The Book That Stands Alone

I am a lover of good books and highly value many that are on my shelves! But the Bible stands alone from all other books in my life! I believe it to be the inspired, inerrant, infallible and authoritative Word of God. It is the single most important source of my understanding of God and all of His creation. It shapes my faith, guides my life and gives me a lens in which to view and understand the world around me. It is the book that God has chosen to reveal the way to Heaven. I agree with the venerable John Wesley when he said, “O give me that book!   At any price, give me that book of God”.

The Bible stands alone in its origin. It was written over a span of 1500 years by 40 different authors from all walks of life (kings, philosophers, fisherman, poets, statesmen, farmers, physicians and scholars). It was written on three different continents (Asia, Africa and Europe) in three different languages (Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek) from palaces, dungeons and wilderness haunts, during times of war, peace, prosperity and famine. Composed on stone, clay, papyrus, and parchment, those original manuscripts were written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit without contradiction or error – thus providing for us God’s holy Word.

It stands alone as the mind of God. Scripture is indeed the revelation of God’s mind. It is certainly not His entire mind but it is all that He has chosen to share. If we are to think as God thinks; if we are to see life as He sees life; then we must saturate our minds with scripture. The Apostle Paul admonished the Roman Christians to readjust their thinking by the “renewing of your mind” using the Bible as the means to do so.

Scripture stands alone as the source for absolute truth. The Bible is the only reliable moral compass that we have. We are moral and spiritual creatures living in a world that is controlled by moral and spiritual values. The concepts of good and evil are innate in our human psyche; yet sin has distorted our understanding of truth as well as disabled our ability to live it. We cannot, either individually or collectively, decide what truth is or what is to be accepted as a true standard for moral behavior without the transcendent absolute truths that are given to us in Scripture. To deny Scripture as the standard for absolute truth is to remove any absolute standard for moral behavior and reasoning.

The Bible stands alone in its ability to change the course of history as well as the lives of those who live that history out. A simple verse of scripture, quickened to the heart by the Holy Spirit, can radically alter the course of a life and a nation – writing a new future for both! No other spoken word has such impact. No other book has such power. “Oh, give me that Book! At any price, give me the Book of God”.

We Are Becoming What We Love

We are all in a constant state of movement. Ask any parent and they will tell you their tumbling little toddler is running rapidly toward becoming a towering adult. Ask any teacher and they will tell you that the first grader struggling to read small words and add simple figures will someday be reading the classics and doing calculus. On the other hand, ask the doctor about aging, and he will tell you that we are moving away from strength to weakness, and from life to death. For the Christian, Paul says we are, “being changed from glory to glory.” (II Cor. 3:18)

We are all in the process of becoming. We have moved from what we were and are now moving toward what we shall be. The troubling thought about this is not that we are moving, but what we are moving toward. Life refuses to let us be still. We are ascending or descending – mounting up or sinking down.

An important question in this process is, “What determines our direction?” According to A.W. Tozer, “we are becoming what we love. We are to a large degree the sum of our loves and we will of moral necessity grow into the image of what we love most.”

No wonder the greatest Biblical commandment admonishes us to, “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matt. 22:37) Jesus infers this in the Sermon on the Mount when He said, “Where your treasure is, there will be your heart be also.” (Matt. 6:21)

You and I are being molded by our affinities and shaped by the things we love. This is the reason behind much of the drift, compromise and worldliness that we see happening all around us. Much of what people call a new found freedom in Christ is nothing more than an unrestrained display of a deep love for this present world.

The law of moral affinity will either cause us to reflect Biblical values in our activities, attitudes and adornment or else will mold us into something that reflects the values of this fallen world. Both Jezebel and Judas were at one time pink-cheeked innocent children, but they set their affections on the wrong things and were carried downstream by a moral undertow. There is no middle ground. It’s not where you are at this moment; it is where you’re moving. You are becoming what you love!

 

A Call to the Conservative Holiness Movement

by the President and Faculty of the Division of Ministerial Education,

God’s Bible School and College, Cincinnati, Ohio

INTRODUCTION. Deeply concerned for the future of the Holiness Movement, and especially of the Conservative Holiness Movement of which we are a part, we issue this call for the full and vigorous recovery of our heritage as Christians of Wesleyan conviction. We share the distress of those who warn of “historical drift,” spiritual apathy, and surrender to the depraved secular culture that surrounds us. We submit that a renewed commitment to the essential principles of scriptural Christianity which we have received in classical Methodist belief, piety, and mission will prepare and strengthen us for the challenges that confront us. We appeal, therefore, to our entire movement to unite with us joyfully in this commitment, pledging uncompromising faithfulness to God’s Word and to creative relevance in our ministry. Upon the original foundations of our movement, therefore, we must build determined, effective, and contemporary witness to God’s unchanging summons to holy hearts and holy lives.

