

Yeah, I was so proud of that moment…

And then God whispered to me “Why are you not this excited to tell people about me?”

None of that stuff is wrong in itself but they shouldn’t be what we are proud of or things we really find joy in.  We should be boasting in Christ because we are sinners and honestly we have nothing worthy of boasting about outside of Christ.

Next time you want to brag about something, think about bragging to God about it.  Is it something that you should be ashamed of in light of His holiness and perfection?

Then the final part of that passage I know hits me hard, and almost all of our culture as well.  “Their mind is set on earthly things.”

What is your mind set on?  Do you spend your time dwelling on things of this earth, or on God and His mission?

This ties back to the beginning of this article series.  If you are in Africa on a missions trip you are focused completely on the gospel, on your mission, on others.  When we get back home our mindset changes back to “normal” and we focus only on the things of this earth.

That shouldn’t be.  Our minds should always be on Christ and on the gospel, on our mission, nothing else matters even a tiny bit in comparison.

Am I saying that you are not allowed to have any fun on earth at all, and that our life needs to be nothing but witnessing on the streets, going to church, and living with the bums on the street and if I sit down to watch one movie I am being an enemy of God?

Well….

Find out in the next article on this series. 🙂

Quit living the lie! Do you really love God?

How can you believe that you really love God while you purposely live a life in defiance of Him?  Really?  Choosing to live in the sin, in the filth, that He freed you from is you showing that you love Him?

When we truly love someone it changes our actions towards that person.  Before we are saved we are living in rebellion against God, so if you truly love God after receiving salvation then your attitude WILL change towards Him.

If you are still continuing on in sin then it is time to think about analyzing your relationship with God.  Maybe you are not as in love with Him as you think you are.  Maybe you never gave your life to Him in the first place…

I’m not saying this to make you feel bad or to put you down, but to encourage you!  It is not too late to repent from your lifestyle and follow God!

He died for you, for what?  To save you from hell?  No, He died to free you from the bondage of sin NOW, and so He could have a relationship with you.

Some will say “No matter what I do God loves me anyway.”  BUT, is that really a loving attitude to have towards Him?  If I know my wife will love me no matter what I do and I go and cheat on her, am I loving her?  NO!  Because I love my wife I will do the things that I know I should do towards her.  Not because if I don’t she will not love me, but simply because I love her.

It is the same with God.  God may not love you less if you sin, but if you are continually living in sin, practicing sin, making conscious choices to do what you know He hates, then how can you say you love Him?

It is time to quit living the lie.

A mission field forgotten

Francis Chan
Francis Chan (Photo credit: williamhartz)

While listening to Francis Chan the other day something he said really struck out at me.  He said that if you went on a missions trip to Africa, every single day you were there you would have the mission in mind.  It is what you are there for, your primary focus.  You would wake up in the morning and the first thing you would think about would be the mission.  Your life there would be consumed by it.

Then when we get back to the U.S. we relax and get back into the mentality of this being our home.  We let down our focus and the mission to us becomes nothing more than what we did that one week in Africa.

But the reality is that we have just as much of a mission here at home as we do when we go on missions trips to other cities and countries.  Perhaps even more so in some cases.

We have a culture that has been raised thinking it is a God fearing, Christ loving, Christian culture while they go about living their lives for themselves, enjoying their sin and not giving any thought to Jesus or to the gospel message. We have thousands of people filling churches in our neighborhood believing they are saved but in reality they are just in denial.

Then we have thousands more that do not know the gospel at all, or only know of some perversion of it.  They do not give any time to think that they might be a sinner, or that they are living their life in rejection of God.  These people all around us that we are in contact with every day are going to hell and they laugh at the thought without understanding how serious that truly is.

This is our mission field, masked by the fog of normal day-to-day life. It is time to see through that fog so we can work the field that surrounds us.

The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few – Matthew 9:37

In the next article we will start to see what is creating this fog over our mission field.

This is the first part of a series titled: Neglecting our Mission Field

Done with the old self

But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. – Colossians 3:8-10

One thing struck out at me when I was reading through this passage earlier.  And that is the number of commands given and the way they are given. These are not given as suggestions, not things you “should” do, or ways you “ought” to live.  This is how Christians must live.

If you think that we must live such a strict lifestyle to be saved you have it backwards.  We live like this because we are saved.  Why is that?

Verse nine gives us the answer: “seeing that you have put off the old self.”

You have, as in past tense.  When we accept Christ something amazing happens.  Our old, sinful spirit passes away and we are given a new spirit, one of holiness and righteousness, one that drives us to live set apart and that gives us the power to accomplish this.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come – 2 Corinthians 5:17

Once you are in Christ you are a new creation, right now.  The old has passed away, it is already gone.

This does not mean that we instantly become perfect and no longer sin, but it means that we are no longer bound to sin.  Sin no longer has a hold on us.  It is for this reason that a Christian’s life is now marked by Holiness and sin becomes the exception rather than the rule.  Because to sin is to try and take your new, holy, sanctified, righteous spirit and put on the old rotten decaying smelly flesh.  It is a gross contradiction.

