Sunday, November 23, 2014

Contend 2015: A Student Worldview Weekend (Free) Bring a Group or Just Bring Your Own Student

Why we are saved by Faith Alone!

I speak as a man who has been saved by grace alone through faith alone! Eternal life with Jesus Christ is a gift to be received by faith alone apart from any of our own merit/works. Let me explain why: When we are born into this world, we are born into sin and are infected with the sin disease. We sin in word, thought, and deed until we die. Romans 3:23 says: "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." That means that every human is guilty of sin and have amassed a sin debt. The ten commandments are not meant for us to keep perfectly. In fact, who keeps them perfectly? No one. The Lord gave us the Law to lead us to Christ: "Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith.: (Galatians 3:24). When you see a speed limit sign it says (55mph). It is there as a standard. The ten commandments are God's holy standards. They are there to reveal our sin and condemn us a lawbreakers: "Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin." (Romans 3:20) The law is simply there to show us our sin and lead us to Christ who alone kept the law perfectly and was sinless. No amount of works or trying to keep the Ten commandments will merit us eternal life. We are in debt to God for sinning against him and the wages of our sin is death(eternal separation from God) or Hell.

Why is it that we can only be saved (justified or declared righteous in God's sight) by faith alone? Because faith is the only channel by which we pray and receive Jesus Christ through repentance in Him. We see ourselves as utterly sinful, unworthy and wretched. We come to God with nothing to bring Him but our sin, and we turn away from our sinful lifestyle unto Christ who paid for our salvation on the cross. When he died on that Cross, he died in our place. He paid it in full! It's like taking our certificate of sin debt and stamping in red "PAID IN FULL" on it. He rose from the dead on the third day conquering death and so was our perfect sacrifice for sin: "who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification." (Romans 4:25)

So if we are born-again, saved, and have eternal life by faith alone, where do good works come in? The Bible is full of scripture saying that good works are important. Let's go to James:

20 But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? 22 Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? 23 And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” And he was called the friend of God. 24 You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only."(James 2:20-24)

The correct interpretation and meaning of these verses is this ......Abraham's offering of Issac demonstrated the genuineness of his faith and the reality of his justification before God. James is emphasizing the vindication before others of a man's claim to salvation. You see James was dealing with many people who were saying: "I'm saved!" What James says is in effect: "Okay, so you claim to have faith, true saving faith, then it will be evidenced by your works, since your works is all that men can see. Men can't look into your heart and see that you have the Holy Spirit. When you are saved, the Holy Spirit lives within you and your good works are evidence that you are a true child of God!

You see, works are the FRUIT, not the ROOT of your salvation. I love how the Apostle Paul lines these verses up: "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them." (Ephesians 2:8-10) Notice Paul starts out by saying, You are saved by grace (unmerited favor) through faith (faith not of yourselves, even that is a gift of God) not of works, lest anyone should boast. No one will be sitting in heaven boasting!!! No one will be saying I got here because I had faith in Jesus AND kept the commandments, AND I was baptist, pentecostal, Catholic, etc. The only thing people will be saying is: I owe it all to Jesus Christ who saved me by His Grace!!! He died in my place on the cross, taking my punishment upon Himself, and I am free by Christ's works, not mine! Then in verse 10 he says created in Christ Jesus for good works. After someone is really born-again/saved through faith alone, he will begin to do good works through God's power and these will be in accordance with God's will (prayer, evangelism, etc) We don't do good works to earn our salvation, we do good works because We HAVE been saved. We do it because of the one who did it all for us! They are not a means to earn favor with God. We have favor with God when we are saved.

When we get saved, Christ takes all our unrighteousness (sin) and gives us His righteous so that we are in right standing before God. It's a once for all done deal! No amount of your life striving to earn your salvation will suffice. He wouldn't have come and died for you if you could do something to earn it. Even if you could someone earn your salvation, how much is enough? How would anyone know whether or not they possessed eternal life before they died. "For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." (2 Cor. 5:21)

Our blessed hope in being saved is completely dependent upon Christ's finished work upon the cross and nothing we do! These verses sum it up beautifully how we can have assurance of eternal life:
"And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 12 He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. 13 These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God." ( 1 John 5:11-13)

In Christ -Dustin 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Should I Interpret the Bible Literally?


