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Sin / World / Evil Archives ~ Aletheia Baptist Ministries Skip to main content

Depravity

Depravity

by Rick Shrader

“Lust is impure because it is unbelief, and therefore it is to be shunned.  No sacrifice is too great if it enables us to conquer a lust which cuts us off from Jesus.  Both eye and hand are less than Christ, and when they are used as the instruments of lust and hinder the whole body from the purity of discipleship, they must be sacrificed for the sake of him.  The gains of lust are trivial compared with the loss it brings—you forfeit your body eternally for the momentary pleasure of eye or hand. When you have made your eye the instrument of impurity, you cannot see God with it.”

Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, p. 132.

 

Transformed by His Glory

Transformed by His Glory

by Rick Shrader

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This is a study by Charles Ryrie of how the believer understands and lives in the light of God’s glory.  In the process Ryrie takes the reader through a number of biblical texts and, in his own unique style, draws his points and material from the text.  He begins with major texts of the Old Testament, especially Moses, and works up to the New Testament in passages such as 2 Corinthians 4, Ephesians 4, and Romans 5 and 8.  Ryrie is always supportive of the local church and its stewardship before God.  This is not a long theological read, but is pointed enough to encourage the believer in his walk with God.

 

The Real Hate Crime

The Real Hate Crime

by Rick Shrader

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Our world is full of  contradictions.  We all see them and do them to some degree.  What was once called free love was no more than unrestrained lust.  What is called pro-choice is really a horrid restriction on another person’s chance to live.  What one person insists is his right to marry the same sex prohibits another person’s right to free enterprise.  What some athletes claim is their right to protest becomes a contradictory protest against the thing that gives them the right to protest.  A person wants the right to do as he pleases but does not want the consequences that come with what he pleases to do.  A man will pick up a gun and shoot people and it’s the gun’s fault so we want to ban it, but thousands of people die each year of drugs and alcohol and it’s never the substance’s fault, in fact, we want to legalize it.  Even as a country we want to take and take without giving and expect all things to come out even.

Yet these things that are obviously large contradictions have their likenesses in each of us in smaller contradictions.  That is why Jesus said that lust is the same thing as adultery (Matt. 5:28), and John said hate is the same thing as murder (1 John 3:15), and Paul said covetousness is the same thing as idolatry (Eph. 5:5), and James said we pray to a holy God to give us the things that can be consumed on our own sinful lusts (Jas. 4:2).  Adam’s sin is in all of us, whether in large quantity or small.

All of these things are opposite of Who God is.  “God is light and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5).  “For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place” (Isa. 57:15).  “And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory” (Isa. 6:3).  But God has also said, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD” (Isa. 55:8).  God desires this, “Ye that love the LORD, hate evil” (Psa. 97:10).  Yet we find that outside of Christ we do not love the Lord nor do we hate evil, and even in Christ we continue to struggle with the command to “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world” (John 2:15).

The beginning

Where did it all begin?  Where did we stop loving righteousness?  How can the apostle Paul conclude of the whole human race that “There is none righteous, no, not one: there is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.  They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.” (Rom. 3:10)?  It began in two places that we know well.  It began first in the heavens with the anointed cherub Lucifer:  “Thou wast perfect in thy ways from the day that thou wast created, till iniquity was found in thee” (Ezek. 28:15).  Isaiah seems to indicate that Lucifer was jealous of God’s holiness and said, “I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High” (Isa. 14:14).  But, secondly, sin began in the garden of Eden when Adam and Eve succumbed to Satan’s bidding and disobeyed God with him.  “And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked” (Gen. 3:7).  Paul said, “But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ” (2 Cor. 11:3).

Adam and Eve’s sin has been passed on to all their posterity through birth.  Death is the proof.  “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Rom. 5:12).  An antipathy was born in Adam’s sin, an antipathy displayed in the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman.  God said to the serpent,  “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, between thy seed and her seed” (Gen. 3:15).  All of Adam’s posterity are born in sin and are spiritually the seed of disobedience, or of the serpent.  “Ye are of your father  the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do” (John 8:44).  “In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil” (1 John 3:10).  The only way out of this lineage is to be born again.  “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.  Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again” (John 3:6-7).

The first fruits

We find the first overt fruits of Adam and Eve’s sin in their child, Cain as Moses described it in Genesis 4. God gave Cain and Abel instructions on how to approach Him.  Abel was righteous in his approach as the book of Hebrews records, “Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts” (Heb. 11:4).  It seems reasonable to conclude that Abel’s offering included blood sacrifice which had been pictured before when God made animal clothing for his parents Adam and Eve.  But Moses records that God did not accept Cain’s offering because, though it was from honest and hard work, it was not a blood offering.  “And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell . . . . And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him” (Gen. 4:5, 8).

Now we are closer to the real hate crime.  This selfish murder by Cain is truly amazing.  There were only four people on the whole earth and Cain killed one of them, a fourth of the population (Adam and Eve had other children but not at this time, Gen. 5:4)!  Though sin had entered God’s creation, it had not fallen to the low ebb that it quickly would in Noah’s day.  Abel had the whole world to be a hunter and Cain had the whole world to cultivate.  Even in a sinful world things could hardly be better.  Because of their different professions they would not even get in one another’s way.  But God had come to them both and made a request and Cain was thereby embarrassed due to his own disobedience.

The lack of love

The apostle John gives a helpful account of this first murder in 1 John 3:11-13, “For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.  Not as Cain, who was of that wicked one, and slew his brother.  And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother’s righteous.  Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you.”

Cain did not love his brother, he hated him.  And why?  Because to the sinful soul, righteousness has a way of creating envy, strife, and hate.  Righteousness cannot be obtained by the sinful soul itself.  It needs shed blood to please God.  “Without shedding of blood is no remission” (Heb. 9:22).  So the sinner is left with himself.  He is left with the good work from his creative hand but he is told that this is not acceptable with a righteous God.  It is for this exact reason that John tells us that Cain killed Abel.  He was envious of Abel, but his fallen countenance showed that he was angry, even with God, that he was not accepted.

Sinners reject the agape love of God for this same reason.  They could accept a philos love from God easier.  Philos is more of a give-and-take kind of love, a friendship.  But agape is an all-giving love.  It asks nothing in return.  If God had loved us with a philos kind of love, it would bolster our ego because we would have something to add to our own acceptance.  But when God loves us with an agape kind of love, it says to us that we have nothing good enough to give in return that would add any merit.  God doesn’t need our righteousness in order to love us or save us.  Agape says to us that we are sinners through and through and our sacrifices are not acceptable with God.  The sinner hates this as Cain hated Abel.  The love that faith produces is what overcomes this dilemma.  Had Cain had the faith of Abel, he would have come God’s way.  “If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted?” (Gen. 4:7).  Sinners can only come to God by the righteousness of Christ, by His shed blood and His death, burial, and resurrection.  “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy cross I cling,” wrote Augustus Toplady.  We see in Cain the hatred for God’s standard of righteousness.

The cross

Though the Roman cross of crucifixion was a horrible and ugly thing, that in itself does not cause sinners to hate it.  In fact, the cross has become an ornament to be worn in a stylish way.  To believers it may have a unique meaning, but to the world the cross itself brings no shame or embarrassment.  Even in many religious circles, the cross only signifies an example of giving and sacrifice that the sinner can also fulfill.  That is basic liberal theology.  But if the cross stands for the demands of a holy God which sinners cannot fulfill, it is accused of being hateful.  Why?  Because it is also telling the sinner that he cannot save himself, that his self-made sacrifice is unacceptable to God.  Isn’t it ironic how the sinner who is not righteous is always angry at God for being righteous!

The rise of the “hate crime” in America has created the real possibility that Christianity itself will be accused of being hateful and therefore being a Christian could become a hate crime.  In the post-Christian, post-modern era, to tell someone that he/she is wrong, bad, or inferior becomes hateful.  You are setting yourself up as superior and saying that the other person is inferior.  If you say that homosexuality is wrong you have become hateful because you have said that such a person does not have the ability to know right and wrong.  So thinks the post-modern person.

Christianity says that people are sinners.  The ten commandments condemn peoples’ actions.  Anything religious in government has become a violation of the separation of church and state.  Sinners, like Cain, do not want to be told that they are not accepted with God.  They accomplish this by removing all reminders of what God has actually said.  Any reminder of their sin becomes hate.

