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Awakening the Quieter Virtues

Awakening the Quieter Virtues

by Rick Shrader

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Gregory Spencer, professor of communications at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, CA, is a writer I wasn’t familiar with but the title of his book intrigued me.  When I glanced at the contents, I knew I wanted to read the book;  discernment, innocence, authenticity, modesty, reverence, contentment, and generosity.  I thought that Spencer was fairly conservative for a fellow from Southern California and a left of center college.  He had good thoughts that kept my attention throughout the book.  Except for one thing which is my fault not his.  I don’t like the popular style.  Spencer teaches communications and obviously knows what style most readers like and he uses it throughout.  Chapter one begins with, “I awoke to the sound of gunfire.”  Chapter two begins with, “When our three daughters were young.”  And so on and so forth.  Now when I begin reading that I want to skip ahead a few pages to his point.  Most books like this you could read in at least half the time if the author would just give you the information you’re looking for and cut out the stories.  But we are in a story mode and Spencer knows it.  So reading the same amount of real information takes twice as long.  BUT, this book was worth it so I’m glad I took the time.  You might like it too.

 

Balancing Act

Balancing Act

by Rebekah Schrepfer

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I get a little annoyed with the concept of “balancing the Christian life,” though I have to admit that to some extent I do balance a lot of things in my life. But when should I strike a balance, and when am I to see black and white? Is life a series of black and white judgments, or are we to live in moderation in all things? I think about this often. Does the Bible teach absolutes? Does the Bible teach some principles that are merely suggestions?

I suspect that in reality, life is more black and white than we like to think. When I hear good Bible expositors talk about gray areas or having moderation in a particular area, they are mainly talking about things that are not explicitly addressed in Scripture. After all, the Bible is not exhaustive, but it is comprehensive. I understand that terminology, but once a person has evaluated something, social drinking let’s say, and then he makes a decision on what to believe, then that is the point where he is choosing either a right or a wrong action. What about causing a brother to stumble, or violating his conscience, or glorifying God? All of these factors and more determine whether he is sinning or not in the gray areas. Once a choice has been made, it’s not a gray area any longer. This is what I mean when I say, there are no gray areas in God’s eyes. We as humans may not be able to make a completely accurate judgment here because we cannot see the heart as God does, but it doesn’t negate the fact that either a right or a wrong choice has been made and acted upon and a consequence determined.

What is absolute?

I tend to think in black and white, so this part of my discussion is easy for me, and maybe this is why I cringe when someone says that I need to have a balance in life. To me, something is either dirty or clean, beneficial or not beneficial, opened or closed, safe or dangerous, etc. Our world does not like to believe in absolutes. It’s too dogmatic, too harsh, too restricting. The Bible does outline for us many dos and don’ts, so let’s look at that.

There is right and wrong. Things do not become wrong, or grow to be right. God has a heavenly, perfect standard. Holiness is God’s standard (1 John 1:5; 1 Peter 1:15; 2 Peter 3:11). That means even if there is a miniscule speck of black on that white tablecloth, then it’s not pure. The hard thing about right and wrong is that we are sinful creatures, and even after salvation we still battle our sin nature (Rom. 7:14-24). We cannot reach perfection until God calls us to heaven. So the harsh reality is that much of the time, we will be dealing with wrongs, not rights. In order to deal with reality in our sinful world, we often have a hard time seeing what is right and what is wrong.

However, that doesn’t change the fact that there is a line between right and wrong in God’s eyes. Even though we are blinded by sin, it’s not our standard that counts. It’s God’s standard. God does not see any gray areas because a particular sin in an individual’s life cannot be both good and bad at the same time.

The good news is that Christ did not leave us “comfortless” (John 14:15-19). The Holy Spirit gives us power and strength and discernment to continually win the battles over sin in our lives if we are yielded to Him (1 Cor. 2:10-13). And that’s good news! We are stuck in a fallen world, but we can strive to behave as citizens of a heavenly country. We can be in the world, but not of it. We can have peace and joy because in the end, it’s not all up to us to overcome sin. It’s God’s promise to us that sin is already defeated, not only in our lives, but also in the world (John 16:33).

Moderation

So, as I’ve explained, in reality God doesn’t have any gray areas. Things are either right or wrong in His eyes. We aren’t always so good at seeing things accurately, though. What if we just can’t see exactly what God’s standard is? Where is the line between right and wrong? What if there is another issue that crops up if I hold to a particular standard, and it makes me think twice about whether I’m right? Is there really room for give and take? Are there practices that I may abstain from which may actually be ok for someone else? What about issues of conscience? For instance, if I listen to a particular song, am I pleasing God? Truly? Many factors go into that determination.

Perhaps what we mean by balance or moderation is simply a system of priorities. We know that in this sinful world and with our sinful natures, we have limited time and ability to even strive for holiness (Phil. 3:14). So we work on pieces of ourselves and others (I’m thinking of our children or students or those for whom we are accountable) rather than expect perfection all the time. We seek to put our personal relationship to God first, and really our whole life is a series of moments of seeking to please Him (Gal. 1:10; 1 Thess. 2:15; Heb. 11:6). Maintaining family relationships is a necessary and joyful priority. Fulfilling our responsibility to church and serving our brothers and sisters in Christ is also important. There is hardly enough time in the day to “balance” it all, but we must.

So is it therefore right to neglect one area of life for a moment in favor of another that is higher in priority or has already been neglected too long? I think yes and no. No, it is wrong, in the sense that the standard is to keep all of our lives in every way pleasing to God. We’ve missed the mark. But yes, it is also right in the sense that if we are truly doing the best we can do, then that’s good. Aggravating isn’t it? Where does grace and mercy come in? Many like to point to 1 Corinthians 6:12, “All things are lawful unto me,” (which was a common saying in Corinth) but then miss the second part of that verse in which Paul retorts, “but all things are not expedient . . . I will not be brought under the power of any.”

You see, grace and mercy allows for consequences of sin to be postponed. Not because it’s ok, and not because it wasn’t really sin, but it is giving the erring one time to grow. When a new Christian is learning and growing in the Lord, how do we handle it when he acts selfishly, or continues in a worldly practice? Is what he is doing wrong? Yes. But should we jump on him in a heap and demand perfection? Of course not. Why? Because sanctification is a process, and the best kind of growth comes when a believer can figure things out on his own with the aid of the Holy Spirit and the Scriptures to guide him. Should we pick a vegetable from the garden when it is yet budding? Only God knows when the great harvest of souls will be, but for now we balance when to demand mature fruit from a person. Becoming more like Christ is a process. Those who are spiritual and more mature in the faith are to teach and admonish and encourage those who are young in the faith to grow, just as an adult does with a child.

