Tag Archives: false conversion

The Christian Life Is War

Before you came to Christ you were spiritually dead. Among other things, there was one thing you had no ability to do: wage war against yourself (see previous article for more on that).

Trying to grow spiritually apart from Christ looks like chopping down one idol only to swiftly replace it with another. It looks like propping yourself up on the backs of other people, and when they fail you everything falls apart. Parting from sin feels like putting a knife to your own heart. Perhaps you turn to self-help books, and build a great facade, but inside, there is nothing but empty deceit (Colossians 2:8). Spiritually you are headed nowhere but closer and closer to death.

Pretty depressing isn’t it? But it is not so for the redeemed! Believers have new spiritual realities, as they have been “born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God (1Peter 1:23).” That “word is the good news that was preached to you (1Peter 1:25).”

You believed in the gospel with faith, and have been “born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1Peter 1:3).” Your hope is alive, and your hope is a person, who is always faithful and ever present.

Nevertheless, the Christian life is war. It is war that we declare primarily against ourselves, against the sin that remains in our flesh. We must wage this war every single day. If we don’t engage the flesh wins out.

I think of Jesus’ words to the disciples as they slept through Christ’s turmoil in Gethsemane: “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak (Matthew 26:41).”

Galatians 5:17 expresses this so well: “The desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.”

There is a sense in which the same old reality remains: You cannot wage war against flesh in the flesh. Paul said “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out (Romans 7:18).” Notice that Paul qualifies his statement by saying “that is, in my flesh.”

So then, we have an enemy within. The good news is that God’s word teaches us that Jesus Christ died and was raised so that “we too might walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4).” This abundant “newness of life” is something we have been granted, and something we must “walk in.”

How can you walk in a reality that you are not remembering? Paul acknowledge that he could not live out Christianity in his own flesh. Do you know what that means? It means that this is not a battle to be fought by personal resolve and willpower alone. Why? Because your flesh has no strength to obey. Neither can it be silenced just by grieving its’ reality and hating its’ presence. To quote a great hymn “Could my zeal no respite know, could my tears forever flow, these for sin could not atone…”

You can’t begin to war against your flesh today without remembering and walking in the new realities that have been granted to you in salvation. Sorrow over sin and resolutions will quickly drive you low if you fail to cast yourself on His promises. Stay tuned for my next article (God willing)- which will be on God granted realities for waging war.

When Your Profession Has No Power

Shortly after I had asked “Jesus to fill the God shaped hole in my heart” at fifteen years old, I went to a Christian bookstore for the first time. I came out with a Teen Study Bible and a poster for my bedroom. Finding a poster that I wouldn’t be embarrassed of was hard work; A lot of flipping past rainbows, butterflies, and kittens was involved. I found one poster that appealed to me, black with scrawled writing on it, and a scratchy, blood streaked cross. This is what it said:

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” -Matthew 16:24-25

I cannot tell you how many times that poster glared at me. Or maybe I was glaring at it. It sounded hardcore, intense, life changing. It didn’t reflect the soft peddled message of Christianity I had heard, neither did it reflect my experience. That poster stared me down, hanging above my own reflection in the bedroom mirror, and kept on telling me to do something that I had no power to do.

Deny myself. Lose my life in order to save it- In order to find it. The commandments of God weighed heavy on my soul and there was no ability in my flesh to carry them out in a way that would please God. I was supposed to go out my bedroom door and die to self. Live for God. Obey commands that were only burdensome, and only death to me.

Romans 7:10-11 “The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing and opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me.”

That is the condition of a spiritually dead person hearing the commandments of God, feeling the weight of His law, and recognizing that at the very core of your being you cannot fulfill them. I couldn’t make that sin-loving person in me die in order that I might live. I could not, in the weakness and corruption of my flesh, deny myself and follow after Jesus Christ. For that dear friends, I needed to be truly born again, not of the flesh, but of the Spirit (John 3:6-8).

2 Timothy 3:2-5 talks about people who inwardly hate righteousness while loving self, money, and pleasure, all the while “having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.” They might look alright on the outside, at least to a distant spectator. But there is no effectual power in their lives. No power to obey God, live righteously, or overcome sin. In their hearts, there is no desire even to do so.

If you are somebody like I was, then I have good news for you. “The letter (that is the written law) kills, but the Spirit gives life (2Corinthians 3:6).” If the law has produced death in you and you have seen that you have no ability to fulfill it (and fulfill it you must, James 2:10), then the law has done its work in you. Perhaps, you have been living as a false convert like I was. Maybe you’ve attended church since childhood but have never received forgiveness for sins, a new heart and Spirit, and in Christ the promise of eternal life. Or maybe you don’t care about God and you don’t even pretend to. I don’t know.