For these reasons a Christian must avoid the old lifestyle.

But it is more than just avoiding sin.  There are things we must do as well; things which will help us greatly in our struggle to live by our new spirit and not by our old flesh.

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved,compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. – Colossians 3:12-17

Because we were chosen, we are to live a holy life.  Don’t skip that, we are chosen, thankfully not because of our own ability, not because we are capable of living holy lives, but we can live a holy life because we were chosen.

How then do we live such perfect sounding lives?  Verse sixteen has the answer when it says to “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.”

It is the word of God that transforms our mind (Romans 12:2), that feeds our spirit and gives us the strength to live out this passage.  As Christians we must be living in the Bible, making it a part of our daily life, dwelling on what it says; believing it.

But notice that this entire passage is not listing a way that we ought to live; how we should live.  It is telling us how we must live.  Because as Christians, as bearers of His name, everything we do, good or bad, everything, is representing our Lord.  By calling yourself a Christian you are bearing God’s name.

So make sure that everything you do, in word or deed, is worthy of the name of the Lord.  And then challenge yourself.  Look at this list and find areas where you are failing or just not doing so hot, and then pray that God will help you in those areas.

Yes these are a list of things that we must do, but thankfully we don’t have to do them alone.  We have fellowship of other Christians to help us, the Holy Spirit in us, and the Word of God to transform our minds to be more like Him.

What is Spiritual Warfare?

Machew is a guest writer to ETM, and as such the views expressed in this article may not be the views of ETM and its staff.

It is incredibly important for the church as a whole to understand spiritual warfare.  Too often Christians delegate their struggles to their flesh not realizing that much of what you think and feel doesn’t originate from you at all.  We have a very real enemy that will stop at nothing to get you to convince yourself with his lies to undermine your walk with Jesus and to make destructive decisions in your life.  For this reason, I write this article.

Before I start with Spiritual Warfare, I need to lay down some Biblical Context:

We will start in Genesis:

Genesis 1:26-30 (NASB)(emphasis mine)

26Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.

27God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.

28God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.

29Then God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you;

30and to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the sky and to every thing that moves on the earth which has life, I have given every green plant for food”; and it was so.

So what is the point I want to make in this passage? God gave Adam and Eve delegated authority to rule over the Earth. We all know how this story ends, the devil comes in the form of a serpent and Adam and Eve eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and they fall because of sin. The devil had no authority over the Earth before the fall. So how did he get his authority?

When Adam and Eve came into agreement with the devil’s assessment of reality, they sinned. And because there was no atonement for sin at the time, they were separated from God and their agreement with the devil essentially handed over their delegate authority over the Earth to the devil. (John 12:31, John 14:30, 2 Corinthians 4:4, Matthew 4:8-10)

Next I will give some basic groundwork to what spiritual warfare is.

2 Corinthians 10:3-5 (NASB)(emphasis mine)

3For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh,

4for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses.

5We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ,

So according 2 Corinthians spiritual battles happen in our mind and thought life. Why is this the case?

In Matthew 4:8-10 Jesus is tempted by the devil, as the devil offers Jesus all of the kingdoms of the world if he bows down to him and worships him. The devil still had the authority and rulership over the Earth from Adam and Eve. But after the resurrection of Jesus, He says to His disciples in Matthew 28:18 “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me

If Jesus now has “all authority” over the Earth, this means that the devil now has no authority. Jesus took back Adam and Eve’s authority from Satan. He was able to do this because their sin was now completely atoned for.

So the question you probably have now is: “How then is the devil able to do so much evil on the Earth?”

The question to ask is: How did the devil gain authority in the Garden of Eden?

He hasn’t changed his strategy at all. Look at 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 again. The battle is in our mind. The weapons formed against us are thoughts and speculations that exalt themselves above the knowledge of God. Why are these weapons used? Because the devil needs your agreement in what he wants to do before he has authority to do it. Jesus gave back authority over the Earth to humans. Before Jesus dies on the cross He states the following to His disciples:

Matthew 16:19 (NASB)

19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

So the devil is able to steal, kill, and destroy when humans come into agreement with what he says (thoughts, emotions manifested from thoughts).

This is what 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 is talking about when it says the weapons of our warfare are not carnal. The fortresses that it is referring to are areas in our thought life that we are in agreement with the devil. The devil builds on your current agreements with him, to bring in more deception into your life. Essentially the agreement with the devil (fortress) is a place where he can hide in your life and have authority in that area of your life. This fortress is what the enemy hides behind to assault you with more lies, to try to gain more ground in your life.

So to review: The devil is only able to operate on the Earth through human agreement.

So what does this mean?

The devil is only able to operate in your life through your agreements with his lies, and the agreement of lies that the people in authority over you believe (ie: parents, teachers, government authorities).

This is why it is so important to constantly be studying and filling your heart and mind with the Word of God. The Word of God is what reveals deceptions you are believing, that allow the enemy into your life, and the lives of those under you.

