Saturday, November 19, 2011

Holy Living in a Perverted World

We rarely hear the word “holy” in the church any more. Very few preachers are preaching about holiness.  Most believers in Jesus Christ treat this topic as old-fashioned and obsolete.  But it is not obsolete.  In fact, the word "holy" appears 581 times in the Bible, and "holiness" appears 21 times, including the New Testament!  Let’s look at a few of the Scriptures about this.

God is Holy
All throughout Scripture, God is described as holy.  Webster’s dictionary states: “Applied to the Supreme Being, holy signifies perfectly pure, immaculate and complete in moral character.” 

When Moses stood in God’s presence, he was instructed to take off his shoes, because the place he was standing was holy ground.  Then He said, "Do not come near here; remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground." (Exo 3:5)

Isaiah the prophet had a glorious vision of the Lord in His holiness.  He wrote: “In the year of King Uzziah's death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called out to another and said, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts, The whole earth is full of His glory.’ And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke.” (Isa 6:1-4)

This is a sight that very few people have ever seen while still in their earthly bodies.  The holy angels were around the Lord, calling to each other, Holy, holy, holy is the Lord!”  When Isaiah saw all of this, he was undone.  He cried, "Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts." (Isa 6:5)

The apostle John also saw the Lord on His heavenly throne, which a graphic artist has attempted to depict in the image above.  John wrote: “After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven, and the first voice which I had heard, like the sound of a trumpet speaking with me, said, ‘Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after these things.’ Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne was standing in heaven, and One sitting on the throne. And He who was sitting was like a jasper stone and a sardius in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, like an emerald in appearance. Around the throne were twenty-four thrones; and upon the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white garments, and golden crowns on their heads. Out from the throne come flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder. And there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God; and before the throne there was something like a sea of glass, like crystal; and in the center and around the throne, four living creatures full of eyes in front and behind. The first creature was like a lion, and the second creature like a calf, and the third creature had a face like that of a man, and the fourth creature was like a flying eagle. And the four living creatures, each one of them having six wings, are full of eyes around and within; and day and night they do not cease to say, ‘HOLY, HOLY, HOLY is THE LORD GOD, THE ALMIGHTY, WHO WAS AND WHO IS AND WHO IS TO COME.’” (Rev 4:1-8)

What an awesome sight!  The same angels Isaiah saw in his vision 700 years earlier were still around the throne saying, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come.”  They never cease to say this!!

Be Holy
The Word of God says that we are called to be holy in body and spirit, just like the Holy One, in all our behavior.  According to Webster’s dictionary, when we use the word holy to refer to a person, it means, “Properly, whole, entire or perfect, in a moral sense. Hence, pure in heart, temper or dispositions; free from sin and sinful affections.”

The apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “The woman who is unmarried, and the virgin, is concerned about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how she may please her husband.” (1Co 7:34)

Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. (Eph 1:4)

“That He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.” (Eph 5:27)

"For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit." (1 Thes 4:7-8)

Peter also instructed us to make every effort to be spotless and blameless:  "So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him." (2Pe 3:14, NIV)

“But like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior.” (1Pe 1:15)

“It is written, ‘YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY.’" (1Pe 1:16)

The way that we as disciples of Christ take is called the Highway of Holiness, and the unclean will not travel on it.  “A highway will be there, a roadway, And it will be called the Highway of Holiness. The unclean will not travel on it, But it will be for him who walks that way, And fools will not wander on it.” (Isa 35:8).  Jesus said that He Himself is the Way.

We are to serve the Lord Jesus in holiness.  “To grant us that we, being rescued from the hand of our enemies, Might serve Him without fear, In holiness and righteousness before Him all our days.” (Luk 1:74-75)

We are to conduct ourselves in the world in holiness. “For our proud confidence is this: the testimony of our conscience, that in holiness and godly sincerity, not in fleshly wisdom but in the grace of God, we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially toward you.” (2Co 1:12)

We are to cleanse ourselves from all defilement and perfect holiness in the fear of God. “Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” (2Co 7:1)

Our new self has been created in holiness, and we are to put it on.  “Put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.” (Eph 4:24)

God disciplines his children, so that we may share in His holiness.  “For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness.” (Heb 12:10)

The writer of Hebrews goes on to exhort us to “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord” (Heb 12:14).  Without holiness, no man shall see the Lord.

Be Perfect
We are to be perfect.  "Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mat 5:48)

“And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (Jam 1:4)

We are not to be conformed to this world, but to prove what the perfect will of God is. “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Rom 12:2)

Even Paul did not claim to be perfect already, but his passionate aim was to lay hold of that.  “Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.” (Phi 3:12)

If you don’t stumble in what you say, you are perfect, because your tongue reflects what’s in your heart and it controls everything else in your life.  “For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well.” (Jam 3:2)

So it's clear from Scripture that the disciples of Christ are to be holy and perfect, but how does that look practically?  Does it mean we have to live in a cloistered community, standing around wearing white robes with our hands folded in prayer, chanting prayers in Latin?  Not at all!  The Lord expects us to live "in the world" without being "of the world."  Let me give you some examples of God's standards of holiness that are disregarded today.

Sexual Purity
So many in the church today are living immoral lives, and others accept it as normal.  The church today often tolerates it.  However, the Lord spoke against the churches in Pergamum and Thyatira, because they tolerated sexually immoral people in their midst (2:14, 20).  The Scriptural standard is still complete sexual purity.

We are not to associate or even eat with any so-called brother who is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler. Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world. But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler--not even to eat with such a one.” (1Co 5:9-11)

We are to flee immorality.  “Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body.” (1Co 6:18)

No immoral, impure, covetous, or idolatrous person has any inheritance in God’s kingdom.  “For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.” (Eph 5:5)

For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God; (1Th 4:3-5)

For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification. (1Th 4:7)

There must be no immoral or godless person among those who are the disciples of Christ.  The writer of Hebrews wrote: “that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal.” (Heb 12:16)

The cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, immoral persons, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars will inherit the lake of fire, not the kingdom of Christ.  "But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death." (Rev 21:8)

Those outside the holy, eternal city include dogs (homosexuals), sorcerers, immoral persons, murderers, idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying. “Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying.” (Rev 22:15)

Another popular pastime is drunkenness. According to Matthew Henry, “Drunkenness is excess in drinking of wine or strong drink, whereby the stomach is overcharged, the mind is intoxicated, and the body enfeebled and unable to perform its office.”

Drunkenness is a work of the sinful nature (Gal 5:21).   The apostle Paul wrote, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit.” (Eph 5:18). 

Quietness, proper behavior, and avoidance of reveling
Another aspect of holiness is to lead a quiet life, to behave properly, and to avoid carousing. The apostle Paul wrote, “Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy.” (Rom 13:13)

The word carousing comes from the Greek word komos, which means carousal, reveling, or rioting. According to Matthew Henry, “Reveling is excess in feed, nocturnal riotings in eating, drinking, dancing, singing, chambering and wantonness. The Syriac version renders it, זמרא, ‘lascivious singing’; and the Arabic version, ‘songs’ which are a part of the nightly revels: and such like which are of the same nature and kind.” To put it in modern terms, reveling is jamming to worldly music, nighttime dancing, partying, “kicking,” singing lascivious songs, “rocking,” letting loose, etc.   It means to make a racket, make whoopie, make merry, make happy, whoop it up, jollify, wassail, “kick” it up, or participate in orgies. 

