Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Divisiveness vs. Discernment

By John MacArthur

Do discernment and divisiveness go hand in hand? Is it true that the term discernment is often employed as a cover for a contentious or critical spirit?
Let’s acknowledge that there are unscrupulous people who, under the guise of “biblical discernment,” engage in unbrotherly criticism. Their tactics often include innuendo, character assassination, guilt by association, and other dishonest methods. They weave conspiracy theories, sensationalize their attacks against others, and favor personal slurs over substantive doctrinal analysis. Militant fundamentalism has made this type of criticism its specialty. As a consequence, that movement has steadily lost its influence, forfeited its credibility, and fragmented into tiny, warring factions. My appeal for discernment is not a call to that sort of factious attitude.
Undoubtedly the prevalence of hypercritical attitudes among some fundamentalists has caused a backlash that has only accelerated the decline of discernment in the church. We rightfully deplore a pugnacious spirit. No true Christian wants to be contentious. No one who has the mind of Christ enjoys conflict. Obviously, harmony is preferable to discord. But when some crucial truth is at stake, how do we display the mind of Christ? Certainly not by allowing the error to go unchallenged. If we truly are to be like our Savior, we must both proclaim truth and condemn error in unambiguous language (see Matthew 23).
That means we must learn to discriminate. In modern usage, the word discrimination carries powerful negative connotations. But the word itself is not negative. Discriminate simply means “to make a clear distinction.” We used to call someone “a discriminating person” if he exercised keen judgment. “Discrimination” signified a positive ability to draw the line between good and evil, true and false, right and wrong. In the heyday of the American civil-rights movement, the word was widely applied to racial bigotry. And, indeed, people who make unfair distinctions between races are guilty of an evil form of discrimination.
Unfortunately, the word itself took on that negative connotation, and the sinister implication is often transferred to anyone who tries to discriminate in any way. To view homosexuality as immoral (1 Corinthians 6:9–10; 1 Timothy 1:9–10) is condemned now by the politically correct as an unacceptable form of discrimination. To suggest that wives ought to submit to their own husbands (Ephesians 5:22; Colossians 3:18) is now classified as unfair discrimination. To suggest that children ought to obey their parents (Ephesians 6:1) is also labeled unjust discrimination by some. We see more and more that anyone who “discriminates” these days risks becoming a target of boycotts, protests, and lawsuits. We are not supposed to draw lines. That is the spirit of this age, and unfortunately, it has crept into the church.
If we are going to be discerning people, we must develop the skill of discriminating between truth and error, good and bad. The original languages of Scripture convey this very idea. The main Hebrew word for “discernment” is bin. That word and its variants are used hundreds of times in the Old Testament. It is often translated “discernment,” “understanding,” “skill,” or “carefulness.” But in the original language it conveys the same idea as our word discrimination. It entails the idea of making distinctions. Jay Adams points out that the word bin “is related to the noun bayin, which means ‘interval’ or ‘space between,’ and the preposition ben, ‘between.’ In essence it means to separate things from one another at their points of difference in order to distinguish them.” Discernment, then, is a synonym for discrimination. In fact, the Greek verb translated “discern” in the New Testament is diakrinĊ. It means “to make a distinction” and is translated that way in Acts 15:9.
So discernment is the process of making careful distinctions in our thinking about truth. The discerning person is the one who draws a clear contrast between truth and error. Discernment is black-and-white thinking—the conscious refusal to color every issue in shades of gray. No one can be truly discerning without developing skill in separating divine truth from error.
Does Scripture tell us how to be discerning? It certainly does. Paul sums up the process in 1 Thessalonians 5:21–22: “Examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil.” There, in three straightforward commands, he spells out the requirements of a discerning mind.
And that’s where we’ll pick it up next time.

(Adapted from Reckless Faith.)

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

In Defense of the Faith: Must We Become Experts on All Religions?