Hebrews 4:12 (NASB)(emphasis mine)

12For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

For this to work though, you need to be born again and filled with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit’s help is a necessity in understanding the Bible and to know how it applies to everyday life.  Only through the Holy Spirit does the truth of the Bible penetrate your heart and actually change you (2 Corinthians 3:6, John 16:13, John 14:16-17, Romans 8:27, Isaiah 11:2, Ephesians 1:17).

The current situation we face is having a whole world of people where most people are not born again, and the devil is able to wreak havoc over the Earth because people are constantly in agreement with him. But God has given believers the keys to His kingdom. God’s Kingdom is superior to this kingdom(the Earth), and Jesus tells us to model our prayer like this:

Matthew 6:9-10 (NASB)(emphasis mine)
9″Pray, then, in this way:

‘Our Father who is in heaven,

Hallowed be Your name.

10’Your kingdom come

Your will be done,

On earth as it is in heaven.

So then we are to bring the dominion of God’s Kingdom to Earth (God’s government/way of doing things), whether it be through the salvation of others, loving the unlovable, giving all of your possessions, or worshiping Him through praise. In the words of Matthew 6, His “…Kingdom Come…Will be done…On Earth As it is in Heaven.” So if it is happening in heaven it should be happening here. If it is not happening in heaven it shouldn’t be happening here. When God’s kingdom is brought to Earth it enforces what Jesus did on the cross and destroys the work of the devil in our lives, and in the lives of others. Spiritual warfare cannot be won by human strength as 2 Corinthians 10 tells us, but as indicated, only by divinely powerful weapons. And we have no divinely powerful weapons by ourselves. But we do have God’s Word; whether it is from the Bible, something God has spoken to you recently, or something God told you before. God always backs up His Word with the resources of His superior Kingdom. But just reciting God’s word isn’t enough!

His Word Becoming Who We Are:

When we read the Bible, have relationship with Him through prayer (conversation), and meditate on what He has said or is saying, it opens our hearts to receive His Word and Truth. Truth that we only believe conceptually or intellectually will falter when tested. But Truth that has become a part of us deep down in our core, our very being, and heart can never be shaken. This is why we are not only supposed to hear and read the Word but receive it implanted into our hearts (James 1:21). And as James 1 describes the Word of God given to us will be tested but proven true to us by experience through perseverance in the testing trial. Once we have God’s Word truly implanted in us, because it has proven to be true under testing and trial, no argument, emotion, or lofty thing will ever be able to get us to doubt what God has said. And we are then able to stand firm, in boldness, and in confidence against the devil’s lies. When we are able to fully believe God’s Word deep in our very being, we are finally actually fully capable to “Submit…to God” which is when God uses His divinely powerful weapons, giving us what we need to “Resist the devil” causing him to “flee from you” (James 4:7) Until we truly believe what God has said and have the faith to believe it, it is impossible to submit to God(specifically submitting to what He has said to us). As Hebrews 11:6 says it is impossible to please God without faith.

God brings every believer through this process for our benefit, that His Word would literally become a part of us, so that we would become the walking Word of God. God’s plan is that we would literally become the image of the Living God. The devil has no weapon that works against this kind of believer.

Blessings,

Machew

Do you really believe?

What we believe, as Christians is crucial.  Faith is what salvation and our relationship with Christ are based on, and faith has everything to do with what we really believe.

So I ask you, do you really believe that what you believe is really real?

And Abram believed the LORD, and the LORD counted him as righteous because of his faith.  (Genesis 15:6)

Do you really believe in the gospel message, or do you just acknowledge it without having faith in it?  Sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference between the two.

We can demonstrate the difference between faith and belief with a chair.  You can look at a chair and say you believe that if you sit in the chair it will hold your weight, but you do not really have faith in it unless you go over and sit in the chair.  Only then do you display that you have faith the chair will hold you.

That is a decent analogy, but how exactly does it apply to our faith?  I sit my butt in a pew at church every Sunday, isn’t that showing that I have faith?

My favorite analogy is that of two guys getting onto an airplane.  Both are greeted by a flight attendant addresses them with a smile on her face saying “there is a high probability that this plane will crash during this flight.  You will want these parachutes.”  (At this point I would be getting off the plane personally, but these guys are tough, they can handle the risk.)

So they get on the plane, but only one guy puts on the parachute.  He isn’t scared at all, not hanging on for dear life, he just put on the parachute and went about his business.  The other guy just tossed the parachute in the back of the plane and went about his business.

Now I ask you, which of these guys had actually believed the plane might crash?  The guy who put on the parachute, right?  How do you know he had faith?  It is because of his actions; he acted according to what he believed.

So how do we apply this to our Christian faith? By our actions.  You can tell one who has faith because he acts like it.

Actions of faith

Faith saves us, but only faith that produce actions.

So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”(James 2:17)

Avoid Sin!

The number one action that shows a person really believes in God is how they live their life; a life of righteousness.

Sin is serious, but we tend to down play, to make it seem like it is really nothing.  To us it may be nothing if we lie, cheat, watch pornography, are a homosexual, have sex outside of marriage, or any other sin. To us, these may seem like nothing, but to God they are horrible!

We can see this all through the old testament.  Read the laws and you will see there are huge penalties (i.e. death) for sinning.  Why?  Because God really hates sin.