The real hate crime

So what is the real hate that is in the world?  The world accuses Christians of being hateful.  But do Christians hate sinners because they preach about their sin?  It makes no sense.  If that were the case, the Christian would cease with evangelism and let the sinner go to hell without hope.  The mother that insists the child take the medicine even when the child kicks and screams is the mother who loves, not hates.  Evangelism is no easy task.  The social gospel is much easier because it promotes the sinner’s good works and soothes his conscience.  The Christian is fully aware that the sinner doesn’t want to hear about his sin.  Neither did he before he was converted.  But the Christian knows from experience that repenting of sin and believing in Christ changes everything.  It takes away the hate of Cain for the believing brother and grants acceptance with God.  The world is seen as a different place.

The real hate crime is the age-old hate for God’s standard of righteousness.  When sinners are told that their own righteousness is not acceptable with God, their countenance falls and they turn their anger toward what is condemning them.  It has ever been so.  Religions of the world are acceptable to the sinner because they teach he can work enough to be accepted by God.  Suicide bombers and mass murderers can kill in the name of Islam and yet Islam is an acceptable religion to the world.  Why?  Because it does not condemn the sinner.  It provides a way for his good works to be acceptable with God.  Catholicism is acceptable because it forms a partnership with the sinner’s good works and promotes his goodness.  Mormonism is acceptable because it provides multiple avenues to work one’s way to the top of the temple and the celestial reward.

But real Christianity is not acceptable.  It condemns the sinner.  It preaches repentance and the need of a Savior.  There is no redemption in a works religion.  All righteousness comes from within the sinner himself.  But Christianity alone provides a Redeemer, a Substitute Who was punished on behalf of the sinner and in his place.  It preaches the need of believing, that is, of applying the righteousness of Jesus Christ in one’s place.  “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor. 5:21).

And so . . .

Things will not get better.  Jesus said that in the end times, “because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold” (Matt. 24:12).  Paul told Timothy,  “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Tim. 3:12).  America has used up its moral capital and the Christian understanding of sin has waned away.  For a time the rule of law was seen as necessary because of man’s sinful nature.  Punishment was right because it was consistent with the crime.  But that was when human beings could take an honest look at themselves and see their needy condition in light of a holy God.  For a time public prayer was acceptable and thought necessary because of the need of God’s intervention in our sinful lives.  America was blessed and a blessing to the world because of our belief in the gospel, “giving of our sons to spread the message glorious, and giving of our wealth to speed them on their way.”  But times have changed.  God has no grandchildren.  The Christianity of our forebears is gone.

We are now like Cain.  We hate those things that tell us “no.”  We hate those people who preach repentance.  We hate those things that limit our desires.  We hate a religion that tells us we cannot save ourselves, that we must have redemption through Christ’s blood.  It is time for the church of Jesus Christ to understand the world in which it lives.  We cannot make a compromise with it in an attempt to win it.  The compromise with good works is a final loss.  We must let the Holy Spirit use the Word of God to bring true conviction of sin and rejoicing in Christ.  We must learn again how to witness and preach with the Holy Spirit’s power even in times of opposition.  We must learn again how to walk with God.  This is the hope for the church, for our children and grandchildren.

 

Tell me the old, old story of unseen things above,

Of Jesus and His glory, of Jesus and His love.

Tell me the story simply, as to a little child,

For I am weak and weary, and helpless and defiled.

 

Tell me the story slowly, that I may take it in—

That wonderful redemption, God’s remedy for sin.

Tell me the story often, for I forget so soon;

The “early dew” of morning has passed away at noon.

 

Tell me the story softly, with earnest tones and grave;

Remember, I’m the sinner whom Jesus came to save.

Tell me the story always, if you would really be, in any time of trouble a comforter to me.

 

Tell me the old, old story,

Tell me the old, old story,

Tell me the old, old story

Of Jesus and His love.

 

 

Natural Disasters

Natural Disasters

by Rick Shrader

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A number of interesting natural and unnatural things have happened in the last few days.  We have seen an amazing solar eclipse which happens only a couple times in most people’s life time.  Some people go too far on one side making such an eclipse a biblical sign from God, and others go too far the other way almost worshiping the sun itself.  We’ve also seen moral disasters involving riots over racism or supposed transgender issues.  One person was actually threatened with jail time if a supposed transgender person was offended too much.  We’ve also been cautioned by a mad man in North Korea threatening the United States and other countries around him with his nuclear weapons which he treats as toys to be thrown around in his temper tantrums.

The most notable occurrence, however, is the natural disaster known as hurricane Harvey.  We all have been glued to television images of the worst flooding in our life time in an American city and the sickening scenes of people losing their homes and possessions.  It is only by the quick response of authorities and neighbors that there has not been more loss of life.  Our church has prayed for sister churches, extended family, and people who are suffering irreplaceable loss.  Forty or fifty inches of rain is just incomprehensible to us until we actually see the result.  The hurricane itself, with its destructive wind, doesn’t seem nearly as tragic as the water brought on shore during and after the storm.  It is not the first hurricane to bring tragic destruction, and it won’t be the last.  There are other places in the world which are hit more frequently than our shores and usually with greater damage.

So what are we to think of such natural disasters?  Like other phenomena, there seems to be as many opinions and responses as there are people involved.  Christians have a truer perspective, however, and even though we may differ among ourselves as to what God is doing, we all agree that God is in control and these things are not a surprise to Him.  It is good for us to think upon His works during times like this, and to be ready to give an answer of the hope that is in us to people who question why a good God would allow such a thing to happen.  It is to that purpose that I attempt to answer a few questions.

Providence

We speak of the providence of God as the outworking of His will throughout the ages.  We may be speaking of human history and God’s control over the affairs of men or we may be speaking of God’s control over the creation itself.  Daniel wrote, “He changeth the times and seasons: he removeth kings and he setteth up kings” (Dan. 2:21).  Asaph the psalmist wrote, “For promotion cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south.  But God is the judge: he putteth down one, and setteth up another” (Psa. 75:6-7).  Of the elements of nature, God answered Job and said, “Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth?  Declare, if thou hast understanding. . . Or who shut up the sea with doors, when it brake forth, as if it had issued out of the womb?  When I made the cloud the ferment thereof, and thick darkness a swaddlingband for it, and brake up for it my decreed place, and set bars and doors, and said, Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further: and here shall thy proud waves be stayed?” (Job 38:4-11).

The New Testament declares that Jesus Christ Himself upholds everything in the created world, “Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power” (Heb. 1:2); “And he is before all things and by him all things consist” (Col. 1:17).  These statements coincide with the fact that Jesus Christ is the One who created all things in the beginning, “All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3); “For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him” (Col. 1:16).

So when we talk of God’s providence controlling all the actions and activities in the world, we realize that no storm nor flood, no hurricane nor tornado, no draught nor freeze, no birth nor death, happens without His full knowledge and control.  The apostle Paul exclaimed, “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!” (Rom. 11:33).  And Abraham, begging God to spare Sodom, acquiesced and said, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen. 25:18).  In a fallen, broken world only God can know which is the best way for all things to happen.  Certainly, we cannot understand it nor comprehend the necessity for one thing or another, but we can be sure that God does.  And since we know that in the end we will praise Him forever for what He has done, we should also praise Him now as those things are working out in our own time.

Judgment

There have been cataclysmic judgments of God throughout history.  The dispensations are mostly divided by such judgments.  The fall of man in the garden caused God’s judgment to be placed on all of creation from man and beast to earth and soil.  The flood of Noah’s day was a judgment of God by water that destroyed the world so that God could start again, “And the Lord said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them” (Gen. 6:7).  The tower of Babel, the Babylonian captivity, the tribulation period, are all judgments of God due to man’s sin and rebellion against His will.

Yet the question remains as to whether something like hurricane Harvey is a judgment of God for some wickedness of man.  Since nothing happens in this world without His knowledge and control, wouldn’t we say that such is the case?  This was the rhetorical question Jesus put to His listeners in Luke 13:1-5, “Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower of Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem?”  He asked the same concerning many Galileans whom Pilate slaughtered in the temple, were they “sinners above all the Galileans, because they suffered such things?”  But the surprising answer of our Lord was, “Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.”  We are all sinners and we all deserve judgment from God, and in a far worse fashion than these.