Question:   Since there are so many sacred books of various religions, all of which claim to be true, how can anyone be sure that the Bible is the true Word of God without first examining all the others? Even though another sacred writing might be mostly false, couldn’t it still have enough truth in it to make it worth the time and effort to examine all religious writings?
Response:  That philosophy leads to liberalism’s conclusion that there is no definitive truth and no conclusive answer to any question whatsoever. For example, how could one be certain that two plus two was only four without first examining whether it might not also be three or five or six or seven or every other number? Since numbers are infinite, one would never come to the end of the search. So it is with religion: No one could live long enough to examine every claim of every religion that has ever existed. Nor is such an effort necessary.
Thankfully, truth is not arrived at by a process of elimination. The fact that two plus two equals four  and only four  can be proved without looking at every other number. And so it is with the Bible: its validity can be determined from examining it alone.

The Exclusivity of the Bible’s Claims
Whether the Bible is true or not depends upon the facts relating to that particular book. It is not to be arrived at by examining all other sacred books, concluding that none of the others is true, and then because the Bible is the only religious book left, accepting it. Every sacred book, including the Bible itself, could be and would be false if there were no God and/or if God had not chosen to reveal Himself and His will to mankind in written form. Whether He has done so or not is a question that cannot be answered by a process of elimination but must be determined factually.
Furthermore, if the Bible is the Word of God, as it claims (such terms as “Thus saith the Lord,” “The word of the Lord came unto me,” etc., are found about 3,800 times in the Bible), then all other sacred books must be false just as all other gods must be false. The God of the Bible says He is the only true God: “I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God. . . . Is there a God beside me? Yea, there is no God; I know not any. . . . There is no God else beside me . . . for I am God, and there is none else” (Isaiah:44:6, 8; 45:21–22). If He is God alone, then the Bible through which He speaks must be His Word alone also.
Once one has come to know the true God, there is no need to check out all other possible gods just in case one of them might have some legitimacy. That possibility has been eliminated by knowing that the God of the Bible is the  only  true God. And once one has verified the Bible’s claim to be the  only  Word of God by internal and external proofs, by archaeological and historical evidence, and, most of all, by meeting the Christ and God of the Bible, then there is no need to examine any other
 sacred books to see whether one of them might not have some truth in it as well.

The only reason for becoming familiar with other religions and other religious writings would be in order to show those who follow these false systems wherein the error lies and thereby to rescue them.
—  An excerpt   from  In Defense of the Faith (pp. 71-73)  by  Dave Hunt