The New Testament still talks about how much God hates sin and demands we avoid it.  One passage we will look at is the book of 1 John.

God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth. (1 John 1:5-6)

My dear children, I am writing this to you so that you will not sin. If someone claims, “I know God,” but doesn’t obey God’s commandments, that person is a liar and is not living in the truth. But those who obey God’s word truly show how completely they love him. That is how we know we are living in him. Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did. (1 John 2:1,4-6)

These passages should make it clear, living for God means we will avoid sin.

Loving God

I really want to focus on verse five of the passage above. “But those who obey God’s word truly show how completely they love him.” (1 John 2:5)

We do not avoid sin to gain salvation or impress God, but because we love Him.  I buy gifts for my wife from time to time, not to impress her or try to win her love, but I do it because I love her.  In the same way, we must live our lives absent of sin (as much as humanly possible at least, more on this in a minute).

To understand why this is an act of love towards God we need to understand more of what sin is, or more importantly who God is.

God is perfect, no darkness is in Him, no sin, no blemishes; everything about Him is absolutely perfect.  God is Holy, set apart.  And to sin is to do something contrary to His nature.  Sin is horrible.

Sin is an incredibly disgusting act in the sight of God that goes against His perfect holiness.  Even the best we can do, most righteous deeds, are nothing more than “filthy rags” to Him (Isaiah 64:6).  How much more filthy are our sinful deeds to Him?

Our sin also hurts God.

But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5)

Jesus was tortured, literally tortured, beaten, and killed, why? Because of our sin.  And you can honestly tell me that you want to choose to live in sin over living for God, and that God is okay with it?

One way we justify this is to separate the act of sin from the person committing the sin.  We say “Love the sinner, hate the sin.”  I think Leonard Ravenhill brings a fresh perspective to this topic.

“I don’t believe there is a man on the whole TV that preaches salvation. They preach forgiveness. Forgiveness is not salvation. … “Oh you know the Lord loves you just as you are.” Well then why get changed? Commit adultery as much as you like. He still loves you. Be a cheat, be a liar, be a thief, and be a failure. He still loves you. But there’s a scripture. Isn’t it the Psalms 7… where it says “God is angry with the wicked every day.” I heard somebody quote today “God loves you but hates your sin” that’s bunken. God hates you for committing the sin. Is God going to take your sins and judge them at the Judgment and leave you alone?”

This is why, if we love God, we must avoid sin.  If we don’t then we are just fooling ourselves.

If you are living in sin right now, as in purposely doing something you know is wrong, then you are choosing sin over loving God.  Christians are ambassadors, we take the name of God and we represent Him on this Earth, you are saying that you want Him to be the Lord of your life.  Yet you choose your filthy disgusting worthless sin over Him?

That fact alone has to disgust God greatly!

Living in Sin vs slipping up

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that we will ever be perfect this side of heaven, for we are still in these sinful bodies.  What I am talking about is the purposeful, intentional, and continuous choice to sin.

No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. (1 John 3:9)

The choice to keep looking at pornography, the choice to keep watching those shows on tv that have “questionable” content, the choice to sleep with someone you are not married to.  It is your lifestyle, things you choose to keep on doing.  You cannot have a lifestyle of sin and serve God at the same time.

You Must Make God Number One

To sum it up, you absolutely MUST make God first in your life.  There is no way around it.  Jesus did not die on the cross to save us from sin just to allow us to continue sinning.  He freed us from sin so we could stop sinning, so we could serve Him.

Want to be saved? Just raise your hand and repeat after me…

Written by Jon Zenor.

The decision to follow Christ is the most important decision made in your life.  It is that decision where you decide to quit living your life for yourself and to follow Jesus, making him your master. You go where He wants you to go, do what He wants you to do, you stop living the sinful lifestyle that goes against God and you commit your life to Him.

Jesus says that if we want to follow Him it means giving up everything for Him, and to count the cost before you decide to make the journey (Luke 14:25-33).

That is what it means to make yourself a slave of Christ, you make Him your master.  The decision to do this is not one made lightly, and it is not a decision to be made light of.

In 2002 I made a decision to join the U.S. Navy.  This was not a decision I made lightly, I considered it for months beforehand.  I was signing a contract with the government to serve in the military for a minimum of four years. I would go where they told me to go, learn what they told me to learn.  I was theirs.

Our church normally does an alter call, where we invite people who want to give their lives to Jesus to come up front and talk with one of the pastors, to receive prayer and be given some information about what the decision they are about to make really means.  But it wasn’t so on Christmas Eve.

Maybe it was because the Christmas Eve service was so full, maybe for some other reason I don’t know about, but whatever the reason our church decided to take the “short cut to salvation.”  They gave the announcement “If you would like to receive Jesus in your heart just raise your hand.” A few people raised their hands and then the pastor led them in prayer. “Repeat this prayer after me and you will be saved!”

This is one of the sickest common perversions of the gospel in our society today.

What’s the big deal?

You are probably thinking that this is no big deal, it doesn’t matter how they are led to the prayer as long as they prayed.

Why does someone come to Christ?

