Testing the Spirits: Part 2

In Part 1, I introduced you to Jonathan Edwards method of Testing the Spirits, drawing from 1 John 4:1-8. Having already covered the first test, let’s look at the second test we should use to test the spirits and see whether or not a claim, doctrine, or work is truly from the Holy Spirit.

Test #2: Is Worldliness Opposed?

The second test is found in the next two verses of our text:

4 Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. 5 They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them.

Speaking plainly again, John points out that those who are not of God have been overcome by the true church, because of Christ and his Spirit dwelling in us. God has declared in his Word that we have overcome the adversity of Satan, and therefore have overcome all his devices and schemes. A passage in Scripture that will help us understand this a little more is Revelation 12:11 which says, And they (the Martyred Saints of God) have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.”

Two things that allowed the church to overcome the power of Satan; Christ’s atoning, victorious work on the Cross that has put all rulers and authorities to open shame (Colossians 2:15), and the word of our testimony, which at its core is the confession that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. We, today, overcome falsehoods by this same truth. Who is in us? Paul says it is not I who live, but Christ who lives in me. Christ, the hope of glory, the son of the living God who was slain from before the foundation of the world; Christ, who counted equality with God not a thing to be grasped but humbled himself through obedience to the point of death on a cross; Christ, who appeared to John on the Isle of Patmos and declared his Word to him saying “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the one who is and is to come; Christ, who God exalted and has bestowed upon him the name that is above every name, the name at which every knee will bow and tongue will confess Jesus is Lord. Christ, who healed the sick without being near them and cast out demons with a simple word and called the dead to life. Yes, it is this Jesus that lives inside of us and in his name all false teachers and doctrines are rebuked and exposed.

False teachers are popular because they speak the same things as the world. That’s why the world listens to them. It’s exactly as Paul tells Timothy, that in the last days people will not endure sound doctrine and will gather to themselves teachers that suit their passions because of their itching ears. The Gospel opposes the world. The Spirit speaks against the world. False prophets will preach and teach in compliance with the world. It’s why John says earlier in this letter in 2:15-16, 15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.

Some of you may have heard of a so-called revival back in 2008 in Lakeland, Florida. These meetings were led by a charismatic, radical looking preacher by the name of Todd Bentley. To speak of test #1, he stated that the Lord sent an angel to him to let him know that people had heard enough about Jesus, and that he should instead focus on angels. But as for this test, he conducted these meetings while he was separated from his wife and admitted to having an illicit relationship with a female staff member who assisted with the meetings. Once the divorce from his wife was final, Bentley married the woman he had the affair with. Folks, we’ve got people like Benny Hinn and Paula White saying that they have divorced their spouses because their “season of marriage is over.” What is this terrible claim? Not to mention Dollar, Copeland, Hinn, and others had their ministry finances investigated by the US government due to their lavish lifestyles. That is what the world looks like, not the church. The Prosperity Gospel tells us that Jesus saves you to make you healthy, wealthy, and prosperous. Let me tell you, Colossians 1:15 says that Christ is preeminent. You know what that means? He is IT. There’s no more gain after Christ. He is the ULTIMATE gain, and he cannot be gained through the world. If all Jesus did was save your soul, you who were dead in your treaspasses and sins and had no ability to save yourself from the justice and wrath that were so rightly deserved, you who were enslaved to the world and bound by all manner of guilt, shame, addiction, and sin, if all Christ did was save you and nothing else then IT WILL HAVE BEEN ENOUGH.

Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 12 that he was afflicted with a thorn in the flesh. He tells us that he asked God three times to take it away. What did God say? He said no. Paul tells it like this in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10: “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” Do you see this? Paul was CONTENT. Paul was used of God to heal and yet received no healing or relief from this thorn. Why? Because Jesus was enough. Charles Spurgeon is hailed as the prince of preachers, a great man of God who won many to the Kingdom and preached the gospel until he died. This man struggled with depression his whole life. God did not heal him before he died. The Prosperity Gospel would say that Paul and Spurgeon didn’t have enough faith and had sin in their life, thus blocking their healing. But these men understood that Christ was enough. They understood that old hymn that says “Take this world, but give me Jesus.” Jesus is enough.

You want revival? Reject the world. Cry out for Jesus. Know his Word. Understand that no material possession, physical healing, miracle, sign, or wonder will ever be greater than Christ and him crucified.