In the days of prophets and miracles, God often did bring judgment immediately upon sinners.  Korah and his followers perished when God opened up the earth and they all “went down alive into the pit, and the earth closed upon them: and they perished from among the congregation” (Num. 16:33).  But the age of grace is a different age.  God will judge its sin at the end of the age.  If in this age God, in His sovereignty, chose to punish sin at a particular time and in a particular way, we would not know it because it would not be in a miraculous form but in a more natural way.  We are better off to remember that all of human history is mixed with God’s judgment on Adam and Eve’s posterity as well as with God’s goodness.  There would be no storms nor sickness nor death if our Edenic parents had not disobeyed God.  There would have been no hurricane Harvey, nor flood, nor personal loss.  There would not have been a Holocaust, a Columbine, a 9-11, nor any other tragedy if sin had not entered the world in the garden.  So we cannot pronounce any such tragedy as a particular judgment of God, but at the same time we can also pronounce all tragedies a result of man’s sin and God’s judgment.  Just as God’s rain falls on the just and the unjust, so does His curse.

Tragedy

Something further can be said about tragedies that come upon us all due to sin that entered our world.  We all suffer them at one time or another.  If one person dies in 9-11 or in hurricane Harvey, they may get more recognition than someone who dies in a car accident due to a drunk driver on a lonely country road.  But the tragedy is no less for either grieving family.  I have stood at the bedside of faithful saints who were stricken by sudden and terrible diseases, and I have held the hands of grief stricken parents at the grave side of a child who died prematurely.  To the suffering ones, the size of the disaster or the notoriety which it brings matter little.

Yet remember this, that since we live in this broken world, and since evil comes upon us all, so does the constant opportunity to serve and help our fellow man and especially our brothers and sisters in Christ.  It is precisely because of tragedy that we have reason and opportunity to serve.  Consider how bitterness and differences are immediately put aside during tragedies such as hurricane Harvey.  There is an imago dei in each of us that causes us to help one another.  It is the rainbow that appears during the storm.  It is the testimony of God within His human creature that cries out  to its Creator in praise and thankfulness at times of tragedy.  This is the testimony of God within the sinner also that causes him to seek his Creator.  Ironically, tragedies are also opportunities for witness.  This is truly the silver lining to the cloud that covers us all.

Church

The church is the body of Christ.  We usually recognize it in two forms.  This age of grace has contained the universal church, i.e., all of those who have truly placed their faith and trust in Jesus Christ.  They were placed into that body by the baptism of the Holy Spirit at the moment of their conversion and are kept there by the power of God through the blood of Jesus Christ.  We have an obligation to love a brother or sister “in Christ.”  The other usage of the word describes the local church in a given locality.  Of the 115 times that ekklesia (“church”) appears in the New Testament, well over 100 of those refer to local churches.  A believer’s obligation is much more to the local church for serving, worshiping, praying, helping, than to the universal church.  During tragedies we see all denominations, groups, fellowships, and missions, reaching out to their constituencies and trying to provide help in any way they can.

The New Testament does not give the local church a mandate for a social gospel to the world.  That may sound harsh but it is not.  The social or political gospel is not the Scriptural business of the local church.  It is a difficult thing as a pastor to hold that distinction in a day when the world looks at the church as a service organization for the community.  What do they know about the gospel?  But knowing this does not prohibit a local church from doing what it wants to do to help its fellow man.  As we have said, it is an opportunity for witness or service.  Yet that is different than seeing it as a New Testament mandate.  I often give the homeless man on the corner some change, but that does not mean that I must.

I believe it is a wonderful thing for a church to open its doors for victims during a tragedy.  Many church buildings are designated centers for disaster relief.  Many local churches are polling places for the communities.  These things come from a love of our fellow man and from that innate desire to help anyone made in God’s image.  At the same time we should guard the integrity of the local church for the worship of the saints and for the preaching of the gospel, asking God to help us keep that balance that we see in His Word.

Prayer

There was a small plaque above my grandfather’s rocking chair that read, “Prayer Changes Things.”  James said it, “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (Jas. 5:16).  Peter quoted the Psalmist, “For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers” (1 Pet. 3:12).  We never hear the word “prayer” spoken more than in times of tragedy.  I’m sure that many people use the word but never practice it.  But believers do and they know that God in heaven hears and answers prayers.

In Revelation chapter 8, in the middle of the tribulation period, prayers are being offered to God by those suffering on the earth.  John sees an angel offer incense from that heavenly altar “with the prayers of all saints” . . . And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel’s hand.  And the angel took the censer, and filled it with fire of the altar, and cast it into the earth: and there were voices, and thundering, and lightnings, and an earthquake” (Rev. 8:3-5).  This is a heavenly picture (similar to Psalm 18:6-10) that shows how our prayers from earth cause God to act from heaven.  And things change!

Prayer is the one thing every believer can do during a tragedy and know that what he/she is doing is making a real difference.  Our church has mighty prayer warriors.  Grandmas and grandpas may not be able to go to south Texas and help flood victims, but they cause mighty things to be done by their prayers.  A blessing of this modern age is the ease and speed with which information can be shared and prayers can begin.  We all can do better at organizing such prayers, and we all could do better at actually being doers of the Word and not hearers only.  Somewhere and at sometime each of us should be in our “prayer closet” speaking to God.  Though it is good to enlist as many prayers as possible, remember that it is the effectual fervent prayer of a (single) righteous man (or woman) that avails much.  Give me one grandma who walks with God and actually prays, than a hundred who post it on their refrigerator.

My favorite John Bunyan book is titled, “Advice to Sufferers.”  Since Bunyan spent much time in and out of prison for his faith, he knew something of suffering.  In this book he uses 1 Peter 4:19 as his key verse.  “Wherefore, let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator.”  Bunyan reminds the reader that Peter didn’t use the description of God as loving, sympathetic, comforting, etc., and all of those are true of Him.  But rather we go to a God Who is the Creator.  He made heaven and earth and they are His to do with as He will.  A Creator can make or destroy, He can begin a thing or end a thing, He can punish and bring judgment, and He can reward and bring blessing.  Since He is ready to hear us and desires to answer our prayers that are asked in His will, why would we not go to such a Creator in times of need?

We can do it ourselves or we can ask God to do it.  Which is more powerful?  C.S. Lewis called this privilege the dignity of causality which God gave to man. However, man spends 90% of his time trying to do it himself, and 10% of his time asking God to do it.  Sure, we should work as though it depends on us, and pray as though it depends on God.  But given the two options, if I only had one to choose, I would choose to cast my cares upon Him because He cares for me, and to be still and know that He is God.

And so . . .

Natural disasters happen in a world of nature that God has created and maintains.  We live in it until we go on to the next life.  In the meantime the earth will groan under the curse and so will we.  But let us not be weary in well doing for we will reap if we faint not.

 

 

America’s Testing

America’s Testing

by Rick Shrader

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In his farewell address George Washington said that a nation is “a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest.”1 More than two hundred years later America’s greatest animosity is to Christianity, and its greatest affection is to profligacy. On the day I sit to write these words, Baltimore is being burned by rioters, the Supreme Court could rule that same-sex marriages become the law of the land, and the President is about to sign an agreement to give the largest state of terror in the world and the greatest threat to Israel, Iran, a green light to nuclear weapons. Space allows me only to mention legalized marijuana, trans-gender rights, terror shootings in public places, licentious college students on Spring break, as well as the growth of radical Islam around the world and in our own country.

America has lived off the moral capital of the last two hundred years and it is about gone. In our churches we often say that God has no grandchildren, meaning that one is not a Christian just because his/her father and mother were Christians. Every individual must make that choice for himself/herself. We are learning that America is not a Christian nation just because our ancestors were Christians. We do not live by laws and morals just because our ancestors did, even though they wrote them into a binding Constitution. Why is this so? Because the Bible is true and declares plainly that human beings are fallen creatures and, without individual regeneration, will surely and resolutely rebel against God and His holiness. Man’s problem is not with culture, but with God as Creator and Owner of this world. D.A. Carson described it this way,

All of the potential of the so-called ‘natural’ world was called into being by God and operates under the authority of the resurrected Christ: all of art, music, administrative gifts, colorful diversity, creative genius. And yet everything is corrupted by sin. Our creative genius may build weapons of destruction, our administrative gifts may become exercises in personal power and self-promotion, our art may become wretchedly ugly and celebrate all that is disjointed, our nationalism easily identifies our own race or vision with the will of God, our democracy is in danger of claiming vox populi, vox Dei [the voice of the people is the voice of God], and our liberalism is tempted to confuse the pursuit of liberty with the pursuit of God—a vision of liberty that, in tragic irony, enslaves us in a new idolatry.2

Although no human band-aid can stop this decay from taking place and only spiritual renewal can even arrest it, laws that recognize the Biblical process can slow it greatly (though once that recognition is gone, the residual effects disappear quickly). However, the American experiment is proof that godly churches and Christian principles, mixed with proper laws, can produce a respite on this slippery slope. We may not be able to return to the same resoluteness of our forefathers but perhaps there can be enough true Christian character, enough moral fortitude, enough disgust from the citizenry, to slow the tide of our own moral decay and destruction.