While many believers condone reveling today, according to the Bible, it is a work of the sinful nature, and has no part in a life of holiness (Gal 5:21). That is why Paul instructed us to pray "for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity." (1Ti 2:2)

Don’t love the world
We need to take care that we do not love the world.  The apostle John wrote, “Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1Jo 2:15)

If we love the world, the Father’s love is not in us, and we become His enemies.  James wrote, “You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: ‘He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us?’” (Jam 4:4-5).

What kind of music do you listen to?  What kind of movies, TV programs, and videos do you watch? Are they ones about lust and sexual immorality, murder, stealing, lawlessness, and drunkenness?  Do they mock true Christianity and model a compromising, watered-down form of Christianity? Are they secular, worldly ones? If so, then you need to make some hard decisions, in order to eliminate compromise and chose that which pleases the Lord. Also see my article about The Forgotten Sin of Worldliness, in which a famous bishop missed heaven due to worldliness and covetousness.

Holiness in Spirit, Soul, and Body
The Lord requires holiness in every part of our lives, including spirit, soul, and body:

"May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it." (1 Thes 5:23-24)

"What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: 'I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.' Therefore, 'Come out from them and be separate,' says the Lord. 'Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.' And, 'I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters,' says the Lord Almighty.' Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.”  (2Co 6:16-18; 7:1, NIV).

"...The woman who is unmarried, and the virgin, is concerned about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit..." (1Co 7:34b)

Yet many Christians fail to realize that there are areas of their lives that are not holy. In summary, the following are some of the most commonly overlooked sins, some of which I have already mentioned: not keeping Sundays holy, watching secular TV, women wearing trousers, jewelry, artificial things like wigs and fake eyelashes, and/or make up, tattoos, body piercing, smoking cigarettes, addiction to drinking alcohol, worldliness, masturbation, immoral practices on the marital bed, divorce, abortion, using contraceptives, idolatry, rock, rap, and reggae music, dancing that does not glorify Jesus or the Father, embezzling money and accepting bribes, gossip, abortion, keeping boyfriends and girlfriends, failing to evangelize, as well as witchcraft, video games, movies, art that does not glorify God, and secular cartoons.  This is by no means a complete list, but it's a good place to start allowing the Holy Spirit to reveal to you anything in your life that must go. 

Putting it All Together
The Lord is holy, perfectly pure and immaculate.  He is on His heavenly throne right now with angels surrounding him that never cease to cry, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord!”

When we come to Christ, He makes us holy from a positional perspective.  But then He expects us to walk that out practically and to be holy, as He is holy.  That means we need to be perfect, in a moral sense.

While the topic of holiness may not be popular in the world or even the church today, it’s still God’s way for His people to live.  We’ve got to be holy in all our behavior, like the Holy One who saved us.  He’s called us to be perfect, even as He is perfect.

While we can’t say we’ve attained to this yet, we should passionately strive for it in our lives as disciples of Christ.  Our orientation must always be one that is moving forward toward this goal.  Playing church doesn’t impress God and neither does religion. 

If we want to be perfect, we need the Lord to do a deep work in our hearts.  Give Him permission to bring His discipline to bear in your life, which is the only way he can make us holy practically speaking.  Then listen to what comes out of your mouth.  Once you become perfect in what you say, then you can control your whole being. 

Today in the church, immorality has become acceptable.  So have carousing or reveling, idolatry, loving the world, drunkenness, and many other sins.  But the Word teaches us that people who live like this will not inherit the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ.

If you are a disciple of Jesus Christ and you have come to realize you’re not living a holy life, then here is what James tells you to do: “Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.” (Jam 4:7-10).  It’s not too late to repent and change the way you’re living.

If you are not a disciple of Christ, then let me explain something to you.  You can never earn God’s love.  You can only accept it.  You can never obtain His acceptance by trying to be holy.  Rather, you need to admit you are a sinner in need of Christ’s salvation.  You need to repent of your sin, which is a total change of mind, and ask Him to forgive you.

Attribution notice: Most Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. The artist's rendition of God's throne as the apostle John saw it in his Revelation is taken from Lighthouse Missions.

Author's note: If you enjoyed this post, you may also like Garments of Godliness, Keeping Your Body Pure and Holy, Keeping Sundays HolyFaith Works!, Godly Attire and Adornment -- Seven Divine Revelations, Rock, Rap, and Reggae Music -- Two Divine Revelations, Tattoos and Body Piercing, and One Thing. I highly recommend reading, Only the Holy -- Three Shocking Testimonies and Holy Fire Baptism. You may find the Main Directory for this blog at Home, and also access my complete blog directory at "Writing for the Master."   Purity painting © 2012 Danny Hahlbohm, all rights reserved by the artist.

Do You Want to Know Him?
If you want to know Jesus personally, you can. It all begins when you repent and believe in Jesus.  Do you know what God's Word, the Bible says?

“Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” (Mar 1:14b-15).  He preached that we must repent and believe.

Please see my explanation of this in my post called "Do You Want to Know Jesus?"

Len Lacroix is the founder of Doulos Missions International.  He was based in Eastern Europe for four years, making disciples, as well as helping leaders to be more effective at making disciples who multiply, developing leaders who multiply, with the ultimate goal of planting churches that multiply. His ministry is now based in the United States with the same goal of helping fulfill the Great Commission.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

One thing

Have you ever felt like life is too complicated?  If so, that’s not unusual.  There are probably millions of other who feel the same way.

But actually life is not complicated. We make it that way.   When you are in Christ, life is actually simple.  But it requires faith.  That means trusting the Lord.

There’s only one thing we need to focus on, and when you do so, it’ll greatly simplify your life.  I’d like to share with you what it is.

David desired one thing
The Lord called King David a man after His own heart.  And David desired only one thing.  He said:

"One thing have I desired of the LORD, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to enquire in his temple." (Psa 27:4)

David’s one desire was to dwell in the Lord’s house all the days of his life, so that he could behold the Lord’s beauty.  The other reason he wanted to dwell there was so that he could inquire of the Lord. 

During David’s lifetime, the temple was not yet built.  They simply had a tent of meeting, called a tabernacle, where they met with the Lord.  This was the place where the Lord manifested his presence.  That’s where David wanted to remain.

In the New Covenant, Jesus Christ is the temple.  He plainly said so.  When the religious leaders asked him for a sign to prove His authority, “Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews then said, ‘It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?’ But He was speaking of the temple of His body. So when He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He said this; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken.” (Joh 2:19-22)

So for those under the New Covenant, our one desire should be to remain in Jesus Christ all the days of our life.  It should be to seek the Lord and behold His beauty. 

All who are led by the spirit are sons of God.  We are the temple of the Holy Spirit.  The apostle Paul wrote, “Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (1Co 3:16). 

Christ’s body is the temple.  We are the Body of Christ and He is the Head of the Body.  It could not be any clearer that He and those of us who are His disciples are the temple.  So if we desire the one thing David desired, it’s to abide in Christ moment-by-moment and day-to-day.

Mary desired one thing
Another person who had this singular focus was Mary, the sister of Lazarus.  When Jesus came to visit the home, where she and her family lived, she was interested in just one thing.

“Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord's feet, listening to His word. But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, ‘Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.’ But the Lord answered and said to her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.’" (Luk 10:38-42)

Many people are like Martha.  They feel like life is complicated. Martha was stressed out.  In the presence of the Lord, she felt the pressure of all the tasks she thought she needed to do.  If that’s how you are, then you are probably distracted like Martha was.  She found it hard to settle down and focus on the Lord.