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Testing the Spirits: Part 1

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.4 Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. 5 They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. 6 We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error. 7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.– 1 John 4:1-8

In this series, I want to speak on a matter that is of chief concern. This issue is addressed in various places throughout Scripture, starting early on in the Old Testament and becoming more prevalent in the New. The Word of God gives us stark warnings against and practices for detecting false teaching and teachers. You don’t have to look very far to find passages where the Lord is exhorting us to be on our guard, to know what we believe, and to test the Spirits.

As a way of introducing the main points of this series, let’s first interact with the first verse in our text.

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.

Obviously, John cared deeply about those to whom he was writing, calling them “Beloved.” This tells us that everything that comes after is John speaking from a place of love and concern. Many times, we want to ignore or brush off warnings and instruction from those who love us in the Lord. We should understand that it may hurt to hear that something we believe or someone we listen to is positioned against the very words of God. Conversely, if we do not share these convictions and admonitions from a place of love, we are nothing but the equivalent of Big Brother, nitpicking and haranguing for the sake of control. It is very important, then, to understand that the apostle here is speaking from love. And I want you to understand that everything I say here is from the same disposition.

John goes on to say that we should not believe every spirit, but to test the spirits. When we hear those words “believe” and “test,” we are to understand that these aren’t suggestions, but imperatives. In the case of “believe,” it is a negative command, meaning he is telling us what we should NOT believe. What we have to realize is, God does not want us to be spiritually gullible. He wants us to know in whom we have believed, and know when our Savior and his Gospel are being misrepresented. In the case of the word “test,” we are reminded of biblical imagery of testing, where a refiner has placed a precious metal though an intense process in order to purify it. In a similar manner, we must put any work, teaching, or claim though the refining fire of God’s Word.

Another thing we must realize from this verse is that just because something is spiritual, it doesn’t mean it is from God. The need to test and see if something is from God clearly indicates that there is a category of spiritual activity that does not belong to God, and since there is only one other spiritual source something can come from, then we can accurately determine that false teaching is demonic in origin. This verse is finished with the notion that we don’t have to be looking for just the occasional falsehood, but we must always be on guard due to many false prophets being present in this world.

It is my belief that the greatest revival associated with American history is the Great Awakening. Occurring during the 1730s and into the 1740s, this period of revival saw countless souls saved and the church strengthened in the years before the American Revolution. If you remember anything from history class, you may remember names like George Whitefield and John Wesley. But the most influential figure of that Awakening was a pastor by the name of Jonathan Edwards. Many know him for his sermon “Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry God.” This man had a heart for his congregation, the church, and for souls. When the Awakening was taking place, Edwards observed that there were many things occurring that needed to be place under scrutiny. So, he pulled five questions from the remainder of our text that he used to determine if something was truly of God or not. It is these five questions that will make up the main points of this series. These will help us detect, understand, and realize when a work, doctrine, or claim is true or false.

Fair warning, I will be using contrasting examples in order to make sure these points are made. I will be naming individuals who have failed these biblical tests. It is not my intention to bash or cause disunity, but just as Paul called out Hymenaeus and Alexander to Timothy in 1 Timothy 1:18-20, I will be giving both example and warning with the individuals that are mentioned. But I also want to make this statement. We should pray for the individuals named. Once we know they are in error, it is our responsibility to ask God to open their eyes and bring them to repentance. Costi Hinn put it this way:

“Admitting that a movement or a teacher is false doesn’t have to put them on our hate list. It should put them on put prayer list. We can protect ourselves from wolves, while disagreeing in a God-honoring way.”

Test #1: Is The True Christ Exalted?

Our first test comes from verses 2 and 3:

2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.

John states that any spirit that confesses Jesus has come in the flesh is from God. But is this the only criteria we should affirm? After all, even unbelievers can state that Jesus was a real, historical person who lived on this earth. Why does John mention this aspect specifically?