Monday, April 14, 2014

Grace — One Step At A Time

An excerpt from  Why Grace Changes Everything
Walking in the Spirit is an amazingly practical proposition. It doesn’t mean that we float through life with a halo over our head and an angelic smile on our face. We can be spiritually minded and still relate to people about earthly things. Some believers react so strongly against the pervasive worldliness of our culture that they lose the ability to communicate with their friends, relatives, and neighbors. Walking in the Spirit doesn’t take us out of reality; it allows us to function in reality with optimum effectiveness.
Relationship First
Somebody once said, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” How true that is in the spiritual realm! While walking in the Spirit is an incredibly practical proposition, we must bear in mind that it’s not the place we begin.  Relationship always precedes behavior .
A great example of this principle is found in the book of Ephesians. The first three chapters all deal with relationship. Only then does the fourth chapter begin, “Therefore…walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called.” The relationship comes first because it provides the foundation for everything that follows.
If we try to walk without first establishing the proper relationship, we won’t make it. Walking requires that we first acquire balance. This is true even in the physical realm. Before children take their first steps, they must learn how to keep their balance while sitting. Next they master the art of standing. Then they learn to wobble a little. And only after that do they develop the ability to walk.
In the book of Ephesians, Paul tells us that by understanding what it means to be seated with Christ we will begin to experience the power of God, which in turn will allow us to walk in a manner pleasing to Him. There is a definite progression here. First we must have a balanced relationship with God; then we can learn to walk.
At one time all of us lived after our flesh, obeying the desires of our flesh and our minds, and were alienated from God. But then God’s grace transformed our lives and we began to enjoy delightful fellowship with the Lord. We continue to enjoy that deep fellowship as we allow God’s Spirit to exercise control over our lives.
Walking Our Talk
There are many who claim to have a relationship with God, who throw around all the right Christian buzzwords and catchphrases, but who simply aren’t walking with God in any practical way. It is crucial that we learn to “walk our talk.” Our lives must be consistent with the calling, the blessings, and the profession we make concerning our new relationship with God.
The question is: how do we manage this? How do we avoid being carried away by the allure of the world? Paul had an answer in Galatians:5:16: “This I say then,  walk in the Spirit , and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh” (emphasis added).
The Greek word translated “walk” in this passage is a term used to describe the dominant characteristic of a person’s life. If someone were to have a reputation as a real miser he would be known as a person who “walked” in greed. If a person characteristically was concerned and helpful, he would be known as someone who “walked” in kindness.
To walk in the Spirit means that we allow the Holy Spirit to exercise control over our lives. Every day we are presented with the option of living after the Spirit or after our own fleshly desires. Our mind is the battleground where we will decide which will have dominion.
It is helpful to remember that God has designed the human mind to work much as a computer does. A computer can only produce that which has been programmed into it. In like manner, our minds are being programmed daily. If our input comes from the flesh, our lives will be characterized by the flesh. If we begin to program our minds with the things of the Spirit, our lives will begin to reflect the priorities of the Spirit.
How easy it is to fall into the trap of making a bold profession to please the flesh! Certainly the power that our fallen nature can hold over us is one of the biggest problems we face in life. How can we be free from the seemingly unconquerable bondage to the flesh?
The simple yet profound answer is this:  Don’t fight the flesh; strengthen the Spirit!  Don’t fight against the darkness; turn on the light.
To do this we must first recognize that we have both a spiritual and a fleshly side to our nature. If we are to walk in the Spirit, we must feed the spiritual man. We all know what it means to feed the physical side of our nature. If I miss feeding my body, it is not subtle about reminding me of its needs…. We exercise and take vitamins so that we might grow strong physically. Becoming strong in spirit requires a similar regimen. We must regularly consume the bread of life, the Word of God.
Taking in the Word
How ironic it is that our consumption of the Word is often the last thing we get around to. “Of course, I need to spend time in God’s Word,” we say, “but I just don’t seem to have time right now.” In essence, we are fasting in the Spirit. Our spiritual side often gets fed irregularly, spasmodically, and in an unbalanced way. We neglect regular, systematic study of the Word for a “let’s flip open the Bible and see what catches our eye” approach. Often we have no consistent practice of Bible study or personal growth…. As a result, the spiritual man becomes weak and the flesh begins to dominate.
If I want my spiritual man to be strong, it only stands to reason that I must sow to my spirit. I can’t be sowing to the flesh and hope that I’m somehow going to produce a spiritual crop. In order to walk in the Spirit, I must begin to feed the spirit. That means I must make it a point to get more and more into the Word of God….
It is important to see God’s Word as the essential that it is. Jesus claimed that His words were spirit and life, so a regular, systematic time in God’s Word is essential if we are to walk in the Spirit.
Communing with God
A high priority on prayer is another essential for experiencing the joys of walking in the Spirit. As we thrill to the excitement of communing with God, we find ourselves being strengthened in spirit. We become more and more conscious of the presence of God in all that we do and in every circumstance we encounter.
Being aware of God’s presence opens our understanding to a more full and developed worldview. I am convinced that one of our greatest needs is to become more and more aware of God’s presence at all times….
Our lives can be remarkably transformed when we come to realize that God is with us continually. Losing sight of that fact can open the door to spiritual disaster. The farther God is removed from our consciousness, the more we are strongly drawn to the things that feed and please our fallen nature. When we stumble and fall, we may point to many external factors to explain our behavior, but the root of our problem is a failure to keep God’s presence in mind. The instruction to walk in the Spirit simply means that we are to deliberately make God our constant traveling companion as we move through the day.
When we walk in the Spirit, living in constant awareness of the presence of God, we no longer need others to nag and preach at us about living up to Christian standards. Our lives will be revolutionized as we keep the nearness and love of God in the front of our minds.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Biblical Movies Helpful or Harmful?