In fact, this kind of mindset led Martha to want to control people.  She needed to recruit her sister to help her fulfill all that she thought needed to be done for the Lord.  And when she could not control Mary, she tried to get Jesus to force her to help. 

I think this is all too common among believers.  It can happen in a household, as well as the church.  Many times a leader has his own, great “vision” of what needs to be done for the Lord.  And to fulfill his vision, he needs to recruit others into service.  When they do not volunteer to serve, and do not align with his vision, he uses other means to control them like manipulation and coercion.  I’ve seen leaders like this become so distracted by many things.  Yet they don’t seem interested in abiding in Christ.  They don’t seem to enjoy just abiding in Christ, worshipping Him and enjoying His presence.  Instead, they are always thinking about the next thing they are going to say or the next task that needs to be completed.

But look at what Jesus said to Martha.  The Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”  (Lk 10:42) According to Jesus, only one thing is necessary, and Mary had chosen it.  She was sitting at the Lord’s feet, listening to His Word.

That’s the one thing that is still needed today.  We need to sit at the Lord’s feet and listen to His Word.  In that place, we commune with Him and adore Him.  We put distractions aside, and focus on Jesus.  We meditate upon His Word.  We listen to His voice.  Our desire is simply to be with Him.  It’s all about Jesus.

Love the Lord your God
When Luke wrote about the story of Martha and Mary, it was in the context of a conversation Jesus had with someone about the one thing needed to inherit eternal life. 

“And a lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, saying, ‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ And He said to him, ‘What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?’ And he answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.’ And He said to him, ‘You have answered correctly; Do this and you will live.’" (Luk 10:25-28)

The message is the same.  Jesus taught this lawyer that one thing is necessary, and that is to love.  Our love for God must be with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength.  We should love our neighbor as we love ourselves.  And Jesus illustrated this love with the story of the Good Samaritan to show what He meant.

Seek first His kingdom and righteousness
The temptation is to worry about what we will eat or drink or what we will wear.  There will never be a lack of things to worry about, which will vie for our attention.  But Jesus taught us to “Seek first his Kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you." (Mt 6:33)

Focus on Jesus
The writer to the Hebrews also taught that we must have a singular focus.  He wrote: “Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, whom we acknowledge as our apostle and high priest.” (Heb 3:1). 

Again he wrote, “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb 12:2). 

When you fix your thoughts on someone, they are the center of your attention.  When you focus your eyes on someone, everything else fades out of focus.  Our focus should be on Jesus.

Putting it All Together
What’s your focus? Food, clothing, money, success, possessions, fame, popularity, making a place for yourself in history, numbers, buildings, man-made traditions, external appearances, titles, collecting people?

David desired one thing, and that was to dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of his life, to gaze upon His beauty and inquire in His temple.  Mary chose that one thing also. She sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to His Word. 

We need to love the Lord with our entire being. We should fix our thoughts on Jesus, focusing our eyes on Him.

Let me encourage you today to focus on Jesus, dwelling in His house all the days of your life.  There you can gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and seek Him in His temple.  That’s the one thing that’s needed.

When you live like this, life will be simple. But it requires your complete trust in the Lord.  It requires faith, without which it is impossible to please God.  Will you commit yourself to do this?

Attribution notice: Most Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Most other Scriptures taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® NIV®, unless otherwise noted.

Author's note: If you enjoyed this post, you may also like the other posts in this blog available through the links in the side bar, especially "Inquiring of the Lord." You may also access my complete blog directory at "Writing for the Master." 

Do You Want to Know Him?
If you want to know Jesus personally, you can. It all begins when you repent and believe in Jesus.  Do you know what God's Word, the Bible says?

“Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” (Mar 1:14b-15).  He preached that we must repent and believe.

Please see my explanation of this in my post called "Do You Want to Know Jesus?"

Len Lacroix is the founder of Doulos Missions International.  He was based in Eastern Europe for four years, making disciples, as well as helping leaders to be more effective at making disciples who multiply, developing leaders who multiply, with the ultimate goal of planting churches that multiply. His ministry is now based in the United States with the same goal of helping fulfill the Great Commission.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Righteousness, Peace, and Joy

In my previous post on the Self-Help gospel, I made the point that we should not let anyone judge us regarding what we eat or drink. It’s true that we shouldn’t do that. The point is that all things are clean and the reality is found in Christ, not man-made regulations. But today I would like to look at this from another angle, namely how our freedom affects others.

What if someone with a weak conscience is offended by my freedom? What am I to do? Do I flaunt my freedom? Do I allow myself to come under the legalistic regulations of man? Or can I avoid both of those options and seek to live another way? Let’s see what the Scriptures teach us.

Accept the Weaker One
The apostle Paul taught that we should accept the one whose conscience is weak. He wrote to the Romans: “Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions. One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him.” (Rom 14:1-3)

So there are two basic kinds of people in this passage. One is the person whose faith allows him to eat all things. This person has great freedom in Christ, and should not let anyone take that from him. The other is the one whose faith is weak and feels he cannot eat certain things without sinning. In Paul’s day, when the Gentiles would buy meat in the market place, sometimes the meat had been offered up in sacrifice to idols in a pagan temple before it was sold. A person with strong faith would just not ask any questions about that before buying it, then give thanks for the meat and eat it. But one with weak faith would feel like he was sinning to eat such meat, due to the likelihood that it was offered to idols.

Another example is regarding observance of days. Paul wrote, “One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God.” (Rom 14:5-6). Paul shows here that those with weak faith, who observe certain days, do so for the Lord. And those who regard every day alike do so for the Lord.

So if you are the one with a strong faith that allows you greater freedom, you need to accept the brother or sister in Christ whose faith is weak. As Paul said, “Therefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God.” (Rom 15:7). Try to avoid passing judgment on his or her opinions. Don’t regard your brother with contempt over these things. Ultimately, the most important thing is that we all live for the Lord. Jesus Christ makes us stand. And we will all stand before the judgment seat of God (Rom 14:10). I will not need to give an account for my weaker brother’s actions, and he will not need to give an account for my actions. “So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God.” (Rom 14:12). We will all need to give an account of our own self to God.

Stop judging and making others stumble
Knowing this, what are we to do? Paul tells us, “Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this--not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother's way.” (Rom 14:13). First, we’ve got to stop judging one another. Doing so is focused on whether my brother is right or wrong.

Instead, we need to start with our own life and walk in love. We need to determine in our own heart not to put an obstacle in our brother’s way. This is a loving attitude. It acknowledges my brother’s weakness and avoids making him stumble.

Do we avoid making one another stumble because we believe certain foods are unclean? Certainly not! As Paul wrote, “I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil; (Rom 14:14-16). All things may be clean, but to the one who thinks anything is unclean, to him it is unclean. Once we understand that, then we come to realize the connection between our faith and our practice. The one whose faith is weak would be sinning if he did the things he considers unclean. So I must be careful not to make him stumble. If I have freedom in an area where he is not free, I should be careful how I exercise my freedom. Flaunting it in front of him would cause him to stumble. It would hurt him.

There are some practical ways we can put this into practice. If you have freedom to drink wine and your brother does not, then when you are together, don’t drink wine. It’s that simple. This is a loving attitude. It seeks to help the weaker brother.