John was actively battling an early church heresy (or doctrine contrary to Scripture) called Docetism. It was a belief influenced by Greek philosophy that held that everything material was evil and only what was spiritual could be good. Therefore, under this teaching, Jesus never came in the flesh. They taught that Jesus’ body was merely an illusion, stating that the Lord would have been tainted by evil if he would have been in a physical body. We know that this is false, for John 1:14 says, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” This is why John makes this specific statement in verse 2. However, what that does for us is show that we should be careful to make sure that the biblical Jesus is being preached. Historically, there have been many heresies that have made Jesus out to be something or someone he was and is not. When we encounter this, we should understand verse 3, that those teachers and beliefs are not from God and are in fact from an antichrist spirit. From these, we can see that any true work of the Spirit will point people to the true Christ. It will be in step with the Gospel and will make much of Jesus. A dangerous mistake we can make is to make more of the Spirit than we do of Christ. In fact, the Spirit will ALWAYS point away from himself and to Christ, for Christ said in John 14:26, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” and again in John 16:13-14, When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” J.I. Packer says it this way: “The Spirit’s message is never, ‘Look at me; listen to me; come to me; get to know me,’ but always, ‘Look at him, and see his glory; listen to him and hear his word; go to him and have life; get to know him, and taste his gift of joy and peace.’” To Be Spirit-filled is to be Christ-centered, for this is the primary role of the Spirit: to point us to Christ and glorify him.

Seeing how to pass this test, let’s look at some who have failed it.

Kenneth Copeland, a dominant leader in the Word of Faith movement, said this as he was presuming to speak for Jesus:

“Don’t be disturbed when people accuse you of thinking you are God…They crucified me for claiming I was God. I didn’t claim that I was God; I just claimed that I walked with HIm and that He was in me. That’s what you’re doing.”

Creflo Dollar, another leader on the Word of Faith movement, said of Christ:

“ Jesus didn’t show up perfect, He grew into his perfection. You know Jesus, in one Scripture in the Bible he went on a journey, and he was tired. You better hope God don’t get tired…But Jesus did. If he came as God and he got tired- He says he sat down by the well because he was tired-boy, we’re in trouble. An somebody said, ‘Well, Jesus came as God.’ Well, how many of you know God never sleeps nor slumbers? An yet in the book of Mark we see Jesus asleep in the back of the boat.”

These are just two examples of popular preachers who emphatically deny the biblical Jesus. Oneness Pentecostals also deny the Trinity, saying that God is not three divine persons yet one God, but rather God has three manifestations, or “modes’ of existence. Basically, they teach that God is a transformer; he was the Father, transformed into the Son, and then transformed into the Spirit. Time fails me to go to the Bible against all three of these examples. Nevertheless, these teachings and many like them are condemned as false by the Word of God and do not find their origin from any revelation from the Spirit. God is triune, Jesus has always been God, and the Spirit would NEVER contradict these facts through any kind of supposed personal revelation.

This has been a fairly large introduction to the method of testing the Spirits. In not wanting to overload the readers, I will be posing two more parts to this series to cover questions 2 through 5. Stay tuned!!!

The Tension Between Faith and Works

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Throughout the Bible there are realities that cause a great amount of tension. When we think about tension, what comes to mind?

A struggle? An uncomfortable situation? A tug of war?

Oftentimes we see two realities in Scripture that tend to pull us in two different directions. They aren’t contradictions, but rather they are two truths that we must live in balance of. A tightrope has no slack in it. It is the tension between the two ends of the rope that allow for someone to walk across.  These truths, anchored on opposing ends like the tightrope, create the tension for the straight and narrow tightrope that is the Christian life.

Our first set of Tense Truths is a very well known one: Faith and Works. In this I seek to show you three things:

1.) Workless Faith is Not Faith

2.) Faith and Works Cannot Be Separated

3.) True Faith Produces Works.

Consider the words of James in our main text:

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! 20 Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. 24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? 26 For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.– James 2:14-26

Let’s examine this text and see how we live in the tension of faith and works.

1.) Workless Faith is Not Faith (vv.14-17)

From the text we can see that we have to have works in order to have faith. James begins this section by asking what the point of faith without works is. He gives an example of helping the poor. Verse 15 begins his illustration by speaking of a brother or sister who suffers lack. If we look at them and say “Go in peace, be warmed and filled” but then turn around and do not give them what they need, there is no good in that. I would venture to say that it’s hypocrisy.