Professedly, it is my belief as a premillennialist and dispensationalist, that this age of grace in which we live will not get better overall but will continue on a downhill slide until Jesus comes. God alone knows when that time will be. Human nature has a growing bent toward Godlessness, and God has not promised His people an America in every age, or any age. In fact He has promised apostasy. He has assured us that only His coming is what will ultimately heal this sin sick world. That is not defeatist. It is realistic and optimistic. It is the one thing that really gives hope and causes the believer to continue faithful until that Day.

Homosexual marriage in the courts

Today the Supreme Court began hearing arguments in the case known as Obergefell v. Hodges which will determine the legal definition of marriage in our country. The question is whether the states have the right to define (and therefore limit) marriage as only between a man and a woman. Federal district courts have blocked the states from enforcing their laws and have allowed same-sex marriages in spite of the states’ laws. In a surprise, however, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit which oversees four states ruled in favor of the states to define marriage. Now the U.S. Supreme Court is hearing the appeals.

In the majority opinion for the Sixth Circuit, Judge Jeffrey S. Sutton, made a bold and truthful case for traditional marriage. In his blog today, Albert Mohler, Jr. described Sutton’s defense of the states,

He began by noting the speed of the moral revolution that has produced same-sex marriage in many U S. states, mostly by judicial action. “From the vantage point of 2014,” he wrote, “it would now seem, the question is not whether American law will allow gay couples to marry; it is when and how that will happen. That would not have seemed likely as recently as a dozen years ago.”

He continued: “For better, for worse, or for more of the same, marriage has long been a social institution defined by relationships between men and women. So long defined, the tradition is measured in millennia, not centuries or decades. So widely shared, the tradition until recently had been adopted by all governments and major religions of the world.”3

Not only would a Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage contradict Scripture and defy all of human history, it will destroy our Federalism or the rights of states to determine their own rules about such things. In addition, it will continue to bring great pressure upon any citizens who are caught in that middle ground of not wanting to support a homosexual lifestyle by not baking cakes or taking pictures. But it will also find a way to the front door of the church.

We have enjoyed, in our nation’s history, a moral fiber supported by the Christian Scriptures which makes outright immorality, if not illegal, at least forced underground. But we are in a time when such blatant immorality goes on parade. Now the very laws that once protected us from this will force it upon us. Christians can live in such society as they have always had to do (but how unfortunate in America). What a Christian cannot do, however, is condone such activity which God specifically calls sin. It is one thing for a store owner to sell a man who practices homosexuality a cake off the shelves, it is another thing to be asked to condone that sin by catering his wedding.

Obviously a Christian minister can live in a country where same-sex marriages are legal, but he cannot be asked to condone that marriage by forcing him to perform it. We could soon come to that point. And what will we do? We will refuse of course. And then what? Will we lose our tax exemption? Probably. Will we lose proper zoning for our church property? Maybe. Will we be arrested for disobeying the law? Perhaps. So far such laws have stopped outside the church doors and we can hope they will remain there. But when laws are no longer the church’s friend, anything can happen.

Last week I finished a sermon series on Hebrews. The text for my last message was “Marriage is honorable in all, and the bed undefiled” (Heb. 13:4). Actually, this is not just indicative but imperative, “Let marriage be honorable in all” just as the following verse, “Let your conversation be without covetousness.” The rest of verse 4 says, “but whoremongers (lit. “fornicators”) and adulterers God will judge.” That is, when marriage is honorable, all “conversation” is honorable. Even non-married persons keep marriage honorable by keeping themselves pure. But when marriage is not honorable, nothing is honorable and God will judge.

In 1 Cor. 6:9-10, a list of sins is given that, when practiced, show a person is not a believer and will not enter the kingdom of God. That list includes, “adulterers, effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind.” The NKJV has “nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites.” An obvious truth is that these things can’t be things that people are born with, because God does not ban someone from heaven and send them to hell for the way they are physically born. All the things in this long list are things people choose to practice, and are therefore judged by God for making such choices. “Know ye not” that they shall not “inherit the kingdom of God.”

Christians cannot condone such sins regardless of the cost. Let us pray that our Supreme Court will follow history, the Scriptures, and our good constitution.

Lawless rioting in the streets

No Christian should participate in rioting. Rioting is against every principle of Christian doctrine. Those who riot in the name of some religious principle have fooled themselves into thinking that their own sinful bent against their neighbor, against God-ordained law enforcement, against cultural civility, and against Biblical teaching, is somehow justified by the emotion of the moment. Rioting breaks every command for the Christian to be law-abiding, meek, peaceful, humble, loving (Gal. 5:22-23), as well as to accept our circumstance in this world as from God (1 Pet. 2:19-20), and to look rather to our reward in the next life where lies our real citizenship (Phil. 3:20-21).

The Greek word for “riot” is found four times in the New Testament. It is the word asōtia, meaning literally, “without salvation” (a is negative meaning “without,” and sōtia is the root word for “salvation,” as in “soteriology”). In Luke 15:13 the prodigal son wasted his substance in “riotous living.” In Ephesians 5:18 we are admonished not to be drunk with wine “wherein is excess,” asōtia, rioting. In Titus 1:6 a qualification for a pastor is that his children be not “accused of riot.” And in 1 Peter 4:4 believers are encouraged to not run with the old crowd they knew before their salvation, when they participated in “excess of riot,” even though they speak “evil of you.”

In all of these uses of the word, rioting is pictured as a sinful thing for a Christian to do. The very word itself (meaning “without salvation”) describes activity that is foreign to the Christian faith. It would be especially detrimental for a Christian minister to participate in or encourage participation in such activity. Rather than being faithful to his own calling of a more powerful and life-changing message, he has acquiesced to a lower, human groveling with the natural man.

Just today also, John MacArthur placed an article on his blog encouraging families to meet today’s challenges in a Biblical way even though that way is criticized by the world. In that short article he wrote,

In fact, the only taboo these days is holding to the absolute moral standards the Lord instituted in His Word. Lifestyles of promiscuity, debauchery, rebellion, and lawlessness aren’t merely tolerated—they’re celebrated. Selfishness, greed, and dishonesty are accepted and even expected.” . . . . “Far too much of the church’s effort in recent years has been squandered trying to confront anti-family trends, such as abortion and homosexuality, through legislative efforts alone. Reform is no answer for a culture like ours. Redemption is what is needed, and that occurs at the individual, not societal, level. The church needs to get back to the real task to which we are called: evangelizing the lost. Only when multitudes of individuals in our society turn to Christ will society itself experience any significant transformation.” . . . “Part of the problem is that many of the parenting and family programs being labeled “Christian” today are not truly Christian. Some are nothing more than secular behaviorism papered over with a religious veneer—an unholy amalgam of biblical-sounding expressions blended with humanistic psychology.4

The Christian should pray for those in authority that they would do right and follow their God-given responsibility of enforcing law in a lawless world. The riots of today are an eerie reminder of the 60s and fifty years has done little to heal the problem. Secularists and race hustlers may hail this as some kind of victory but another fifty years will go by with no solution if a spiritual answer cannot be found.

Nuclear weapons in the middle East

America should be Israel’s friend and most ardent supporter (Gen. 12:1-3; 1 Cor. 10:32). America has historically understood the unique Biblical connection between the church in this age and Israel’s place in history. Yes, our Jewish friends need Jesus Christ as their Savior or they will be eternally lost like any other sinful human being. But we also know that in the end God will save and rescue Israel and honor those who have honored her (Rom. 11:26-28).

For America, at this point in time, to turn from our support of Israel and allow her most powerful enemy potentially to destroy Israel’s people and land is to put America in opposition to God’s revealed will. Presidents, Secretaries of State, and any other political leaders who cannot see this do not understand the Scriptures, the age of grace, and the second coming of Jesus Christ.