By John MacArthur

Cynics love to mock Christians who believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible. They note supposed absurdities like, the Bible is a sword (Hebrews 4:12); Jesus is a door (John 10:7); and God is a bird (Psalm 61:4). Of course, such caricatures of the process are obvious misrepresentations of proper biblical interpretation.
Serious students of Scripture, committed to its accuracy and authority, follow five basic principles of interpretation in order to understand the Bible how its authors intended.
1. The Literal Principle
When you read the Bible assume God is speaking in normal language, common everyday communication. If it says man, it means man. If it says the man went somewhere, it means he went somewhere. If it says he built a house, it means he built a house. This is understanding Scripture in the literal sense of language.
Scripture employs are similes, metaphors, hyperbole, and figurative language throughout. Even sarcasm is employed as a literary device. Those devices are used alongside normal, literal language to help illustrate or punctuate what Scripture is saying to the reader. There is seldom confusion in what God’s Word says or how it says it.
In everyday conversation, if we hear someone say, “That man is as strong as an ox,” no one is confused. That is simply using a simile to make a literal point or statement. We need to be wary of those who claim to unlock the Bible’s secrets by bending and twisting symbolic language beyond its clear intent. There is no need to extrapolate some mystical interpretation out of the text, nor insert one into it.
2. The Historical Principle
History is not only a gap to be bridged, but a context to be understood. What did the text mean to the people to whom it was spoken or written? What was the situation the author and his audience found themselves in? Historical circumstances not only explain what is written, but often why it is written. Ignoring the historical setting often leads to missing the point of a passage.
3. The Grammatical Principle
Very few people enjoy grammar, let alone remember their grammar lessons. But grammar is the key to meaning. Prepositions, pronouns, verbs, nouns—and the other parts of speech—are the bones that support every sentence. Imagine a medical examiner trying to determine cause of death without knowing basic anatomy. The result would be no less confusing and prone to error than interpreting the Bible without considering its grammar.
For example, consider the great commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them...teaching them to observe all that I commanded you” (Matthew 28:19–20). On first reading, “go” sounds like an imperative (verb) as does “make disciples,” “baptizing,” and “teaching.” But as you study the sentence, you will find that there’s only one imperative—mathēteusate, “make disciples.” “Go,” “baptizing,” and “teaching” are actually all participles which means they modify the main verb. The central command of the great commission is to “make disciples.” How does one make disciples? You go, baptize, and teach. Understanding the grammar makes the fullness of that concept come out in the text.
4. The Synthesis Principle
The synthesis principle is what the Reformers called the analogia scriptura—the Scripture all comes together. In other words, one part of the Bible doesn’t teach something that another part contradicts. So as you study the Scripture it must all harmonize. (By the way, this is another reason a comprehensive Bible-reading plan is critical.)
For example, Jesus’ story of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31–46) cannot be about salvation by works (feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the prisoner), because Ephesians 2:8–9 tells us that salvation is by grace through faith apart from works. Careful examination reveals that the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25 all thought of themselves as believers—they both call Jesus “Lord” (Matthew 25:37,44). Furthermore, this harmonizes with James 2:17 which says that “faith, if it has no works, is dead.” That’s the synthesis principle.
J.I. Packer has wonderfully said, “The Bible appears like a symphony orchestra, with the Holy Ghost as its Toscanini, each instrument has been brought willingly, spontaneously, creatively, to play his notes just as the great conductor desired, though none of them could ever hear the music as a whole....The point of each part only becomes fully clear when seen in relation to all the rest” (from God Has Spoken).
Do you know what that tells me? There are no contradictions in Scripture. What appear as contradictions can be resolved if we have the information, because the Bible comes together as a whole.
5. The Practical Principle
The final question is: So what? As you try to interpret the Bible, how do you find out what it means for your life? Make sure in your Bible study that you find the practical principle. Read the text and find out what spiritual principle is there that applies to you. But remember that you can’t do that until you’ve gone through the other principles first—literal, historical, grammatical, and synthesis. You know what it means by what it says—now you come to how it applies to you.
Conclusion
You must interpret the Bible rightly. Avoid the common errors, bridge the gaps between the biblical text and your modern setting, and apply the proper principles of interpretation. That brings you to the place where you are ready to engrave God’s Word on your heart (Proverbs 3:3) by meditating on the text. We’ll consider that next time.
 
(Adapted from How to Study the Bible)

Saturday, November 15, 2014

What Is the First Indication of Turning Away from God?


God created us in His image—with a mind to know Him, a heart to love Him, and a will to obey Him—in order that we might enjoy a living, personal relationship with Him. Hence, the Christian life is not a lifestyle, but fellowship with a Person, the Lord Jesus Christ.
This Person, to whom we are joined by faith in Him, is to have the preeminence in our life—not prominence, one among many, but preeminence—there is no one else! Thus, our very being is to be captivated by Him and enthralled with the altogether Lovely One. And our lives are to be revealing and reflecting Him.
However, there is one particular attitude that will poison our love for Christ and erode our walk with Him. This disposition of heart, perhaps more than any other, hinders our testimony and diminishes our light, which is designed to be a witness, illuminating the Person of Christ. It perverts the image of Christ in our lives and misrepresents the manifestation of God through our lives. This mindset produces the same spiritual effect as pouring acid on the surface of a bright, new, shiny metal—eating through it, marring the finish, and impairing the reflection. Like a cancer, it continues growing and festering—the tentacles reaching deep within the recesses of our lives. And this conduct, which maligns and defames the goodness of God’s character, is detrimental to His name and reputation. The Word of God declares that it is this attitude that is the first indication of turning away from God.
The attitude is easily identifiable because it is clearly displayed; but we rarely recognize it and acknowledge it for what it is. Instead, we call it by other names in order to excuse it, rationalize it, and justify it, but God is grieved and He calls it sin.
What is it that is so displeasing to God, devastating to our relationship with God, damaging to our fellowship with God and others, as well as distorting our witness as lights revealing Christ? The one attitude that hinders our love for Christ, prevents Christ from having the place of preeminence in our lives, and begins the believer’s turning away from God is not unbelief, anger, disobedience, or rebellion—rather, it is murmuring!
We grumble about many things: We murmur about the food, the weather, taxes, politicians, the media, the temperature (inside and out), our paycheck, the people around us, our inadequate surroundings, poor workmanship, incompetent service, traffic, time (it is either going too fast or too slow), and the decisions made by those in authority, [and even] church services and sermons!
Of course, this list is not intended to be exhaustive, nor is it complete—it is just the “tip of the iceberg!” One lady commented that if she could not murmur, she would have nothing to talk about!
The first indication of turning away from God is an unthankful heart (Rom:1:21), expressed by murmuring, complaining, and grumbling. A thankful heart demonstrates satisfaction, indicating we are resting in the Lord.
The Word and Work of God
God’s Word to us, and His work in us and through us, is completely contrary and diametrically disparate to murmuring.
God’s Word to Us
God is quite clear and very specific when He urges believers, “Do all things without murmurings” (Phil:2:14). This is not optional. God did not say that this is a nice idea or a good suggestion. This is a command of God…. This imperative pertains to all things. God did not say that we are to do some things, most things, the majority of things, nor do as many things as you possibly can without complaining. Rather, God had in mind, “ALL!” I have done extensive research and a thorough examination of the Greek word translated “all” in English, and it means “all”—everything! We do not need to study the original languages to obey God’s Word.
God’s Work in Us
Murmuring expresses disapproval and even rejection of God’s work in us. In the verse preceding the exhortation, “Do all things without murmurings,” God declared, “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure” (Phil:2:13). In the previous chapter, the redeemed are reminded, “He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil:1:6)—not referring to our work for Christ, but His work in us. Hence, complaining communicates, “God, I don’t like it!” We are conveying to God that if we had the same power and authority that He has, we would be arranging and designing our life quite differently from the way He is doing it! “We are His [God’s] workmanship” (Eph:2:10)—not our own!
God is the One who works in the life of the believer to conform him to the image of Christ (Rom:8:29). The Person of Christ is described by the fruit of the Spirit (Gal:5:22-23). Its nine elements can be personified in two words: Jesus Christ. Christ does not give us the fruit of the Spirit, rather He is the fruit of the Spirit, and His nature is the antithesis of murmuring. Is grumbling an evidence of Christ’s joy? Is murmuring proof of Christ’s peace? The character of Christ—longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, and temperance (self-control)—are all the opposite of a murmuring heart.
Christ redeemed us in order to reproduce His life in us so that the world would see the Savior revealed through the saint. My life is to be a reflection of who Christ is, not who I am. The word “Christian” means “to be characterized by Christ.” (The suffix, “ian” signifies to be exemplified by that thing or that one, such as a politician is one typified by politics.) The believer should not be murmuring because the Lord Jesus Christ does not murmur!
God’s Work through Us
Murmuring not only repudiates God’s work in us, but it also tarnishes God’s work through us. Following the admonition that the redeemed are not to be characterized by murmuring, God explained, “that ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world” (Phil:2:15). Murmuring will dim and diminish the believer’s witness and testimony.
“Shine as Lights”
To “shine as lights” signals that the believer’s life is revealing Christ to the world. When God stated, “Work out your own salvation” (v 12), He was not directing the believer to finish the work that God began. Nor are we to adopt the attitude, “Jesus, thank You for saving me and putting me on the right path, going in the right direction, but I can take it from here! I’ll just call on You for the things I am not able to handle!” In the next verse, to preclude that understanding, God emphatically proclaimed, “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure.” The phrase, “work out” carries the idea, “to have translated into a visible form.” God simply reiterated to the believer that the salvation received and implanted through faith in Christ by the work of the Holy Spirit, now be “worked out”—be made visible—by the Holy Spirit. Thus, Christ would be manifested in those who have trusted Him in order that others would come to faith in Him. This is to be realized “with fear and trembling”—not what the Lord will do to a Christian if he does not act properly, but what the Christian does to the Lord when he murmurs—blemishes the name of the Lord.