Think about the words of Jesus in Matthew 25. He speaks of a separation of sheep and goats on the last day, with the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.. When he turns to the sheep, this is the exchange:

34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’– Matt 25:34-40

On the Day of Judgment, Jesus is commending those who cared for the poor. We also know that the early church practiced giving needed provision to their own poor (Acts 2:45). It stands to reason, then, that a sign of Christian faith is caring for the poor, especially those who are brothers and sisters in the faith.  James is addressing the lack of help coming from those who only lean on faith. They do not speak of their works, but only their faith, and use it as an excuse to not engage in good works. He goes on to say in verse 17, So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”

The end of Matthew 25 helps us understand what dead faith is. We now see what Jesus has to say to the goats standing to the left of His throne:

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”- Matt 25:41-46

What sin damned the goats to an eternal punishment in hell? It was NOT caring for the poor, not engaging in good works. While they were certain that they would have served the Lord if they had seen him needy, they did not show their faith in God by caring for the least of these. Paring this parable with James’ words about faith being dead without works indicates one very important thing: these people were not Christians.

This does not mean (as you will see a bit later) that works are needed for salvation. Works are PROOF of salvation. Therefore, if there’s no works, there’s no faith. And if there’s no faith, there’s no salvation Need more proof? John has some. He says in 1 John 3:17, “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” We can’t dance around this notion. If we claim to be Christians, yet don’t have good works (especially toward our own), then there is no way we are saved. You cannot have one without the other. This leads us to an illustration I am going to use for this post.

Most of us have a vehicle of some kind. We drive them just about every day. If I told you that I was driving, and yet I was sitting in the driver’s seat of my car with the car in park, the keys removed from the ignition, and my hands off the wheel, would you not say that at that very moment I was either crazy or a liar? I would claim to be driving, and yet the facts would speak against me. So too are those who say they have faith, and yet they have no works. Their faith is dead. It is one that does not save. The moving car is our faith, and the components necessary to make it go are our works. The car cannot drive if we do not drive it. You have to work the car in order to drive. You can’t go anywhere unless you do.

2.) Faith and Works Cannot Be Separated (vv.18-20)

James brings up an objection. In true intellectual fashion (much like Paul), he poses the very objection that he has run into concerning this issue. He says in verse 18, “But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” If we stay in step with our car analogy, then this would be like saying that you have a car and I have the keys. James then tells us, “Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” He’s saying, “ Show me your car apart from your keys, and I’ll show you my car driving down the road.” How much sense does that make? If two people you knew were talking, one saying “look at my keys” without the car, and the other saying “look at my car” without the keys, wouldn’t you think that ridiculous? So is the idea of having faith without works.

He follows that up by saying that even the demons believe and are afraid (verse 19). Why bring that up? What does that even mean? What do demons have to do with this? James is conveying here that mental assent is not the fullest extent of our walk with God, as even the very enemies of God believe that he exists. Rather, our belief must be paired in the works that we do. We cannot separate them. Do you see demons help the poor? Do you see evil spirits rushing to do good works? Of course not! But they believe, don’t they? Yes, they believe, but they aren’t saved. James is telling us that if your faith is separated from works, you’re no better off than the demons.

James now brings down a chastisement of sorts. He is setting himself up in verse 20 to bring out his own example from Scripture concerning how faith and works go together.  A good way to bridge this is by recalling the words of Paul in Ephesians:

8 “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”– Ephesians 2:8-10

Paul makes it clear that faith and works go together and, as we will see in the last few verses of our text, true faith will produce works that God has already set aside for us to do.

3.) True Faith Produces Works (vv.21-26)

James brings out as an example two noted figures in Israel’s history: Abraham and Rahab. Both are noted for their works unto God.

Now there is some troubling wording here from James, as he says that Abraham and Rahab were justified by works. But we know from Paul that we are justified by faith alone. So, is this a contradiction? Is James refuting Paul?  Absolutely not.

If you break apart the story of Abraham, you will see that he was called righteous before he ever did anything for God (Genesis 15:6). Yet James specifically mentions Abraham offering Isaac as sacrifice as his act of obedience to God (Gen. 22:9-10). Abraham was clearly declared righteous LONG before he was commanded to sacrifice his son. This coincided with Paul’s words on faith in Ephesians. The initial saving righteousness of an individual is called Initial Justification. Abraham was initially justified by his faith in God alone. Then, James speaks about what we will call Final Justification, which is when we are declared justified by God on Judgment Day. Works play into Final Justification as a confirmation of the Christian’s faith in life.

The key to the balance of faith and works, as well as initial and final justification, is found in verses 22-24: You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God.

So Abraham was counted as righteous the moment he believed, and we saw the proof of his belief by his obedience. Rahab had a similar situation. In both cases, evidence in works showed that they possessed the faith that was necessary to save them. It was not faith by itself, nor works by themselves. They work together, and cannot be separated, as true faith will produce works.  James reiterates this point one more time in verse 26:  For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.

We must live knowing that we can’t stay on one side or the other. We must live in the tension between faith and works and resist the pull that would on one side say “You have faith, you don’t need to do anything else.” We must equally resist the other pull that tell us “It’s not enough to just have faith. You won’t be saved unless you do works.” Yet we must understand that we are saved by faith, and that saving faith will produce works in us that will confirm that our salvation is from the Lord, and that we are indeed his children.

I Can Do All Things (MBV#3)

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In an earlier post I mentioned that we live in a day and time that thrives on Bumper Sticker Theology: if it’s quotable and can fit on a coffee mug, we love it.

No verse fits that description more than Philippians 4:13.

It’s slightly different depending on the translation, but most people quote this verse as ” I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”

Oh, the ways this verse has been used! We have seen it just about everywhere and even the youngest Christians know this verse. Athletes, singers, and other Christian celebrities often cite this verse as a means to explain how their hard work and perseverance has paid off and that it was Christ’s strength that enabled them to get to where they are today. While that may be true, this verse does not fit with that notion. There are other verses in Scripture that do testify to the fact that we can do nothing without Christ, but Philippians 4:13 isn’t one of them. People simply use this verse to express that idea, but they have unknowingly separated it from what it really means. The way it is used today often implies that, thanks to Jesus, we are basically Superman.

So, what does it mean? As always, let’s look at the context.

The letter to the Philippians was written by the Apostle Paul from a Roman prison. You wouldn’t know it by reading it, but Paul is in chains and his life expectancy has grown uncertain. In this letter, he gives great encouragement and instruction to one of his most beloved churches. He is truthful about his hardships, but nevertheless his tone is one of joy and gladness. Let’s see what he was talking about in chapter 4, starting with verse 10:

I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.- Philippians 4:10-13

By backing up three verses, our verse in question once again takes on a different meaning.  Paul isn’t saying that he can do whatever he puts his mind to because Christ gives him strength. Rather, when you look carefully at his statements, he is saying that he can make it through whatever situation he finds himself in. Paul is content with the state of his life, because he knows the One who has guided him there. He has learned this in moments of joy and moments of pain. He can be full, or starving. Rich or poor. Safe, or in danger. Healthy or sick. Paul can make it through “any and every circumstance” because he can do all things through Him who gives strength.

Do you see it, now? This isn’t a verse for doing well on exams, or being successful at life. No, this verse is for the circumstances and situations in that life so often brings. So how, in this context, should this verse be used?

My unsaved family hates my Christianity and fights me every way they can  (I can do all things through him who strengthens me).

Someone very dear to me has passed away (I can do all things through him who strengthens me).

The professors at my school target me because I am a Christian (I can do all things through him who strengthens me).

Those statements above reflect the difficult times in life, where you know that there’s nothing you can do about your situation but push on. They aren’t moments of temptation or accomplishment. Instead, they are moments of endurance. This verse helps us realize that whatever situation we’re in, we can make it. We can learn to be content, no matter what circumstance we face. This verse tells us the kind of situation we can make it through.

We can do all things through Him who strengthens us.

 

 

A Word About Legalism (Phil. 3:1-11)

In the Church today, we throw the word “legalism” around quite a bit. I would even go so far as to say that it has become a Christian Buzz Word (CBW) in recent years. But do we really know what that word actually means? Where do we see the concept in Scripture?

First, let’s define the term. Legalism, for the Christian, is any standard that is taught that goes beyond what the Word of God has commanded. It is self-righteousness. We see no clearer example of this than with the Pharisees. During the Intertestamental Period, the Pharisees and religious elites of Israel added 400 of their own commands to the commands originally given by God to the Israelites. These commands went way beyond what the Lord Himself had deemed necessary and placed even heavier burdens on the people, thus constraining grace. You see this throughout the Gospels.

Paul deals with this issue directly in Philippians 3. He begins with this in verses 1-3:

Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you. Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.