If you don’t have a saving relationship with Jesus Christ, then at this point I’ll refer you to a series I did a few years back called “An Appeal to the Modern Mind,” which discusses salvation at length. Or, if you only have a bit of time part 4 of that series: How Does Jesus Make Entrance Into His Kingdom Possible?

If you are a believer, chances are part of you still resonates with some of the struggle I described. Though we are no longer slaves of sin (Romans 6:6), our new reality still includes a daily war with our remaining sinful man, or flesh. As Galatians 5:17 explains “The desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.”

I want to write some more about that war and how to wage it, so check back in soon. God bless.

Preach Penal Substitution

I didn’t grow up in a Christian family or in church and I still managed to ask Jesus in my heart three times by the age of 15. As a kid, it was kind of like fire insurance, something to tag on in case Hell was real. As a teenager, it was because I was invited to church and the preacher told me I had a God shaped hole in my heart only He could fill, and that resonated with me. Tears running down my face I raised my hand to accept Jesus. Christian kids from school smiled and got teary and gave me hugs. I went home with a One Minute Daily Devotional and felt pretty certain that now I was headed for Heaven.

Soon after, I went to the local Christian book store. I found a Teen Study Bible and bought the only poster available that didn’t look like it was for pansies. It was black with scrawled writing and a bloody cross, and I thought it looked pretty hardcore. Not only that but it had some pretty profound words- words that truly did speak to me and testify to my soul as being true: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it (Matthew 16:24-25).” Continue reading

God’s Deep Love For His Enemies

This may sound absurd to you, but I believe that if you do not understand and accept the wrath of God as truth, then you will not even begin to understand the depths of His love.  It is essential to understand the just anger of God, in order to begin to understand God’s heart for lost people.  I feel very small and very weak to try to explain such profound and complex truths.  Please test everything I say through scripture, and if I falter than toss it aside.

God’s Word reveals that His anger is intensified because of His loving kindness.

 I have noticed that God’s most intensely emotional, personal and angry responses to sin are fuelled in part by His love and strong desire for His chosen people Israel when they sinned.  Look at God’s words to Israel found in Hosea 7:13-16.

“Woe to them, for they have strayed from me!  Destruction to them, for they have rebelled against me!  I would redeem them, but they speak lies against me!  They do not cry to me from their heart, but they wail upon their beds, for grain and wine they gash themselves; they rebel against me.  Although I trained and strengthened their arms, yet they devise evil against me.  They return, but not upward; they are like a treacherous bow; their princes shall fall by the sword because of the insolence of their tongue.  This shall be their derision in the land of Egypt.”

Do you hear how deeply personal this is?  God is grieved, and cut to the heart because of His chosen people’s sin.  God could have been a distant God, having no love or concern for a sinful people.  He could have remained far off, not bearing with man, not pursuing man, not revealing Himself and calling out to man.  He could have left us to ourselves, and let each of us perish.  But rather there He is in the pages of scripture saying:

“I was ready to be sought by those who did not ask for me; I was ready to be found by those who did not seek me.  I said, “Here am I, here am I,” to a nation that was not called by my name.  I spread out my hands all the day to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, following their own devices; a people who provoke me to my face continually (Isaiah 65:1-3).”

Just think about it.  If you had no love or care for a person, how deeply would they be able to offend you?  Would you not be much more affected, angered, and hurt if your own Mother or spouse railed against you, calling you names, and dishonouring your wishes, than if a complete stranger sinned against you?  To the extent that you care about a person, to the extent that you have invested in them and value them, you will be grieved by their trespasses against you.

With that in mind, do you think that God’s anger is a sign that He cares nothing for us?  Don’t get me wrong, He would still be angry because of our sins against Him even if He didn’t love for us.  In that case, there would be nothing for us but anger.  But my conclusion is that, based on an abundance of scripture that portrays God as a loving (and yet angry) husband pleading with an adulterous wife to return to Him, God has revealed His anger to us in a way that should help us see that He cares about this world.  He cares even though, on account of our rebellion, He is not obligated to.

Psalm 8:3-4 “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?”

What an appropriate response to our Great God of Glory.

If we won’t understand what great enemies of God we have been, we will never appreciate or understand God’s love and mercy as we ought to.

 Some people may think I have been harsh to write the way I have, to speak so openly about the wrath and even hatred of God.  People today think it loving to spare others from unpleasant thoughts about Hell, sin, and “that angry God of the Old Testament.”  On account of this, many of today’s Christians have a shallow love, a shallow joy, and a faith that is not sustainable through life’s trials.  We’ve been robbed of understanding the “depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God (Romans 11:33).”

Do you realize that the love of God is so great, so beyond our comprehension that Paul prayed this for believers:  “That he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit…so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith- that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses understanding.”

Is that how we view the love of God today?  Is it not more often, made a thing that is common, mandatory of God to offer, unsurprising, general, and therefore far from special?  If love is something He owes us, if it is something that we should just expect from Him, then why do we need to be strengthened by God to understand it?