But how could my drinking wine cause another to stumble? He may be tempted to join you, but due to his weak conscience, he would be sinning. In his own heart, he would be doing something he regards as unclean. Remember that as long as he thinks it’s unclean, to him it is so. Paul wrote, “He who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.” (Rom 14:23). This is key. If your brother doubts when he drinks, then his drinking is not from faith. If he doubts when he eats, then his eating is not from faith. It’s a good thing if you have faith that gives you freedom, but don’t let that good thing become something others speak of as evil. Your weaker brother would be condemned to do what you do, because anything we do that is not of faith is sin.

Love avoids tearing down the work of God, and your weaker brother is the work of God. Paul continued, “Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense. It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles.” (Rom 14:20-21). Paul determined that he would not eat meat or drink wine in front of anyone who was offended in his walk with Christ as a result of it. Even though he was free to eat or drink, he did not want to make a brother stumble. That would tear down the work of God.

Pursue peace and edification
This is a refreshing way to live, isn’t it! Rather than demanding my rights, I willingly give up my rights for the sake of others. That’s how Paul lived, and I want to do the same.

He wrote, “The kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.” (Rom 14:17-19). Of course, you are free to eat and drink. But when you understand that the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, then you are truly free! The kingdom of God is all about righteous, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. If you determine to live in righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit, then God will accept you and you’ll find that men approve of you also. Therefore, let’s pursue the things that make for peace and building up one another.

“Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves. Each of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to his edification.”
(Rom 15:1-2)

It’s wonderful that you have faith. But have it before God and exercise your freedom before Him. “The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves.” (Rom 14:22). Let your convictions about food, drink, and other things be subject to your love for others. Seek to please your neighbor for his good and to his edification. If you can avoid condemning yourself by the things you approve, you’ll be happy and blessed! That's righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit -- joy unspeakable and full of glory!

Attribution notice: Most Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.

Do You Want to Know Him?
If you want to know Jesus personally, you can. It all begins when you repent and believe in Jesus.  Do you know what God's Word, the Bible says?

“Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” (Mar 1:14b-15).  He preached that we must repent and believe.

Please see my explanation of this in my post called "Do You Want to Know Jesus?"

Len Lacroix is the founder of Doulos Missions International.  He was based in Eastern Europe for four years, making disciples, as well as helping leaders to be more effective at making disciples who multiply, developing leaders who multiply, with the ultimate goal of planting churches that multiply. His ministry is now based in the United States with the same goal of helping fulfill the Great Commission.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Drifting Away

Apostasy (a-POS’-te-see) means an abandonment of what one has professed; a total desertion, or departure from one's faith or religion. It’s a turning away or going away from the truth. Can a true Christian become apostate?

Let’s see what the Scriptures have to say on this matter. There are many Scriptures about apostasy, especially in the book of Hebrews. In the following passages, I’ve marked the key words with bold letters and footnotes (in parentheses), so that you can refer to the definitions of the original Greek words used, which I've listed at the bottom in the section called Greek word definition footnotes.

Drifting Away
The writer of Hebrews wrote: “For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away(c) from it.” (Heb 2:1). It is possible to drift or slip away from the Lord like a boat gradually drifts from shore, when it’s not anchored. That’s why we must pay much closer attention to the message of Christ that we have heard than the Jews paid to the Law and the Prophets.

Salvation can be Neglected
“How will we escape if we neglect(j) so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard.” (Heb 2:3). It is possible to neglect your salvation, which means to reject, deny, or refuse it. And since the Jews were punished for their disobedience, how shall we escape if we do so?
Conditional promise based on holding fast our confidence

There promises are conditional ones, based on our holding fast our confidence. Notice the word “if” in these passages.

“but Christ was faithful as a Son over His house--whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end.” (Heb 3:6)

For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end, (Heb 3:14)

Our confidence, our assurance, and our hope are all connected with the trust we had in Jesus at the beginning of our walk with Him. We must maintain these until the very end.

Falling, Straying or Turning Away from the Living God
It is possible to fall away or turn away from the living God.

“Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away(b) from the living God.” (Heb 3:12)

“For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away(a), it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.” (Heb 6:4-6)

“See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape who turn away(d) from Him who warns from heaven.” (Heb 12:25)

“But, beloved, we are convinced of better things concerning you, and things that accompany salvation, though we are speaking in this way.” (Heb 6:9)

“Some (younger widows) have in fact turned away(e) to follow Satan.” (1 Tim 5:15)

“But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away(b) from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth.” (1Tim 4:1-3)

“Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, men who have gone astray(f) from the truth saying that the resurrection has already taken place, and they upset the faith of some.” (2Tim 2:17-18)

“O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you, avoiding worldly and empty chatter and the opposing arguments of what is falsely called "knowledge"-- which some have professed and thus gone astray(f) from the faith. Grace be with you.” (1Tim 6:20-21)

“For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away(h) from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” (1Tim 6:10)

“But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. For some men, straying from these things, have turned aside(e) to fruitless discussion,” (1Tim 1:5-6)

My brethren, if any among you strays(o) from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.  (Jam 5:19-20)

In these last two verses of James, he is writing to believers, whom he calls “brothers.” And he indicates that it is possible for his fellow brethren in Christ to stray or wander from the truth into error. He then indicates that such a person’s soul is in danger of death, even using the term "sinner."  When this happens, the only way such a sinner’s soul can be saved is if he turns from the error of his way.  That’s why James indicates that the brothers should seek to turn such a person back, in other words “convert” him. 

Some may say that no true believer would ever fall away. However, the Scripture indicates it is indeed possible.  The only way a person can fall away, turn aside, wander away, or go astray, is if they were once in a personal relationship with the Lord.  You cannot wander away from someone you were never following or turn aside from a path you were never on.

Falling Away 
Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself said, regarding these last days, "At that time many will fall away (s) and will betray one another and hate one another." (Mat 24:10). We are now living in the days He once spoke about, when it has become common for people to "fall away."  Just as the Lord predicted, such people betray one another and hate one another.  Do you suppose that a person who calls himself a Christian and lives like that will inherit the kingdom of heaven?  Certainly not! "The one who says he is in the Light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now. The one who loves his brother abides in the Light and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes." (1Jn 2:9-11)

The Lord used this expression "fall away" many times, and He made it clear that those who "fall away" without repentance before they die will be thrown into hell.

He said, "If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble (s), cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be cast into the eternal fire. "If your eye causes you to stumble (s), pluck it out and throw it from you. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be cast into the fiery hell." (Mat 18:8-9; cf., 5:29-30; Mk 9:43,45,47)

He also said that when people hear and receive the Word in their hearts, one possible outcome that does happen to some of them is that they "fall away" in time of temptation, such as when affliction and persecution arises because of the Word.

He said, "The one on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away (s)." (Mat 13:20-21)

These words of Jesus were recorded a bit differently by Luke, yet with the same meaning: "Those on the rocky soil are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no firm root; they believe for a while, and in time of temptation fall away(b).” (Luk 8:13).  In fact, Luke used a different and even stronger Greek word for "fall away" (see footnote b) than the one Matthew and Mark used (see footnote s).  Since these inspired gospel writers used these two different words (footnotes b and s) in quoting the same sentence spoken by our Lord about "falling away", we know that they are essentially synonymous terms.

Furthermore, it is important to note that Jesus said this about the man who hears the word and receives it with joy; yet he has no firm root in himself. In other words, he was speaking about those who initially receive the gospel with joy.  As I have already mentioned, it is certainly impossible to fall away from something you have never experienced.  Many people, after having been born again, have lost value.  According to our Lord, if during their lifetime on earth they do not repent for doing so, they will perish in hell.

Falling through disobedience or pride
Many scholars believe that the devil and one-third of the angels fell through disobedience. Whether one-third or some other number of angels fells with him, we know they were holy at one time and fell through disobedience.

“For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment;” (2Pe 2:4)

“Then another sign appeared in heaven: and behold, a great red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads were seven diadems. And his tail *swept away a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she gave birth he might devour her child.” (Rev 12:3-4)

“And there was war in heaven, Michael and his angels waging war with the dragon. The dragon and his angels waged war, and they were not strong enough, and there was no longer a place found for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.” (Rev 12:7-9)

Likewise, an overseer or elder can become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil.

Paul warned Timothy about recent converts who may otherwise qualify to be elders. “He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil.” (1 Tim 3:6)

The Jews who fell through disobedience are an example for us. They did not enter the rest that God promised. “Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall(g), through following the same example of disobedience.” (Heb 4:11)

Becoming hardened by sin’s deceitfulness
It’s possible for your tender heart to become hardened by sin, which is so deceitful. A person who is deceived does not know he is deceived or he would not remain that way. This is a very real danger. That’s why we need to encourage one another. “But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called ‘Today,’ so that none of you will be hardened(n) by the deceitfulness of sin.” (Heb 3:13)

The reason so many Jews were not able to enter the Promised Land was because of their unbelief. They did not combine the message they heard with faith. “So we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief.” (Heb 3:19). Likewise, Jesus said we must be doers and not only hearers of His Word.

Coming short of entering His rest
It is possible to come short of entering His rest. The writer of Hebrews was addressing true believers in Christ. He wrote, “Therefore, let us fear if, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you may seem to have come short (l) of it.” (Heb 4:1). He indicated that even though there remains for us a promise of entering His rest, we should fear the possibility that any one of us may fall short of it.

Coming short of the grace of God
Just as we can come short of entering His rest, we can come short of God’s grace. “See to it that no one comes short( l) of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled; that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal. For you know that even afterwards, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears.” (Heb 12:15-17)

As I mentioned earlier, the danger is that when you come short of God’s grace by abusing it, you may not be able to find a place for repentance ever again. This is what happened to Esau. Therefore, see to it that no one comes short of God’s grace.

Going on sinning willfully
It is possible to go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the Truth. “For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and THE FURY OF A FIRE WHICH WILL CONSUME THE ADVERSARIES.” (Heb 10:26-27).

Sadly, many people do this. They receive the knowledge of the Truth. But afterward, they continue in a lifestyle of willful sin, in which they choose to remain.

Before I knew Christ, one of my favorite songs was Carry on My Wayward Son, by Kansas. In this song, a son is encouraged to continue in his wayward lifestyle. He is assured that there will be peace when he is done, at the end of his life. That’s a recipe for sure disaster. There’s only one acceptable sacrifice for sins, and if a wayward son carries on in sin, after receiving the Truth, no other sacrifice remains. The only thing remaining is not peace, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and fiery fury from God.

Regarding the blood of Jesus as unclean
Anyone who set aside the Law of Moses died without mercy under the Old Covenant, as long as there were two or three witnesses. Under the New Covenant, it is possible to regard as unclean the blood by which you are sanctified. “How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?” (Heb 10:29).

In order to do this, you first have to be sanctified, which means to be made holy. The only way to be sanctified is through the blood of Jesus. Yet some people trample the Son of God under foot after they’ve been sanctified, and this insults the Holy Spirit. According to the Scripture, such people deserve a more severe punishment that those who died without mercy in the Old Covenant.

Shrinking back to destruction
It is possible to withdraw from your faith in Jesus Christ. But the Lord will have no pleasure in the one who does this. “For yet in a very little while, He who is coming will come, and will not delay. But my righteous one shall live by faith; and if he shrinks back(m), my soul has no pleasure in him. But we are not of those who shrink back(m) to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul. (Heb 10:37-39).

The Lord’s righteous one must live by faith. However, if he cowers, pulls back, or shuns the Lord, he will ultimately be destroyed. I hope that everyone reading this is of those who has the kind of enduring faith that preserves the soul.

Being cut off and thrown into the fire
As long as you remain in Christ, you’re safe. But for those who do not, they cannot bear any good fruit, and they will be cut off.

"If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. (Joh 15:6)

"Indeed the axe is already laid at the root of the trees; so every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire." (Luk 3:9; Mat 3:10)

"Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. (Mat 7:19)

The Lord’s remedy for such people is to cut them off and throw them into the fire. It’s impossible to be cut off from Christ the Vine, unless you were at one time connected to Him. The key to avoid this terrible fate is to continue to abide in Him, bearing good fruit.

Being cut off, if we do not continue in His kindness
Paul wrote to the Romans about the Jews, who were a natural part of God’s original tree. Those who fell were cut off, demonstrating the severity of God. And we who believe in Christ were like wild branches grafted into God’s tree, demonstrating the kindness of God.

“Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell(g), severity, but to you, God's kindness, IF you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off.” (Rom 11:22). God’s kindness remains toward us as long as we continue in His kindness. Those who fall will be cut off, according to God’s Word. If He did so to the natural branches, why should He spare the wild branches that were grafted in?

Denying or rejecting the faith
It’s possible to deny the faith. Paul wrote to Timothy, “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied(i) the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (1 Tim 5:8)

Paul warned Timothy about the need to struggle against sin, keep the faith and a good conscience. He wrote, “This command I entrust to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you fight the good fight, keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected(k) and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith. Among these are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan, so that they will be taught not to blaspheme.” (1Tim 1:18-20) These people, like Hymenaeus and Alexander, once had faith and a good conscience. But they have rejected these, rather than keeping them. In doing so they blaspheme and will be handed over to Satan.

Leaving the straight way and wandering off
Peter wrote about people who were walking on the straight way of Jesus, but then wandered off of that way. “They have left(t) the straight way and wandered off(o) to follow the way of Balaam son of Beor, who loved the wages of wickedness.” (2 Pet 2:15) You cannot leave the straight way unless you were once on it. They left the straight way and wandered off for one purpose, which was to follow the wicked way of Balaam. They forsook the straight and narrow path and went astray.  These are the people Peter is writing about throughout the entire chapter of 2 Peter 2. Read verse 15 first. Then go back and read the entire chapter with the understanding that this is whom he is referring to beginning in verse 1. He gives many examples of how God did not spare others and will not spare them, even though they once knew the way of righteousness. This passage teaches us that it is possible to be on the straight way following Jesus Christ, and then leave the straight way.

“The Lord knows how to…hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment, while continuing their punishment.” (2 Pet 2:9). What is the fate of such people? Peter declares, “Like beasts, they too will perish.” (2 Pet 2:12).

Being entangled in the world and overcome by it
Just like a bird can become entangled in a net and be trapped in it, it is possible for a sincere believer to become entangled in the world and overcome by it.

Peter wrote, “If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled(p) in it and overcome(q), they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning.” (2 Pet 2:20). These people once escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! When you know Jesus Christ, you are saved. Yet they again became entangled in corruption and overcome by the world.