A person comes to Christ because for one, they realize and believe that He is real, and then they realize they have offended God with how horrible their sin is, and then because of that they repent, turn from their sinful lifestyle to live the way God calls them to live.

and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you. (1 Corinthians 14:24-25)

The response to realizing God is real and you are in His presence is to worship, and the response to realizing you are a sinful is grief over your sin, and the response to you grieving over your sins is repentance, and the response to your repentance is forgiveness. Forgiveness of all of the sins you have ever committed or ever will commit.

And you are telling me a person went through all of this by simply raising their hand?

For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death. (2 Corinthians 7:10)

Still don’t see the problem?

So you still don’t see a problem with this way of presenting the gospel?  Let’s have an analogy.

So this guy is standing in front of a group of people seated before him.  He says in a slightly excited tone “I have the winning ticket for the Power Ball lottery! Raise your hand if you want it.”

A few people in the crowd raise their hand.

“Awesome,” the man says, “Just repeat after me and it is yours.”

“Thank you for giving me twenty million dollars and I promise to use it to get my life right.”

The crowd responds, repeating what the guy said, and then after the guy is done talking they all quietly get up and start heading out the door calmly and quietly.

In this scenario, would you say that any of the people being offered multi-millions of dollars actually believed they got the money the guy up front told them they would get?

No, there was no excitement, no change, no commitment to actually follow God.

When a person gives their life over to God, they receive something so much better than all the money in the world, shouldn’t there be some type of response?

The Very Real, Very Serious Consequences

Here is the extremely real, extremely serious consequences of such a gospel message.

You convince people that they are saved, that they have a relationship with God, just because they raised their hand and repeated a prayer during an alter call.

Raising your hand and repeating a prayer does not save you. Cannot.

But now you have a few dozen people who walk out of that church believing they are saved because they raised their hand.  They didn’t even have a pastor talk to them to explain what raising their hand really meant.  But they believe; not in Christ, not in sacrificing their life and carrying their cross before Christ, no, they just believe they are saved.

But belief in salvation does not save you, only a relationship with Christ.

We have a generation of thousands in churches that believe they are saved because they said a prayer once but they have no fruit of the Spirit as evidence, no change in their life. This is why Leonard Ravenhill boldly proclaimed that “the sinner’s prayer has sent more people to hell than all the taverns in America.”

I doubt if 5% of professing Christians in America are born again–and that’s true of England! – Leonard Ravenhill

But it gets even more serious, we have churches full of leadership who think they are saved but have no relationship with God, they serve because they want to do the right thing but when they get to heaven they will just hear “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” (Matthew 7:23)

But because all these thousands of people believe they are saved they will go on their life ignoring anybody who may tell them to repent. “I don’t need to repent, I’m already saved!” the person will say to himself.

You have just given a blind man headphones and praise music to make him happy but you never turned him away from the path he is on, a path headed straight for the cliff.  All you did is make it harder for him to hear others trying to warn him over the praise music.

Do you see yet the serious problem here?

What do I do?

If you believe you are saved, it is one of our duties to examine our salvation, to test ourselves to make sure we are saved and not just fooling yourself.

Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test! (2 Corinthians 13:5)

Have you felt that godly sorrow over your sins that leads you to repent?  Do you live a holy life, not because you try to but because God has transformed you?  Do you live your life according to scripture and breath in joyfully every word of the Bible?  Spend some time in scripture analyzing what it means to be saved and see how you match up to it. Repent of the areas you fail in, and pray for strength to help you where you need it, but fist make sure you have that relationship with Jesus.

Holiness is not a Iuxury, it’s a necessity. If you’re not holy, you’ll never make it to heaven. – Leonard Ravenhill

If you are not saved, then there is no better time than right now.  Every sin you commit hurts your relationship with God, drives you farther from Him.  He is the one who created you and despite you turning from Him and living in strict opposition to Him He still sent His only son to die, to pay the penalty of your sins.

Why did Jesus die for you? Because He wants you to be free from sin, He wants you to follow Him and find true joy in Him, and He wants you to share that with others so others can find joy in Christ.

If you want someone to walk you through this you should contact someone at your local church, or call Eternal Truth Ministry at 719-4285-ETM and leave a message and we would love to walk you through any questions you may have.

This is too important of a decision to make to let yourself be fooled, and it is way too important of a decision to put off another day.

Finally, if you are a pastor, preacher, evangelist, or in any position to give “alter calls” then do the right thing, go out to the people, get them alone one on one and pray with them, answer their questions, explain what this decision really is, guide them as they repent and decide to follow Christ.

There is nothing wrong with having someone raise their hand to say they want to be saved, but keep their hands raised until someone can pull them out of the crowd and take them aside.  One on one, make it personal to them.

 

Do you agree with what I said here or do you think I am being overly picky? I would like to hear what you have to say in the comments section below.

Are you being controlled by the subtlety of sin?

“Then let it see the Crystal Shard and destroy it,” Entreri remarked, and he felt a twinge then as Crenshinibon (the Crystal Shard) cried out.

“Why?” Jarlaxle asked suddenly, and Entreri recognized that his ever-opportunistic friend had heard that silent call.