Paul is speaking about a group of Jewish Christians called Judiazers. Their teaching, which was that Gentiles must be circumcised like Jews in order to be saved, was one of the first teachings condemned as a heresy by the Church (see Acts 15). By teaching this, the Judaizers were imposing legalism upon Gentile converts to Christ. Paul goes so far as to call these people “dogs” (a Jewish insult) and “evildoers,” telling us that these people and their teachings were no good at all. Paul goes on to say that the sign of salvation (which is what circumcision was formerly regarded as) lies in believers who worship by the Spirit, glory in Christ, and put no confidence in the flesh, or in our own abilities. Paul then continues his case against this form of legalism (v.4-6):

Though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

Paul gives his “spiritual pedigree.” He lists all the ways that, by his flesh, he has reason for confidence. He followed the Law to perfection, was zealous for the Lord in persecuting the Church, and was an example to his fellow Hebrews. By his own works and self-righteousness, Paul was a model of obedience to the Law. Yet, Christ turned that all on its head. Look at what he says next (v.7-11):

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

How powerful is that? Paul confesses that everything he had ever done for the Lord was, as he puts it, rubbish. Trash. Meaningless. I’m sure he was agreeing that our own righteousness is like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:4). We know that he dispels the notion for works-based salvation in Ephesians 2. Paul is testifying that works mean NOTHING. Not his. Not yours. Not mine.

He says that righteousness is not found in the law, but through faith in Christ. So, he was telling these Gentile converts that they didn’t have to be circumcised to be saved. Following the law doesn’t grant salvation. Faith in Christ alone is what does that. There is no work that can be added to the work of Christ. The work of salvation was accomplished at the Cross and confirmed by His resurrection.

We should beware that we do not add anything to what the Word says concerning righteousness, for that is legalism and betrays our trust in the work of Christ and the Word of God.

Legalism says you must work to be saved. Christ says it’s been done.

Legalism will bind your conscience to the conscience of others. Christ will set you at liberty to work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.

Legalism is impossible to maintain. Christ’s righteousness covers all your sin.

Rest in knowing that thanks to Christ’s work we are free to obey the commands of God and are given the power to abstain from the works and impossible demands of self-righteousness.

 

Misquoted Verses #2: Touch Not My Anointed

**DISCLAIMER: This post is not about church discipline or the protocol and process of spiritual leadership. This post simply seeks to rectify the meaning of a verse of Holy Scripture that has undergone substantial misuse. Therefore, the point of this post is to enlighten the Body of Christ on the proper understanding and application of a portion of Scripture. Nothing more.**

 

A while back, I was wasting a significant amount of time on my Facebook feed, when I noticed an article about honoring pastors and leaders in the Church. Curious, I clicked on the article and began to read.

The implications of the article were ghastly. I couldn’t believe what I was reading. In essence, the article was saying that we should never question leaders that God has placed over us. Instead, we should always be in complete and total obedience to the pastor, no matter what. What verse was used to back up this non-biblical teaching?  Why, it was 1 Chronicles 16:22, which states ” Touch not my anointed ones, do my prophets no harm!

Yes, when removed from the rest of the text, this passage seems to be a command to never move against God’s anointed. The conclusion that many come to in reading this verse alone is this: Since pastors and preachers are anointed by God, then this means we should never question leadership that God has ordained. My friends, I am here to say that this verse does not mean this in the slightest. Here’s some context:

When you were few in number,

of little account, and sojourners in it,

wandering from nation to nation,

   from one kingdom to another people,

he allowed no one to oppress them;

   he rebuked kings on their account,

saying, “Touch not my anointed ones,

   do my prophets no harm!”- 1 Chronicles 16:19-22

By merely backing up three verses, we can clearly see that verse 22 takes on a whole new meaning. If you go to the beginning of the chapter, you see that it is a time of celebration in Jerusalem, as the Ark of the Covenant had finally been returned to its proper place there. We see the the Ark being placed in a tent, and King David commands that worship should commence unto God for the return of the Ark (v.1-7). From there, they begin singing a song of thanksgiving unto God. This song lasts from v.8-36. The song recounts the works of the Lord, including God’s protection and provision for His people in their journey through Canaan to receive the land that God had promised for their inheritance. It is in the midst of this song we find the main text of our discussion.

Now knowing the context of v.22, we can clearly derive its meaning. The verse speaks to the fact that God rebuked and opposed all that would stand against Israel and their promise. The term “anointed ones” refers to the whole of Israel, the descendants of Abraham that God had set apart for Himself.  Similarly, the term “prophets” refers specifically to the leaders of Israel who were regarded as prophets (Abraham, Moses, various judges etc.). So, we see that these two terms speak to Israel collectively and do not indicate a warning against disagreeing with church leadership. While I absolutely believe that respect and honor should be given to pastors and church leaders (another post for another time), you can clearly see that is not what is meant here.