As I already mentioned, these are the people Peter is writing about throughout the entire chapter 2 Peter 2. Read verse 20 first. Then go back and read the entire chapter with the understanding that this is who he is referring to beginning in verse 1. He gives many examples of how God did not spare others and will not spare them, even though they once knew the way of righteousness. He said they are "Bringing swift destruction upon themselves" (2 Pet 2:1b) and “Their destruction has not been sleeping.” (2 Pet 2:3)

Turning your back on the sacred commandment
It is possible to turn your back on the sacred commandment. And that is what the people whom Peter wrote about did. “It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs(r) on the sacred commandment passed on to them.” (2 Pet 2:21).

These people knew the way of righteousness and later turned their backs on the sacred commandment. These are the people Peter is writing about in 2 Peter 2 throughout the entire chapter. Read this verse first and then go back and read the entire chapter with the understanding that this is who he is referring to beginning in verse 1. He gives many examples of how God did not spare others and will not spare them, even though they once knew the way of righteousness.

Of them the proverbs are true: “A dog returns to its vomit,” and “A sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mud.” (2 Pet 2:22). It is possible for a person who has been washed to go back to wallowing in the mud, and their end is clearly described in verses 3-10, and verse 13, as well as verse 17. “They will be paid back with harm for the harm they have done.” (2 Pet 2:13) Finally, “Blackest darkness is reserved for them.” (2 Pet 2:17).

My friend, these are harsh words, but they serve as a warning for us. I’m not writing to you self-righteously, as one who has never fallen, but as one who has fallen away before and returned to the Lord.

The prodigal son
Twenty-nine years ago, I was serving in the US Army, and had recently committed my life to Christ (Read my testimony here). As a young, nineteen year-old infantryman, I had been delivered from alcohol and substance abuse, as well as the sinful lifestyle that goes with all of that.

He radically saved me. I was on fire for Jesus in the beginning, sharing the Lord with the people in my life. I had a genuine personal relationship with the Lord. Day and night, I read the Word of God, prayed, had fellowship with other believers, and shared the gospel.

But about three months later, I was transferred for temporary duty overseas. I soon found myself serving in Berlin, Germany. I had brought my Bible and my Christian music, sincerely intending to stay close to the Lord.

However, when I went to the military chapel, I did not like the way they conducted the services. Since I knew of no other place where I could worship with fellow believers, I decided that I would just follow the Lord on my own, without being connected with the Body of Christ. It’s not that I didn’t want fellowship. I prayed for God to provide Christian friends, and I tried to be a witness to those around me. I really thought I could do it alone, but this was a foolish mistake.

I was lonely and wanted to find a wife. So I began going to places where single women could be found, such as the nightclub on post. At first, I just drank cola. It seemed innocent. I knew the Lord was with me, even in that place. But then I began to allow myself one beer or hard drink. Soon it was two, then three, and eventually six in one evening. I slowly slipped right back into my old lifestyle and found myself one night at 2:00 AM, laying in a gutter along the side of the street.

This pattern of falling away from the Lord continued for about six months. But on New Years Eve, I went back to the Protestant military chapel that I had rejected when I first arrived in Germany. They were having a “watch night service,” bringing in the New Year with prayer, worship, and fellowship. I felt so unworthy to be there, so dirty and ashamed of the way I had been living. I sat in the back, away from others.

They happened to be showing a video of a Vietnam veteran named David Roevers, who was awarded the Purple Heart. He gave a testimony about how the Lord saved him from an accidental explosion of a phosphorus grenade. About eighty five percent of his body had been severely burned, but he continued to serve the Lord. At the end of the video, the chaplain gave an invitation for anyone who wanted to commit his or her life to Jesus. I went forward, responding to his invitation with repentance, asking God to forgive me. The Lord’s mercy was so great. He forgave me completely and took me back.

It was like the story of the prodigal son. Like him, I had squandered what the Lord gave me. I spent everything on my own selfish desires until I hit rock bottom. But I came to my senses just like him.

He said, “I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men.'” So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” But the father said to his slaves, “Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.” And they began to celebrate. (Luk 15:18-24)

If you have fallen away from the Lord, or are beginning to do so, then return to Him with all your heart. Just as the father ran to meet his prodigal son, our Heavenly Father will run to you as soon as you repent and set your heart to return to Him.

Safeguards to keep you
Not everyone who falls away returns to the Lord. The saying is true that sin will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay, and cost you more than you want to pay. It’s very dangerous to play with sin. Once you harden your heart to the conviction of the Holy Spirit, it will become very difficult to sense it at all again. So you will no longer hear the warning indicator inside of you.

There are some safeguards that you should implement in your life to ensure you don’t fall away like that.

First of all, seek the Lord. The prophet Isaiah wrote: “Seek the LORD while He may be found; Call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way And the unrighteous man his thoughts; And let him return to the LORD, And He will have compassion on him, And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon.” (Isa 55:6-7)

Aim to love with a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith (1 Tim 1:4).

And just as many of the Scriptures about falling away come from the book of Hebrews, many of the safeguards are also found in the same book. Keep on loving each other (Heb 13:1). Do not forsake the assembling of yourself with other true believers (Heb 10:25). In other words, stay in fellowship with the Body of Christ, where you can worship, pray, serve, and be accountable. Encourage one another daily (Heb 3:13). Hold firmly to the faith we profess (Heb 4:14). Draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith (Heb 10:22). Hold fast our confidence (Heb 10:35). Throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles (Heb 12:1). Run the race with perseverance (Heb 12:1). Fix our eyes on Jesus (Heb 12:2). Keep striving against sin (Heb 12:4). Strive to enter the kingdom (Luk 13:24). Do not make light of the Lord’s discipline or grow weary from it (Heb 12:5). Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy (Heb 12:14). Avoid sexual immorality (Heb 12:16). Let your hearts be strengthened by grace (Heb 13:9). Continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise through Jesus (Heb 13:15). Obey your leaders and submit to their authority (Heb 13:17).

Lastly, you should bear good fruit for the Lord’s glory (John 15:6; Luke 3:9; Mat 7:19), and continue in God’s kindness (Rom 11:22)

Greek word definition footnotes
As you review all of these Greek words used in the New Testament for the various aspects of apostasy, please bear in mind that the Holy Spirit inspired the authors to use these words. This is not an isolated topic, but one that is thoroughly treated in Scripture. Those who deny that it is possible for a true believer to fall away must reckon with all of these words. And those who falsely teach on this topic must one day give an account to God.

a. parapito – to fall aside, that is, (figuratively) to apostatize: - fall away.

b. aphistemi - to desist, desert, etc.: - depart, draw (fall) away, refrain, withdraw self.

c. pararrhueo - to flow by, that is, (figuratively) carelessly pass (miss): - let slip.

d. apostrepho - to turn away or back (lit. or fig.): - bring again, pervert, turn away (from).

e. ektrepo – to deflect, that is, turn away (lit. or fig.): - avoid, turn (aside, out of the way).

f. astocheo - to miss the mark, that is, (figuratively) deviate from truth: - err, swerve.

g. pipto, peto - to fall (literally of figuratively): - fail, fall (down)

h. apoplanao - to lead astray (figuratively); passively to stray (from truth): - err, seduce.

i. arneomai - to contradict, that is, disavow, reject, abnegate: - deny, refuse.

j. ameleo - to be careless of: - make light of, neglect, be negligent, not regard.

k. apotheomai, apothomai - (to shove); to push off, (fig.) to reject: - cast away, put away (from), thrust way (from)

l. hustereo - to be later, to be inferior; to fall short; be destitute, fall, lack, suffer need

m. hupostello - to withhold under, to cower or shrink, to draw back, shun, withdraw.

n. skleruno - to indurate, that is, (figuratively) render stubborn: - harden.

o. planao - to (properly cause to) roam (from safety, truth, or virtue): - go astray, deceive, err, seduce, wander, be out of the way.

p. empleko - to entwine, that is, (figuratively) involve with: - entangle (in, self with).

q. hettao - to make worse, that is, vanquish (literally or figuratively); be inferior, overcome.

r. hupostrepho - to turn under (behind), come again, return (again, back again), turn back (again).

s. skandalizo - to "scandalize"; from the word skandalon, which means to entrap, that is, trip up (figuratively stumble [transitively] or entice to sin, apostasy or displeasure): - (make to) offend.

t. kataleipo - to leave down, that is, behind; by implication to abandon, have remaining: - forsake, leave, reserve.

