18 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, ”All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 ”Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matt. 28:18–20, NASB
The command of our Lord to “make disciples” is part of the sanctification process ordained and controlled by God in the life of all true believers. However, in the current visible church there is much confusion between what we know as biblical sanctification and a new term called “spiritual formation.” What is it? Is it a new way to do the same thing, but perhaps in an improved way? Can man come up with a better way to disciple new Christians than that which God has given us? Dr. John MacArthur has a few thoughts on the subject.
Also helpful is the following article by Dr. Gary Gilley of Southern View Chapel.
1 But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, 2 by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, 1 Tim. 4:1–2, NASB
Apostasy seems to come in waves at times. We watch or listen to a Bible teacher or Christian leader for a time and develop a respect for them because they “seem” to be so solid doctrinally and have a love for the lost and for the preaching of the Gospel. Then out of the blue we hear a term such as “Missional” or how they are positive that God has given them a new vision for our church or their ministry and they then proceed to go into the process of “Vision Casting.” Are these things biblical? In this interview from 2012, Dr. John MacArthur discusses the biblical veracity of “vision casting.”
1 Then God said to Jacob, “Arise, go up to Bethel and live there, and make an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau.” 2 So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Put away the foreign gods which are among you, and purify yourselves and change your garments; 3 and let us arise and go up to Bethel, and I will make an altar there to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone.” Gen. 35:1–3, NASB
I’m sure that most Christians’ conception of idolatry is one in which people fall down and worship some statue or image or a facsimile of something that appears to resemble a god. While that is an example of idolatry there is a more subtle form of idolatry that all people are neck-deep in outside of the grace of God.
Pastor Matt Richard gives great counsel for pastors, and essential information for all believers on the pastoral office. Quoting a letter to young seminarians from David Petersen:
You are a servant of the Word. Follow Jesus. The Way of the Cross is a lonely, narrow path but it leads to heaven. Be more afraid of God than you are of the people. It is not the one who signs the check who provides daily bread. Do the right thing. Tell the Truth. Suffer the consequences. That is what a servant of Christ does.
1 But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, 2 by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron 1 Tim. 4:1–2, NASB
In these last days, there appears to be a clarifying work of God going on in within the visible church. In the early church and in all those historic periods when it was not “comfortable” to be counted among those who named Christ as their Lord and Saviour, the genuine believers were easy to spot. They endured. They may have undergone severe persecution even unto death, but they did not fall away. Since the end of Puritanism, Christianity has taken on a role in the West that ensured religious freedom. Humanism began to encroach upon doctrine and in every aspect of how church was done. Despite bright spots in this period such as the Great Awakening and then later the ministries of men like Charles Spurgeon, a downgrade in doctrine began to emerge into the Church. Humanism begat Liberal Theology which devastated the Church. A backlash against it called Fundamentalism was born. It was a move away from Liberal Theology, but it’s doctrines bore the stamp of legalism in many areas. This caused a backlash in the opposite direction that begat the emergent church movement and the New Evangelism.
18 Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was bestowed through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give this authority to me as well, so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” 20 But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! 21 “You have no part or portion in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. 22 “Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord that, if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 “For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bondage of iniquity.”
Acts 8:18–23, NASB
In these times of the “Compromised Church” with very little knowledge of historical Christianity and what makes up what is truly Orthodox, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised when I’m called a heretic and false teacher for teaching Reformation Theology and then revealing that my view of eschatology is (gasp) not dispensational/pre-millennialism. I have been told more than a few times over the last week or so that I could not possibly be a genuine brother and hold to the view of eschatology that I espouse or that I am a Calvinist, et cetera. What is it that makes one a genuine Christian rather than a disingenuous believer? Let’s take a look at a New Testament example.
8 To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; 9 not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing. 10 For, “The one who desires life, to love and see good days, must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit. 11 He must turn away from evil and do good; he must seek peace and pursue it. 12 For the eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous, and his ears attend to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” 1 Pet. 3:8–12, NASB
This era of the Church is one of extreme deception due to compromise with the standards and focus of the world. Separation between the Church and the world is not being kept. Instead, the holy barrier between the two has been breached as false prophets have welcomed in not only the world and its ways into their churches, but have also embraced the mysticism of every type including those from Eastern Religions. Syncretism is the new byword of the Emergent Village. On the other hand, God is good. He keeps His promises. The Lord told Peter that He is the one building His Church and no evil will ever be able to destroy it. (Matthew 16:18) If this is true, and it is because our Lord spoke it, then how do we reconcile the rapid apostasy of so much of the visible Church with what He said? God always keeps a remnant during times of rampant apostasy. These Christians are the small group whom God has reserved who have not bowed the knee to Baal. These are also the ones in whom God is developing Christlikeness and through the fires of persecution by those in the visible Church who have succumbed to the heresies and ungodliness going on in it, He is teaching them how to stand firm and never compromise with evil. In this they learn the difference between debate and dialogue and know that the former actually clarifies the truth and why they hold to it while the latter is only a conversation which has the intent of compromising the truth.