True grace from a longsuffering God lifted me above where I could not lift myself, and I am now a child of God in spite of my sin because of Christ’s love for sinners like me. Not because my sin was ok, but because it wasn’t! In turn, I can exercise grace and mercy to those around me and to myself, not exactly in the same way Christ did, but in a lesser way. I cannot remove sins as far as the East is from the West. I cannot take away final punishment because of someone’s sin. But I can withhold personal judgment long enough to see if he will change his mind and grow. I can extend help and accountability to a sister in Christ who is struggling with sin. We are to be longsuffering to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another. Times do come when sin must be dealt with, and punishment must be followed through, but it doesn’t have to happen right away. It does not mean that the behavior or attitude is suddenly ok, in fact it means the opposite. We are talking about simple graciousness extended because there is time to grow.

Time is almost up

Moderation, or balancing, becomes difficult because there does come a time when a line is crossed and we are found in sin. In practical terms, how much time do we have to decide where the line is? How much time do we have to repent of it and get right with the Lord? How much time do we have to allow others to find that line? How much time do we have before it’s too late, and time is up? In the end, we really do not know how much time we have to be the most pleasing to God that we can be (2 Peter 3:10-11). Someday, time will be up. The angel told John, “He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still” (Revelation 22:11). At the end of time, those who are found just will be so forever, and those who are found filthy will remain filthy forever.

It’s a sobering thought. No more time to decide whether the music I’m listening to is pleasing God or pleasing myself. No more time to forsake the pleasures that draw me away from Christ who gave His all for me. No more time to progress in my sanctification. No more time to purify myself before I stand before the Bema Seat (Rom. 14:10-13) to see if I’ve done all I can in my body for the Lord.

So perhaps the balancing act is between patience and urgency. We give people space to let God work in their hearts, and then pray for them as they grow. I work on my own inner attitudes and outward actions continually, knowing that I sin often. We can extend mercy and grace to those who are sinning, but there may not be much time left. Waiting to change that habit until you are more comfortable doing so is not wise. Remember that old test of whether your current activity is right or wrong: If Jesus were to come for us at this very moment, would you be ashamed at His coming (1 John 2:28)? Or would you be found joyfully serving Him?

Ah, but He could come at any moment. “Even so, come, Lord Jesus” (Rev. 22:20).

 

*This article appeared on MostlySensible.com in June 2014.

 

The Hole In Our Holiness

The Hole In Our Holiness

by Rick Shrader

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I was attracted to this book because of its title, then I thought it might be a Reformed position only on holiness, but then I was pleasantly surprised by reading the entire (but fairly short at 150 pages) book. DeYoung does a good job of encouraging Christians to seek holiness in their lives, and at the same time to avoid the extremes of license and legalism. DeYoung pastors University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan and could have gone aside into Lordship Salvation, a Reformed view of Perseverance, or mixing up law and gospel. But again, DeYoung stays on target giving very helpful thoughts about the Christian and holiness. His explanation of Union with Christ, Saints and sexual immorality, and Repentance for the Christian are chapters that should help struggling believers. I think this book would be a great help for the struggles of the upcoming generation of believers in our churches.

 

 

Marijuana and the Christian

Marijuana and the Christian

by Rick Shrader

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RickShraderThe culture in America is changing quickly, and not necessarily for the good. Christians generally agree that issues such as abortion, pornography, or same-sex marriages are immoral, unbiblical, and harmful to society at large. Not all agree about substance abuse in areas such as alcohol, tobacco, and drugs like marijuana. Churches have long had to develop convictions as well as policies concerning these substances in defining their membership and spiritual leadership roles. The rapid legalization of marijuana is quickly forcing the church to include it on its list of substances for qualification.

In 1969 only 12% of Americans supported the legalization of marijuana. Today it is 58%. 50% of Catholics favor legalizing the drug as do 58% of Protestants in America. 21 states have legalized the medicinal use of marijuana with similar bills pending in 16 other states. 2 States, Colorado and Washington, have legalized recreational use of marijuana with 13 other states pushing for the same and these numbers change almost daily. This has caused the Department of Justice to announce it will not enforce federal laws (because possession of marijuana is still a federal crime) and create conflict in those states. It does not look like this will be abated soon.

The Marijuana Plant

Marijuana is one of the varieties of the Hemp plant or Cannabis Sativa L. The Hemp plant has been around for thousands of years because it is the best source for many products including rope, textiles, foods, paper, body care products, detergents, plastics, and various building materials. The industrial Hemp is grown for its stalk which can grow to 15 feet tall. It contains only about .01% of THC (Tetrahydrocannabinoids), the addictive ingredient that makes a person high.

The Hemp plant, or Cannabis, can also produce the marijuana variety grown specifically for its flower, not its stalk. This variety grows only about 5 feet tall but produces 10-15% THC (although the marijuana of the ‘60s had only about 1 to 2%). The marijuana plant has 60+ cannabinoids, the active ingredients (of which THC is one) that make the plant marijuana. These ingredients can be made into liquids called tinctures which can be taken internally, mixed with foods, and used medicinally. There are also synthetic liquids that are legal in Canada and the UK. These liquid forms have been available for a number of years in prescription form to be used for pain relief though users usually prefer the smoking variety.

Growing Issues

The legalization of marijuana has growing momentum and probably will not stop until it is available in all 50 states. An internet search will show a great diversity of opinion as to the positive and negative effects of marijuana on the human mind and body. Whereas pro-drug websites boldly state that marijuana is not harmful and in fact may be good for you, medical opinion is beginning to come in that shows the opposite, or at least is not nearly so optimistic.

“We don’t have as good data as we have for alcohol, but the evidence is already clear,” said Susan Weiss, policy chief for the National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Marijuana is not good for you.” Frequent, prolonged marijuana use has been linked to depression, psychosis, anxiety, and other mental disorders, especially among teenagers. A decades-long study in New Zealand found that adolescents who used pot at least four times a week lost an average of 8 IQ points between the ages of 13 and 38. Studies suggest that about 9 percent of all users become dependent on marijuana, and that pot smokers have far higher rates of workplace injuries and school absences than non-users. One study of 46,000 Swedish soldiers found that even infrequent pot smokers were more than twice as likely to develop schizophrenia as non-smokers; regular users were six times as likely.1

Just this month (April, 2014) Northwestern University released a study on the negative effects of marijuana. This study was a collaboration between Northwestern Medicine® and Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School. On their website, Northwestern reported, “This is the first study to show casual use of marijuana is related to major brain changes. It showed the degree of brain abnormalities in these regions is directly related to the number of joints a person smoked per week. The more joints a person smoked, the more abnormal the shape, volume and density of the brain regions.”2

In addition to the medical issues related to marijuana, there are legal issues where federal and state laws conflict. There are issues related to prison terms such as a man in Missouri who has already served 20 years of a life sentence for possession of marijuana, an action that wouldn’t even get him arrested today. There is the issue of whether prohibition actually works or is just fueling the fire of possession. There is the issue of pain relief for some who claim they have found no other way of relief. And then there is the issue of whether marijuana should be any more illegal than alcohol or cigarettes. These issues and more are also causing differences of opinion among Christians as to the proper attitude to take toward marijuana.