The love of God today is expected, and trivialized because men think they deserve it.  But what does the Word of God say about man’s relationship to God, apart from salvation in Jesus Christ?

We are all originally “alienated (from God) and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds (Colossians 1:21).  We are friends of the world and therefore enemies of God (James 4:4).  We are “dead in trespasses and sins” and follow the “prince of the power of the air” who is Satan, living in the “passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and mind” and are by nature “children of wrath like the rest of mankind (Ephesians 2:1-3).”

How do we feel about the true God in Heaven?  We are “gossips, slanderers, haters of God… Romans 1:29-30).”  In our unrighteousness, we “suppress the truth (Romans 1:18)” that we do know about Him.  When told about God’s kindness and patience, in and of ourselves we don’t repent, but rather take it as an excuse and motivator to continue in rebellion.  We “presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead (us) to repentance (Romans 2:4).”

Between us and God is a “dividing wall of hostility (Ephesians 2:14)” which only He can abolish.  If a person cannot identify these truths within himself, if he is blind to his own depravity and does not view himself as an enemy of God, than the cross can accomplish nothing for him and has no purpose for his life.   You will have to change your gospel to reach this man, and the gospel you give him cannot save him.  If you impersonalize and abolish the wrath of God and the reign of sin in man’s heart, than you will successfully remove the offense of the cross, and the necessity of Christ’s atoning work, and will create false converts for yourself.

If a person can recognize himself as an enemy of God, deserving nothing short of immediate Hell, than the preaching of the cross will be to Him a beacon of light and a floodgate of mercy.  Jesus Christ will be to him, the most beautiful person he has ever seen.  He will need supernatural strength to comprehend such an undeserved and extreme love.

Ephesians 2:4-8 “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ- by grace you have been saved- and raised us up with him and seated us with him the in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  For by grace you have been saved through faith.  And this is not your own doing: it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

That He would love us should astound us.

Your Standard: The World or Jesus?

I have observed that in our Western Christian culture holiness is not a hot topic.   Then again, neither is sin.  Well some of us might shed our opinion on “big” issues like homosexual marriage, abortion or current scandals in the media, when it comes to matters of personal holiness we have a lot less to say.

In fact the world has made some cliché statements to brand conservative Christians, and unfortunately much of the Christian culture has chosen to adopt the terms also.  When someone upholds a high moral standard, abstaining from sins some consider common, and especially if they exhort others to do the same, they will quickly be labelled as “holier-than-thou,” “self-righteous” or “legalistic.”  It tends not to matter how humbly they express themselves, or how biblical their claims are, if they stand against status-quo Christianity they risk their reputation and in many people’s eyes their credibility.

The implication is that if a Christian chooses to rise above the average standard for holiness in our nation, they must consider themselves somehow better than other Christians.  A Christian who won’t listen to the same music, watch the same movies, or engage in immoral or gossipy conversations, must consider themselves superior and have a condescending view of others.

That being said, is a true pursuit of holiness really worth it?  Well that depends.  Are we trying to please God or are we trying to please man?  You decide.

What is holiness?  Vines dictionary describes holiness as a “separation to God, and the conduct befitting to those so separated.”  Holiness is fitting to a person who claims they are a Christian, while continuing worldliness in a professing Christian displays that they are not truly born of God.

With so many “Christians” getting divorced, becoming alcoholics, attending rated R movies, and acting in sensuality, I have to wonder what was their motive for coming to Christ?  A person needs to come to Christ for something that they do not have: Holiness.  Jerry Bridges said that “No one can trust in Jesus Christ for true salvation unless he trusts in Him for holiness.”  In other words, if you came to Him for something OTHER than holiness as your primary motive, you did not come to Him at all.

Ephesians 1:4 says that the reason he chose us of the world was so that “we should be holy and blameless before Him.”  With so much modern preaching urging men to come to Jesus for a happier life, fewer problems, physical healing, and the mending of a hole in your heart, over and above coming to Jesus to be cleansed of sin, made Holy, and reconciled to God, it is no wonder that much modern day Christianity looks little different from the rest of the world.

Paul Washer accurately said: “I want you to know that, when you take a look at American Christianity, it is based more upon a godless culture than it is upon the Word of God… when they (professing Christians) look around at others who profess to know Christ and see those people also just as worldly as the world, and they compare themselves by themselves, nothing troubles their heart.  They think, ‘Well, I’m the same as most in my youth group.  I watch things I shouldn’t watch on television and laugh about the very things that God hates.  I wear clothing that is sensual.  I talk like the world.  I walk like the world.  I love the music of the world.  I love so much that’s in the world, but bless God, I am a Christian.  Why am I a Christian?  I don’t look any different than most of the other people in my church. Why am I a Christian? Because there was a time in my life when I prayed and asked Jesus Christ to come into my heart.’”