Question: I’ve spent countless hours talking to those who support biblical movies, and no matter what concerns I raise that are abundantly clear from the Scriptures, the final word on their part is, “I hear what you’re saying, but I still feel that God can use such movies to win people to Jesus.” I am continually frustrated by their lack of biblical discernment. What do you say to those who respond based upon what they feel?
Response:  God, in His abundant mercy, can certainly bring conviction of sin and draw a person to Himself in ways and means that seem to be an exception to what we would normally see. Consider these scenarios: 1) A Roman Catholic at Mass hears a verse quoted from Scripture during the priest’s homily. The verse speaks to the person’s heart and leads him to the biblical gospel and salvation. 2) A Jehovah’s Witness is reading through his New World Translation bible, and some of its verses that contradict Witness doctrine lead the person to trust in the biblical Jesus. 3) Some of the writings in the Book of Mormon (which were plagiarized from the King James Version of the Bible) are read by a Mormon, who is then convicted by those words; they help lead him out of the cult, and to salvation. God’s Word, as we know, will not return void but will accomplish what He intends (Isaiah:55:11).
Can we then say that the Mass, the New World Translation, and the Book of Mormon are legitimate means of bringing the lost to Christ? No. To support such erroneous, even blasphemous, spiritual devices as valid for evangelizing is to give credence to those things that are an abomination before God, not to mention that they are a pack of lies. God cannot support such things for evangelizing that contradict or corrupt His Word, and He does not. Again, in His mercy He may  use  such things even when they contain only a slight hint of truth to help deliver a person from spiritual bondage.
Biblical movies are similar to the above examples because in the attempt to translate the Bible to the screen, the content must be altered to fit the medium. That involves adding dialogue to the Scriptures not found in the Bible, scenes not found there, characters who are portrayed out of their biblical context, emotions and drama not indicated in Scripture, locations not consistent with Scripture, and the list goes on. In other words, they are a major distortion of God’s Word. For those who still cling to the belief that God, nevertheless, is using such errors to draw multitudes of the lost to Himself, we appeal to them to consider these two words:  damage control .
Although God may use whatever truth may be gleaned from any medium, the unsaved meanwhile will have been subjected to a truckload of unbiblical teaching. God’s objective would not be to have people partake of the errors but rather that the lost would respond to the truth. Those evangelical Christians who know the Lord, however, and who watched movies such as  The Passion of the Christ  and  Son of God  have consequently been fed imagery that confuses their biblical literacy at best and corrupts the truth of what they have already been taught at worst. This is damage that has serious consequences and must be dealt with for the sake of  both  the lost as well as believers.


Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The New Jerusalem

Monday, April 7, 2014

Getting the Gospel Right

By John MacArthur

We're Right!I am amazed at some of the things that have been said and written in recent years about the gospel. I fear that in many circles a different message is replacing the good news of salvation. I'm not talking about the attacks on the gospel from liberal religion or the theology of the cults, but a skewed message that has sprouted from right within conservative evangelicalism.
I have a copy of a training film now being used internationally to teach Christians what they should and should not say when leading someone to Christ. A respected, conservative organization produced the film, but frankly, the warped view of the gospel it presents is appalling.
In the entire half-hour film, there is not one mention of the resurrection. It speaks of forgiveness without defining sin, and it talks of trusting Christ without describing faith. Incredibly, the film counsels believers never to speak to a non-Christian about the lordship of Christ, submission to Him, surrender of the will, forsaking one's sin, or obeying God. Those truths, according to the film, have no place in the gospel message but should be saved for later, after someone becomes a Christian.
That sentiment reflects a viewpoint that is rapidly gaining momentum within evangelicalism. A handful of outspoken and increasingly vocal teachers are popularizing it. To their credit, most of those men are motivated by a passion to keep the gospel of God's grace free from the influence of human works. Their desire, I'm sure, is to make clear the biblical truth that salvation may in no way be earned or obtained by man's effort. Their approach, however, has been to eliminate from the gospel message anything that sounds like a work of righteousness, and to speak only of believing the objective data. They have erased the biblical words repentance, obedience, and submission from the vocabulary of evangelicalism.
Such teaching has taken a heavy toll. Faith has become merely an intellectual exercise. Instead of calling men and women to surrender to Christ, modern evangelism asks them only to accept some basic facts about Him. A person can believe without obeying. Thus faith is robbed of any moral significance, and righteousness becomes optional.
Even the way we invite people to Christ reveals this shift. "Make a decision for Christ," we say. When was the last time you heard an evangelistic message that challenged sinners to repent and follow Christ? Yet isn't that the language Jesus Himself used (Matthew 4:17; Mark 8:34)?
The Gospel According to Jesus
Those were the questions that prompted me to write The Gospel According to Jesus --I wanted to study the message Jesus preached to unbelievers. How could any issue be more important? The gospel we present has eternal consequences. If it is the true gospel, it can direct men and women into the everlasting kingdom. If it is a corrupted message, it can give unsaved people false hope while consigning them to eternal damnation. This is not a trivial matter for theologians to speculate on. It is an issue every lay person must understand and get right.
Here are some questions that need to be answered biblically:
Do we receive Jesus as Lord and Savior, or as Savior only? Some say a person who refuses to obey Christ can still receive Him as Savior. They teach that the gift of eternal life is available by faith even to one who rejects the moral and spiritual demands of Christ. They accuse others of teaching "lordship salvation," implying that it is novel to suggest that submission is a characteristic of saving faith.

Until relatively recently, however, no one would have dared suggest a person can be saved while stubbornly refusing to bow to Christ's authority. Nearly all the major biblical passages calling for saving faith refer to Jesus as lord (cf. Acts 2:21, 36; Romans 10:9-10).

Is repentance from sin essential to salvation? Some say that turning from sin is a human work and therefore cannot be part of salvation. To accommodate the biblical call to repentance, they redefine repentance as nothing more than a change of mind about who Jesus is.

Biblically, however, repentance is a total about face--turning away from sin and self and unto God (cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:9). That is no more a result of human effort than faith itself. Nor is it in any sense a pre-salvation work required to prepare a sinner for salvation. Real repentance is inseparable from faith and, like faith, is the work of God in a human heart. It is the response God inevitably generates in the heart of one He is redeeming.

What is faith? Some say faith is merely believing certain facts. One popular Bible teacher says saving faith is nothing more than confidence in the divine offer of eternal life.

Biblically, however, the object of faith is not the divine offer; it is the Person of Jesus Christ. Faith in Him is what saves, not just be­lieving His promises or accepting facts about Him. Saving faith has to be more than accepting facts. Even demons have that kind of faith (James 2:19).

Believing in Jesus means re­ceiving Him for all that He is (John 1:12). It means both confessing Him as Savior and yielding to Him as Lord. In fact, Scripture often uses the word obedience as a synonym for faith (cf. John 3:36; Acts 6:7; Hebrews 5:9).

What is a disciple? In the past hundred years or so, it has become popular to speak of discipleship as a higher level of Christian experience. In the new terminology, a person becomes a believer at salvation; he becomes a disciple later, when he moves past faith to obedience.

Such a view conveniently relegates the difficult demands of Jesus to a post-salvation experience. It maintains that when He challenged the multitudes to deny self, to take up a cross and follow Him (Mark 8:34); to forsake all (Luke 14:33); and to leave father and mother (Matthew 19:29), He was simply asking believers to step up to the second level and become disciples.

But how does that square with Jesus' own words, "I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners" (Matt 9:13)? The heart of His ministry was evangelism, and those difficult demands are evangelistic appeals.

Every believer is a disciple and vice versa. A careful reading of Acts shows that the word disciple has been a synonym for Christian from the earliest days of the church (cf. 6:1-2, 7; 11:26; 14:20, 22; 15:10).