Common Reasons Given in Favor

In reading various websites, even some Christians give arguments in support of marijuana use. “It is no worse than alcohol.” Of course, no one knows yet what the effects of marijuana will be on society. This answer is a wish, not a conclusion. The fact is, if marijuana is only half as bad as alcohol it is far too bad. Alcohol has been one of the most harmful substances that sinful man has used and abused. God warned of its use (Prov. 20:1) and so have many medical and law enforcement officials. To say that something is no worse than alcohol is like saying that your upcoming surgery is no worse than a root canal, so don’t worry about it.

“God gave us all herbs to enjoy.” God did give us His creation to use but not abuse. This is usually spoken in regard to the Hemp plant which has varieties that can be used in good or bad ways. Most things that mankind makes are this way because this is a broken, or fallen, world. God may have given us the raw materials but the artwork is ours (Mic. 5:13; Acts 17:29). Because God gave us sound doesn’t mean that all music is good; because God gave us color doesn’t mean that all pictures are good; because God gave us trees doesn’t mean that all boats made from them are good boats. God gave us the ingredients for various poisons too, but I don’t think a wise person will take   them in their final form as gifts from God. Almost all of the earth’s raw materials can be used in a positive or negative way.

“Almost everything is bad for you. Because car exhaust is bad, am I going to stop driving?” No, you are not going to stop driving, but you won’t put your mouth over the exhaust pipe while the car is running either. We live in a sinful world with many harmful things and it is our stewardship to navigate this world to the glory of God with the best of our ability. We can succeed or fail at that (1 Cor. 9:27).

“The jails are full and yet the drugs are still available. The ban on some drugs like marijuana is too costly and doesn’t work.” Again, this is a wish not a fact. No one knows what the legalization of marijuana is going to do to our neighborhoods, schools, gang problems, and a host of other issues. Solving the problem by abandoning all restraints is kind of like jumping over a cliff and then deciding half way down that it wasn’t such a good idea. America is about to jump over this cliff and we have no idea what it will be like. When men take their own path with little regard to God’s direction, it ends in harm and regret (James 4:15-17).

Lastly, “Smoking marijuana has given me the only relief I can find for my constant pain.” Actually, I have the most sympathy for this person. Pain is personal and we all deal with it differently. I have heard parents make this argument for children who went this route. First, I have a hard time thinking that with all of our medical technology there really isn’t better pain relief than marijuana. Second, there are other variations of the same drug available in prescription form that are more controllable.   But third, I would hope that in such a circumstance I would still refuse, or at least greatly resist, the use of a substance that harms me in other ways as much as it helps me in one way (Col. 3:17, 23).

Biblical Reasons Against

Our Body. First and foremost is the Biblical reason that many Christians have grown tired of—our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit and what is purposely used though it harms our body is not good, and, in fact is sinful. Paul says that the believer’s body is a “member of Christ” (1 Cor. 6:15) and therefore he should not give it to a harlot and become one in body though he can never become one in spirit (vs. 17) with her. Then he applies that well known statement that our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit and we have been bought with a price, which is the very death of Christ (vss. 19-20). We are not to be drunk with wine wherein (“in which is”) is excess but be filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18). We are to be vessels “unto honor, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work” (2 Tim. 2:21). Just as God raised up the body of Christ, He will raise our bodies to be in His presence because they are important to Him (1 Cor. 6:14).

To simply say that we cannot attain complete purity of our bodies in this life and therefore it is futile to try, is to give up proper spiritual effort. We know the difference between positional and progressive sanctification. To rest in one’s position in Christ with no concern for ongoing sanctification is to be disqualified for the race (1 Cor. 9:27). Even the apostle Paul, late in his life, said he would press toward the finish line of life’s race (Phil. 3:14) “but I press on, that I may also lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me” (vs. 12, NKJV).

Our Witness. It is disconcerting that we have largely abandoned the method of using our abstinence (of worldly things) as a means of witness for Christ. Whereas we used to believe that abstinence brought conviction to the lost person by explaining why we do not do the activity, now we seem to believe that participating with the lost person and somehow befriending him in that way better draws him to Christ. I think we have turned from relying on the Holy Spirit for conviction to relying on our own means of drawing them. And besides, we really don’t like the tension the first method creates.

This doesn’t mean, as some will surely try to point out, that we become unfriendly and caustic in our abstaining witness. In fact, this is where the witness is greatly enhanced, when we can speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15). But we can’t have a powerful witness with just the love. There must be the truth also. Paul’s use of the great separation passage (“come out from among them and be ye separate” from Isa. 52:11) in 2 Cor. 6, follows a scolding of the Corinthian church for not understanding that trying to make righteousness have fellowship with unrighteousness, or light to have communion with darkness, is to be unequally yoked with unbelief (2 Cor. 6:14-18). That is not to be light in the world but darkness. Surely Paul understood the proper balance of love and truth.

Our Family. The family is God’s creation for nurturing children from infancy to adulthood. Parents are supposed to protect, educate, discipline, and train the children to become productive servants in God’s vineyard (Eph. 6:4). Also the children that are under a parent’s care are to obey them that “it may be well with thee, and that thou mayest life long on the earth” (Eph. 6:3). Pastors and their wives are to offer their children as examples to the whole church of good order and godliness (1 Tim. 3:4-5; Titus 1:6). Christian families ought to be the first in society to take the “high road” when it comes to issues of morality, service, friendliness, hospitality, godliness, and even safety. The reason we can’t imagine a parent wanting a child to smoke marijuana or use any other illicit substance is because we understand that a parent’s heart has a God-given sense of protection toward its children (Prov. 4:1-6).

Our Church. The local church has the right and the obligation to set boundaries for itself (meaning its members) concerning things which it believes is harmful, sinful, or disruptive to the Biblical function of its ministry. This may be in the form of a church covenant to which members agree upon joining the church or the constitution (By-Laws) which the church adopts by vote and agreement. No one is forced to join any local church and no one is forced to stay. It is a voluntary society which believing families join if they think it will be the best place to worship and raise their children.

Churches have always had to deal with issues such as alcohol, tobacco, pornography, and various drugs. This is becoming more important in our generation, not less. It is not good to see many churches have little concern about the use of addictive substances within their membership. Most conservative churches have valid concerns for how these things affect them. The coming ubiquity of legal marijuana will force churches to include it among their constitutional agreements.

The church in Jerusalem gave specific advice to the churches in Galatia regarding idols, fornication, and dietary rules about meat (Acts 15:20) and the Galatian churches gladly adopted those for their situation (Acts 16:4-5). Paul (as the apostle) directed the Corinthian church to settle upon matters of law courts, fornication, abuse of the Lord’s Supper, spiritual gifts, and even false teachers. The churches established and overseen by Timothy and Titus were given many directives for healthy and godly living (1 Tim. 2:8-9; 2 Tim. 2:14-26; Titus 1:10-16). The world they lived in dictated swift and specific action be taken regarding these harmful things.

And So . . . .

I doubt that the practices of Christians and substances will change much with the addition of legalized marijuana. Those that have already allowed moderate drinking will probably allow moderate use of marijuana. It is interesting that most church covenants don’t mention tobacco in any form but there is usually a conviction about it that is well known in the church. Families will probably allow marijuana or not according to how they presently deal with these other substances. This will, no doubt, be a growing concern for youth leaders as the pressure on Christian kids mounts over the next few years.

I would hope that conservative churches and families will become more convicted about abstinence toward these harmful substances and will seek fellowship with others of like mind. Issues like marijuana will create even broader differences in our culture but Christians, of all people, must be willing to stand for moral and decent principles. This stand will not hurt us but will help us and give us another platform from which to share our faith in Christ as we speak the truth about this in love.

 

Notes:

1. http://theweek.com/article/index/236671/is-marijuana-bad-for-you?

2. http://www.northwestern.edu/newscenter/stories/2014/04/casual-marijuana-use-linked-to-brain-abnormalities-in-students.html.

 

The Christian and Carnality

The Christian and Carnality

by Rick Shrader

 John Flavel, a fifteenth century Puritan wrote, “Carnal men rejoice carnally and spiritual men rejoice spiritually.”1 The human nature seems to have the ability to sanctify itself, whether right or wrong.  The Corinthians were especially good at it, even “glorying” in their toleration of sin (1 Cor. 5:6).  Paul was hindered in writing to them, “And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ” (1 Cor. 3:1).  To Paul the word “spiritual” means to be a believer. Pneumatikos, “spiritual,” used twice in the concluding verses of chapter two, means to have the Spirit.  He is the spiritual man as opposed to the natural man.  The spiritual man has the mind of Christ.

“Carnal” in 3:1 is a unique form of the word.  The normal word is sarkikos, from sarx, the flesh, as in 3:3.  This refers to the old nature that everyone has and which can rear its ugly head at any time.  But in 3:1 we have sarkinos, a rare form of the word which, in the only other place it occurs, refers to the “fleshly tables of the heart” (2 Cor. 3:3).  In the context in which Paul is using it, D.A. Carson says, “sarkinos means ‘made of flesh, or ‘composed of flesh,’ (and thus refers to those who are acting as if they did not have the Spirit, but are merely human, ‘fleshly’).”2 John MacArthur says, “sarkinos is literally ‘fleshly ones.’  In this context it refers to man’s fallen humanness, his Adamic self—his bodily desires that manifest rebelliousness toward God, his glorying in himself, and his proneness to sin . . . . When a Christian sins, he is being practically unspiritual, living on the same practical level as an unbeliever.  Consequently Paul is compelled to speak to the Corinthian believers as if they were unbelievers.”3 Or, as Carson concludes, They were acting like pagans!

Not that they were actually unbelievers for they were “babes in Christ” (vs. 1) and walked merely “as men” (vs. 3).  But the defining marks of the flesh were upon them, “envying, and strife, and divisions” (vs. 3).  As Vance Havner wrote, “Poor Demas is usually fired at aplenty by the evangelists, and he deserves it; but do not use up all your ammunition, my brother, on cards and dancing; save a generous portion for ‘strife, envying, and divisions,’ the Bible-certified marks of carnality.”4

When a believer lets his “flesh” control him, he is walking as one who only has the flesh and not also the Spirit.  But believers have both and often do walk in the flesh rather than in the Spirit, that is, they are sarkikos, carnal.  This should not be a pattern of the Christian life.  The Christian has the Spirit and should walk in Him because the fruit of the Spirit is much more powerful than the works of the flesh (Gal. 5:16).  We are all susceptible to carnality because we can’t rid ourselves of the flesh until resurrection day.  However, Scripture has harsh words for such believers, to the point of questioning such faith, if it continues to walk after the flesh with little or no remorse (Rom. 8:9; 1 John 4:3, Jude 19).

Interestingly, believers have a great advantage in the world.  We have lived both ways:  in the flesh (unsaved) and in the Spirit (saved).  We have known life without the Spirit and can compare it to life in the Spirit.  Unbelievers have known only life in the flesh.  So when the world tells us that we just don’t understand, it is actually they who don’t understand.  How can they?  They have only lived half of life whereas we have experienced both sides.  No true believer despises the spiritual life.  Unbelievers “do despite unto the Spirit of grace” (Heb. 10:29) but those who possess the Spirit cringe at carnality and desire a richer, fuller walk in the Spirit.

 

Non-Christians can pretend

Though the natural man does not have the Spirit of God, he is enough of an image bearer of God to be religious.  The false teachers in Corinth could speak about another Jesus with another spirit and create another gospel (2 Cor. 11:4).  A lost person may truly long for a heavenly life or may even be afraid of hell if there really is one.  A belief in God is not unusual for the lost though we know that there is no true understanding of God except through faith in Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 1:21).

But, of course, this natural man cannot understand the things of God.  They are foolishness to him precisely because they are spiritually discerned, or learned only by the entrance of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 2:14).  Therefore his interest in spiritual things is only for a season,  even while the Spirit may be drawing him to a true faith in Christ (Heb. 6:4).  He may find a way to be comfortable around true believers, especially carnal ones, and may never or seldom be asked to display any thought or action that would require the mind of Christ.

It is not unusual if this natural man stays in the church.  Either he is never convicted by anything he sees or hears and becomes calloused to the gospel, or, if he is, he will soon leave in a more hardened condition than when he came in.  His time in the church is critical.  No doubt many in this situation have mustered up a testimony of salvation and may even have been baptized and joined the church.  If the church seldom presses the lost for a decision, he may never be exposed by his conscience and the Word of God.

Sadder still is the fact that such hypocrites in the church help carnal believers to remain carnal.  A little leaven leavens the whole lump (1 Cor. 5:6).  Congregations may be full of hypocrites drawn in by worldly means who drag believers down to their level.  The carnal believer has a knack for finding the hypocritical believer and settling down to a level of spirituality that is comfortable for both of them.

 

Christians can live carnally

This is a sad state of affairs but true.  The church has forever tried to come up with a theology that would eliminate this category but it just doesn’t wash.  Christians sin.  And sometimes they wallow in that sin for a while.  The fornicator in 1 Cor. 5 had been in that state long enough and yet Paul admitted that he would be “saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (1 Cor. 5:5).  The one who loses all to wood, hay, and stubble at the Bema Seat of Christ will  still be saved “so as by fire” (1 Cor. 3:15).  But what a miserable life!  It is better (for the conscience only, that is) to not have the Spirit and live without conviction than to have Him and be under conviction.  There is no more miserable person in the world than this.

The Bible gives two outcomes for the carnal Christian.  He may be severely chastised by God.  “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?  If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy [lit. “judge”]; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are” (1 Cor. 3:16-17). This judgment could even be a premature death.  “For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep” (1 Cor. 11:30).  These measures, however, can only be known for sure by God.

A second outcome could be, and ought to be, repentance.  The New Testament gives multiple examples of spiritual Christians recovering carnal Christians and bringing them back to fellowship with God.  It may be in personal confrontation (Matt. 18:15-17); or prayer (Jas. 5:15); or preaching of the Word (2 Cor. 7:9-11).  Paul was happy when the Corinthians repented.  The sorrow of the world, of hypocrites, only works death, but godly sorrow works true repentance.  “In all things ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter” (2 Cor. 7:11).