Putting it All Together
It’s clear from God’s Word that there is such a thing as abandoning one’s faith, drifting away, turning aside from the truth, forsaking the straight way, straying, wandering, and falling away from the Lord. It doesn't happen overnight. You don't go from being "on fire" for Jesus one day, and then wake up the next morning as an apostate. It happens gradually and almost imperceptibly, like a boat drifting out to sea. Knowing that this is in fact possible serves as a warning to every true believer.

When a brother or sister strays from the truth, they once again become a sinner.  Such a person's soul is in danger of death, and the only way to be saved is to turn back (i.e., convert) to Christ once again.

If you have fallen away from the Lord, or are beginning to do so, you need to hear the Lord's voice calling out to you tenderly, "Come on home." Then return to Him with all your heart. Just as the father ran to meet his prodigal son, our Heavenly Father will run to you as soon as you repent and set your heart to return to Him.

If you have not fallen away from the Lord, I’d like to admonish you from Scripture to stay close to the Lord Jesus. There are some safeguards you need to put in place in your life to ensure that you don’t fall away from the Lord. Be sure those are in place in your own life, and encourage others to do the same.

Whether your life comes to an end or the Lord returns, you’ve got to be prepared to meet Him. I pray the Lord will enable you to stand before Him in that day.

Attribution notice: Most Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.

Author's note I realize this post is a very severe word. I am simply saying what Scripture says. In fact, the The Apostasy Parables also carry the same message.  Don't miss my other related articles:  If -- A Picture Paints a Thousand WordsAvoid Becoming a Corrupted Christian, No Turning Back, Eternal Security, and Holding Fast the Faithful Word. I also recommend The Origin of Sin, Satan, and Secular Music and The Rise and Fall of Lucifer the Musician. Let me encourage you to read my blogs about Election and Predestination and the Keeping Power of God. You can access the Main Directory for Seeking the Lord, or my complete blog directory at "Writing for the Master."

I also encourage you to read the articles I have written on the need for obedience:

Is Obedience Optional?
The Law of Christ 
Faith Works!
The Law Fulfilled in Us
The Law Established Through Faith
The Cost of Discipleship
The New Covenant
Costly Grace
Deleted Scriptures in the Bible?
Did Jesus Nail the Law to the Cross?
The Obedience of Faith
Striving to Enter the Kingdom of God
Aim for Perfection
Righteous Deeds and White Robes
Doing What is Right
Your Rewards Are Based on Your Practice
Partaking of the Divine Nature
Walking in the Perfect Will of God
Pressing on Toward the Goal
Obedience by the Spirit

Now I'd like to ask a very important question.

Do You Want to Know Him?
If you want to know Jesus personally, you can. It all begins when you repent and believe in Jesus.  Do you know what God's Word, the Bible says?

“Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” (Mar 1:14b-15).  He preached that we must repent and believe.

Please see my explanation of this in my post called "Do You Want to Know Jesus?"

Len Lacroix is the founder of Doulos Missions International.  He was based in Eastern Europe for four years, making disciples, as well as helping leaders to be more effective at making disciples who multiply, developing leaders who multiply, with the ultimate goal of planting churches that multiply. His ministry is now based in the United States with the same goal of helping fulfill the Great Commission.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Beauty of Brokenness

Most people don’t like broken things. We prefer things that are whole. That’s why most people don’t go out and buy things that are broken, like broken cars, windows, or bicycles. It’s safe to say that most people don’t relish the thought of being broken themselves either.

Experiences that break us are not pleasant but painful, hurtful, or frustrating. We often wish these situations would just go away. But can we avoid being broken as disciples of Christ? Is this something only for a few people, while all the rest of us can live a life of ease, free from brokenness? It’s important to know the answers, and there’s a lot that God has to say in His Word about this to provide us with the answers.

All Creation Groans
Perhaps one of the best descriptions of this process is found in Paul’s letter to the Romans. He wrote: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” (Rom 8:18-21) Here we learn that the creation was subjected to futility. And this was not something creation willingly volunteered for. So who was responsible for this? God was. Paul said it was because of Him who subjected it. But why was this futility necessary anyway? It’s because the creation itself is in slavery to corruption, and God wants to set it free from that slavery. When it’s set free, the creation experiences the freedom of the glory of God’s children.

This process is not easy. In fact, we know that creation has been groaning through this process like a woman in the pains of childbirth. So it’s clear that this is something God is allowing creation to go through and it’s painful.

We Ourselves Groan
Then to be certain that we don’t think this is all about non-human creation like the earth, the animals, and the environment, he goes on to say this: “And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.” (Rom 8:23). Paul leaves no question at all about the fact that we disciples of Christ are going through this same process. He uses repetition to emphasize it saying, “But also we ourselves…even we ourselves.” So what is it we’re going through? Well, as with the creation, God has subjected us to some frustrating experiences, and this is not willingly. This process causes us to groan within ourselves. Usually this word groaning is used of the sounds made by dying men. Isn’t that what we are? We are going through a dying process, and inside ourselves we groan. Why is all this futility necessary? Well, like the rest of creation, we were in slavery to corruption, and God wants to set us free from that slavery. When we’re set free, the creation experiences the freedom of the glory of God’s children.

As with creation, the process is not easy for us, but painful. Yet it’s the only way to experience the glorious freedom God intends for His children.

Someone will ask how born again believers could still be in slavery to corruption when the Scriptures teach we are no longer slaves to sin. When we come to Christ, He does set us free from slavery to sin, no doubt about it. But the process is both instant and progressive. We experience something right away that is real, it’s powerful, and it’s life changing. But then the process we experience afterward involves a further being set free from slavery. We’re still waiting for something that hasn’t happened yet. It’s our adoption as sons. It’s the redemption of our body. We haven’t seen this take place yet, so we’re still waiting for it. And until it does, we go through these frustrating experiences that cause us to groan. “For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.” (Rom 8:24-25) The Lord has wonderful things in store for His children. But it takes perseverance on our part and it requires that we wait eagerly for it to happen.

Brokenness Releases a Beautiful Fragrance
There was a woman that was a sinner who came to Jesus with an alabaster box or vial full of very expensive perfume. She broke the box and poured the perfume on Jesus head and feet out of love for him. When she did this, the fragrance filled the room. Some of the disciples were indignant and complained about this, saying it was a waste of good perfume. They only saw the money that could have been made by selling the unbroken box of perfume, saying that the money from the sale of the perfume could have been given to the poor. Jesus responded saying that his disciples would always have the poor with them, and they could do good to the poor anytime. But they would not always have Him among them. He said that what she did was good, and she was actually anointing his body beforehand for the burial. (Mark 14:3-9)

This is a great illustration of brokenness, isn't it? This woman literally broke a box of perfume that was worth a lot to her, so that she could bless the Lord and minister to Him. If she had not broken the jar, the lovely fragrance would not have come forth. Others could only see the value of the box while it was whole. But Jesus saw the value of it when it was broken. That's the way our lives are, too. Many can only see how they could be valuable if they were whole, but the Lord appreciates the love and beautiful fragrance that flows from our lives when we are broken.