Implicit in this recovery are the following specific themes:

A CALL TO BIBLICAL FIDELITY

As Wesleyans we affirm that the Holy Scriptures, as the inspired and inerrant Word of God, are the basis of authority in the Church, normative for all our faith and practice. We declare with the English Reformers, “Holy Scripture contains everything that is necessary for salvation, so that whatever is not stated in it, or cannot be proved by it, must not be required of any man as an article of belief or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.”

Yet we have often focused on issues and made demands which we cannot legitimately establish from the Scriptures. As a result, trivial notions and speculations at times have marred our witness. We call, therefore, for renewed submission to the absolute authority of the Bible, not as a revered icon, but as the touchstone for both our personal lives and our public proclamation. For in every age, the Church must submit itself unconditionally to the Word of God, interpreting it in harmony with itself, in keeping with the best insights of historical and literary study, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and with respect for the historic understanding of devout Christian scholarship.

A CALL TO HISTORIC ROOTS AND CONTINUITY

 We gladly affirm our allegiance to the classical Christianity of the centuries, confessing its faith, sharing its historic witness, living out its godly discipline, and claiming all of its treasures as our own. We give God praise for our legacy of evangelical Christianity magnificently set forth in the heroic lives of ancient Christians, the faithful witnesses of the Middle Ages, the stalwart testimony of the Reformers, the biblical proclamation of the Wesleys, and the earnest piety of the early Holiness Movement. We rejoice in the lives and ministry of earnest followers of Our Lord from every branch of orthodox Christianity.

But too often we have smugly disconnected ourselves from our Christian past; and in so doing we have become theologically shallow, spiritually weak, and blind to the work of God in the lives of others. We have withdrawn ourselves into protected enclaves, congratulating ourselves on our superiority over other Christians, sometimes refusing fellowship with them because of our disagreement in doctrine or in practice, and ignoring the continuing work of the Holy Spirit throughout all the universal Church. At best, this is lamentable ignorance, and at worst, sectarian bigotry. We call therefore, with John Wesley, for a “league offensive and defensive with every soldier of Christ,” reclaiming the richness of our Christian heritage and our essential unity with all who truly confess Him as Lord.

III. A CALL TO CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY

Union with Christ establishes membership in His Church, the community of the faithful, in all times and places. It is founded by Our Lord and established upon Himself, and we claim His infallible promise that the gates of hell shall never withstand it. As we live out our faithfulness to Him, we must also live in faithfulness to the Church, which is His body and bride, living and dying in its communion. We affirm the traditional Protestant insistence that the visible Church is the congregation of the faithful in which the “pure Word of God is preached and the sacraments duly administered according to Christ’s ordinance.”

Too often, however, we have adopted a narrow and individualistic approach to our Christian Faith. Sometimes we have so emphasized personal spiritual relationship that we have forgotten that relationship must be realized, strengthened, and advanced within the company of God’s people. At other times, we have imagined that we were the Church, or at least that the Holiness Movement was its most significant component rather than only a tiny segment of its fellowship. We call, therefore, for renewed understanding of the biblical doctrine of the Church as “the pillar and ground of the truth,” reverence for its orthodox confessions, submission to its holy discipline, and faithfulness to its common life. As a coalition of holiness believers within its communion, we gladly but humbly offer our gifts to the universal Church—gifts which center in our historic focus on holiness of heart and life.

A CALL TO CHRISTIAN HOLINESS

Holiness of heart and life flowing out of love for God, as we believe, is the “central idea of Christianity,” for this is God’s redemptive purpose for our fallen humanity. Holiness is both His gift and our pursuit, and as the writer to Hebrews reminds us, without it none of us shall ever see the Lord. Negatively, holiness is separation from all that is sinful and unlike Chris; and positively, separation unto godliness, righteousness, and full Christlikeness. It begins in regeneration by the Spirit, flourishes in the work of entire sanctification, and advances throughout our lives. As Wesleyans, we reassert the biblical passion of our forebears “to reform the continent and spread scriptural holiness over these lands.”