In the process of these two outcomes, the church may proceed with disciplinary action.  If the man repents, the church must accept it as Christ accepts him.  To demand a pound of flesh or even vengeance at that stage would be to become “judges of the law” (James 4:11) and take upon themselves the place of condemnation where God has given grace and forgiveness.  “Sufficient to such a man is this punishment, which was inflicted of many” (2 Cor. 2:6).  If a sinning brother or sister refuses repentance, they are to be put out of the assembly so that the carnality cannot affect others.  In fact, Jesus says, he becomes “as” a lost man to us, because at that point we can no longer discern the difference between a hypocrite and a carnal Christian.

The spiritual man avoids carnality

“He that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man.  For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:15-16).  D.A. Carson writes,

This is another way of saying that we have received the Spirit of God (vv.11-12) and have therefore understood something of God’s wisdom, the wisdom of the cross.  That sets us apart from the world.  And therefore implicitly the world will not understand us either.  So Paul is using this quotation form Isaiah 40 to support his claim in the preceding verse: “The spiritual man . . . Is not subject to any man’s judgment.”  He does not mean that Christians have nothing to learn from non-Christians, or that Christians are always above correction and rebuke (even from those who are not believers).  He means rather, that the mind of Christ is alien to the unbeliever, and insofar as we have the mind of Christ we will be alien to the unbeliever as well.5

The believer has every tool necessary to avoid carnality.  He has the Holy Spirit, the Word of God, the fellowship of other believers in the local church, and the intercession of Christ as he prays for forgiveness on a daily basis.  The believer is painfully aware of his old nature.  He fights it every day, or as Paul instructed, he “mortifies” it (Col.3:5; Rom. 8:13).  He has learned to have patience with others who are struggling with the flesh because he knows his own struggles are of the same stuff even if they are a lesser degree.  Another man’s idolatry is the same kind of thing as his own covetousness (Eph. 5:5).  Another man’s murder is the same kind of thing as his own hatred (1 John 3:15).  Another man’s adultery is the same kind of thing as his own lust (Matt. 5:28).

And yet, the spiritual man can only tolerate the presence of carnality for so long.  If it cannot be sufficiently dealt with, he will have to remove himself from its presence, even if that means removing himself from carnal brothers in Christ (2 Thes. 3:14-15).  There are multiple reasons for this.  The power of the Spirit is hindered where there is ongoing carnality; a parent’s children are at risk if carnality is an influence on them; there may be temptations that are uncomely for a Christian to be around; worship is greatly hindered by unrepentant carnality; prayer is hindered where there is carnality.

The local church and carnality

Carnality can easily grow where believers become more attached to an organization than to the principles of the organization.  Believers can be more attached to the buildings or the programs or even the history of the church than to the very doctrines that the church teaches.  The mega-church movement has certainly not been exempt from carnality.  In fact, it has fed itself on carnal methodologies in order to become large.  It may only be a show with a stage and applause rather than the soul-searching work of the Holy Spirit.

Small churches may have an advantage of not offering worldly programs (but maybe not).  But small churches can fall into cliques and coteries that exclude new people or refuse to extend brotherly kindness to someone who is not just like them.

Often a group in a church of any size can demand more loyalty than even Christ.  This was the Corinthian problem of factionalism.  Sometimes a personality or officer of the church or even a pastor can be followed rather than biblical principle.

Yet in all of these, the local church is God’s perfect organization to deal with carnality and for the believer to be able to grow.  The local church, designed according to the New Testament, is the perfect size, the perfect mix of people, the perfect type of leadership, with the perfect Head and Word, to grow believers into the likeness of Christ.

When carnality demands a choice

Believers have always had to make choices about staying or leaving.  This may be in the context of a whole church tradition such as the dissenters in England leaving the state church, or the local churches of a denomination that has gone liberal, or just a family leaving a church that has become worldly and carnal.  Sometimes it is the tough choice of a single person separating from friends who pull that person down rather than build him up.  Carnality becomes a powerful deterrent for a spiritual believer.

There have been those who have offered choices in critical times.  In 1869 Charles Hodge wrote in The Princeton Review6 that a minister may only have three choices when he disagrees with the church’s ruling:  Actively concur in, passively submit to, or peaceably withdraw from.  Similarly, Kevin Bauder says there are “three wretched choices” that can be made when believers find themselves in a compromising situation: walk away, stay and submit, or stay and create trouble.7

I would offer two choices.

First choice:  accept carnality

Some believers will accept or tolerate carnality by being in open rebellion against God.  They don’t seem to care what others think or what the Scripture says.  This leaves question about their true spiritual condition.  Some begin to redefine Christianity so that it condones carnality.  MacArthur says, “It seems that most of the fads and misconceptions of the world find their way into the church.  Worldly Christians continually try to find ways to justify their worldliness, if possible on the basis of Scripture.”8

Some may become carnal or use carnal tactics to accomplish a certain task.  For them, the end justifies the means.  Others may continually tolerate carnality rather than take any action because that is easier, or resistance is said to be unloving, or they just don’t see any danger to them or their family.  They argue that we must live in the real world and that spirituality is not practically possible.

Second choice:  resist carnality

Of course, the first course of action is to deal with the carnality.  This may be corporately as in a local church, or it may be directly with an offensive person.  If this works, you have gained the good ground.  Sometimes situations and circumstances allow it and sometimes they do not.  A second course of action is to be belligerent or a co-belligerent with others.  But this is not a real option for a spiritual believer.  That generally becomes carnality itself.

The only remaining solution when all attempts at reconciliation have failed is to separate from carnality.  This remains a biblical command as well as the others.  In the end, the spiritual believer must not let carnality affect him in his walk with the Lord.

The Christian life on this earth isn’t life in heaven.  We live and deal with the old nature and yet must do all we can to honor the Lord in body and spirit which are God’s.

 

Notes:
1. John Flavel, “A Coronation Sermon,” Orations From Homer To McKinley, vol. IV (New York:  Collier & Son, 1902) 1599.
2. D.A. Carson, The Cross and Christian Ministry .  “Leadership lessons from 1 Corinthians” (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2004) 73.
3. John MacArthur, First Corinthians (Chicago:  Moody Books, 1984) 70-71.
4. Vance Havner, Rest Awhile (New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1941) 48.
5. Carson, 61.
6. This work can be found online by searching for these three terms with the name Charles Hodge.  It has been quoted recently by Carl Truman in an article titled, “No Country For Old Men” on his blog “Reformation 21.”
7. Kevin Bauder, Baptist Distinctives (Schaumburg:  RBP, 2012) 179.
8. MacArthur, 253.
 

 

The Christian Walk and Its Indefinite Na...