“Blameless”
The believer in Jesus Christ is to be “blameless.” The word…literally means “unmixed, unadulterated, undiluted.” In the first century, wine merchants advertised their wine as blameless—not watered-down or weakened, but of the highest quality. Jewelers presented their ornaments as blameless—certifying that they were pure metal, with no alloy added to lessen their value. Murmuring pollutes and dilutes the character of Christ.
“Harmless”
“Harmless” is to be a distinguishing trait of the Christian. The word denotes that “it does not hurt” and that it is “of such character that all the poison is removed.” In other words, that which offends, hurts, angers, and causes reaction has been rooted out.
“Sons of God”
The identity of the believer is referred to in the phrase, “sons of God.” The expression, “son of” or “sons of” is an idiom used throughout Scripture that means, “to be identified with.” The defining mark of the Christian is not activity but identity. The redeemed are to be identified with the Redeemer. The “sons of God” are not to be murmuring because the Son of God does not murmur.
The redeemed of the Old Testament, the nation of Israel, came sweeping into the Land of Promise as God’s torch—to bring the light of God into the midst of darkness. But that light was severely diminished amongst the peoples of the land because of the Israelites’ murmuring. Above all else, that which characterized Israel was murmuring and complaining—the besetting sin of those blood-bought believers.
The Words and Works of Man
To comprehend the grievousness and seriousness of murmuring, God uses Israel, His redeemed people, as the example (1 Cor:10:6-10). In summarizing their history, He depicted their failures: “We should not lust after evil things, as they [Israel] also lusted…neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them…neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed…neither let us tempt Christ as some of them also tempted…neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured.”
Much can be learned about God’s estimation of an attitude or action by that with which it keeps company. Murmuring is part of the same category of sins as evil desires, idolatry, immorality, and tempting Christ—the sum of them all is idolatry (v 14), which is simply serving self.
To remind believers today of God’s displeasure with murmuring, God recorded its consequences and causes. And, so that we may live a life well pleasing to Him, He also articulated its cure.
Consequences of Murmuring
Israel unmistakably illustrated the consequence of murmuring. Their murmuring is usually associated with the wilderness wanderings, but their complaining began even before they left Egypt….
In obedience to God, Moses [desired] to do God’s will, but when the leadership of Israel murmured against him, Moses questioned God’s will for his life and became discouraged. (See Exodus 3-5)
Murmuring discourages others by taking the focus off of Christ and fixing it upon the circumstances. Murmuring directs our hearts away from the Savior and deposits it on the situation. Early in our married life, I often came home complaining to my wife about the day’s problems and vexations. Within seconds, I witnessed my cheerful, radiant wife wilt with the onslaught of murmuring, which always leads to discouragement.
A second consequence of murmuring is exposed in the confrontation with Moses. As a result of Israel’s complaining and grumbling, Moses murmured. Murmuring is contagious—it breeds more murmuring. Murmuring does not stop or stay with one person. But again, similar to cancer, it infects other parts of the body (i.e., the Body of Christ) as well as going deep within our own vital organs, and like an infectious disease, spreads rapidly in epidemic proportions.
The first two consequences of murmuring are directed at man—it discourages others and it promotes more murmuring. But the third consequence is far more severe—for it greatly grieves God and brings about God’s deep displeasure, disapproval, and disfavor.
God freed the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, but that did not stop their murmuring. These murmurers found something else about which to complain, “And the whole congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness:…Would to God we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh pots, and when we did eat bread to the full; for ye have brought us forth unto this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger” (Ex 16:2-3).
Experiencing freedom for the first time in over four hundred years, Israel murmured because they were hungry. God could have prevented them from being hungry…. But He purposely let them get hungry. Why? They needed to feel the hunger pains so they would realize their need of Him! God desires that the redeemed of the Lord recognize their continuous, daily need of Him.
Beloved, sometimes our loving Heavenly Father brings us to that place, through some circumstance that is painful, stressful, distasteful even agonizing—that we may come to our wits’ end and the end of ourselves in order to comprehend the truth that without Christ we can do nothing and we are nothing! It is only when we truly grasp our need of and dependence upon Him that we will turn to Christ in that need. The Word of God graciously encourages us, “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty” (Ps:91:1). The “secret place of the Most High” is the difficulties, trials, and sufferings of life in which we learn to abide in Christ—drawing all that we need to sustain, support, and nourish us from Him.
Is Christ alone sufficient? Would we be complete and content with only Him? Perhaps God’s greatest desire for us is to recognize our need of Him and find our sufficiency in Him.
The cure for murmuring is to allow Him who has begun the good work to complete that good work (Phil:1:6, Heb:12:2). There is no formula to follow, no procedure to perform, no method to learn, no principles to practice, no steps of action to take, no list of rules to observe, no laws to obey, no commitments to make, no accountability groups to form, and no commands to keep.
The Scriptures declare that as we behold the glory of the Lord, we are changed into His image (2 Cor:3:18). To “behold” does not suggest a casual glance and then revert to our previous interest. Rather, it urges sustained, riveted, fixed attention upon this Person—single-mindedness. The Greeks approached Philip with just one request, “Sir, we would see Jesus” (Jn:12:21). As we behold Christ, we are transformed into His likeness (One who does not murmur!). Beholding produces the transforming. Our true occupation should be preoccupation with Christ Himself.
Let us reflect on the goodness of God and declare with the psalmist, “I have tasted the Lord, and He is good!”