We confess, however, that our passion for holiness of heart and life has sometimes been reduced merely to external codes and prohibitions, and “holier-than-thou” attitudes toward those who differ from us. As such we have become shell without substance, and betrayed the Scriptural mandate to be holy, because the Lord our God is holy. We therefore call our movement to a renewed love for God from which will blossom consistent and winsome lives of holiness, first in motivating purpose, and second, in outward conduct. This means that we must continue to accentuate both of the definitive moments we identify as works of divine grace, conversion and entire sanctification, all the while giving proper attention to the progressive growth in grace by the Spirit and the increasing separation from the world which our Methodist forebears so firmly stressed.

A CALL TO METHODIST PIETY

Our Methodist heritage has underscored the necessity of devout personal piety grounded in sincere love and profound reverence for God. This implies binding and lifelong covenant with Him, living faith in Christ our great sin-bearer, allegiance to the inner principle of “jealous godly fear,” commitment to disciplined discipleship, faithful obedience to His holy Law, dynamic growth in grace, and faithful use of the means of grace. All holiness of heart and life must be grounded in sober and steadfast love for God.

Sometimes, however, our emphasis on external regulation and dutiful performance has ignored the principles of authentic piety. Our appeals to holy conduct, which are both legitimate and necessary, have often been based more in the impulse to preserve the taboos of our religious subculture than in allegiance to the Word of God and its demands. The heart of all Christian obligation is loving God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and then “to fear Him and keep His commandments.” Not only are we called to do what is right but also to love what is right, for this reason abstaining from all that He condemns and embracing all that He enjoins. We will never stop the “historical drift” among us merely by enforcing traditional legislation but by vigorous and renewed insistence upon authentic relationship with God and passionate pursuit of Him. Gladly we reaffirm our traditional emphasis upon simplicity, modesty, stewardship, separation from the world, and conscientious lifestyle, but all this must be within this warm and gracious context of loving what God loves and hating what God hates.

As Methodists, therefore, we call our movement to return to our originating commitment to principled covenant with God, which, according to the General Rules of 1743, demanded these commitments: (1) the renunciation of all known sin; (2) the embracing of all positive virtue, and (3) the faithful practice of the means of grace, especially “the instituted means of grace,” defined as the Word, prayer, fasting, Christian fellowship, and the Lord’s Supper. This demands disciplined life within the community of the Church, a renewing of our historic pattern of spiritual formation through small accountability groups, such as the class meeting, and faithful submission to healthy and holy discipline, while at the same time we are altogether dependent upon the gracious work of the Spirit who changes us “from glory to glory” into the likeness of Our Lord.

A CALL TO AUTHORITY IN THE CHURCH

Christ Our Lord has delegated the powers of government to duly-appointed officers in the Church, and we are mandated to obey them faithfully. All Christians are to be in practical submission to one another and to these designated officials in the Church. The edifying and equipping of God’s people and the administration of church discipline are committed especially to faithful pastors who are called not as “lords over God’s heritage,” but as examples and as shepherds of His flock.

We therefore deplore the spirit of autonomy and even anarchy which so often has marked our movement. Too often in our congregations and denominational life we have exhibited rebellion against the authority structures which God Himself has established, boasting our independence of them, and refusing to submit to their godly discipline. This has been evidenced by continuing divisions among us, often over matters unconnected with allegiance to Scriptural truth. As the heirs of classical Christianity, we have not so learned Christ. “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable to you” (Heb. 13:17).

We call therefore for renewed exposition of the Scriptural qualifications for leadership within the Church, corporate exhortation to beware the deceitfulness of sin, and biblical obedience and submission to those whom God has made under-shepherds over us. God grants no Christian autonomy from mutual submission and accountability within the Body of Christ. We must therefore repent of our oft refusals to exercise the Scriptural means of restorative discipline within the Church and commit ourselves to loving one another even as our Father loves us in chastening and scourging every son whom He receives.

VII. A CALL TO CORPORATE WORSHIP

Corporate worship is the exalted glory and central pulse of every Christian congregation. At its core, worship is the adoration of God, Holy, Blessed, and Undivided Trinity, and by apostolic mandate, it is to be conducted with decency and order. In the public worship of the Church, as the old Methodist communion service reminds us, we join “angels and archangels and all the company of heaven [to] laud and magnify” the Lord of hosts, joining in their eternal hymn, “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of hosts, Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory.”

As Wesleyans we have a two-fold heritage in Christian worship. On the one hand is the warmth and earnestness of fervent and joyful devotion. On the other is the sober restraint of form, dignity, and tradition. Both are essential. Too often, however, we have emphasized the first and neglected the second. We need not neglect the subjective emphasis so characteristic of our services, but we must ground our sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving in the great objective acts and truths of God Himself.