The Christian Walk and Its Indefinite Nature

by Rick Shrader

It would seem that a lot of controversy in the Christian life could be solved if God would have given us more specifics for Christian living in the New Testament.  In many ways the Mosaic Law was easier and more convenient.  Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego may have struggled with (though it seems doubtful) the willingness to die for their convictions, but they didn’t have to struggle with what was right and wrong for a believer to do.  The king’s meat and drink were a plain violation of the Law, as was bowing down before a statue.  We could be almost envious of the ease of knowing God’s will in Old Testament Israel compared to today’s age of grace.  It seems strange, therefore, that Israel went on to develop a mountain of tradition to further explain almost every atom of an Israelite’s existence.  But unbelief in religion can never be satisfied with anything but rote legalism.

As a fundamentalist pastor and teetotaler in most life-style choices, I hesitate to put it in these terms.  I feel comfortably firm in my convictions even though I see so many others (even in my own circles) coming to different conclusions.  One of the most common reasons given for a different life-style is that someone does not see a chapter and verse command to do or not do a particular thing.  This is for the most part true.  Christians must make more application from their faith than their law-abiding ancestors.  Yet, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego knew an idol when they saw one but twenty-first century Christians can’t  seem to see one even if thousands of people are waving their arms and pledging their devotion to it.  To them, if it’s not specifically described in a New Testament verse (and in great detail), it can’t be idolatry.  What such Christians really want, I guess, is a formatted list of biblical answers that can be stored and downloaded to give instantaneous, even thoughtless, life-style decisions when necessary.  Otherwise, they would like to be left alone, thank you very much!

Legalism had it so easy!  Israelites knew what to eat and not eat; what style of clothes to wear and not to wear; when to worship and when not to; what offering to bring and what not to bring; how far to walk on the Sabbath and exactly where they must stop.  But Grace doesn’t always spell it out like we would like.  Oh sure, we can spot the unequivocal commandments about adultery, murder, stealing and lying, but those don’t really go very far in the average Christian life.  What about what is permitted to drink and not to drink; or when dancing is suggestive; or when crude language goes too far; or when song lyrics are unchristian; or when I can miss church without penalty; or when a television has become an idol in the living room?  Rather than convenient and specific rules, I am left with those pesky biblical principles and all that disagreement.

Reading through 1 Thessalonians, for example, finds nebulous statements like “not pleasing men, but God” (2:4), “walk worthy of God” (2:12), “stand fast in the Lord” (3:8), “this is the will of God, even your sanctification” (4:4), “for God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness” (4:7).  This is so typical of New Testament epistles.  But I find that almost all Christians read the same verses and yet apply them differently (sometimes very differently) than I.  Maybe I should also praise the Lord for how much unity there is in the faith among believers who have read these same statements!  Yet I think there are good reasons why the New Testament doesn’t read like the Old, and why it is grace rather than law.

The New Testament does give us a divinely revealed pattern for living.  Two thousand years of Christian testimony speak to that.  Yet we find in our day a growing disparity over what is proper application from the New Testament to the Christian life and what is not.  The following are some reasons I think we must make application of Christian doctrine to our lives in whatever time and place we happen to live.  In other words, why doesn’t our New Testament give us more specifics for Christian living?

It would be “legalistic”

I must first include this caveat.  I believe that the term “legalism” ought to be reserved for a system of belief where one earns or keeps salvation by works.  If that is true, I don’t know of any fundamentalist who is legalistic.  However, that is not how the term is used today.  Today it means anyone who has rules that are too harsh. But this was my point about the comparison of the Old Testament and the New.  Living under the Mosaic economy was, in this sense, very legalistic, not only because its rules were often harsh, but because it took little thought.  All one had to know is the list of rules.  Keep it and you won’t get stoned.

There are many believers in the age of grace who won’t take the time to extract principles for living from the New Testament.  They are only looking for black and white statements.  When they appeal to “chapter and verse” they think they are being deeply biblical but in actuality it’s a cop out.  If it is on their list, fine, but if it is not, no amount of reasoning from principles will convince them otherwise.  So for all their accusing of others, this form of dealing with the New Testament is legalism by today’s definition.

It would be without faith

Paul wrote, “For we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7).  In the context of that chapter, faith is the ability to see truth (specifically about life after death) which the carnal eye cannot see.  In fact, this faith causes us to labor to be acceptable to Him (vs. 9) because we must all stand at the Bema Seat one day and be rewarded for things done or not done in our body (vs. 10).  To walk only by sight (things that pertain to this life) rather than by faith (things that pertain to the next life) is to glory in appearance but not in heart (vs. 12).

The desire of my heart ought to be to live this life in the light of that Bema appearance that I will some day make before The Lord Jesus Christ.  That desire drives me to err on the side of caution when it comes to questionable things.  Indeed, “all things are not expedient” (1 Cor. 6:12) precisely for this reason.  In that context Paul was arguing for going the extra mile in avoiding anything that resembled idolatry.

It would be without the Holy Spirit

Being filled with the Spirit is one of those things we talk about easily but live out in great difficulty.  A believer (who therefore possesses the Holy Spirit) should know the difference between being filled and not being filled, between having victory in the Christian life and not, between displaying wisdom from above and that which is “earthly, sensual, devilish” (Jas. 3:15).  This leading of the Holy Spirit is conditioned by a constant reading of the New Testament.  He brings verses to our mind that describe something from two thousand years ago and applies it right to our situation.  Jesus said, “when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth” (Jn. 16:13).  John would later write that the anointing of the Holy Spirit “teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie” (1 Jn. 2:27).

It would be academic

If the New Testament were merely a list of do’s and don’ts, it could be figured out and lived by a mathematical formula rather than by discernment.  This is the problem with numerology and typology.  All you need is a good calculator to be a good theologian.  Remember The Bible Code by Michael Drosnin which printed out the whole Hebrew Bible like a giant Scrabble board and then, by computer, found a string of letters connected vertically or horizontally thus showing any modern subject in the Bible?  The Koran is nothing but a list of sayings and commands (arranged from the longest to the shortest) with no other story line.  It takes no faith to read it and do it, just rote memory.

If the New Testament were given in such an arrangement, just a list of commands, we would be no better than a cult.  But Christianity takes the wisdom of years and the meekness of wisdom to live.  Those that are “unlearned and unstable” wrestle the Scriptures “to their own destruction” (2 Pet. 3:16) rather than applying them to their own salvation.

It would be without instructors

What is the process of discipleship and learning if not imparting principles from one who is learned to one who is unlearned?  “Let him that is [being] taught in the word communicate unto him that teaching in all good things” (Gal. 6:6).  Paul wrote, “I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I warn you.  For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers” (1 Cor. 4:14-15).  Anyone can be “shamed” into learning by memorizing lists, but it takes a fatherly figure to “warn” one of latent truth.  The process of education, of teaching, is to build a mechanism for discovering truth that at one time was not so obvious.  It takes line upon line and precept upon precept, here a little and there a little (Isa. 28:13).

How many of us learned Biblical principles from a Sunday School teacher or a youth pastor or just a Christian friend who spent time with us inculcating things into our minds and answering questions about what appeared to be contradictions?  Our Lord’s commission is for us to be “teaching them to observe” the things that are not easily observed.