Israel failed at her most important moment in history, the recognition of her very Messiah, Jesus Christ, Who was virgin born in Bethlehem’s manger, lived a sinless life as the God-man, died for the sins of the whole world (and thus became the world’s hope, not just Israel’s), rose bodily from the grave, and is ascended back to the right hand of the Father, “Whom the heavens must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began” (Acts 3:21).

The return of Jesus Christ to the earth for the promised restitution will come suddenly into this world. Jesus will judge the lawless and sinners and will reward the righteous, the ones forgiven through His own blood. This is the Blessed Hope (Titus 2:13) that will alone bring real change to the world. That change can only come to an individual through a true repentance and regeneration.

The Middle East is headed for the battle of Gog and Magog and then Armageddon. Iran is Biblical Persia and will be defeated by God’s miraculous power at a time when she tries to invade and destroy Israel and fails (Ezekiel 38:18-23).   This will be followed by a one-world government, economy and religion set up by a western leader we call antichrist. He will have his way for three and a half years until Jesus Christ returns and destroys him and his followers at a place called Armageddon (Rev. 16:16). Israel will then be established as the greatest nation on earth, ruled over by Christ Himself.

America has always understood this Biblical scenario and has sided with Israel in this age. The Christian Scriptures (New Testament) explain, fulfill, and complete the Jewish Scriptures (Old Testament) and bring into focus the position of the believer (as well as Israel) in this age of grace. One could truly say that America has been blessed because of this Biblical understanding.

And so . . .

In this short space I have tried to say that though the world is quickly changing around us, we have only to be faithful to our God and His Word. It has been ages since the church could be so effective as salt and light as it is in this needy world. Salt and light are not effective because they are like other things, but because they are so much unlike them. Be salt and light.

 

Notes:

  1. George Washington, “Farewell Address,” Orations from Homer to McKinley , vol. 6 ( New York: P.F. Collier & Son, 1906) 2526.
  2. D.A. Carson, Christ and Culture Revisited (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008) 64.
  3. AlbertMohler.com, “In Defense of Marriage, The Rule of Law, and Ordered Liberty,” 4/28/15.
  4. John MacArthur, Grace To You Blog, 4/28/15.

 

 

 

Wandering Stars

Wandering Stars

by Rick Shrader

Jude, the brother of James and half brother of Jesus, declared that apostates are spots in a church’s gatherings, clouds that can’t hold water, trees that produce no fruit, waves of the sea that foam up all kinds of filth, and wandering stars that appear in the sky briefly and then disappear into the blackness of space forever (Jude 11-13). Such are those who make pretense of faith in Christ but are deceivers and themselves deceived.

I’ve always loved the stars. Who hasn’t? There is no more majestic spectacle in all of God’s wonderful creation than peering into space on a clear night and seeing the lights of the sky placed there by the God of lights. God has put earth in the Milky Way Galaxy which, by average estimates, has over 400 billion stars in it. Some galaxies have a trillion stars. And (my mind loses comprehension here) there are over 170 billion galaxies!

Isaiah described the immensity of God, “Who hath measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, and meted out the heavens with the span” (Isa. 40:12). The Psalmist declared, “He telleth the number of the stars; he calleth them all by their names” (Psa. 147:4). Imagine! God holds the universe in His hand and knows every star by name! Try to picture that on a clear starry night!

I have enough trouble finding a few planets that appear in the night sky and the big dipper. I can tell if the moon is waxing or waning and I can always find the north star. I have one of those phone apps that I can point in a certain direction at night and it will give me the names of the constellations and planets in that direction. Pretty amazing! One of the thrills that we always remember when we look at the night sky is the shooting star. These pieces of rock, or meteoroids, come streaming out of the darkness, creating enough heat by entering the earth’s atmosphere to leave a streak of light, and sometimes a tail of glowing particles, and then disappear as quickly as they appeared. Jude simply called them “wandering stars.”

Jude’s word choice is typical and yet unique. “Wandering” is the word planētai, from which we get our word “planet.” Some have thought that Jude intended to signify the very planets which circle the sun but are never in a fixed position (The north star is the only celestial star that remains fixed). Most agree, however, that Jude referred to the shooting stars that disappear into the darkness. The word is appropriate. Planē in its various forms takes on the meaning of going astray, deceiving, seducing, wandering, and of being out of the way.

Besides our sun itself, the brightest objects in the sky are the least reliable. The shooting stars are fantastic to see, but can’t be counted on at any given time. The moon is bright but it is in a different position each night and throughout the month. The planets are the brightest “stars” but pass quickly across the sky and come only seasonally. The constellations are always there but are not always visible either. Jude’s description of apostates as shooting stars depicts them as the most thrilling but least reliable of the night lights.

The word planē, planaō, and planos, are together used over fifty times in the New Testament in a number of different contexts. A few times the word is morally neutral and signifies a direction as when the writer of Hebrews tells us that the persecuted saints “wandered in deserts” (Heb. 11:38). He also wrote that Christ is a High Priest for those who are “out of the way” (5:2). Jesus used the word in the parable of the one sheep that had “gone astray” (Matt. 18:12), and Peter reminds us that we were “as sheep going astray” (1 Pet. 2:25). But the great majority of uses for this word have to do with the deceptions and the deceivers of this world. We should realize that these “wandering stars” are not reliable guides for the believer.

Satan and his ministers

We know so much about Satan that we almost take him for granted. Most of us can give a quick biography of his history and future prophecies and speak about him as if he were a political contemporary. Well, he does control spiritual wickedness in high places (Eph. 6:12) and he does have ministers preaching all around us (2 Cor. 11:15). In the book of Revelation our word planē is used six times to describe his world-wide activity, each time translated as “deceive.” He is the one who “deceiveth the whole world” (12:9), whose false prophet “deceiveth them that dwell on the earth” (13:14), whose antichrist and false prophet “deceived them” (19:20) with the mark of the beast, and who will be bound for a thousand years so that he can “deceive the nations” no more (20:3, 8, 10).

When we are warned not to love the world (1 Jn. 2:15), it is because Satan controls the world through deception. This is the proper point with which to begin. The other ways in which we are deceived are overseen, influenced, or controlled by Satan’s great power in the world. He deceives whole nations, and therefore “it is no great thing” (2 Cor. 11:15) if he controls businesses, churches, families, and individuals with his ministers and “doctrines of devils” (1 Tim. 4:1). He was able to offer the Son of God the “kingdoms of the world” (Matt. 4:8) because he is “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2), and is, in fact, “the god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4).

He truly “has blinded the minds of them which believe not lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them” (2 Cor. 4:4). Sinners are simply “taken captive by him at his will” (2 Tim. 2:26). Luther wrote in his great hymn, “For still our ancient foe, doth seek to work us woe, his craft and power are great, and armed with cruel hate, on earth is not his equal.”

We should not leave this thought without also remembering that as believers we can “resist the devil, and he will flee” from us (Jas. 4:7), and that we do not have to “give place to the devil” (Eph. 4:27), and he is one whom we can “resist in the faith” (1 Pet. 5:9).   When we put on the armor of God, we can “stand against the wiles of the devil” (Eph. 6:11). Satan is a wandering star who will one day fade into the blackness and darkness forever. No one has to go with him.

False religions

Much as our familiarity with Satan dulls our fear of him, our knowledge and “fairness” toward world religions dulls our differences with them. Any religion that denies the gospel of Jesus Christ is false and is taking people to a Christless eternity. “Who is a liar, but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son” (1 Jn. 2:22). John would then say, “These things have I written unto you concerning them that seduce [planaō] you” (2:26).

Paul told Timothy, “But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived” (2 Tim. 3:13). These false religions are wandering stars themselves and are causing people to wander away with them. Jesus told the Sadducees, a religious group that denied the doctrine of the resurrection, “Ye do err [planaō], not knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God (Matt. 22:29). Jesus severely criticized the church of Thyatira because they suffered “that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols” (Rev. 2:20). This was the inroad of an ancient religion which would destroy the church. The same danger was also in the old teaching of Balaam (Rev. 2:14). John also saw the harlot, the one-world religious system, and said, “for by thy sorceries were all nations deceived” (Rev. 18:23).

Paul gave the Ephesian church an interesting word picture concerning false teachers of false religions when he wrote, “That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive” (Eph. 4:14). Those that are lying in wait to deceive God’s church are like leaves being carried around with the wind, and are like cubes (“sleight” is from kubeia), or the rolling of the cubes i.e., the dice. Here are two more pictures of those who deceive: blowing leaves and rolling dice! You take your chances on where you will end up.