We call therefore for the renewal of our corporate worship, based in the mandates of Scripture and in the tradition of evangelical orthodoxy, centered in the faithful ministry of Word and Sacrament. Our preaching must be based in conscientious interpretation and earnest proclamation of the Holy Scriptures, and our administration of the sacred ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper must be meaningful and faithful. We lament our neglect of baptism and the Lord’s Table, for this is to slight the Saviour who so kindly has established them to fortify our faith, calm our fears, and nourish us with grace.

VIII. A CALL TO CONSISTENT DISCIPLESHIP

Christ commissioned His followers to make disciples through Trinitarian baptism and instruction in all His commands. The early church responded to Our Lord’s call to aggressive evangelism by taking the gospel to every corner of their world. Yet they realized that the central thrust of the Great Commission was discipleship accomplished through baptism and teaching, so they largely invested their time and energy in systematically teaching new converts the whole counsel of God and equipping them for ministry. This same emphasis elevated Wesleyan Methodism to towering stature in the kingdom of God, while without it Whitefieldian Methodism proved “a rope of sand.” We confess that, despite our heritage, evangelism has languished among us. We have largely abandoned our Methodist system of spiritual formation and forgotten how to fulfill our Lord’s command to make disciples. We have sought revival without preparing to preserve its fruits. We have emphasized spectacular conversions and neglected the biblical necessity of disciplined growth in faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love. We further acknowledge that where evangelism is taking place among us, a systematic plan for incorporating new converts into the visible Body of Christ through baptism and instruction is largely non-existent.

We call, therefore, not merely for a reaffirmation of the importance of evangelism and discipleship, but for a commitment to equip our laity for the work of the ministry, for the establishment of solidly Wesleyan curricula for systematic discipleship, and for the implementation of these training methods in all our churches. This will necessitate a concerted effort on the part of our leaders to reclaim the skills of discipleship, reinstitute regular systems of accountability and affirmation, and to resume obedience to Scripture’s mandate to teach faithful men who shall be able to teach others also. We shall begin again to bear much fruit when our disciples themselves become disciple-makers.

A CALL TO CHRISTIAN SOCIAL WITNESS

Our Lord’s call to take up the cross and follow Him is a call to Christian social witness, for everywhere the Master went He ministered to both the spiritual and physical needs of people. We have been created in Christ Jesus for good works (Eph. 2:10), indeed, saving faith works through love (Gal. 5:6), first in meeting the needs of fellow believers, and second in doing good to all men. Love for Our Lord and passion for holiness should impel us to minister compassionately to the sick, the suffering, and the forsaken, and to resist courageously societal structures that oppose divine purpose and degrade human dignity. “Whenever the Christian lives an authentic life, the world around is permeated with God’s presence…,” as Dr. Leon Hynson has written. “[He] raises the quality of life, makes social justice, equity, and integrity work. The pure in heart not only ‘see’ God, but become the letters through which society sees Him.”

Unfortunately, we have sometimes withdrawn from that society into the cloistered walls of a narrow and narcissistic piety. But this was not the pattern of our spiritual forebears who raised Christian consciousness in all the forums of public life and who filled their land with works of grace and mercy. Their stated mission, “to reform the continent and spread scriptural holiness over these lands,” asserted God’s sanctifying purpose to transform lives and in consequence to transform culture.

We call therefore for renewed commitment to Christian social witness. This means that we will lovingly and forcefully proclaim Christ’s power to liberate from sin, both public and private, asserting the claims of His Kingdom against all that militates against it. This commitment will also lead us to minister compassionately in His name to the imprisoned, the needy, and the oppressed.

A CALL TO RESURGENT HOPE

All Christian life is centered in the resplendent hope that we have through Christ’s victory accomplished in His incarnation, atoning death, and resurrection. The sure and certain anchor of the soul, this hope has given gladness and assurance to faithful believers all throughout the centuries of the Church’s struggle with the forces of entrenched evil. It assures us of present victory in our personal lives and corporate ministry, but it also points to the final triumph when every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Never have we so needed a renewed sense of the hope that we have in Him. We know the power and devastation of sin, and we acknowledge the increasing degradation of our culture. We are Wesleyans, however; and as our theologians have said, the keynote of our theology is not the “pessimism of [fallen] nature” but the “optimism of grace.” We therefore call our movement to the joyous expectation of victory which so motivated our spiritual forebears to claim the American frontier for Jesus Christ. We cannot cower before the darkness, paralyzed by “the encircling gloom” which continually we must confront. “But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.” The same power which brought the Roman Empire to bow before the cross, renewed the Church in the days of the Protestant Reformation, and reshaped the culture in the Wesleyan Revival is also ours as we encounter the moral depravity and sneering secularism of our times. Let us be joyfully faithful, then, creatively relevant, and utterly confident that Jesus’ victory is our own. With gladness we do the work which He has given us, even as we await the consummation when all the earth shall echo with the song of conquest, “Alleluia! The Lord God Omnipotent reigns!”

 

The Incarnation

Famous radio and television personality, Larry King, was known for his ability to ask the one question that would not only define the interview but the one being interviewed as well. On one occasion King said that if he could land an interview with God he would ask Him just one simple question, “Did you have a son?” King, who is Jewish, understands that the answer to that question carries with it profound even eternal ramifications. It has to be one of the most significant questions any seeker of truth could ask. If the answer is yes (and of course it is), then all history, all reality and all true faith come to focus in the incarnation of Jesus Christ – the eternal Son of God!

The word incarnation means in-flesh” and denotes the act whereby the eternal Son of God took to Himself an additional nature, humanity, through the virgin birth. The result is that Christ remains forever unblemished deity, which He has had from eternity past; but He also possesses true, sinless humanity in one person forever. The purpose of the incarnation can be expressed in three key ideas:

Explanation – John 1:18

he hath declared him” (KJV); “He has explained him” (NASB) “he has made him known” (ESV)

The Greek word (translated by the words declare, explain and made known) is the word in which we get our word “exegesis”. It means that Jesus came in human flesh to explain God or make Him known. Though God has revealed Himself in various ways, only the Incarnation of Jesus Christ clearly revealed the essence of God. So now when we “see” and “know” Jesus (read the divine revelation about the Son in scripture) we can “see” and “know” the Father.

Redemption – John 1:29

“behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”

Without the Incarnation we could have no redemption. Sin requires death for its payment. But the one dying had to satisfy the demands of God’s holiness and justice and that required a sinless sacrifice – one which only God Himself could provide. Since God does not die, the Savior must be human in order to be able to die. However, the death of an ordinary man would not pay for sin eternally, so the Savior must also be God. We needed a God-Man Savior, one without sin, who could die for our sins. That is exactly what we have in the Lord Jesus Christ (Heb. 10:1-10).

Identification – John 1:14

“became flesh and dwelt among us”

Dr. H.C. Morrison spoke about this aspect of the incarnation like this,   “God created man but had never been a man. He had seen men suffer but he had never felt pain. He had seen men bleed but he had never bled. He had seen men toil but he had never blistered his hands with carpenter tools. He had seen men die but he had never spread his omnipotent shoulders on the bottom of a cold sepulcher”. So He became one of us! From the womb of His mother to the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, he identified with every aspect of our lives. He was hungry, weary, needy and fearful. He has faced every battle and felt every temptation that you and I face …yet without sin. This means that we have a God who fully identifies with us and can help us in our time of need (Hebrews 4:14-16).

A father put his four-year-old son to bed. Having finished prayers, stories, and all the little bedtime things, he kissed his son and turned off the light. The boy started sobbing, “Don’t leave me. I’m scared and don’t want to stay here alone.” The father tried to encourage the little boy by reminding him of God’s presence that was always near. The little boy said, “I know that but I want somebody with skin on.” What God could not accomplish through any other method, He was able to accomplish through sending His Son as the God-Man. This is the great message of the Incarnation!

 

Are Christians Really Different?

Believe it or not, the question posed in my title has been challenging for the church to answer in practical concrete ways! It has struggled to find balanced answers that keep it from falling into the ditch on either side of the question. When it over emphasizes uniqueness and separation, it falls into the ditch of reclusion and isolation. When it over emphasizes relevance and contextualization, it succeeds in filling up churches with people who have not experienced real gospel transformation. Both extremes produce the same result – no real transforming impact of the surrounding culture.

However, the Bible makes it quite clear that true Christians are not only distinct from non-Christians but also from those who are merely religious (Matt. 6:1-8).  The most definitive statement Jesus ever gave on how truly different an authentic Christian is and how that difference is lived out in concrete terms is found in the Sermon on the Mount. The sermon is filled with illustrations that compare and or contrast authentic Christians with non-Christians.   In doing this, Jesus contrast: two sets of values, two kinds of disciples, two kinds of righteousness, two kinds of spiritual exercises, two motives for obedience, two masters, two paths, two trees and two foundations. When He uses comparisons, He primarily compares the Christian view with the worlds view (someone who doesn’t know God) or the Christian view with the view of someone who is merely religious (rule and tradition keepers that have no real relationship with God).

Being Different is Essential

The New Testament makes the case that authentic Christians are indeed different and that difference is fundamental. The greatest eras in the life of the church have been when the line between the church and the world was the most distinct. I fear today’s church has forgotten this principle.   Christians certainly live in the world but they are not of the world. When the church becomes the same as the world, the church loses its unique ability to be a change agent.

How are Christians distinct from the world?

They are different in what they value (Matt. 5:3-12). One example of this is that the Christian values true humility while the world despises such a person. To the world, he lacks self-confidence, self-expression and the mastery of life.

They are different in what they seek (Matt. 5:6; 6:33) The Christians seeks after God’s Kingdom and His righteousness. The world seeks, fashion, longevity, wealth, status, power and publicity.

They are different in what they store up (Matt. 6:19-21, 25-33) The Christian stores up the kinds of things that have permanent value. The world stores up treasure that is passing away and has only temporal value.

They are different in whom they serve (Matt. 6:24) Jesus makes it clear that when it comes to material and spiritual things either your material things become your god or God is God of your material things. You can’t serve both! The world serves the god of the material while the Christian lays all his material things at the feet of his God.

How are Christians distinct from people who are merely religious?

True Christians are utterly distinct from those who are merely religious. In the gospels you see anger by Jesus toward the institutionalized religion of the Pharisees. However, when Jesus gets around sinners, He is patient and kind. When he gets around merely religious people, He is severely direct and critical. The reason for this lies in the difference between the two. Even though the Christian and the merely religious person may look much the same on the surface, there is a significant difference in the two.

They are different in the way they impact people (Matt. 13-16). Christians are attractive to and attracted to the kind of people that live in the darkness of sin. They run to bring the light of Jesus to the dark places of society. Christians are willing to engage the decay of the world with the salt of the gospel as well as their personal involvement. However, merely religious people are turned off by and alienated from these same people of darkness and decay. They put their light “under a bowl” while pulling their righteous robes about them lest they actually interact with these kinds of people.

They are different in the way they position themselves to other people (Matt. 7:1-5). Merely religious people see their sins as speck of dust and others sins as a huge plank. Christians see their sins as a plank and others as a speck of dust. In other words, the merely religious feel superior to others while Christians understand their need of constant grace.

They are different in their concerns for holiness (Matt. 5:17-6:6). The merely religious are concerned about externals while Christians are concerned about the heart. They seek conformity to letter of the law while Christians seek to obey not just the legal aspect of the law put the ethical side or the “spirit” of the law. The reason for this is that the motive for obedience is different. Merely religious people are motivated by the need for rule keeping and the fear of others while Christians are motivated by a love for God and His Word. Merely religious people let what others think become more important to them than what God thinks and in the end become a performer for the audience (others) rather than living a life solely for the glory of God. It is no wonder that Jesus charged the religious for having such a distorted view of scripture. The Christian, however, runs everything through the law of love.

They are different in their relationship to God (7:13-29). A Christian and a merely religious person may look much the same on the surface. They both may be orthodox in doctrine, passionate in service, moral in behavior and socially useful. Each builds on a foundation, bears fruit and claims to be on the path to heaven. But one’s foundation is firm while the other is faulty. One’s fruit is pure while the other is poison. One is on a path toward life while the other is on a path toward death and destruction. The key to the difference is found in Matt. 7:21-23, “ Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”

The questions we must ask ourselves if we want to know for certain that we truly are Christian are these:

  • As I examine the actions and attitudes in my life, and look at my life in detail, can I claim for it something that is essentially distinct and never found in a non-Christian?
  • Is the difference more than just “not being like non-Christians” but rather a positive conformity to the image of Christ?
  •  Is this difference something that can only be explained in terms of a life-changing relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ?

The fundamental issue that Jesus points out so clearly in the Sermon on the Mount is that if Christians are going to make a difference they must be different. We can’t transform our culture by simply adding more of the same. It is not a difference just for the sake of being different, but a difference that comes from knowing and being known by Jesus!