15 When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger. 17 When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them. Luke 2:15–20, NASB
Human faith is not the same thing as genuine (saving) faith, which is a gift from God. The former is based in human reason and intellect. The latter is supernatural. What passes for faith in many professing believers’ “Christianity” is a belief based in who preaches to or teaches them. This is not genuine faith because it is not a belief in the Word or in God through the Word. These are “believers” who will eventually fall away. Some may last a lifetime, but as soon as the fires of tribulation come upon them they slide into apostasy because their faith is not of the substance that endures.
As eternal truths, justification, sanctification and imputation cannot be separated; yet, looking at imputation in justification is useful for our growth in grace and strengthened walk of faith. Preaching Christ Crucified continues its series of studies in Romans.
10 Now you followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, perseverance, 11 persecutions, and sufferings, such as happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium and at Lystra; what persecutions I endured, and out of them all the Lord rescued me! 12 Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. 13 But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.2 Tim. 3:10–13, NASB
“Christians” in the United States and other “civilized” countries do not exist in a climate of a fear of persecution like those in China and India. Some would say that is because of our culture or that there are huge numbers of Christians here. However, the truth of the matter is that Christians who live in total obedience to their Lord will be persecuted. So, what does that say about Christians who live at peace with the world around them? The truth of the matter is this; the reason Christians are not persecuted in the US is that very few of them are walking in the level of obedience to their Lord that would draw attention to them from those who hate the real Jesus and the Word of God. However, if they were living holy lives, sharing their faith, actively making disciples, and preaching the whole Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ the wrath of Satan and his seed would come upon them.
Jesus said to him, ”If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” Matt. 19:21, NASB
The message of salvation that is normally preached or taught in the vast majority of churches these days has been contaminated with Humanism. The focus is on becoming a Christian for some great benefit or reward from God based upon little to no personal cost. Masses of people respond to that false gospel as well. The genuine gospel that our Saviour preached during His earthly ministry may have mentioned the benefits of being saved, but He emphasized the cost of becoming His disciple in such a way that it caused many of His hearers to not follow Him anymore. In fact, whenever He saw that the people were flocking to Him to have their felt needs met, He would speak a message to them that expressed that those who are His disciples are the ones who have counted the cost and have seen that the eternal is all that truly matters.
Justification by faith is focused on the cross of Jesus Christ. All that we are as Christians comes by the focus and clarity of the truth of the atoning death of Jesus Christ. Preaching Christ Crucified continues its series of studies in Romans.
1 Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. Rom. 12:1–2, NASB
One of the markers of genuineness in a Christian is separation from the world. This isn’t a physical removal from planet Earth or a disintegration of the body of a Christian. A genuine Christian’s character should be in a continual upgrade unto Christlikeness. That means that as he or she cooperates with God in their sanctification, working out their salvation with fear and trembling, their character will take on more and more of Christ’s character. They will love what He loves and hate what he hates. God is love, but He hates a certain type of love.
When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. 1 Cor. 13:11, NASB
When the Lord circumcised my heart in August 2004, I was truly amazed at the level of spiritual discernment that came with that blessing. Leading up to this, God had drawn me ever deeper into our relationship. I had been in a deep, close, intimate walk with Him over a period of several weeks. I was fasting from anything that distracted me from my devotion to Him. I was praying, worshiping, studying my Bible, and researching doctrine, all in obedience to His drawing me to Him. Just a few days before Labor Day in 2004 I woke up one morning and knew that everything had changed. It was probably the most joyous and humbling experience I have ever had. I realized right then that I no longer cared for anything except to do His will. His glory was paramount. For someone who had been in bondage to self-focused, flesh oriented, desperate pursuits for self-gratification for over 50 years, this was a genuinely miraculous thing.
The blessings of God are from above; they flow from the Cross of Christ because the blessings are spiritual, not carnal; they are heavenly, not earthly; they are eternal, not temporal. Preaching Christ Crucified continues in its series of studies in Romans.