Lusts and desires

In the end, we will not be able to blame Satan or religions for our sin. “For we ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another” (Tit. 3:3). James said, “But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death. Do not err, my beloved brethren” (Jas. 1:14-16). When the sinner stands before a holy God and hears his fate read, it will be for no other reason than that his own sin was not forgiven through Jesus Christ. It is our own sin that makes us wandering stars “To whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever” (Jude 13).

Paul wrote, “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:9-10). Paul also wrote, “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption” (Gal. 6:7-8). John would conclude, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 Jn. 1:8).

To be deceived by our own sin is so serious that hell is waiting for us. The pale horse of the Apocalypse was named Death, “and hell followed him” (Rev. 6:8). We naturally recoil at the thought of a literal hell of fire and brimstone being eternal, without ending. Surely, we think, a loving God would not send someone there. One cannot think of a more horrible punishment. And why? For sins during a moment of life on the earth? But the only answer can be that a holy God must determine it so. Sin is so contrary to God, so appalling to His holy nature, so foreign to His holy heaven, that the punishment can never fully be paid. This is how serious our sin is and how deceived we are by being led astray by it.

Worldly culture

The debate still rages over the definition of culture. I think the older definitions are unbiased and more correct. T.S. Eliot called culture “The incarnation of religion.”1 Later, Ravi Zacharias also said, “Religion is the essence of culture while culture is the dress of religion.”2 That is, culture is not a neutral phenomenon that just happens to exist, that we can copy without caution or reserve. Culture is the expression of man’s nature. It is what man really believes. It is what the Bible means when it uses the word “world.” “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world” (1 Jn. 2:15).

God became grieved with Israel in the wilderness because they created a culture contrary to His law. “Wherefore I was grieved with that generation, and said, They do always err in their heart; and they have not known my ways” (Heb. 3:10). When we follow our natural desires and beliefs, we are following a worldly culture created by ourselves and not God. That’s why James could say, “Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God” (Jas. 4:4). When believers try to appease the world, they are becoming an enemy of God. John cautioned against the false teachers who did that very thing. “They are of the world: therefore they speak of the world, and the world heareth them. We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.” (1 Jn. 4:5-6).

Many today look at the culture as something inviolable. They think it is like the north star, unchangeable and something by which to set your compass. So rather than working to change the culture, they change themselves to fit the culture. To be “cultured” used to mean to have refined yourself, to have changed your culture. Now it means to be changed by your culture. This is the “spirit of error,” or of planē.

Antichrist, and many antichrists

The antichrist will be the great deceiver of humans. He will foster a lie that the whole world will follow (2 Thes. 2:11) and be deceived. John warned, “Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time” (1 Jn. 2:18). Jesus taught that this will be especially critical in the last days, “Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many” (Matt. 24:4-5).

In his second epistle John wrote, “For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist” (2 Jn. 7). Not only will the antichrist himself be a world-wide deceiver, but until then there will always be the spirit of antichrist. Anyone or anything that lends itself to that final apostasy is antichrist. This is why John taught that we cannot bid “God speed” to false teaching (2 Jn. 10-11). When we do, we are “partakers” (koinōnei, fellowshippers) of that evil deed and are deceived by it.

And So . . . .

Isaac Watts put Psalm 147 to verse in this way:

Praise ye the Lord; tis good to raise

Our hearts and voices in his praise;

His nature and his works invite

To make this duty our delight.

The Lord builds up Jerusalem,

And gathers nations to his name;

His mercy melts the stubborn soul,

And makes the broken spirit whole.

He form’d the stars, those heav’nly   flames;

He counts their numbers, calls their names;

His wisdom vast, and knows no bound,

A deep where all our thoughts are drown’d.

Great is our Lord, and great his might;

And all his glories infinite:

He crowns the meek, rewards the just,

And treads the wicked to the dust.

 

Sing to the Lord, exalt him high,

Who spreads his clouds all round the sky;

There he prepares the fruitful rain,

Nor lets the drops descend in vain.

He makes the grass the hills adorn,

And clothes the smiling fields with corn;

The beasts with food his hands supply,

And the young ravens when they cry.

What is the creature’s skill or force,

The sprightly man, the warlike horse,

The nimble wit, the active limb?

All are too mean delights for him.

But saints are lovely in his sight,

He views his children with delight;

He sees their hope, he knows their fear,

And looks, and loves his image there.3

 

Notes:

  1. T.S. Eliot, Christianity and Culture (New York: Harcout Brace, 1949) 101.
  2. Ravi Zachariah, Deliver Us From Evil (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1996) 82.
  3. Isaac Watts, Psalm 147, The Psalms and Hymns of Isaac Watts (Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1997) 265-266.

 

 

Tempted and Tried

Tempted and Tried

by Matt Shrader

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A number of blogs spoke highly of this book so I decided to pick it up and read it as well. Russell Moore teaches at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. I have read some of Russell Moore before and have not seen eye to eye with all of his theology, particularly his eschatology. While that difference does appear throughout the book, I did find that the book made some excellent points regarding dealing with temptation.

Moore’s main point is that temptation attacks our identity, desires, and future and that we need to realize that the devil will twist these things away from their true fulfillment in Christ. This is a needed point to be made.

I find Moore’s discussion generally helpful. I was quite disappointed with his discussion of legalism toward the end of his book. Moore’s discussion of this issue was too short and ended up equating legalism with “rigid religious school” rule-making (which he caricatures).

 

Coveteousness: The Universal Sin

Coveteousness: The Universal Sin

by Rick Shrader

Covetousness surely ranks as one of the great sins of our day.  Its effects are seen in Christendom, our nation as a whole, and in an alarming display of selfishness around the whole world.  Riots and protests, destruction of property, anger and resentment, all manifest themselves by some in every country where “things” might be taken from them, even if insisting on keeping these things will topple the economy of the whole country or state or city.

Has a whole life-time of getting everything we want finally come back to haunt us?  Have we gotten so used to demanding “things” from governments and unions and corporations, that we absolutely will not part with our “things” for any reason?  Why is it that one man would resent what another man has?  Why is it that anyone feels it is his right to have whatever he wants?  If I find my neighbor has earned a fortune, should I envy him or rejoice in his blessing?  What does that say about me?

The first nine commandments are pretty concrete.  Israel could keep them or not, with a good attitude or not.  But the tenth is not so easy.  It goes to the heart and the desire within a person.  It deals with the root of our sin.  It doesn’t just keep us from stealing, it keeps us from wanting to steal.  As Jesus pointed out, it doesn’t just keep us from committing adultery, it keeps us from thinking about it.

“Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbor’s” (Exodus 20:17).  The New Testament does not let us off any easier.  Covetousness is equal to idolatry (Col. 3:5, Eph. 5:5); we are to be content with such things as we have (Heb. 13:5); Since we brought nothing into this world and can carry nothing out, we should be content with food and clothing, because godliness with contentment is the greatest gain (1 Tim. 6:6-8).

One theological dictionary defines covetousness as “Primarily inordinate desire.  It has come to mean a desire for anything which is inordinate in degree, or a desire for that which rightfully belongs to another, especially in the realm of material things.  In a general sense it means all inordinate desire for worldly possessions such as honors, gold, etc.  In a more restricted sense, it is a desire for the increasing of one’s substance by appropriating that of others.”1 Unger reminds us that it has a sense of lawlessness, and is sinful because it is contrary to the command to be content with such things as we have, and it sets up wealth in the place of God.2

The anointed cherub in God’s presence began to covet the very things of God, “therefore,” writes the prophet, “I will cast thee as profane out of the mountain of God: and I will destroy thee, O covering cherub, from the midst of the stones of fire” (Ezek. 28:16).  Yet immediately he tempted the man and woman into coveting things God had withheld from them.  “And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat” (Gen. 3:6).

No sooner had the ten commandments been given at Sinai and the Israelites crossed the Jordan and conquered Jericho, than Achan confessed, “I saw among the spoils a goodly Babylonish garment, and two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold of fifty shekels weight, then I coveted them, and took them” (Josh. 7:21).  No sooner had the church begun in the early chapters of the book of Acts, than we read that Ananias and his wife Sapphira let Satan fill their hearts to keep back part of the price of their land sale for themselves, stifling the life of the new movement (Acts 5:1-11).

Our word “covetousness” covers a wide range of meaning in the Scripture.  The three most common in the New Testament are 1) Pleonexia, meaning “to have more.”  This is the most common word and is used in places like Col. 3:5 where covetousness is called idolatry.  2) Philarguros, meaning the love of money or treasure is used in 1 Tim. 6:10 as “the love of money” and also in 1 Tim. 3:3 where a pastor is not to be covetous.  3) We commonly have Epithumia, “lust”, or “short desire.”    Saul of Tarsus (later converted and called Paul) admitted that he wouldn’t have thought of himself as a sinner without the 10th commandment.  “Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law:  for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet” (Rom. 7:7).  Interestingly, the words “lust” and “covet” in this verse both translate epithumia.  Saul realized that his lust for earthly things was a direct breaking of the commandment not to covet.

There are a number of things the believer can do to combat covetousness in his/her life.

 

Be heavenly minded

The common canard that one can be too heavenly minded to be any earthly good is not only wrong, it is exactly backwards.  Leonard Ravenhill once wrote, “Someone now warns us lest we become so heavenly minded that we are of no earthly use.  Brother, this generation of believers is not, by and large, suffering from such a complex!  The brutal, soul-shaking truth is that we are so earthly minded we are of no heavenly use.”3

Read again Luke chapter 12.  God feeds the unclean ravens and clothes the helpless lilies.  How much more will He do the same with us, O we of little faith?  Let us not seek the things of this world, “For all these things do the nations of the world seek after: and your Father knoweth that ye have need of these things.  But rather seek ye the kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Lk. 12:30-31).  Place your treasures in heaven, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (vs. 34).

 

Follow Jesus’ example

It is true that we cannot (and for salvation need not) be all that Jesus was.  Praise the Lord that He accomplished in this life what no other could ever accomplish!  By faith we can be made the righteousness of God in Him.  Yet He said “The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord” (Matt. 10:24).  When approached by a seeking man who was sure he had the wherewithal to follow Jesus, He responded, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head” (Lk. 9:58).  The man had not bargained to pay that price.

Persecution, in any degree, comes to the believer because it came to Jesus.  “If they have persecuted me, they will persecute you” (Jn. 15:20).  He was in this world to accomplish a mission and then go back to His heavenly home.  So are we (in our human way).  “Who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2).  We can do the same, but not if we hang on to the things of this world too tightly.

 

Be glued to your faith

Paul admonished Timothy about those who “would be rich” (1 Tim. 6:9), and those “who are rich” (vs. 17).  Those who desire to be rich “fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition” (vs. 9).  But “the love of money” (vs. 10) is so strong that “while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.”  Why do we go on choosing to stick ourselves with those sorrows?

However, Paul’s picturesque point is that covetousness causes some to stray away from their faith, to  “Err” (plana?) or wander away like a planet out of orbit or a wandering star.  This was the sin of Ananias and Sapphira.    They coveted the very thing they had promised to God and Satan immediately filled their hearts, causing them to stray away even within their new found faith.  This is why covetousness is idolatry and why a lost man has no inheritance in the kingdom of God (Eph. 5:5).  As Jesus warned, “Verily, they have their reward” (Matt. 6:2, 5, 16).  A believer in such a case is saved “so as by fire” (1 Cor. 3:15) or having his flesh destroyed, the spirit remains saved in the day of the Lord Jesus (1 Cor. 5:5), or “scarcely saved” as Peter says (1 Pet. 4:18).

 

Be mission minded

To evangelize is to risk something.  It may be your image among your peers, or your status or job, or perhaps your personal safety.  It is safe to say that most missionaries do not surrender to the mission field out of covetousness.  Perhaps some covet the praise of others for their personal surrender, but hardly for material gain in this world.  Worldwide missions has been a sacrificing work for the church of Jesus Christ in this dispensation of grace.  Millions upon millions of dollars have been voluntarily given by God’s people to take the gospel to the lost world.

My favorite mission song ends with this verse,

Give of thy sons, to bear the message glorious;

Give of thy wealth to speed them on their way;

Pour out thy soul for them in prayer victorious;

And all thou spendest Jesus will repay.

When Paul wrote to the great Philippian church, he thanked them for their sacrificial mission giving.  For himself, he had learned “in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content” (Phil. 4:11).  He knew how to abound and how to be abased.  In either circumstance he knew, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (4:13).  Because of his great example (“Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do”) the church gave sacrificially to his ministry, “an odor of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, well-pleasing to God” (4:18).

 

Don’t love the world

Jesus warned that you cannot serve God and mammon (Matt. 6:24).  It is a “serve” or “despise” relationship.  John said it plainly, “If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 Jn. 2:15).  The church of the twenty-first century needs to take a long and hard look at that truth.  We imitate the world, we use the world to lure people to church, we offer the world to keep people in church, and we are irritated when we’re reminded of it.  Then we preach to our people not to be covetous.

Jesus asked, “For what is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Lk. 9:25).  A man may build bigger barns to house his worldly possessions and take life easy, but if his soul is required of him in a night, then what profit will those things be? (Lk. 12:16-21).  Rather, Jesus said, “sell that ye have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not . . . For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Lk. 12:33-34).  This is heavenly luggage!  And it won’t get lost by the baggage handler when it’s your time to make that trip!

 

And So . . . .

A person refuses to accept Christ because of covetousness.  After Paul had preached in Thessalonica many believed his message.  “But,” the text continues, “the Jews which believed not, moved with envy . . .” (Acts 17:5).  Their jealousy kept them from believing.  Paul had taken away their status with their peers and they wanted it back.  When a person says no to Christ he is opting for some more time in the world, some more time to have his own way before he surrenders his will to God.  The covetousness of a self-centered life keeps sinners from coming to Christ.

Jesus warned, “a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth” (Lk. 12:15).  Alexander Maclaren observed, “Covetousness is folly because it grasps at worldly good, under the false belief that thereby it will secure the true good of life, but when it has made its pile, it finds that it is no nearer peace of heart, rest, nobleness, or joy than before, and has probably lost much of both in the process of making it.  The mad race after wealth, which is the sin of this luxurious, greedy, commercial age, is the consequence of a lie—that life does consist in the abundance of possessions”4

 

Notes:

 

1. Lewis Corlett, “Covetousness,” Baker’s Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids:  Baker Book House, 1978) 145.

2. Merrill Unger, “Covetousness,” Unger’s Bible Dictionary (Chicago:  Moody Press, 1966) 225.

3. Leonard Ravenhill, Why Revival Tarries (Minneapolis:  Bethany House, 1990) 28.

4. Alexander Maclaren, The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans, 1938) 340.

 

Flee Fornication

Flee Fornication

by Rick Shrader

For too long pastors and other ministers have avoided speaking frankly about sexual sins.  Perhaps we’re afraid when psychologists tell us that those who do speak out, have some kind of hidden problem themselves, a subliminal obsession that rises to the surface every time one speaks on the subject.  Therefore many have remained quiet for fear of being accused of “having a problem.”  Well, first, I think such psychology has become a ploy of Satan, and second, being now in my sixties, I can speak out regardless of what naysayers may say.  And besides, there are no greater sins of our generation than sexual sins and the Bible is clear about what God thinks of them.

“No sin that a person commits has more built-in pitfalls, problems, and destructiveness than sexual sins.  It has broken more marriages, shattered more homes, caused more heartache and disease, and destroyed more lives than alcohol and drugs combined.  It causes lying, stealing, cheating, and killing, as well as bitterness, hatred, slander, gossip, and unforgivingness.”1 In our day it is not only destroying societies and cultures but is destroying individuals and families within the very church of Jesus Christ.

When the apostle Paul told the Corinthians to “flee fornication” (1 Cor. 6:18), he meant it!  When I pastored in Ft. Collins, CO, just down the street from Colorado State University, a single Christian student, living in the dorms (something a believer should not do at a state university), told me that he now felt premarital sex was OK because, after all, God had made him that way.  I asked him if he was a believer and he said he was.  I asked him why.  After a brief explanation he replied “because that’s what God told me I must do.”  I then asked him why he stopped believing God.  He was taken back by that question, so I took him to 1 Cor. 6:18 and asked him why he could believe God when He spoke about salvation but not when He spoke about fornication.

It has not been many years ago now that promise programs such as True Love Waits for teens were popular.  Eventually even supporters like Christianity Today had to admit that all the pledge did was postpone teen promiscuity a few months.2 Why  do Christians need to make human promises when they have commands in God’s Word?  I could never participate in Promise Keepers for men for this same reason.  If a Christian will not obey God when the command is clear in His Word, no amount of pep-rally atmosphere is going to overcome the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.

“Fornication” is a general term in Scripture.  It is translated from the word porneia from which, obviously, we get our English prefix porn as in pornography and pornographic.  Whereas adultery refers to unfaithfulness among married couples, fornication refers to any and all sexual activity that is against the Word of God and the holiness of God.  Its various forms give us the words fornication, harlot, whore and whoremonger, and the action of committing fornication.

“Adultery,” moicheia, in its various forms gives us the words adultery, adulterous, “adulterers and adulteresses” (Jas. 4:4), and the action, to “commit adultery.”  These two words describing sexual sins are often combined in the same condemnation from God.  “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders” (Mk. 7:21).  “Now the works of the flesh are these, adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness” (Gal. 5:19).  “But whoremongers and adulterers God will judge” (Heb. 13:4).

It is tempting to fill this article with statistics showing that sexual promiscuity is rampant in our society but I’m sure the reader will agree that this is not necessary.  One does not need to go looking for such evidence; it invades our lives at every turn.  Pornography is so available today on television, in theaters, on the internet, that the conscientious believer must constantly guard his/her eyes from what is obvious, rather than sinfully seek out what is hidden.  God’s Word says, “Let thine eyes look right on, and let thine eyelids look straight before thee” (Prov. 4:25).  “I have made a covenant with mine eyes; why then should I think upon a maid?” (Job 31:1).

In addition to the visual pornography, the language of promiscuity is wallpapered all around our lives.  The music industry, the commercial world, the language of the street, the internet, even the tedious noise of most restaurants, keep the believer on constant guard to protect his/her ears.  “Apply thine heart unto instruction, and thine ears to the words of knowledge” (Prov. 23:12).  Who will dwell with God?  “he that walketh righteously . . . That stoppeth his ears from hearing of blood, and shutteth his eyes from seeing evil” (Isa. 33:15).

Added to this sad cultural environment is the whole world of fashion which advertises its pornography even on the bodies of immature believers.  Again, because psychologists warn us not to, we seldom say anything to the girl showing cleavage or the boy with his pants on the ground.  Such a person has committed two out of the three sins here.  Yes, it is wrong for any believer to look with lust at such things, but the believer who dresses like that both promotes nakedness and causes his/her brother or sister to sin.

There are two biblical truths that, when combined, are a most powerful force in this world:  the lust of the flesh and the love of money.  This demonical  partnership feeds on itself.  Until we all stand before God there will always be the lust of the flesh within human beings.  And since this market is always available and thriving, there will always be those who will give it what it wants and peddle their wares for a price.  It doesn’t matter that lives are shattered and homes are broken, or that a whole country is sold down the drain; the market is ready and the profit is there.  Can you go anywhere in the world where this is not the case?  This doesn’t mean the Bible and Christianity are not true, it rather proves the Bible true!  “For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (1 Tim. 6:10).  “He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver; nor he that loveth abundance with increase: this is also vanity” (Ecc. 5:10).

A growing problem is the promotion of homosexual behavior and a laissez-faire attitude toward premarital sex by some so-called Christian leaders.  Brian McLaren, the leading voice within the postmodern, emergent church now tells his thousands of young followers, “Premarital sex is the norm, not the exception, for Christians as well as non-Christians and for Evangelicals as well as other brands.  And it is the norm not by a few percentage points, either.”3 This statement was not given as a warning but as a fact of life for the postmodern Christian.

 

So what is a Christian to do?

How about this:  pull up your pants, button up your blouse, turn off the movies, don’t visit those web sites, throw away the trash music, keep your hands off your boyfriend or girlfriend, and occupy your time with spiritual things!  “What! Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?  For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Cor. 6:19-20).

Of the 35 forms of moicheia and the 56 forms of porneia, more occur in 1 Corinthians chapters five and six than in any other Biblical context.  Chapter five is the well-known reproof of the church by Paul for allowing known fornication to continue to take place among church members.  They must quit feeling proud of their non-judgmental attitude and actions and make the judgment they should have made long ago—put the unrepentant one out of the church (1 Cor. 5:12-13).

But chapter six is the strongest admonition to sexual purity, perhaps, in the New Testament epistles.  Within this chapter Paul says, “Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ?  Shall I then take the members of Christ, and make them the members of a harlot?  God forbid.  What!  Know ye not that he which is joined to a harlot is one body?  For two, saith he, shall be one flesh.  But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit” (vss. 15-17).  Before we come back to those verses, let me take a short sidetrack.

God made two distinct persons when he created human beings (the multitude of ways and reasons can’t be discussed here).  In this account in Genesis the Scripture also emphasizes the Tri-unity of the Creator God, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Gen. 1:26).  Wayne Grudem writes,

There is some similarity here: just as there was fellowship and communication and sharing of glory among the members of the Trinity before the world was made, so God made Adam and Eve in such a way that they would share love and communication and mutual giving of honor to one another in their interpersonal relationship.  Of course such reflection of the Trinity would come to expression in various ways within human society, but it would certainly exist from the beginning in the close interpersonal unity of marriage.4

Now we also have a great mystery in the New Testament, that believers are united to Christ in such a supernatural way that we are called the Bride of Christ.  “This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.  Nevertheless, let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband” (Eph. 5:32-33).  So when Paul tells the Corinthians that “your bodies are the members of Christ,” and that they must not “make them the members of a harlot,” there is much at stake both in the divine-human relationship as well as the husband-wife relationship!

A husband and wife are both one body and one spirit.  They experience, on a human level, fellowship not unlike the very Tri-une God Who created them.  But two fornicators are only one body and that but for a brief time.  They are not one spirit.  However, the Christian man or woman is one body and also one spirit with Christ (vss. 15-17) and this oneness never wanes.  The introduction of a foreign body into this divine-human fellowship is spiritual adultery (see Jas. 4:4).  “Therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s” (vs. 20).

 

And So . . .

The believer in this world is in for a fight.  As long as he/she lives there will be war between the flesh and the spirit (Gal. 5:16-26).  But there is victory for the believer who will yield himself/herself to God and not to the lusts of the flesh.  “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof” (Rom. 6:12).  “Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness” (Rom. 6:16)?

The Bible also gives much practical advice.  Joseph of old, when confronted by the advances of Potiphar’s wife, “left his garment in her hand, and fled, and got him out,” saying, “How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God” (Gen. 39:7-12).  We are to “flee youthful lusts” (2 Tim. 2:22) as Joseph did.  We can “resist the devil” (Jas. 4:7) and at the same time “Draw nigh to God and he will draw nigh to you” (Jas. 4:8).  We can, with David, “set no wicked thing before mine eyes” (Psa. 101:3).  It may be a struggle, but you can turn off the things that tempt you and not go to places that offend the Spirit which is in you.

David knew, as Joseph, that his sin with Bathsheba was against God. “Against thee and thee only have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight” (Psa. 51:4).  In addition, the prophet Nathan reminded David, “thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme” (2 Sam. 12:14).  That is why Paul exhorts Titus to remind the young women to be chaste, “that the word of God be not blasphemed” (Tit. 2:4-5).  Our perspective must be kept at all times.  We are saved and kept on this earth for God’s glory and purposes, not our own.  Let that be our glory and joy.

Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.   Put away from thee a forward mouth, and perverse lips put far from thee.   Let thine eyes look right on, and let thine eyelids look straight before thee.  Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established.  Turn not to the right hand nor to the left: remove thy foot from evil.”

(Proverbs 4:23-27)

 

Notes:

 

1. John MacArthur, First Corinthians (Chicago:  Moody Press, 1984) 147.

2. “Virginity Pledge-Breakers,” Christianity Today, May 2004.

3. Brian McLaren, A New Kind of Christianity (New York:  Haprer One, 2010) 186-187.

4. Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids:  Zondervan, 1994) 455.

 

 

Shaken Not Stirred

Shaken Not Stirred

by Rick Shrader

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This 2005 book is written by a pastor and father of two children.  This is written from a pastor’s heart who cares deeply about the growing problem of alcoholism in our country.  I would recommend this book for the layman’s first read.  It is well researched and places the historic information in language easier to read and digest.