Dear friends, I know it might sound harsh but this is exactly what is going on right here in Chilliwack BC.  We need a revival.  We need God to have mercy on us and open our blind eyes.  Jerry Bridges makes a similar claim in his book “The Pursuit of Holiness.”

“Many Christians have what we might call a “cultural holiness.”  They adapt to the character and behaviour pattern of Christians around them.  As the Christian culture around them is more or less holy, so these Christians are more or less holy.  But God has not called us to be like those around us.  He has called us to be like Himself.  Holiness is nothing less than conformity to the character of God.”

We are not meant to measure ourselves by our friends, or even our pastor, but by the character of God Himself revealed to us in the Bible.  Our lack of Holiness is as much a result of poor gospel preaching and a lack of emphasis on sin, as it is a result of our negligence to read and obey the Word of God.  I have seen people more fanatical about worldly philosophies and principals that they have imagined to be exclusively “Christian,” than I have about what the Bible actually says.  People get more excited about miracles, healings, signs and wonders, than they do about Martyrs oversees dying for the Glory of God.  Set apart living?  Prayer meetings?  Worse yet, that divisive and dreaded word doctrine?  Boring.  But a good worship service with bright lights, smoke, and an awesome band- that people have an easier time getting excited about.

But God says: “This is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word (Isaiah 66:2).”  He doesn’t esteem you by your health, your job, your car, your social status, or your role at church.  The one He esteems is the one who trembles at His word.  This verse paints a picture of a person who has realized that God is infinitely wiser and greater than himself, that He is a God to be feared, and a God to be obeyed.  This person believes that living by God’s word truly does matter, so much in fact that as he analyzes his life in light of scripture he begins to tremble.

God doesn’t care what you look like, or how many friends you have on facebook, or how relevant you are to your culture- He wants you to love Him, obey Him, and be Holy as He is Holy.

He doesn’t marvel at a church that overflows to the streets.  He is pleased if the people in it are coming for HIM and not for benefits, and that they are hearing truth and being soundly saved.

He’s after your heart.  This obsession with looks, possessions, media, and worldly things in God’s house needs to end if we want to be pleasing and useful to Him.  2Timothy 2:21 “If anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonourable, he will be a vessel for honourable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.”

If you really don’t care about growing in Holiness, about making it your aim to please the Lord with your life, then there is ample evidence to suggest that you are not truly saved.  “Strive for…holiness, without which no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14).”  2Timothy 2:19 “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.”

I do not mean that a Christian must be perfect, nor can he ever become perfect in this life.  But are you concerned about pleasing the Lord?  Do you care about growing in holiness, and becoming more like Jesus Christ?  Do you prefer your worldly entertainment more than time with Him?  Is the world your friend and your home, and do you set your eyes on it as if the glories of Heaven, Christ and His word are a lesser joy?  Have you found yourself mocking and scorning Christians who hold to a higher moral standard than yourself?

2Corinthians 13:5 “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith.  Test yourselves.  Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?- unless indeed you fail to meet the test!”

If your actions, thoughts, and desires contradict your Christian profession, then come to Christ.  You need to be born again.  Randy Alcorn writes “A false faith…deserves to be lost… Losing your faith may be God’s gift to you.  Only when you jettison ungrounded and untrue faith can you replace it with valid faith in the true God- faith that can pass, and even find strength in, the most formidable of life’s tests.”

If we truly know Christ than let’s not use those around as our standard for living.  Let’s base our lives on the Word of God, and live it out whether people want to call us self-righteous-fanatic-Bible-thumpers or not.  I’ll end with this incredible poem by CT Studd.

            [headline h=”1″]Only One Life, ‘Twill Soon Be Passed[/headline]

“Two little lines I heard one day, Traveling along life’s busy way;
Bringing conviction to my heart, And from my mind would not depart;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Only one life, yes only one, Soon will its fleeting hours be done;
Then, in ‘that day’ my Lord to meet, And stand before His Judgement seat;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Only one life, the still small voice, Gently pleads for a better choice
Bidding me selfish aims to leave, And to God’s holy will to cleave;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Only one life, a few brief years, Each with its burdens, hopes, and fears;
Each with its clays I must fulfill, living for self or in His will;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.

When this bright world would tempt me sore, When Satan would a victory score;
When self would seek to have its way, Then help me Lord with joy to say;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Give me Father, a purpose deep, In joy or sorrow Thy word to keep;
Faithful and true what e’er the strife, Pleasing Thee in my daily life;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Oh let my love with fervour burn, And from the world now let me turn;
Living for Thee, and Thee alone, Bringing Thee pleasure on Thy throne;
Only one life, “twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Only one life, yes only one, Now let me say, ”Thy will be done”;
And when at last I’ll hear the call, I know I’ll say “twas worth it all”;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last. ”