Jesus once said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal." (Joh 12:24-25). In order for any seed to bear fruit, it has to go down beneath the clods of earth into that dark place and die. Its hard outer shell has to crack open, so that the life that God has placed within it can come forth and break through the soil to bear fruit. That's the way our lives are, too.

Twentieth century Chinese author Watchman Nee wrote: "The Lord longs to find a way to bless the world through those who belong to Him. Brokenness is the way of blessing, the way of fragrance, the way of fruitfulness, but it is also a path sprinkled with blood. Yes, there is blood from many wounds." (The Release of the Spirit, p. 13). Are you willing to be broken, so that the fragrance and fruitfulness may come forth?

He Who Falls on This Stone Will Be Broken
Jesus Himself said that He is the Chief Cornerstone, "And he who falls on this Stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust." (Mat 21:44). So there are two kinds of people in life. There are those who reject the Stone and it falls on them. And then there are those who fall on this Stone and build their lives on it. The Stone falls on those who reject it, and it smashes them into fine dust. As Solomon wrote: “A man who hardens his neck after much reproof Will suddenly be broken beyond remedy.” (Pro 29:1). On the other hand, those who fall on the Stone are broken to pieces. When we put our trust in Jesus, it breaks us. But I’d rather be broken to pieces by Him than be scattered like dust.

King David went through many experiences that brought about brokenness in him. Some of these breaking experiences were a result of his own sin, like when he sinned with Bathsheba. Afterward, there were consequences to live with. For one thing, the baby she became pregnant with died after it was born. And other breaking experiences were the result of things other people did to him. For example, since Saul sought to kill David, he lived as a refugee on the run for many years. And later on after he became king, his own son Absalom usurped the throne. David prayed, “I am forgotten as a dead man, out of mind; I am like a broken vessel.” (Psa 31:12).

Yet David responded well to it. When Nathan the prophet pointed out his sin with Bathsheba to him, he repented before God. He felt like God had broken his bones and he prayed, “Make me to hear joy and gladness, Let the bones which You have broken rejoice.” (Psa 51:8). He knew that God was pleased with a broken heart when he prayed, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.” (Psa 51:17). At another time of great national loss, when he struggled with Aram-naharaim and with Aram-zobah, and Joab killed twelve thousand men of Edom, he prayed, “O God…You have broken us.” (Psa 60:1)

His character grew through the breaking process, and he continued to follow the Lord all the days of his life. We know David as one of the greatest kings of all time.

Job also went through a breaking experience. He lost his children, his health, and his property. And in the midst of it all, he said, “My spirit is broken, my days are extinguished, The grave is ready for me.” (Job 17:1). But in the end, God restored Job. He had more children later and was richer than he had ever been before he suffered the huge loss.

Don't Run from the Process
Some believers who experience the breaking process run from it. They walk away and go looking in the world for comfort. But the world can’t satisfy them. It never will. Others go looking for spiritual leaders who will tell them what they want to hear. It’s like the prophet Jeremiah said of the false prophets who were greedy for gain, "They have healed the brokenness of My people superficially, Saying, 'Peace, peace,' But there is no peace.” (Jer 6:14). People like to hear a peaceful message, and many will gather to hear a leader who speaks that way. But it's only superficial help that feels good for the moment. It doesn't address the deeper issues that God wants to deal with.

We know that a true man of God will not preach false peace when God is dealing with people. The prophet Jeremiah saw how the Lord was dealing with his people for worshiping idols, and he mourned over it. He was broken himself to see this happen to them. "Harvest is past, summer is ended, And we are not saved." For the brokenness of the daughter of my people I am broken; I mourn, dismay has taken hold of me. Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has not the health of the daughter of my people been restored?” (Jer 8:20-22). Like Jeremiah, we sometimes feel like we’ve waited for a long time, and we’re not delivered from the situation causing so much grief.

We need to know that the Lord doesn’t just break us and leave us. He helps us and heals us. “He heals the brokenhearted And binds up their wounds.” (Psa 147:3) While it may be painful, the Lord is not far away at all, but near to the broken: “The righteous cry, and the LORD hears And delivers them out of all their troubles. The LORD is near to the brokenhearted And saves those who are crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, But the LORD delivers him out of them all.” (Psa 34:17-19).

In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he wrote about our present sufferings and the pain it brings. We covered this here already. Yet he went on to assure us that God will not forsake us. He will not abandon us in the midst of our suffering. Paul wrote about the way God always works things out. “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Rom 8:28). So when we’re going through a breaking experience, we need to hold onto this promise, knowing the Lord will work all these things together for good.

Who Shall Separate Us from the Love Of Christ?
When we go through breaking experiences, we may wonder if God loves us. We might pray, “God, don’t you care what I’m going through?” But whatever may happen to us, we can be sure that God still loves us. “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God's elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” (Rom 8:31-35).

That’s a great question: Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Here’s the answer: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 8:38-39).

If you are a disciple of Jesus Christ going through a breaking process right now, take heart. Be encouraged. Jesus loves you and will work this all out for good. You are in good company with people like David and Job. In fact, every believer who puts his trust in Jesus will be broken. It’s not optional. God wants us to experience complete and glorious freedom from slavery and corruption. That's the beauty of brokenness. Remember, Jesus said, “And He was saying to them all, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it.’”(Luk 9:23-24). So it’s a daily thing where we have to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Jesus. He said, "And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.” (Mat 10:38).

If you are not a disciple of Jesus and you are not building your life on the Rock, then you need to know He loves you and wants a personal relationship with you. The one thing standing in the way is your sin, and we’ve all sinned. Jesus has taken care of that by dying on the cross for you and paying the price for your sins, so you don’t have to. He has risen from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit and sits at God's right hand.

It all begins by falling on the Stone
It all begins by falling on the Stone, Jesus Christ. Humbly and sincerely repent of your sins before Him, and ask His forgiveness. He will forgive you. And then surrender yourself to Him and invite him to come and live inside your heart. The life you’ve always dreamed of lies in this thing you dread. What are you waiting for? There’s nothing to dread. Your other option is to remain stiff-necked until the day you die, and ultimately be scattered like dust by the Stone. But now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.

I hope this has helped you, whether you are a mature believer or a new one, to see the beauty of brokenness.

If you'd like to watch a music video related to this message, click here.

Attribution notice: Most Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.

Author's note: If you enjoyed this post, you may also like the other posts in this blog available through the links in the side bar. You may also access my blog directory at "Writing for the Master."

Do You Want to Know Him?
If you want to know Jesus personally, you can. It all begins when you repent and believe in Jesus.  Do you know what God's Word, the Bible says?

“Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” (Mar 1:14b-15).  He preached that we must repent and believe.

Please see my explanation of this in my post called "Do You Want to Know Jesus?"

Len Lacroix is the founder of Doulos Missions International.  He was based in Eastern Europe for four years, making disciples, as well as helping leaders to be more effective at making disciples who multiply, developing leaders who multiply, with the ultimate goal of planting churches that multiply. His ministry is now based in the United States with the same goal of helping fulfill the Great Commission.