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Prophecy Run Amok 2: Fearmongering


november_nl_360.png As was noted in part one of this series, prophecy is a very important ingredient in the Bible. In a general sense, the entire Bible is prophecy because God has given mankind His words through His prophets. It is also God foretelling what will take place in the future. That forecasting is what God presents to set Himself apart from the false gods that mankind is deceived into worshiping. God alone knows the future events, which He has declared hundreds and even thousands of years before they take place. Moreover, His foreknowledge of such events, revealed in more than a quarter of the Scriptures, is proof of the supernatural origin and nature of the Bible—that it is indeed God’s communication to mankind (Isaiah:42:9; 46:9-10; 48:5).
Prophecy is often a warning regarding what lies ahead so that believers can discern the times and take appropriate action. This gives unbelievers the opportunity to repent in order to avoid God’s judgment. Noah, a preacher of righteousness, was told by God that He would destroy everything that lived upon the earth by a flood (which didn’t come until about 120 years later) and that He would save Noah and his family; He told Abram that his descendants would remove the Canaanites from their land because of their wickedness, an event that took place four centuries later; Joseph was able to interpret the dream of Pharaoh warning of the famine to come upon Egypt in seven years, and then he was given a plan to keep the Egyptians from potential starvation; Jonah warned the Ninevites of God’s impending judgment unless they repented, which they did. Yet most of the Old Testament prophecies from Genesis:3:15 through Malachi:3:1 anticipated the first coming of Israel’s Messiah and have been fulfilled perfectly by Jesus Christ.
Prophecies in the New Testament primarily address events associated with the time period of the Second Coming of our Lord. Matthew 24 begins with Jesus characterizing that time with a warning of great deception, including false christs, false prophets, and lying signs and wonders. It then foretells “great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened” (vv. 21-22). The book of Revelation supplies some of the Tribulation details as God pours out His wrath in judgment upon the earth. There will be a conquering army of the Antichrist, world war, worldwide famine, the death of half of the world’s inhabitants (Revelation:6:8, 9:15), the massive martyrdom of believers, worldwide physical catastrophes involving mountains moved out of their places, and mankind trying to hide itself from God’s judgment. Of those who turn to Christ and are martyred for their faith during the Great Tribulation, Scripture tells us, “the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes” (Revelation:7:17).
So there is good news and bad news in biblical prophecy. The best of the good news was the first coming of Jesus in order to pay the full penalty for our sins and to reconcile us to God by our faith in Him alone. Having received the gift of eternal life, the next best prophetic good news for a believer is the first phase of Christ’s Second Coming, known as the Rapture. The Apostle Paul refers to that event as the believer’s “blessed hope,” which we are to anticipate with joy because Jesus is returning to take us, the bride of Christ, to Heaven for a wedding: “Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ” (Titus:2:13).  “For our [citizenship] is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20). “And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith unto me, These are the true sayings of God” (Revelation:19:9). That is indeed good news.
Sadly, when a professing or true Christian sets a date for the Rapture to take place, an act that is contrary to what the Bible teaches (Matthew:24:36, 44; Mark:13:32; 1 Timothy:6:14-15), and that event fails to happen, people grow disillusioned and the good news becomes bad news. In some cases, the date setting arises out of a sincere desire for Christ to return for His bride. At other times, it comes from the pride of having an alleged insight into a biblical interpretation that no one has discovered before. Although both predictions may be sincere, they are sincerely wrong and have caused physical and/or spiritual problems among those who believed their erroneous teachings.
No matter who brings the false teachings, some experience disastrous consequences from them. In the 1980s, millions believed the calculations of former NASA scientist Edgar Whisenant regarding Christ’s return through his booklet 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988 and his other misfires in 1989, 1993, and 1994. Also in the ’80s, Southwest Radio Church published Apocalyptic Signs in the Heavens , which saw catastrophic consequences for the earth due to the “Jupiter Effect,” a planetary alignment that would purportedly alter our solar system. Just prior to that, Southwest Radio’s David Webber and Noah Hutchings co-authored Is This the Last Century? published by Thomas Nelson. Based in part on Hal Lindsey’s calculation that the Rapture would take place in 1981, they concluded that the seven-year Great Tribulation would begin soon after.