“Why?” the assassin (Entreri) echoed, turning to regard Jarlaxle fully.

“Perhaps we are being premature in our planning,” Jarlaxle explained. “We know how to destroy the Crystal Shard now – likely that will be enough for us to use against the artifact to bend it continually to our will.”

Entreri started to laugh.

“There is truth in what I say, and a gain to be had in following my reasoning,” Jarlaxle insisted. “Crenshinibon began to manipulate me, no doubt, but now that we have determined that you, and not the artifact, are truly the master of your relationship, why must we rush ahead to destroy it? Why not determine first if you might control the item enough for our own gain?”

“Because if you know, beyond doubt, that you can destroy it, and the Crystal Shard knows that, as well, there may be no need to destroy it,” Entreri played along.

“Exactly!” said the now-excited dark elf.

“Because if you know you can destroy the crystalline tower, then there is no possible way that you will wind up with two crystalline towers,” Entreri replied sarcastically, and the eager grin disappeared from Jarlaxle’s black-skinned face in the blink of an astonished eye.

“It did it again.,” the drow remarked dryly.

“Same bait on the hook, and the Jarlaxle fish chomps even harder,” Entreri replied.

This is a scene from a fantasy book “Servant of the Shard” by R. A. Salvatore.  (Hang on with me, I promise I am going somewhere redeeming with this!)

There is a magical item, called Crenshinibon, or the Crystal Shard.  This is an evil item of great magical power, and a mind of its own.  Whoever possesses the item can use its power, but the Crystal Shard uses the promises of power and fame or whatever other weakness the wielder has to manipulate that person and bring him or her under its own control.

Earlier in the book it tried to work through Jarlaxle, making him do things he normally would not do because of the influence of the Crystal Shard.  Eventually he ends up making a crystalline tower, a powerful tower the Crystal Shard needs to make it stronger.

Jarlaxle, determined to be ruled by anything finally regains control, and goes to destroy the tower.  And he starts to succeed.  As the tower starts to fall he feels victorious over the object and then starts to think things.  “Now that I am in control I can destroy the tower whenever I want, so really there is no need to destroy it right this second.  In fact, two towers would be nice.”  Suddenly a second tower appears.

How temptation deceives us

These two events in the book, where Jarlaxle is wanting to destroy the tower and ends up with two towers, and then later on the way to destroy the Crystal Shard decides that you don’t really need to destroy it if you know you can destroy it, both remind me of temptations that we face.

How often have you been trapped in a sin, yet you believe that you have control of it?  You get to the point where you convince yourself that you can quit at any time, and of course since you are in control of when you can quit you decide not to quit.  Who is really in control there?

Just this once

Often times this appearance of control comes in the form of “just this once.”  You will compromise and commit this sin, just this one time.  How often has just this once turned into just one more time?

Anytime it comes to sin and temptation there is no room for compromise, no room for control at all.  The more you think you have control over your sin the more it really controls you.  You say you have control while it has you in chains preventing you from exercising that apparent control.

Joseph gives us the best example of how to deal with such temptation.  Flee.

But it happened about this time, when Joseph went into the house to do his work, and none of the men of the house was inside, that she caught him by his garment, saying, “Lie with me.” But he left his garment in her hand, and fled and ran outside – Genesis 39:11-12

Sin has no place in the life of a Christian, no matter how small it may seem.  Finding ways to get away with sin, small or large, will end with sin sinking its hooks deeper into you.

Sure you quit looking at pornography for a day, so you can quit at any time, you convince yourself as you bring up more pictures on your computer.

Or one that has hit close to me, reading your Bible every day.

It is amazing the thoughts that go through my mind regarding the time I know I should spend in the Bible and praying.  I do great reading the Bible every day and then one day I miss it.  The next day I think to myself that I can start reading again at any time, but today is busy, so I will do it tomorrow instead.

The next thing I know a month has gone bye and my Bible has done nothing but collect dust.

You will come up with any excuse to not read your Bible and convince yourself that it is okay because you can start again at any time, yet you don’t.  Your mind will work over time to come up with excuses why it is okay to keep sinning, to keep speeding, look at pictures of pornography, curse, watch a movie you know you shouldn’t – just this once.  Yet if you were really in control of the situation you would have done the right thing in the first place.

Imagine a roller coaster, you are sitting in the car going along the track, with a steering wheel attached. You turn left just as the track turns left and the car goes left, so you think you are in control.  It is not until you try to turn right when the track turns left that you realize you have no control.

The BIble tells us that we cannot have two masters (Matthew 6:24), so we must choose.  Choose now to follow God and to repent of your sin. Do not play games to tempt yourself.  Flee all temptation, God will always give you a way out.

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death. – James 1:13-15

Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it. – 1 Corinthians 10:12-13

The next time you are debating not reading the Bible, thinking it is because you are choosing not to but can start again after lunch or tomorrow, think about how subtlety the sin will try to control you.

The next time you are thinking of continuing in that sin, whatever it may be, remember that you are not in control of it, but you can flee it.