It would be without covenant

In fact, it would be without doctrinal statement at all!  If we did not have to interpret and apply the Scriptures, if they were already spelled out in organized statements, no believers would have seen the need to formulate a confession of faith.  Church covenants have been those things which contain applications for Christian living which the local body of Christ feels convicted it must live by.  This is an honest way of letting newcomers know how that church has applied the Scriptures to questionable things.  Perhaps the lack of church covenants in our day is a tell-tale sign of our unwillingness to make applications from Scripture about specific things.

When young William Carey first went to Moulton to accept the pastorate of the small congregation of around twenty people, he was appalled at the slack attitude toward the church services and the non-use of the church covenant.  Rather than ignoring it he proposed a more pointed covenant that asked the members for greater commitment, not less.  This helped the church form the mind of the great missionary.

And So . . .

No matter how much we want to “live and let live” as brothers and sisters in Christ, we cannot stop our own quest for Biblical truth in living.  The Bible is meant to be read, thought about, meditated on, and applied to every situation of life.  Of course it cannot contain a list of every possible sin of every age of man, but it does contain what we need to meet every circumstance of our lives.  “According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue” (2 Pet. 1:3).  It can only do this if it is possible to apply this timeless Book to every human situation, not just giving us a list to memorize, but a story, a history, so factual and true that it is current at all times and in all ways.

“So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom” (Psa. 90:12).

Lord, I esteem thy judgments right,

And all thy statutes just;

Thence I maintain a constant fight

With every flat’ring lust.

Thy precepts often I survey;

I keep thy law in sight,

Through all the business of the day,

To form my actions right.

My heart in midnight silence cries,

“How sweet thy comforts be!”

My thoughts in holy wonder rise,

And bring their thanks to thee.

And when my spirit drinks her fill

At some good word of thine,

Not mighty men that share the spoil

Have joys compar’d to mine.

(Isaac Watts, Psalm 119 part 6)

 

Law and Grace

Law and Grace

by Rick Shrader

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This new book by Dr. Houghton is a long-awaited and welcomed addition to the important issue of law and grace in the believer’s life.  It could as well have been titled, “Law, Gospel, & Grace” because that is the three-fold division Dr. Houghton suggests as a Dispensational solution to the confusion over law and grace, especially when contrasted to the Catholic and Reformed (as well as Lutheran) views.  Whereas Catholics see law and grace as both essential to salvation, Reformed see the moral part of the Mosaic Law continuing, and Lutherans see the law as a present guide to believers, Dispensationalists who distinguish carefully between Israel (law) and the church (grace), believe that the whole law is done away and yet still do not see grace as lawlessness.

Houghton’s great addition to the discussion is to see Gospel and Grace as distinct in the life of the believer.  The law only condemns and shows the sinfulness of man.  Gospel offers pardon and righteousness totally apart from the law.  Grace is a new guide for the believer’s life which makes demands upon the believer (while at the same time securing his eternal salvation) motivated by love and gratitude, and thus fulfills and surpasses the righteousness of the law.

“I believe significant problems surface if we make only two distinctions.  If the categories of Law and Gospel are the only ones recognized, how does one describe the believer’s obligation to live a life of obedience to God?  After all, we have already recognized that God’s law makes demands, while the gospel does not.  Then how should we explain why the New Testament makes demands of believers today?  If these demands cannot rightly be called Gospel, then what are they?” (p. 11).

 

 

The Christian and Amusements

The Christian and Amusements

by Rick Shrader

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Biederworlf was a well-know Presbyterian fundamentalist at the turn of the century.  He once headed the Winona Lake Bible Conference (1922) and taught at Winona Lake School of Theology (1922-33).  A study like this from a generation gone by (1907) is always a cultural reminder of how much the church has changed.  His three subjects are dancing, card-playing, and theater attendance.  Can you imagine the antipathy such preaching would create among Christians today?  But read his reasons before you judge.

 

A Response from No-Man’s Land

A Response from No-Man’s Land

by Rick Shrader

This article appeared in the September/October 2001 issue (Vol. 10, No. 5) of The Baptist Preacher.  The original article is found in the September 2001 issue (Vol. 8 No. 9) of Aletheia under the title “Is There An Alternative Point Of View?  (To The Traditional vs Progressive Debate)”.

An ancient saint once said, “It is equally wrong and stupid to censure what is commendable, and to commend what is censurable.”1 G.K. Chesterton once argued against a false premise by stating, “It was not two ways of finding the same truth; it was an untruthful way of pretending that there are two truths.”2 That is what I often think after hearing or reading comparisons of today’s ministry philosophies.

Should we be traditional or progressive in our ministry?  Are these two ways of approaching “how we do church” mutually exclusive, two sides of the same coin, or are they even choices at all when trying to be biblical in church ministry?  I think we have become, like the world around us, champions of the definition!  That is, we spend more time arguing to make the definitions of those buzz words fit what we already do, than evaluating our ministry in light of Scripture and changing to fit it.

None of us wants to be seen as anti-traditional because we realize we have an historical faith that is filled with traditional teaching.  Yet none of us wants to be seen as non-progressive because that would mean we are not visionary and up-to-date with today’s culture.  So it seems that good people from both points of view go out of their way to convince us that they are really both.

On the one hand

To be “traditional” ought to mean that we realize the value of our history, a history that is rooted in the historical person and work of Christ.  Christians are still doing what Christians have always been doing:  praying constantly, studying an old book, singing scriptural songs, witnessing of the resurrection of Christ.  It has not historically included unswerving loyalty to one Bible translation, nor only one expression of modesty as opposed to others just as modest. Those things are more ritual than traditional and, as James Draper wrote, “There is nothing wrong with ritual as long as we understand that ritual is like a telescope—not something to look at, but something to look through.”3

Regardless of its difficulties, I am more inclined to be called a traditionalist today than a “progressive.”  It seems to me that those who have misused the definition of “traditional,” have done so out of a positive desire to honor Christ and a willingness to be identified, not with the world but with Him.  I can live with that and argue with these fellow believers about definitions.

On the other hand

To be “progressive” ought to mean that we see clearly where a lost culture is going and we take the steps outlined in Scripture to speak to it regardless of the consequences.  That would be truly progressive in the biblical sense.  Though I believe most progressives truly love souls and desire to see them saved, many, I am afraid, simply do what the Apostle John warns us about apostates:  They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world hears them. (1 Jn 4:5).  To do such a thing is to love the world and its praises more than the praise of God.  Much of today’s “progressiveness” becomes simply worldliness.  It is not, like its “traditional” counterpart, willing to be despised by the world.  In fact, many “progressives” see that as an error to be avoided at all costs even though it is the clear biblical teaching such as when Peter writes, If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the Spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you:  on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified (1 Pet 4:14).  Such an approach wins us to the world, but is misguided at winning the world to Christ.

A Dilemma

It is not the purpose of this article to simply criticize the traditional and the progressive approaches, though, as I have stated, I believe they both have their faults.  I do not question the evangelistic sincerity of either.  Nor do I doubt that spokesmen for either approach could produce verses to support their point of view.  I do believe, however that too often we read our perspective into the Bible, seeing wording that supports our preconceived ideas and thus merely confirm what we already think.  We all know this is a fatal flaw of anyone’s Bible study, including, of course, mine.