 

The Light of the World

Light is one of the great Johannine words that occurs no fewer that twenty-one times in the fourth gospel. It is one of the two key words upon which John builds his testimony of Jesus. John describes Jesus as a light that has come into the world to light the life of every man (John1:9). Another one of John’s key words is darkness. John saw a darkness in the world that was very real and very hostile to the light. This darkness represents evil. Sinning man loves the darkness and hates the light, because the light exposes their wickedness. John takes these two themes and shows their natural opposition. He portrays a universal battleground where the forces of dark and light are arrayed in an eternal conflict. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot extinguish it (John1:5). The darkness seeks to eliminate the light of Christ—to banish it from life, but the light will not go out!

This conflict is played out in the pages of sacred history. The Old Testament lets us witness everything from individual struggles with evil for the soul of a man to heavenly warfare for the soul of a Nation. In the New Testament this conflict emerges with intensity around the cradle of the incarnate Christ as the forces of darkness unleash Herod’s sword in a futile attempt to eliminate the light. The ultimate battle, however, would unfold at Calvary. The rulers of this age and the powers of darkness thought if they could only nail Christ to the cross that darkness would win once and for all. They thought the crucifixion of Christ would be the ultimate defeat and their final triumph. In fact, it proved to be just the reverse. Out of the darkness of his death came the blinding light of His resurrection victory. The light of this good news exploded out of the confines of Palestine and across the known world like a quickly spreading flame until, in a few decades, the gospel had impacted every major population center of the Roman world.

The powers of darkness responded with persecution and torture. But wild beasts and boiling oil couldn’t put out the light and the blood of the martyrs only fueled the flame. When persecution from without did not succeed, the forces of darkness turned inward and awful darkness settled down over the church. But out of the heart of that darkness, reformation fires began to burn and the light prevailed. Every counter move by the forces of darkness to extinguish the light only brought revival fires that would break out and save lives, transform nations, and change the course of history.

The darkness has used all sorts of political ideologies, human philosophies, and false religions to advance its cause. But the light always breaks through to enlighten the mind and liberate the hearts of men. As you gather with friends this Christmas season, light a candle and lift your voice in praise for light has come into the world and the darkness has not and will not overcome it!

High Places

Mention the name “High Place” and God reaches into His vocabulary and uses a word that expresses His most severe moral disgust – “abomination.” Mentioned over a 100 times in the Bible, the high places were originally centers for Canaanite idol worship. Located on mountain tops or elevated pieces of ground (hence the name high place), some of the most detestable things imaginable took place in the worship of false gods. Even before the children of Israel crossed the Jordan into Canaan, Moses commanded them to demolish all the Canaanite high places … “or they shall be pricks in your eyes, and thorns in your sides, and shall vex you in the land wherein ye dwell” (Numbers 33:52, 55). Yet despite Joshua’s passionate destruction of such places, these pagan worship centers continued to plague the nation of Israel (Judges 2:12-13, 17; 1 Kings 14:22-24).
Tragically, it was Israel’s leaders who allowed worship on the high places to continue. King Solomon actually built high places for gods such as Ashtoreth, Milcom, and Chemosh (1 Kings 11:6-7). King Jeroboam established high places in Bethel and Dan so the northern tribes would not travel to Jerusalem to worship the true God (1 Kings 12:25-33). In their time each leader in Israel and Judah had to decide what he would do with the high places. When a good King would come to power, he would rid the land of idols and demolish the high places (II Kings 18:4; 23:4-20). Evil Kings, like Ahaz and Manasseh, would give full support to the high places and even offer sacrifices on them (II Kings 16:4; 21:1-3).
Over time the scriptural record notes that even among the good Kings “the high places were not taken away” (I Kings 15:14; 22:43; II Kings 12:3; 14:4; 15:4; 35). The surrounding cultural pressure to be like the other nations was so strong that most of Israel just “winked” at the remaining high places. Eventually, these high places became so entrenched in Israel’s culture that they seemed normal. They were so common, so ordinary, so much in keeping with the way things were, that even the best of Kings did not think to remove them. So the old high places that were an abomination to God became the “new norm” for the nation Israel.
Is there a lesson here for today’s Church? Have we accepted things into our lives (the way we behave and think) and into our culture (the values that we embrace) that at one time were considered an abomination to God? Are there issues we have grown so weary of opposing that we have simply yielded to the surrounding culture and subtly accepted them as the “new norm”? I believe the answer is yes and I believe these things are our “high places”.