What is the evidence of salvation? In their zeal to eliminate good works as a requirement for salvation, some have gone to the extreme of arguing that good works are not even a valid evidence of salvation. They teach that a person may be genuinely saved yet never manifest the fruit of salvation--a changed life.

A few have even taken the absurd position that a born-again person may ultimately turn away from Christ into unbelief, deny God, and become an atheist--yet still possess eternal life. One writer invented a term for such people: "unbelieving believers"!
Scripture is clear that a saved person can never be lost. It is equally clear that a genuine Christian will never fall back into total unbelief. That kind of apostasy proves an individual was never really born again (1 John 2:19).

Furthermore, if a person is genuinely saved, his life will change for the better (2 Corinthians 5:17). He is saved "for good works" (Ephesians 2:10), and there is no way he can fail to bring forth at least some of the fruit that characterizes the redeemed (cf. Matthew 7:17). His desires are transformed; he begins to hate sin and love righteousness. He will not be sinless, but the pattern of his life will be decreasing sin and increasing righteousness.

You need to settle these critical questions in your own heart. Study the gospel Scripture presents. Listen with discernment to every speaker you hear. Measure everything by the Word of God. Above all, make sure that the message you share with unbelievers is truly the gospel of Christ.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Living for the Weekend

As I was working on a Friday, a thought came to me about how unique this day was from the other days of the week. Friday is the day where you witness yourself and your co-workers in a much better mood than the other days of the week. Why is that? The answer is obvious: The weekend is here!

I began to think about how people look forward to the freedom and enjoyment the weekend brings from a work week. Most people are talking about getting drunk, high, or partying it up on the weekend and so their mood changes when they know something "fun" is ahead.

Some individuals you see dragging their feet and in a bad mood during the week, you see make a complete 180 on Fridays. Am I saying there is anything wrong with this attitude? NO, (aside from getting drunk or high) I think it creates a better work atmosphere and comrade among your co-workers. BUT, as a believer in Christ, the Lord opened my eyes to something that grieved me about this situation.

Those who don't know Christ seem as if the ONLY thing they look forward to is the weekends, vacation, or days off, etc. The problem is these things are only temporal. The drunk, the high, the excitement for these things quickly pass away. Is life all about living for the weekend and the rest of the week is just a drag waiting til it comes?

I will be the first to admit, I love the weekends! I love having time off of work to rest, enjoy time with family and doing things I love. However, if I begin to see the rest of my week as nothing more than a journey to the weekend, my life becomes shallow and routine.

The truth is, as a Christian, we have more than the weekend to live for! We are living for eternity! This life is a vapor: "Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes." (James 4:14)

We know everyday that is given to us is a gift from God whether or not we are working or not. Everything we do should be for His glory and the benefit of furthering His purpose in our lives! Yes, it's a struggle, but we need to cultivate an eternal perspective: "Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory." (Col. 3:1-3)

We need to share with people who don't know Christ that there is more than the weekend to live for! We need to share the Gospel of how Christ came to rescue us from a life lived for self, pleasures, and temporary pursuits. We were meant to live forever, and we will live forever! However, what we do in this life determines our eternal destiny! Will we continue to believe all that matters is living for the here and now, and giving no thought to what happens after we die? We may not have as much time as we like to believe. Lot's of people's lives have been cut short!

The Bible says: "Behold, now is “the acceptable time,” behold, now is “the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2). 

Yes, there is much more to life than living to drink, party, and fulfill your selfish pleasures. We were made for the Lord and to fellowship with Him. However, sin has separated us from Him. Our purpose for living has become distorted and results for many as nothing more than "living for the weekend." 
However, when we repent of this lifestyle and trust in Christ, we can expect and hope for a life that gives us freedom beyond our imagination! We truly have something to look forward to! Everyday we get closer to spending eternity with our Creator! He know what will truly fulfill us! Jesus said: "I have come that they may have life, and have it more abundantly!"

So as we ponder how great the weekend is, know that it will soon be over. We are stewards of this one life and we need to see beyond the temporal to the eternal! Trust in Jesus today!
In Christ -Dustin