“Strong in faith” means stepping out appropriately based upon what God has said, what He has declared, and what He has promised in His holy Word; yet, at the same time, the term also carries with it another meaning. Preaching Christ Crucified continues its series of studies in Romans.
36 And there was a prophetess, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years and had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers. 38 At that very moment she came up and began giving thanks to God, and continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. Luke 2:36–38, NASB
When I was a young man and even prior to that when I was a teenager, I was quite religious. I went to church with my family and tried to emulate what I saw my parents do in their devotion. I tried to reach a point in my own devotion where I could be fulfilled, wanting to serve God with the joy and fervor I saw in other believers. However, I just could not do it. I found myself bored in church. I found no inner drive to read my Bible. I had no desire to have a consistent devotion to God because there were so many other things in my life that were more important to me than that. I was tormented by the fact that I could not behave consistently “Christian.” I had no self-control in certain situations. Then I would visit my family and attend church with them on Sunday full of remorse and guilt. I would exit the service determined to do good works and not sin anymore. I look back on that time now and almost laugh except it was a horrible conflict in my life at that time. I was convinced that being a Christian consisted of doing Christian things. In that unregenerate mind, a Christian was a Christian because they did those things. That, of course, is works righteousness.
In his Expository Thoughts on the Gospels, J.C. Ryle opens up the Scriptures that record the life and ministry of our Lord. Reflecting upon John 15:1–5, Ryle draws an important distinction between the true and the false Christian.
1 Awake, awake, Clothe yourself in your strength, O Zion; Clothe yourself in your beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city; For the uncircumcised and the unclean Will no longer come into you. 2 Shake yourself from the dust, rise up, O captive Jerusalem; Loose yourself from the chains around your neck, O captive daughter of Zion. 3 For thus says the LORD, “You were sold for nothing and you will be redeemed without money.” Isa. 52:1–3, NASB
Many look at salvation as if they believe that it is a work of some kind. The cry to put on strength and beautiful garments is seen as a new believer putting on something they already have. However, in Isaiah 52:1–3 we see that those being saved were in bonds. They were in a captivity into which they were not sold, but they were redeemed without money. From where does their strength and beautiful garments come?
Pastor Conrad Mbewe of Kabwata Baptist Church in Lusaka, Zambia, Africa, compares the ministry methods of the Apostle Paul with those of today, especially those practices that prevail in his own home of Africa.
14 For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace. 15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be!Rom. 6:14–15, NASB
Most of the early years of my Christian walk were spent in one church from February 1987 through February 2000. During that time we had three pastors. I was in some form of teaching for most of that time. One of the things that always came up when we studied the Old Testament was Romans 6:14–15. It was as if someone always had to make sure that we were not being legalistic. They cast the law as far from them and our church as the East is from the West. Is that how we are to treat God’s Law?
Scripture records that Abraham’s loins were dead and that Sarah had reached menopause. This tells us much concerning justification by grace through faith. Preaching Christ Crucified continues its series of studies in Romans.
Circumcision was a sign and a seal of imputed righteousness by faith, which foreshadowed the sign and seal of the Holy Spirit’s work in salvation by grace through faith. Preaching Christ Crucified continues its series of studies in Romans.
μηδὲν φοβοῦ ἃ μέλλεις πάσχειν. ἰδοὺ μέλλει βάλλειν ὁ διάβολος ἐξ ὑμῶν εἰς φυλακὴν ἵνα πειρασθῆτε καὶ ἕξετε θλῖψιν ἡμερῶν δέκα. γίνου πιστὸς ἄχρι θανάτου, καὶ δώσω σοι τὸν στέφανον τῆς ζωῆς. Rev. 2:10, NA28
Do not fear the things you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison that you may be tested and you will have affliction ten days. Be faithful unto death and I will give you the Crown of Life. Rev. 2:10, translated from the NA28 Greek text
Πιστὸς (pistos) is the Greek adjective translated in Revelation 2:10 as “faithful.” Πιστὸς is defined as “faithful, trustworthy, reliable, dependable.” In the context of Revelation 2:10, 13, which are our Lord’s own words, to be “faithful” is to refuse to compromise the Christian faith, even in the face of persecution and martyrdom. In this day of superstar or what some call “Rock Star” Christian leaders whose popularity is based upon their willingness to dilute the Christian faith with the world and its ways or even by blending in the cultic ways of other religions, we need to have a clearer understanding of the faithfulness that is expected of the genuine Christian by our Lord.
The third installment of ‘A Pilgrim’s Ponderings’ has been posted at Preaching Christ Crucified. This series is a doctrinal and devotional commentary on John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress.