Wednesday, January 19, 2011

“But I Say Unto You...”

Jesus pointed out differences between the truth and some of the traditions of his time by saying, “You have heard it said . . . but I say unto you . . .” I will use that same formula now to point out differences between the truth and some present-day traditions held in high regard by many Christians.

1. “Joining the Church”

You have heard it said that it is good to join the church, but I say unto you that if the body of Christ is the Church, it is impossible to join it. The body of Christ is not a club. It is a family into which we must be born by being baptized with the holy Spirit of God. Paul taught us that “by one Spirit, we are all baptized into one body” (1Cor. 12:13), and that baptism is the only way anyone can enter into it. God alone “sets every one of the members in the body as it pleases Him,” and any club, religious or not, that someone joins is not the body of Christ.

2. “Accepting Jesus Christ”

You have heard it said that you must “accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior”, but I say unto you that he is already your personal Lord and Savior, regardless of what you accept, do, or think. The very thing that makes sinners sinners is that they are not in subjection to Jesus, their personal and only Lord and Savior. If Jesus were not already everybody’s Lord, it would not be sin for sinners to live without him. The Bible states very plainly that “Jesus is [already] Lord of all” (Acts 10:36).

Besides the fact of Jesus’ eternal status as Lord and Savior, there is no such thing as any creature “accepting” Jesus, because it is always the case that the Greater accepts the lesser, not vice-versa. It is Jesus who makes us acceptable to God by washing away our sins and changing our nature. Our personal Lord and Savior must accept us; we cannot “accept” him, and there is nothing in the Bible that suggests that anyone on earth can do so.

3. “Make Jesus Lord”

You have heard ministers implore sinners to “make Jesus Lord of your life”, but I say unto you that you can make Jesus nothing. Peter said, “God hath made Jesus, whom ye crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36). Jesus has been exalted by the Father “above the heavens” and has been given “a name above every name.” God has made Jesus “most blessed, forever”, and there is not one thing that we humans can add to his glory.

4. “Get Saved”

You have heard it said that sinners can repeat a few Scriptures and “get saved”, but I say unto you that salvation is the reward for the faithful, which Christ Jesus will bring to us when he returns. Jesus said, “He who endures UNTO THE END, the same will be saved” (Mt. 10:22). For this reason, Paul could say that our salvation “is nearer now” than it was when we first came to Christ (Rom. 13:11). When Jesus was asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”, Jesus did not respond, “Repeat after me.” He said, “Keep the commandments of God.” If you really want to “get saved”, do that, until the end.

5. “Go to Church”

You have heard it said that all believers should “go to church”, but I say unto you that no believers should “go to church”. Yes, of course, believers should “assemble themselves” often, and all the more as they see the day of the Lord approaching, but what does the saints gathering together have to do with “going to church”? Church religion is the greatest danger on earth to the fellowship of the saints, and should be avoided at all costs. I am convinced that God’s heart is broken because His people refuse to reject church religion and come out and worship Him “in spirit and in truth”.

Do not go to church. Instead, gather together with others who have received the holy Spirit (or are seeking it), and let the Spirit of the Lord teach you and make you “free indeed”!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

“Among the gods”

from a sermon by Pastor John in Louisville, Kentucky, August 10, 2005

When some of Israel’s elders condemned Jesus for saying he was the Son of God, Jesus quoted this verse from Psalms: “Is it not written in your law that I [God] said, ‘You are gods’?” In other words, Jesus was asking those who opposed him, “Don’t you remember your own scriptures, where God said to you, ‘You are gods, and all of you are children of the most high’?” Of course, they did remember that verse because they were the elders of Israel. They knew the scriptures well, and they could not gainsay Jesus’ reasoning.

They had condemned Jesus, saying to him, “You are blaspheming, because you say you are the Son of God.” But Jesus responded, “Hold on a minute, here. Didn’t our God, tell you in your own law, that you are gods? And if that is true, if God called them gods to whom the word of God came, and the scriptures are true, are you telling me, the one the Father sanctified and sent into the world, ‘You blaspheme’, simply because I said ‘I am the Son of God’? If God said to you, ‘You are all children of the Most High,’ then where is the blasphemy in my telling you that I am the Son of God?”

Who was it that God called “gods”? That is the important thing about the verse which Jesus quoted. According to that verse, “gods” are those people, men and women, to whom the word of God comes. Has the word of God come to you? Consider for a moment what the word of God can do. The word of God created the universe out of nothing, and all the life forms in it. That’s what the word of God can do. And when that word of God comes into your frail human body, it makes you something more than a mere mortal because the word of God is something more than your life. Now, you know that you and I are not to be worshiped, but because of the entrance of God’s word, we now are called gods by the One who created us anew in Christ Jesus.

When Paul said, ‘If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature,’ he was saying exactly what David and Jesus said: ‘You are gods, and all of you are children of the most high.’ Again, we are not to be worshiped, not to be sacrificed to, but we must understand our status. As children of God, we are more important to God than the cherubim and the seraphim and all those wonderful creatures around God’s throne. We are more important to our heavenly Father than all of them put together. All the angels of heaven do not matter to Him as much as we do. We are His children. They are His creatures. They are His servants. As a matter of fact, they are our servants. It says in Hebrews that they are sent forth from heaven as ministering spirits, sent forth to minister to those who shall be heirs of salvation. Now, they don’t take orders from us, but they are here to serve us. They receive their orders from above. It’s God the Father who, through His Son, gives orders to the angels for the blessing of His “gods” down here. Even the angels understand that the children of God are “gods”, and that their duty is to serve them.

Paul said, ‘Don’t you know we will judge angels?” We are going to judge the world to come, and we will rule over this world with Jesus for one thousand years. Now, what kind of status is that? Such knowledge shouldn’t make you proud. It should amaze and humble us. John the apostle wrote, “Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God!” Believers are children of God now. Believers are “new creatures”. Believers are gods because God Himself said so.

You, as gods on the earth, can sense the spirits around you. You know what people feel and think, even if they do not show it on the outside. Nobody is a secret in the presence of God. How many times have you read in the Bible such phrases as “Jesus, knowing their thoughts ...”, and yet, those people assumed they were thinking in secret. The Spirit is a light; it’s a lamp; it brightens your pathway. When we walk in the Spirit of our Father, we don’t accidentally bump into anything. Nothing surprises us. You know where people are. That’s what comes with the territory of being gods. You know more than ordinary humans can know. You see more than ordinary humans can see. You feel things that humans don’t feel because you have a spirit that ordinary humans don’t have. You have a Father that humans don’t have. You have a family that humans do not belong to. You have a hope that humans don’t have. You live above the ordinary course of life because the word of God has entered into your heart and re-created you. It is not because you are by nature better than anybody else, but because God’s word creates wherever it goes; and in those who believe, it creates a new kind of being that had never been before Christ came. It is a being that knows things that it did not previously know, sees things it did not see, and can now do things it could not do. And it is going to come out of the grave long after it goes in, because the grave cannot hold that new creature down.

What superstition, and “doctrines of demons”, and “ways of the heathen” do, is intimidate God’s people so that they fear to believe and act like their new selves in Christ. Have faith in your God, and do not be afraid to be who you are. Go ahead and think the next thought, see the next vision, feel the next feeling. It’s God in you doing those things, just as Jesus said it was God in him doing the things he did!

Don’t be afraid of what you’re going to see next, what you are going to understand next. Don’t be ashamed of who you’ve become. You’ve become somebody that is connected with the all-knowing God. That’s who you are - sons and daughters of the living God, through the holy ghost.

If any man be in Christ, he’s a “new creature”. You must find out who you are — find out who each other is: a new creature. Old things are passed away. It is such a glorious truth that even those to whom it has happened can hardly believe it. It’s just too great to take in all at once. “Old things are passed away. All things are become new.” One of the things that becomes new when you are born again is your past. In Christ, you have a new past. You have a new family tree. The creature God makes you did not come from natural forebears. You were conceived and born of the “incorruptible seed” of the word of God. That body you have now came from the corruptible seed, the physical seed of your natural parents. But there is another seed. Jesus called it the word of God, and that is where you came from. And one of these days, you are going to shuck off this fleshly shell and be clothed with a new body. That’s what gods ought to have — a different kind of body from this decaying shell in which we live on Earth.

That is a hope worth living for. It is a hope worth dying for. It’s worth being misunderstood for. It’s worth suffering for, worth waiting for. It is worth loving your enemies for, and praying for those that despitefully use you. It’s worth praying for. It’s worth praising God for. It’s worth repenting for. It’s worth everything!

That new creature knows the future. The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy, Revelation 19 tells us. That is the spirit that you’ve received. You’re supposed to be a prophet. You are supposed to feel the coming judgment. You’re supposed to rejoice in hope of salvation. You are supposed to feel those things coming, and unless you have been confused and made dull of heart by “doctrines of demons” and “the ways of the heathen”, you do feel them coming. It’s real in you. That new creature has a real hope. It knows what’s coming. And well it ought to! Even demons sensed them coming whenever Jesus drew near them! They cried out such things as, “Are you come here to torment us before the time?” Ought we not to know, too, that time is coming? Those demons were not children of God. Then, we who are children of God ought to know that time of judgment is coming, and be excited about it. That awareness of the coming judgment made the demons tremble with fear. It ought to make us praise God. Jesus said that when we see the end near to lift up our head and rejoice, for “your redemption is drawing nigh.” Amen.

God Himself was the one talking when He said, ‘Did I not say, you are gods?” That was God talking, not the psalmist. The least we can do is say is He is right! God doesn’t judge things by how you feel; He goes by what He knows. And when you go by what He knows, you feel as He feels. That’s where good and right feelings come from; from what God knows.

The world mocks at the truth because it doesn’t know a god when it sees one. John said, ‘This world doesn’t know us because it didn’t know him.” The world didn’t know Jesus. How, then, is it going to know his brothers and sisters? The world doesn’t recognize God’s family. It’s too real for this world. It’s just too good.

“Among the gods”

Now, this is an important point for us to consider. Listen to this, from Psalm 82:1: “God stands in the congregation of the mighty. He judges among the gods.”

Referring to the imagined gods of the heathen, the prophets said more than once that the gods were vanity, or nothing. And if we use that definition of “gods” for this verse, then God doesn’t have much work to do, does He? Anyone can judge among nothing. Likewise, if we see the word “gods” in this verse as referring to demons, it won’t hold up for us, in our time, because God has already judged them. They are already condemned. But if we read this verse as referring to God’s children, that means that Jesus is among us, judging “among the gods”. Only God Himself and His anointed Son have the wisdom to do that.

This is why Paul was so distressed that a brother in Corinth had sued another brother and taken him to court. Paul called it “going before the unjust”. In other words, Paul was saying, “How in the world can you expect the world to judge what is right among the gods?” In order for the world to judge among this new race that God has created, they’d have to be led by the Spirit, but all they have to judge by is their eyes and their ears. That is all they have. And Jesus commanded us not to judge by what our eyes see and what our ears hear, but “judge righteous judgment”. The world cannot obey that commandment. So, the foolish man who had dragged his brother to court was not being led by the Spirit, even though in a worldly court he might look or sound better. Only God can judge among the gods.

Paul asked that man who went to the world with his grievances and sued a brother in court, “If you feel as if your brother has done you wrong, why wouldn’t you rather suffer wrong than to bring a reproach on Christ, before the world?” Paul was distressed that a child of God would love himself so much more than he loved Jesus that he would seek the world’s judgment of any matter among the saints, for every wise child of God knows the world cannot judge their affairs rightly. On the contrary, Paul indignantly asked, “Don’t you know that we shall judge the world?” Paul knew that every sincere child of God seeks justice from the Father and does not bring issues belonging to the body of Christ before the world to be judged. When God calls us, He calls us to faith in Him. And “by faith, we understand” that God alone is able to judge rightly “among the gods” and that the real “gods” in this world, according to our heavenly Father Himself, and according to His Son Jesus, are those to whom the word of God has come.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Your Best Helpers

"This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you."

Those around us who are walking in the love of God do us good in many ways. One of the chief ways they benefit us is to point out errors in ours lives that we do not see. In the Old Testament, God commanded His people not to let it pass, when they saw a neighbor commit a sin. In other words, God commanded His people to love as He loves. Solomon said, “Whom the Lord loves, He corrects, even as a father corrects the son in whom he delights” (Prov. 3:12). To love as God loves, then, means to correct a brother when he errs, to remind him of the right way when he has wandered away from it. This holy love is what makes certain people around us so valuable.

But there is another group of people who are also among the most valuable to us. They are those who hate us with perfect hatred. God uses them as well as the first group to point out faults that we may be overlooking. These intend their criticism for evil, while the first group intends it for good, but the important thing is that it is done. Jesus warned us that evil men (including fallen brothers and sisters) would speak “all manner of evil” against us, but intermingled with their lies and slander is often a few legitimate criticisms. It is especially from believers who have turned from righteousness that we can receive the best criticism. Having known us, and having once been touched by God, they are able to point out faults in us that the world cannot perceive. These fallen brothers failed to offer in love our needed criticism while walking with us in the light, but God is so wonderful that He uses them anyway for our good, in spite of their malicious intent.

These two groups of people, those who love us as God loves us and those who hate us as Satan hates us, provide our most valuable help in the Lord, with blunt, insightful criticism. It is no wonder, then, that we are exhorted to love both those who are true and faithful, and those who are our enemies; they are all the most important people in our lives! My father taught us that you will never help anybody in the Lord if you fear hurting them. In fact, he taught us that you will never help anybody in the Lord unless you hurt them. And if we fear losing a brother if we are honest with him concerning a fault, what good can we do him? Jesus is not not like that. Once, in John 6, he even invited his disciples to leave him if they didn't want to hear what he said to them. Neither those who love us as God loves us nor those who hate us as Satan hates us will refrain from hurting us. The godly do not want to hurt us, but they love us enough to do it. The ungodly do want to hurt us, and they love themselves enough to do it. Either way, both groups are used by God for our good if we love Him.

But there is a third group.

The least valuable people in our lives are those around us who see our faults and remain silent. They are the real trouble-makers in the kingdom of God. They are the grudge-holders, the luke-warm, whose love is skin deep, who gossip to others about the faults they see in us instead of correcting us so that we can be healed. These foolish believers refuse to function as a healing part of the body by helping others to see their faults and to deal with them. They remain, sometimes for many years, among the body as useless, dead weight. Time usually reveals that they are silent about the errors they see in others because they are hiding from others some secret sins of their own.

Friends, if you are going to be a part of the body, then function! Live from the heart among the saints and be a benefit to others who are striving to do the will of God. One of the greatest compliments ever paid to a body of believers was paid to the saints in Rome. The apostle Paul described them as “able to admonish one another”. This means that (1) the saints in Rome had the wisdom to discern when a brother or sister was wandering off the right path, (2) they had enough of the love of God among themselves to point out error among themselves, and (3) they had the humility to receive criticism from one another when it was offered. For the body to function as Jesus wants it to, these three qualities must exist in it. Do you measure up?

Under the Old Testament law, God said that if we saw a brother sin and remained silent, we were, in fact, hating him. He said, “You shall not hate your brother in your heart! You shall by all means rebuke your neighbor, and not allow sin upon him. You shall not seek vengeance or bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself! I am the Lord!” (Lev. 19:17-18). Jesus loves us, and so he reproves us and convicts our hearts when we err, and he desires that each of us should love as he loves us. He told his disciples, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (Jn. 15:12).

Do you love the saints around you as Jesus loves them? When you see fault, when you see something in a brother’s life that you know displeases the Lord, do you remain silent or whisper it to others instead of to him? If a brother harms you, do you hold a grudge. Do you seek revenge?

Let us determine today that we are going to function as we should, that we are going to love our brothers and sisters with the love of God while we have a chance. It will help us to do so if we remember that if we see a fault, it is only because Jesus has let us see what he sees so that we can co-operate with him in saving our brother. When we see a fault, Jesus is inviting us to do a good work. To be given the grace to see a fault in a brother is a golden opportunity; it is an open door to become a valuable part of the body of Christ, a healing part of the body, a fellow-worker with Christ, and to receive, in the end, the reward that is fitting for those who have served Christ well.