Although many conservative Christians considered the “rapture and doom” prognosticators to be sensationalists, attitudes changed as the turn of the century drew near. The increasing talk of a worldwide computer meltdown was too much for many Christians to brush off, especially when Y2K concerns were being raised by respected evangelicals such as James Dobson, Gary North, Jerry Falwell, Jack Van Impe, Chuck Missler, and many others. The year 2000 made its debut in grand fashion when the world, rather than hunkering down, began celebrating the new century with spectacular fireworks. On the other hand, many of those who were misled by church leaders suffered “survival” consequences: losses from selling their homes, quitting their jobs, and relocating to the country, along with the expenditure of large amounts of money for stockpiles of survival food, firearms, generators, and other survival equipment. Many were overtaken by fear, and some succumbed to suicide over their financial losses.
Fast-forward to 2012 and the Mayan Calendar scare, another “prophesied” end-of-the-world apocalyptic nightmare that turned out to be wrong. Fear is often the response of those who have no hope, not having put their trust in Jesus, the only One who can make us eternally secure. Sadly, even many of those who claim to have a personal relationship with Christ by faith alone demonstrate by their actions that their trust is elsewhere.
Of course, we are not saying that we shouldn’t be prudent in making preparations for potential disasters whether they are natural, technological, or financial. Having a one- or two-week supply of food and water on hand could be very helpful, especially if one lives in an area that is prone to weather-related catastrophes. A reasonable amount of accessible cash may also be practical. In most cases, however, to go much beyond this may lead to a self-oriented “survivalist” mentality, which is at odds with the examples and instructions of the Word of God. Stockpiling food or turning to gold for survival could create an attitude of selfishness, especially when others in the disaster are without and in great need. To share, or not to share, that is the biblical question. Does one protect his goods at all cost? Scripture tells us, “And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise” (Luke:6:21). Who would deny that they would want someone to share their food with them if they and their families were hungry? Furthermore, the Bible tells us how we are to treat our neighbors and even our enemies: “Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink” (Romans:12:20).
Believers need to think such things through in the light of Scripture, particularly since our days are loaded with fearmongering false prophets and some “survival food” con men preaching certain doom. The latest to conjure up forthcoming dark clouds on the horizon are those who promote the teaching that there may well be a combination of two prophetic events taking place in the year 2015 that could result in unprecedented physical cataclysms and financial crashes. The use of italics for “may well be” and “could” is given to note that those purveyors of disasters have used such language in order to cover themselves from being accused of false prophecy. Even so, those “disclaimer” terms are lost in the hyperbole of their fearmongering.
The two leaders in this alleged confluence of biblical tribulations are Jonathan Cahn ( The Mystery of Shemitah ) and Mark Biltz ( The Blood Moons ). They are supported by a cast of false teachers and sensationalists and their associated organizations that include Jim Bakker, Sid Roth, John Hagee, Pat Robertson of the 700 Club , and Joseph Farah of WorldNetDaily, to name but a few.
What then of the biblical significance of the so-called mystery of shemitah and blood moons? There is none in the context in which Cahn and Biltz present them. Cahn promotes shemitah as a universal principle that applies to all nations and “their financial and economic realms.” No. Shemitah was given exclusively to Israel as a blessing should God’s chosen people follow His commandment. It involved obeying the seventh day of the week as a day of rest and every seventh year as a year of rest. God promised to make provision on the sixth day and year to supply the Israelites’ needs during their day/year of rest. Also, during the seventh year there was to be a “release” of all the debts of the Israelites. Jonathan Cahn further compounds the central error that he taught in his book The Harbinger by applying a law of God to America—a law that applies only to God’s exclusive covenant people: the Jews. This is false prophecy in the sense that it seriously misrepresents the Scriptures. Cahn is heavily promoted by WorldNetDaily, which heralds him as a modern-day prophet and revealer of “ The Ancient Mystery That Holds the Secret of America’s Future .” Joseph Farah, WorldNetDaily’s chief, is the producer of Cahn’s documentary Isaiah:9:10 Judgment , and the website is a chief supporter of Cahn’s books.