This verse is a prime example of poor study resulting in faulty application. I have personally heard ministers and pastors wield this verse to advance their agenda. Whenever a decision or statement was called into question, the minister in question would say something like, “You better be careful. The Bible says to touch not my anointed.”

That is bullying and intimidation, not biblical command. If a minister  (or even a church member) uses that verse to tell you that you are in the wrong for questioning a decision that was made, you might want to reevaluate whether or not you are in a healthy church. To be clear, I am not saying that you can be rebellious against your spiritual leadership. Yet if someone is using this verse to enforce authority, it’s best you leave that environment. Hopefully this short post has helped you see that this verse, like many others, must be used in its proper context.

When we misuse the Scriptures, disaster is sure to follow.

*This is a short post for Tuesday. Be on the lookout for my next post on Friday!!!*

Misquoted Verses #1: Judge Not

For my first established blog series, I have decided to write about something that tends to come up in Christian conversation judging-yousooner or later. If you read the title, you can see that the topic in question is Misquoted Bible Verses.

We live in a society that is seemingly obsessed with putting sayings and quotes on EVERYTHING: bumper stickers, t-shirts, coffee mugs, journals, etc. Christians are especially bad about this. There’s nothing wrong with wearing a shirt that has a Bible verse or two on it, but there IS a problem when we read that verse and fail to understand its context.

Context is a big reason for my writing on this topic. If we take a single verse, pull it from its context, and start trying to use it to prove a point, we can make that verse mean anything we want. We can use them to bind people’s consciences, enforce a non-biblical standard, or even use them to excuse sin. Such is one verse we will be looking at today.

Ever asked someone why they are doing something (sin or otherwise) and they respond by saying, “Well don’t judge me. The Bible says to judge not.” As it happens, they are both right and wrong. Specifically the latter. Let take a look at the single verse the are speaking about:

 “Judge not, that you be not judged.”- Matthew 7:1

Reading that verse by itself seems to support the notion that we should never judge, yea? It seems to say that if we judge someone, we in turn will be judged. So, if we want to avoid judgement, we should never judge. But, there’s more to be said, as the text continues:

“For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”– Matthew 7:2-5

Now we have the full picture. In his teaching about judging others, Jesus isn’t implying that we are to never judge. So what is he saying? He’s telling us to not be a hypocrite. Jesus is saying that if we use a standard (the Word) to judge that actions of others, we will in turn be judged by it. For a fun example, if I were to tell someone I knew that they should never ever drink Pepsi and that it’s bad to do so, but then turn around and drink a glass of Pepsi myself, I have done two things: I have proven myself a hypocrite and have also invalidated any credibility I had with that person.

Jesus had quite a vendetta against hypocrisy, calling the Pharisees out for it on numerous occasions.  Here’s one such occasion:

“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.”– Matthew 23:13-15

As you can see, Jesus has very harsh words for hypocrites, saying that they will not enter heaven due to their corruption and their corruption of others. In reality, most people who cite Matthew 7:1 in defense of their own sin are in fact the very hypocrites that Jesus abhors and warns about.

In the latter portion of our main text, Jesus makes another analogy concerning hypocrisy. He speaks of someone with a log in their eye insisting that another person with a speck in their own eye remove said speck, while the log remains in the. Jesus chastises, saying that the hypocrite with the log in their eye remove their hindrance first. What does this tell us?

It sets up a standard of accountability.

By taking care of our own “logs,” we are then able to aid a brother or sister who is dealing with a speck. Yet, it setting a standard of accountability, Jesus does one other thing. Notice how the other person’s sin is called a speck and your own sin is called a log? It’s Jesus’ way of telling us to ALWAYS consider our sin bigger and more grievous than our brother or sister’s.  We must never insist that our sin is lesser than another’s. Instead, we must always consider our own sin greater than those around us. We find this also in the words Paul wrote in Romans 12:3, “ For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.”

So, what’s the ultimate takeaway here? It is that we should live a life obedient to the Word, not marred by hypocrisy, considering our own sin greater than another’s and in so doing becoming freed to help each other overcome sin by the power of the Holy Spirit in sanctification. The standard we use to measure others will be measure to us. Jesus would have us be sure that we are to living in obedience.

“Judge not” does not stop us from holding each other accountable. It reminds us to check ourselves according to the Word of God.

In other words, Jesus wants you to check yourself before you wreck yourself.