Faith, Works, and Salvation

Have you ever been so scared by a passage in the Bible that you could not sleep at night?  This has happened to me more than once, most recently by this passage in Matthew.

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ – Matthew 7:21-23

Sometimes reading that passage makes me stop and think “Is that talking about me?”  When I die, will Jesus say to me ‘Well done good and faithful servant,’ or will He say ‘Depart from me, I never knew you?'”  This question can be scary, very scary.

For one, you do not want to be doing everything you can to serve God, only to find out you missed out on the most important thing, the treasure that God actually wanted from you.  But also you do not want to go through life thinking that everything is fine, only to reach the final moments and find out your one way ticket to heaven was nothing more than a sham, sold to you by Satan and your betraying flesh.

What it means to be “Saved”

When a Christian says he or she is “saved”, what does that mean?  What is it exactly that we are saved from?

The most obvious answer that comes to mind is that we are saved from hell, to heaven (John 3:16).  But more than that, we are saved from sin, to righteousness – to good and righteous works God has called us to do (Romans 6:18, 22, 2 Timothy 1:9, Ephesians 2:10).  But one of the most important things we are saved for, is for the glory of God. That’s right, we are saved so that God can get glory (Romans 15:7, 1 Corinthians 10:31, Philippians 2:9-11).

How many people will be saved?  Not many.

Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it. – Matthew 7:13-14

Examine Your faith

Salvation is important. It brings God glory, empowers us to do the good work God has for us, and it saves us from the damnation we deserve.  But it is clear that only a few will find it, and many will think they have found it but will be deceived (Matthew 7:21-23).

For this reason Paul tells us to examine ourselves to make sure that we are saved.

Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified. But I trust that you will know that we are not disqualified. – 2 Corinthians 13:5-6

What Faith is Not

This brings us to a crucial point. The few passages we have looked at so far makes it seem like faith and works are the same thing.  But they are not.

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should  boast. – Ephesians 2:8-9

This passage shows us there is a difference between faith and works. Faith saves us, not works.  Remember the first passage we looked at, Jesus rebuked people who were doing good works, but lacked faith, lacked a relationship with Jesus.  Jesus said “I never knew you” which shows us that it is the relationship God wants from us, not our works of healing, casting out demons, building churches, or giving to the poor.

Works themselves mean nothing.  Isaiah 64:6 says that our good works are worthless, that “all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags.”

Are Works Meaningless?

Those passages make it clear that it is only by faith that we are saved, our works mean nothing.  So are works not important?

Actually, works are crucial to a Christian’s faith.  “Wait a second” you are thinking, “You just said works mean nothing, we are not saved by works and all our good works of righteousness are as filthy rags, how can they, at the same time, be crucial to a Christian?”  It does seem a bit contradictory at first, but dig deeper in to scriptures.

What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? – James 2:14-20

So we are saved by faith, not by works, yet faith without works is dead and such a faith does not save you… confused yet? Just hang on a little bit longer.

Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments.  He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.  But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked. – 1 John 2:3-6

This is a cause and effect situation here. What came first, the chicken or the egg?  Which comes first, the faith or the works?

You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. – Matthew 7:16-18

And there Matthew sums this all up so nicely for us.  When we accept Christ, when we put faith in Him, something real happens, we are literally changed, transformed, the old person has passed away and a new being is created (2 Corinthians 5:17).  This does not mean that we never sin (that topic will be covered in another article).  The only way we can be sin free is to be in a new body, as long as we are trapped in these earthly bodies we will sin (Romans 7).

But our spirit is made new and the Holy Spirit indwells within us.  It is this which gives us the desires to do good works and gives us the ability to do good works.  Good works do not save us but they are the evidence that we are saved.

Just as a good tree only produces good fruit, a Christian, someone who is saved by faith, produces good works. Not because the works are required for salvation or give us merit at all, but because our nature changes completely.  It is something we can not help.

When I was in college – several years ago – I was a math major. In High school I could do math without a calculator.  I could solve the most complex calculations in my math class with nothing more than an occasional scratch piece of paper, but I could not write to save my life.

Just recently I took an algebra class and struggled through it.  I could not comprehend the math. I barely got a B in Algebra and Trig, and ended up getting a C in my pre-calculus class.  But I aced every one of my English and writing  classes and (so I am told) I write fairly well.

This is an example of my nature changing.  I went from being a math wiz to being a writer.  No amount of work on my part can change what I am.  I can practice and get by at math, but it will not come as naturally as writing does to me now.

In the same way a Christian cannot defy his or her nature.  When we are still stuck in sin we cannot do good works except by our effort, it was a struggle, but now, after salvation, the good works are a natural response, just like breathing.

This shows how it is possible that works are important to our faith and salvation but do not save us, because they have nothing to do with the salvation part, they are just an example of that salvation.

How do I examine myself?

So how then, do we go about examining ourselves?  The only thing I can say is to pray and read the Bible.  Examine your life, your actions, your check book (where you spend your money), your thoughts, everything, against scripture.  Are you living in sin that needs to be repented of?  Are you doing works in the church on a daily basis but missing that relationship with God?  Are you doing good works but feel that it is a burden to you?