The blood moons teaching of Mark Biltz is also false prophecy because, as with Cahn’s abuse of Scripture, Biltz forces the biblical term into his own agenda. The Bible clearly applies the conditions and the consequences of a blood moon (singular) to the seven-year Tribulation period: “Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken” (Matthew:24:29); “I beheld when he had broken the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood; and the stars of the heaven fell unto the earth” (Revelation:6:12-13). If Biltz concurs that the “blood moon” verses take place during the Great Tribulation, then 2015 must occur in the latter part of the Tribulation. What does that indicate for a Pre-Tribulation Rapture? It either took place in 2008 and was a partial Rapture, or it will be a Post-Tribulation Rapture, neither of which is biblical.
If Cahn’s and Biltz’s beliefs were merely a matter of false teachings that are of the faith-wrecking kind among the multitudes of those who buy into their unbiblical assertions, it would be tragic enough. They have, however, become the latest tool of the evangelical fearmongers as they apply their prophetic distortions to alleged soon-coming financial crashes and physical catastrophes worse than any thus experienced on the earth. Their promotional appearances with Jim Bakker, as just one example, would give credibility to the snake oil pitchmen of yesteryear (2 Peter:2:3). After Biltz declares, “I think we have one year to really prepare for what God [has] coming,” Bakker responds, “It’s time to get ready. That’s why God has called me to tell you to store food…you don’t have to order from us to hear the Word of the Lord. But you should have food….What are you gonna do when the stock market crashes?....We have the Morningside recipes….We have the Year of Food for $550 dollars….One of these days it will all be gone. One more event…I’m telling you, if we have a big earthquake on the West Coast or say a volcano going on, or something major, there will not be any food left for months and months….We have…‘The Time of Trouble’ offer, and that’s a seven-year food offer, and that’s for a donation of $3,000…[that’s] 7,700 meals.” Biltz adds that what’s ahead is the “Super Bowl of human history and people need to get ready and that’s what I believe these are signs of” (http://jimbakkershow.com/video/mystery-sevens/). Joining the false signs-and-wonders teacher Rodney Howard-Browne for his Celebrate America Conference, Jonathan Cahn told the audience, “The financial collapse of the US dollar may happen on Sunday the 13th of September 2015 corresponding to the 29 of Elul 5775 on the Hebrew calendar, the next shemitah of the 7 year cycle.”
WorldNetDaily devotes numerous pages to selling survival food as well as self-defense and preparedness gear. Thomas Horn, author of Nephilim Stargates , is another distorter of biblical prophecy who claims that the Nephilim have returned and who also sees blood moons as a foreboding of things to come. As CEO of SurvivorMall.com, his website features hundreds of supplies to supposedly help Christians to be prepared for the last days.
What’s wrong with the present conjured-up scenarios that relate to pending catastrophes? Will there be a time of utter devastation that the world hasn’t experienced since Noah’s worldwide flood? Yes. However, it will happen according to God’s chronology and not according to man’s ideas about when it will happen and how to prepare for and survive it. The timeline is given in the Scriptures, beginning with Christ’s returning for His bride (believers in Him) to take them to Heaven prior to the time of Jacob’s trouble, the Great Tribulation, during which God pours out His wrath upon the entire world. Even a cursory reading of what takes place as presented in the Book of Revelation clearly shows the futility and folly of imagined survival tactics. No, survival during the Great Tribulation will be only by God’s miraculous intervention for those who come to Christ during that time period. Prior to the Tribulation, believers are “to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come,” keeping in mind that “God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him” (1 Thessalonians:1:10; 5:9-10).
Our living together with Him involves pleasing Him in every way, and our waiting involves opportunities by His grace to be fruitful and productive with joy as we look for our “blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ” (Titus:2:13).  TBC