“Sensuality” is one of our High Places
If we could transport Christians from the past into our present day, I think the thing that would surprise them most is how much at home we are and how tolerant we have become with the pervasive sensuality of our culture. Sexual perversion is not new to the Church. To be certain the church has always had to fight against sexual sin. It is on every list of vices in the Bible. It heads the list of things the Apostle Paul says are not fitting for a Christian. Yet today, mainline denominations are on the fast-track of accepting, even celebrating, homosexuality, same sex marriage and all other manner of sexual perversion. Even though most evangelical Christians still oppose these more blatant sins, they are far too accepting and tolerant of the sexual crudeness, vulgarity and carelessness of today’s world. Even worse, many entertain themselves with movies, television programing and novels that celebrate homosexuality, marital infidelity, fornication and nudity while often mocking purity and abstinence. This has become so common, so ordinary, so much in keeping with the way things are, that many Christians have ceased to cry against it. This has become the new norm!
One of the most visible indicators of the churches acceptance of this “new norm” is the immodest dress of America’s Christians. Actually the two are tied closely together. Whenever a sense of modesty is lacking, human sexually becomes fatally trivialized. And when human sexuality is reduced to consumer merchandise, the display of the body becomes the main billboard to advertise its sexual value. Even though the problem of immodest attire is widely acknowledged, few church leaders (men or women) offer guidance and biblical instruction. Their fear of becoming legalistic or offensive keeps them silent while the voice of a fallen world has no such inhibitions. This is one of our high places.

“Spiritual Mediocrity” is another High Place
With the proliferation of electronic media the average Christian has available to him more preaching and teaching – more information about the Bible and Christian living than ever before in the history of the world. We are clearly the most informed Christians that have ever lived! Yet one leading American pastor was forced to ask himself, “Why is today’s church so weak? Why can we claim more people with more conversions but have less and less impact on the surrounding culture? Why are our Christians indistinguishable from the world?” Dallas Willard’s response to this dilemma is interesting. He claims that it is not in spite of what the church is teaching but precisely because of it! He goes on to say that the church has pitched its message too low! It has offered a form of “miserable sinner” Christianity that tells believers we are but miserable sinners and that moral failure is expected. Hence we offer a gospel of “sin management” where the essence of the gospel is simply the forgiveness of sins – a message that neither offers nor expects any real transformation of life and character. As a management expert would say, “This system is designed to yield the results it is getting.”
This low level of spiritual living has become so common, so ordinary, so much in keeping with the way things are, that many Christians have ceased to expect anything else. This has become the new norm! But you can be assured of one thing; this is not the true gospel! The gospel not only offers the forgiveness of my sin but the real transformation of the heart! It clearly teaches that through the power of the Holy Spirit and the abundances of God’s grace we can live in full obedience to the commands of Jesus – “not I, but the grace of God which was with me” (I Cor. 15:10).

“Worldliness” is a High Place
I am using the term “worldliness” in the Biblical sense as to how people “think” and subsequently “behave” (Rom. 8:5-7; 12:2) The word for world (kosmos) means an order or an arrangement of things. Hence we can define the world as “Human ability organized historically and socially into a system where humans use natural ability (their own resources) to achieve what they want and to promote what they value, a great deal of which is in active hostility to God.” The Bible defines “living in the flesh” in much the same way. When the New Testament speaks of those who live in the flesh it speaks of those whose lives are oriented around themselves and who know only their own resources. A “man of the world” or someone who “lives in the flesh” is someone who thinks and acts from a point of view that leaves God out of the equation. To them the only reality is the temporal – what they see, touch and know.
True Christian living is the antithesis of this. Christians place the eternal over the temporal. They live from an alternate reality. Their life is drawn from divine resources. This way of living is in significant contrast to the world and has two major implications for the Christian. First, he thinks differently than the world thinks! His thinking is not limited to the confines of mere human understanding. He doesn’t determine his course of action by what Godless men say, no matter how brilliant it sounds (Psa.1:1). Second, he behaves differently than those who are of this world. He doesn’t seek after the “the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes” nor is he controlled by the “pride of life.” To him the world is “passing away” and lacks permanence. Hence he “sets his affection on things above” and “stores up treasure in heaven.” This makes his life recognizably different; distinctly unique from everybody who is not a Christian (Matt. 5:47). He is in the world but not of the world.
The only problem here is that the description I just wrote of the Biblical Christian is not recognizable, much less acceptable, to the average Christian today! Our obsession with the material, our addiction to more, our love of the good life and our captivation with this modern day Sodom hardly receives a slap on the hand by even the most radical of prophets. Worldliness has become so common, so ordinary, so much in keeping with the way things are, that many Christians have ceased to it see as a problem. This has become the new norm!
The high places of our lives may be varied and unique but they are all equally despised by God. We may have changed the words we use for them but God still uses that same old word from long ago – abomination!