Examine yourself, see what is keeping you from having a relationship with God, what is keeping you from the Bible.  Use natural works, the ones you enjoy and are not a pain to perform to see if it is a natural response or something you are (subconsciously) trying to fake.

Romans 10:17 says that “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” I cannot stress enough how important the word of God is in our seeking God.  Read it every day, even more often in times of examining yourself spiritually.

*Photo by Jon Zenor, Copyright 2010 Jon Zenor Photography.*

Living Rich, is it a sin to have money?

We have mentioned in many posts recently what God says about the rich. Mainly that it is impossible for the rich to get into heaven, and yet every one of us in the United States and the western world in general are rich. Considering the fact that most of the world lives on less than $2 a day we can get a sense of just how rich we truly are.

I know that many of those articles can be very convicting and give the impression that we are need to give all possessions away and live like the poorest so we can give away everything. I know the thoughts that can go through your mind when reading these articles because this is a struggle I have had for the past several months. I don’t write these articles with an attitude of “I got it all together, now do what I do!” On the contrary, I write these articles because it is what God puts on my heart, and He puts them on my heart ninety-nine percent of the time because it is the lesson I need to be taught.

The past several months I have been in conviction over my money, am I making too much, am I using it wisely, do I give it all away, what about retirement? I have had nights where I get home from work in the morning and weep and seek God in prayer because I am just so lost on what to do. I don’t want God to say it is impossible for me to get into heaven because I am obsessed with riches, or because I saved one million in the bank instead of giving it away. (ha, like that would ever happen :P)

So after months of seeking God in this, I finally have a hint of where to go. I wish I had the full answer, but until God reveals it to me you will be in the dark with me. 🙂

Is it wrong to make money?

Being wealthy is not a sin. Many heroes of the Bible were wealthy, Abraham for one, and even Zaccheius was wealthy and likely some of the disciples had at least a decent amount of money such as Mark (tax collectors generally did well then) and Luke, a physician had the ear of the “most excellent Theophilus” (Luke 1:3) which meant he probably had a position of power, which means wealth.

The difference, between any follower of God in the Bible and the rich man Jesus rejects in Luke 18, is that a follower of Jesus doesn’t care about the wealth. If you are following Jesus, your goal should never be about money, making more or saving more or even giving more, focus on Jesus. When He is your focus you realize that your wealth is really nothing more than a resource God has given to you to manage properly and serve Him.

Is it wrong to save money?

Saving money is not a sin as long as you are following God with your money. Zacchaeus (Luke 19) gave away 50% of everything he owned, because he wanted to use his resources to serve God, not to just save for himself. But why not give away 100%? He gave away what he was convicted to give away, following God’s prompt on his conscience. It no longer was about saving or having money to him, just about following God, even if it meant giving away his wealth. He didn’t care because he was following God, that is what matters. He is just one of many examples of how when we focus on Jesus, we care less about ourselves and our achievements and start to adopt the heart of God for the lost.

Here is another thing to look at. There is a joke of a guy who was trapped in a house during a flood. A guy on a canoe came by, asking if he needed help while the guy tried to climb to the highest point on the roof. The guy responded “No thank you, I have faith God will save me”. Then as the water continued to rise a helicopter came by to save the guy, who just replied “I have faith God will save me.”

Well, the guy ends up drowning. He gets to heaven and asks God, “why didn’t you save me?” To which God replies “I gave you warning a flood was coming and even after you ignored it I sent a canoe and a helicopter, what else could you need?”

Bad joke, I know, but it shows a lesson which is true. We can’t throw away God’s blessings and then expect him to miraculously save you last minute. He might, because He is sovereign and loves us despite us being bad stewards of His money. God has given us in America the money to get out of most situations. We just choose to blow it on ourselves and buy things we can’t afford and then cry out to God when we are out of money. Yes God provides for us, but does that really sound right to waste his provision and then blame him for “not providing” when times are tough?

Is that how we are supposed to manage God’s resources?

Is debt wrong?

The Bible does give some allowance for debt, but I do not recall ever seeing the Bible promote or say it is a good thing. I personally think debt is a sin, for two reasons.

First, debt is almost always caused by our wanting what we cannot afford. You want that new car? Save up for it! Or find a cheaper alternative.

God has given us tremendous resources, there should be no reason we can’t save up for something whille still having money to give to those in need and supporting our family. It may take sacrifice, but at least you will be buying what you afford and not borrowing.

The second reason I see debt as sin, is something God has recently shown me. I am absolutely tired of not being able to help people like I once was able to, why? Because of my debt. My debt is draining so much of my money that I live paycheck to paycheck and have a really hard time paying for food, let alone helping others.

If I did not have my debt it would free up my resources to be able to help others. Lost your job? Sure, here is $350 to help you get back on your feet, oh wait, that money has to go to my car payment, sorry. There is so much more we could do without debt.

Stay Tuned

In my next article I will discuss about worrying over money and what God has told me about each of these areas in my own personal finances.

What do you think? Is it a sin to make money or save money? How do you ensure that you are using God’s money wisely and not just blowing it on yourself? Let me know in the comments below.