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Common Interpretive Pitfalls

By John MacArthur


Every paratrooper knows precisely where he is supposed to land, but no paratrooper will jump without also knowing the surrounding territory. To do otherwise can leave one disoriented and lost, which can have disastrous consequences. In the same way, to randomly parachute into Bible passages, trying to glean spiritual gems devoid of context, can lead to wasted time and stunted spiritual growth.
Regular Bible reading according to a strategic plan is the right foundation for successful Bible study. And the principles of accurate interpretation will take that Bible study to the next level of spiritual blessing and benefit.
Reading God’s Word answers the question: What does the Bible say? But interpreting it answers the question: What does the Bible mean by what it says? Proper Bible interpretation is a critical element of successful Bible study. The reader does not have license to decide what it means. He has to learn what it means.
Paul’s pastoral counsel to his protégé Timothy was clear: “Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching” (1 Timothy 4:13). He told Timothy to read the text, explain the text (doctrine), and apply the text (exhortation). You don’t read it and jump right into application. You read it, then explain it, and then apply it. That’s what “accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15) is all about. Otherwise, misinterpretation is the likely result, and misinterpretation is the mother of all kinds of mania.
The Mania of Misinterpretation
Misinterpretation causes all sorts of problems, ranging from ridiculous errors to dangerous heresies. “The Daniel Plan” is a popular Christian weight-loss plan based on the prophet Daniel’s decision to eat only vegetables and water (Daniel 1:12). But this new “Bible-based” weight-loss program completely ignores the fact that Daniel’s diet was meant to display God’s supernatural sustenance in spite of inadequate dietary intake. Worse still, the laughable punchline to the whole story is that Daniel actually gained weight by following “The Daniel Plan” (Daniel 1:15)!
Prosperity preachers teach that John’s warm greeting to “prosper and be in good health” (3 John 2) expresses God’s universal desire for Christians to always be healthy and wealthy. Such “theology” makes a mockery of the hardships, poverty, and untimely deaths suffered by the apostles and those who succeeded them (cf. Hebrews 11:35–38).
Some factions of Mormonism believe that since the patriarchs practiced polygamy, so must we. One group even decided to refuse anesthetic for women in labor since the Old Testament teaches that pain in childbirth is a part of the curse. Jehovah’s Witnesses often refuse blood transfusions due to a faulty understanding of commands to abstain from blood (Acts 15:28­–29).
Those misinterpretations cover the spectrum from the ludicrous to the hazardous to the damnable. But they all are the natural extension of a failure to understand what the Bible is really saying, and the context in which it was written. They are misinterpretations that can be easily dealt with by avoiding three major interpretive errors.
Don’t Make a Point at the Price of Proper Interpretation
In other words, don’t make the Bible say what you want it to say. Don’t follow the example of the minister who preached that women shouldn’t have hair pinned on top of their head. His text was “top knot come down” from Matthew 24:17 (NKJV) where it says, “Let him who is on the housetop not come down.” That’s obviously not what that passage is teaching!
Another fatal path is to be like the preacher who says, I’ve already got a sermon; I just have to find a verse for it. He starts with a preconceived idea and then gathers some verses to support it—a case of the tail wagging the dog. True biblical sermons don’t drive the biblical text, they are driven by the biblical text. I know if I try to manufacture a sermon, I wind up forcing Scripture to fit my ideas. But when I try to comprehend a passage, the message flows out of that understanding.
Using God’s Word to illustrate a personal idea actually undermines biblical authority. Start with the text, find its true meaning, and then get out of the way and let Scripture speak for itself.
Avoid Superficial Interpretation
Second, as you study the Bible, be careful not to buy into the modern mantras of “to me, this verse means ...” or, “What does this verse mean to you?” Instead, learn what it actually says.
Unfortunately, a lot of Bible studies are nothing but a pooling of ignorance—a lot of people sitting around and sharing what they don’t know about a verse. I am all for Bible studies, but somebody has to study to find out what the text really means so they can lead the others into understanding, and then they can discuss the application. Paul instructed Timothy to put in the hard labor of rightly handling God’s Word (2 Timothy 2:15). 
Don’t Spiritualize
Third, don’t spiritualize the straightforward meaning of a Bible verse. The first sermon I ever preached was a horrible sermon. My text was “An angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone” (Matthew 28:2). My sermon was “Rolling Away Stones in Your Life.” I talked about the stone of doubt, the stone of fear, and the stone of anger. That is not what that verse is talking about; it’s talking about a real stone. I made it into a terrific allegory at the expense of its plain meaning. On another occasion I heard a sermon on “they cast four anchors…and wished for the day” (Acts 27:29 KJV); the anchor of hope, the anchor of faith, and so on. Those Acts 27 anchors were not anchors of anything but metal.
I call that “Little Bo Peep” preaching, because you don’t need the Bible for those kinds of sermons. Someone can get up and say, “Little Bo Peep has lost her sheep”—all over the world people are lost. “And can’t tell where to find them. Leave them alone and they’ll come home”—so they will come home after all. Then you tell a tear-jerking story about some sinners who came home “wagging their tails behind them.” It’s so easy to do, and a lot of people do that with the Old Testament. Don’t spiritualize the Bible; study it to gain the right meaning.
Context Is Key
Avoiding those three errors—conforming the text to your own predetermined agenda, superficial interpretation, and inventing spiritual metaphors out of passages that speak plainly—will create a far safer environment from which to study Scripture. But avoiding error is only one half of the interpretive equation. There are also principles of true interpretation that must be embraced.
Most interpretive challenges can be resolved through studying the passage within its wider context. “God is not a God of confusion” (1 Corinthians 14:33) and He does not have a problem explaining Himself. The problem is usually with us—whether it be a personal objection to what Scripture says, a cultural gap between us and the text’s original setting, a refusal to obey, or a lack of broader biblical knowledge. Whatever the case, skills in Bible interpretation can be acquired and applied. And I’ll explain how in the days ahead.

(Adapted from How to Study the Bible)