In my own circle of Christian friends, many of whom are ministers and instructors, I have, for a number of years, been left in “no-man’s-land” when it comes to whole-heartedly supporting either of these two sides.  I have felt that neither is what I read clearly in the Scripture, nor what I see is the need of the lost world.  On numerous occasions I have been unable to say “Shibboleth” (see Judges 12:6) as was requested of me in order to have the blessing of participation in either side.  This was all of God, at least for my account.  It drove me back to the Scripture for my help and my foundation (aren’t you glad I didn’t use the tired misnomer “vision” at that place?).

I think sometimes we have to lose any hope in man’s blessing, which all of us by nature wants, in order to find help solely in God.  It is my own opinion that far too many Christian leaders are desperately desiring far too much approval by their peers.  But the Apostle admonishes,  For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise. (2 Cor 10:12).

An Alternative

From the Gospels to the book of Acts and the Epistles to the church letters of Revelation, I find an overwhelming call in the Scripture for sacrifice:  sacrifice of our wills, our life’s possessions, things, and even our own life; sacrifice to the point of danger to the body whether by harm or ridicule; sacrifice of the praise of men in this life for the praise of our Savior in the next life.  This is biblical patience.  We are called to give of ourselves in this life; to wait for our rewards; to live an inward life of contentment though the outward man is perishing day by day.

We are living sacrifices, having no ability of our own toward our outcome.  We are stewards of God, entrusted with divine instruction for the household of God.  We are heralds of the gospel, having no right to embellish or bargain with the message from the King.  We are earthen vessels, made to be broken and disposed.  We are priests, offering up spiritual sacrifices to God.  We are sheep and branches and lively stones and a host of other analogies that make us totally dependent on the Lord for any usefulness we may have.

Personally, I have not found this type of thinking in services where participants shout, wave hankies or black Bibles and brag about how tough they are; nor have I found it in services of loud, unsettling music accompanied by casualness, shallowness and bragging about how accepting of everything they are.  Rather, Let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: for our God is a consuming fire (Heb 12:28-29).

A Biblical Model

This “sacrificial” model of New Testament ministry is seen in virtually all Bible writers.  One of my favorite passages is Second Corinthians, especially from chapter 3 to chapter 6.  Paul’s own ministry is put forth as an example against the false apostles who “commend themselves.”  Paul, on the other hand, is always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body (4:10).  He is an “earthen vessel” (4:7); bearing the “light affliction” (4:17) of this life; ready to be “absent from the body” and “present with the Lord” (5:8); an “ambassador for Christ” (5:20) who proclaims a message of reconciliation of the sinner before a holy God.

This ministry must not be “blamed,” Paul says in chapter 6.  Therefore, in order not to “give offense in any thing” and to “approve ourselves as the ministers of God,” we must enter into a three-fold approach to a sacrificial ministry.  I say “three-fold” due to the various cases of the prepositions used in verses 4-10.4

I am proposing that we are sacrificial servants . . .

In Propitiatory Relationships

The believer finds himself in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, etc.  Paul was the example of evangelism that often resulted in antipathy with the world.  I call these “propitiatory” because the sinner is taking out his anger at our Lord through the believers.  Just as sinners crucified Jesus because His perfect life aggravated their sinful soul, so His servants are to speak of Him to sinners and enter into the same persecutions brought on by their guilty consciences.

Is this not the “fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable to His death?”  Yes!  And it is this that brings to our evangelism the “power of His resurrection” (Phil 3:10).  It is when Jesus is lifted up in the way of a cross, that all men are drawn to Him.  The evangelist must be willing to enter this frame of mind if he is to minister.  Suffering for our Lord is primarily to be rejected and resisted, even hurt, by the sinner for Christ’s sake.  Paul knew this fellowship well.  He also knew the power of such preaching.

By Passive Responses

How did our Lord and His Apostles respond in such circumstances?  By pureness, by longsuffering, by kindness, etc.  Peter says of our Lord, Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth:  Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judges righteously (1 Pet 2:22-23).  Should those who represent Him respond any differently?

The effectiveness of our witness does not come through human instincts.  We are preservationists by human nature.  We would protect, strike back and defend ourselves when others attack us.  But the true minister does not because his Lord did not.  If the kernel of wheat dies, it will produce more wheat than can be imagined!

As Perceived Realities

How was Paul perceived by those who persecuted him compared to what Paul really was?  As unknown, yet well-known; as dying, and behold we live; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing, etc. Just as sinners perceived Jesus to be different than what He actually was, so His servants are to be perceived differently by the world than what they really are in Christ.

Aren’t people more concerned with how they are perceived by others than with anything?  That is why true evangelism is so difficult.  It truly takes a dying to self, a willingness to be seen in a bad light in order to be effective.  The believer knows, of course, the way God really sees him and is content.

And So . . .

The Corinthians were poor evangelists because their own selfishness restricted the power of their witness (vss 11-13).  They could not bring themselves to such sacrificial action.  They were unequally yoked to the world (vss 14-16) to the point that God Himself could not be as a Father to them (vs 18).

It is spiritual near-sightedness to preserve our image before the world and lose them, rather than concede our image in order to win them.

Notes:
1. Gorgias, “The Encomium on Helen,”  Orations: Homer To Mckinley, Vol I (New York: Collier, 1902) 49.
2. G.K. Chesterton, St. Thomas Aquinas (New York: Image Books, 1956) 93.
3. James Draper, Jr., Colossians: A Portrait of Christ (Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1982) 8.
4. All Greek texts agree in the prepositions used.  The A.V. does the best job of dividing the en into locative and instrumental cases in vss 4-7.  Other versions follow the word for word translation of en being “in” (usually taken as locative) where the A.V. recognizes how en can be instrumental as well.  Lenski says, “This en differs from the en found with the preceding plurals which = ‘in the midst of’ the experience of tribulations, etc.  The present eight en = ‘in connection with’ purity, etc.”

 

Stand for the Truth

Stand for the Truth

by Rick Shrader

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This Sword & Trowel booklet is a 2009 reprint from a 1996 edition.  Masters calls for a Biblical separation from apostasy and from worldliness.  He uses the term “evangelical” to refer to those who are truly saved; have had an evangelical conversion experience.  He takes sharp issue with those who have called Roman Catholics ‘brethren,” specifically naming Charles Colson and J.I. Packer for their participation in the Evangelicals and Catholics Together document as well as John Stott for his participation in The Nottingham Statement, which also named all Catholics as evangelical brethren.  The bulk of the book is given to answering arguments made against Biblical separation including why Jesus ate with sinners and whether separation is judging.  I also appreciated his defense of Secondary Separation because not many today are willing to delve into that controversial area.  He gives four ways in which “non-separators” put their people in danger by not separating from brethren who walk disorderly.  You can order the booklet at:   www.TabernacleBookshop.org