Church, Faith, Salvation

Pass/Fail

Originally published March 17, 2011

Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you–unless indeed you fail the test?

2 Corinthians 13:5

Remember the story of the ugly duckling?  Somehow a swan’s egg finds its way to a duck’s nest and hatches right along with all the other ducklings.  The swan chick is similar in appearance to the ducklings, but it quickly becomes obvious to all that there’s something different about him.  The swan chick is convinced that he is a duck.  He tries to walk like a duck, quack like a duck– but it doesn’t work.  He can’t figure out what’s wrong with him.

The problem is, the swan chick wasn’t, in fact, a duck.  He might have lived with a duck family.  He might have even learned how to imitate the sounds, habits, and mannerisms of ducks, but sometimes, even though it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck– it isn’t a duck.

Sadly, we have the very same scenario taking place in our churches.  There are swans among us who think they are ducks.  They walk like ducks, quack like ducks, sometimes we’ve even told them they are ducks.  Unlike the duck siblings in the story of the ugly duckling, we don’t, as a rule, pick at them and tease them mercilessly.  We love them, accept them, and assume they are Believers.  Some swans look and sound an awful lot like ducks.

But the fact of the matter is, many– maybe even most –of the people you sit next to in church on Sunday morning are not Believers.  They have never been genuinely converted to Christ and become new creatures.  Some of them know this consciously about themselves and are just trying to fake their way through because church attendance looks good on a resume or in the eyes of their family and friends.  But there are untold thousands who have been deceived into thinking they are saved when, in fact, they are not.  Could you be one of them?

Most of us grew up during a time when there was great pressure on churches to “get the decision” and up their baptism numbers.  Somehow, this is what evangelism was boiled down to.  The pressure started with the higher ups in the denomination and was passed down to individual pastors, who, in turn, passed the pressure on to their church members.  Frankly, this dynamic hasn’t waned much and is still going strong today.

 As a result, the Gospel presentation Jesus preached– we must repent (Luke 5:32), deny ourselves, take up our crosses daily (Luke 9:23), forsake all else (Luke 14:26), even lose our lives for the Gospel (Mark 8:35) –got watered down and redesigned into the easy believism of, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life,” and, “Don’t you want to go to heaven when you die?”  Let’s face it, in this culture, dying to self and turning your back on everything that’s comfortable and convenient isn’t an easy sell.

(And if you’ve never heard the truth of the Gospel– that you are guilty of breaking God’s laws, and that God will punish your lawbreaking with an eternity in hell unless you turn away from your sin and place your faith in the fact that Jesus’ death on the cross satisfied God’s wrath against you –please take a few minutes to watch the little video in the sidebar, and learn how you can be saved.)

Folks, I don’t care what Rob Bell or any of the other wolves in shepherd’s clothing tell you, Jesus himself said that “the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14)

So how can you tell whether you’ve found that narrow way that leads to life, or if you’re just one of the many who has been deceived?  Don’t bet your salvation on church attendance or service, your own personal “goodness” or even the fact that you recited a “sinner’s prayer” and someone told you that if you “really meant it in your heart,” you were saved.  And certainly, don’t wait until you stand before Jesus when you die to find out (Matthew 7:21-23).

Test yourself.  Examine yourself.  The proof that you’re saved is not simply that you once said a prayer and invited Jesus into your heart.  The proof is in the fruit of your life, right now– today.  Jesus said,

You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they?  So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit.

Matthew 7:16-17

What does the fruit of a genuine Believer look like?  The MacArthur Study Bible1 has a great tool you can use for examining yourself.  Find a quiet time and place with no distractions, and prayerfully and honestly go over this list with the Lord.  Don’t trust your own opinion of your fruit, ask God to reveal to you what He thinks.

I. Evidences that neither prove nor disprove one’s faith:

a. Visible morality: Matt. 19:16-21, 23:27
b. Intellectual knowledge: Romans 1:21, 2:17ff
c. Religious involvement: Matt. 25:1-10
d. Active Ministry : Matt. 7:21-23
e. Conviction of sin: Acts 24:25
f. Assurance: Matt. 23
g. Time of decision: Luke 8:13-14

II. The fruit /proofs of authentic / true Christianity

a. Love for God: Psalm 42:1ff; 73:25; Luke 10:27; Romans 8:7
b. Repentance from sin: Psalm 32:5; Proverbs 28:13; Romans 7:14ff; 2 Corinthians 7:10; 1 John 1:8-10
c. Genuine Humility: Psalm 51:17; Matthew 5:1-12; James 4:6, 9ff.
d. Devotion to God’s Glory: Psalm 105:3; 115:1; Isaiah 43:7, 48:10ff.; Jeremiah 9:23, 24; 1 Corinthians 10:31
e. Continual Prayer: Luke 18:1; Ephesians 6:18ff.; Philippians 4:6ff.; 1 Timothy 2:1-4; James 5:16-18
f. Selfless Love: 1 John 2:9ff, 3:14; 4:7ff.
g. Separation from the world: 1 Corinthians 2:12; James 4:4ff.; 1 John 2:15-17, 5:5
h. Spiritual Growth: Luke 8:15; John 15:1-6; Ephesians 4:12-16
i. Obedient Living: Matthew 7:21; John 15:14ff.; Romans 16:26; 1 Peter 1:2, 22; 1 John 2:3-5

If list I is true of a person and list II is false or non-evident, then there could be cause to question the validity of one’s profession of faith. If list II is true of a person, then list I will be true as well.

Are you really saved?  Are you sure?  This test isn’t graded on a curve.

1From: MacArthur Study Bible Index Notes, 1997.


Additional Resources

What Must I Do to Be Saved?

Am I Really Saved?: A First John Check Up

Searching for a new church?

Church, Discernment, Worship

Throwback Thursday ~ The Way We Wor(ship)

Originally published on May 22, 2013

mt_sinai

And you shall set limits for the people all around, saying, ‘Take care not to go up into the mountain or touch the edge of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall be put to death.  No hand shall touch him, but he shall be stoned or shot; whether beast or man, he shall not live.’ When the trumpet sounds a long blast, they shall come up to the mountain.”
Exodus 19:12-13

From Cain and Abel to the Israelites in the wilderness to Ananias and Sapphira, God sets limits on the way we may approach Him. He has always said “whosoever will” may come to Him, but He is just as exacting about the way in which we come to Him today as He was back then.

It’s no small matter that many people in the Bible were put to death for approaching God in anything less than an attitude of utmost awe, fear, and reverence for His holiness. Uzzah touched the Ark of the Covenant. Nadab and Abihu offered strange fire before the Lord. The Corinthians took the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner.

I recently heard Perry Noble, a well known leader of a seeker sensitive megachurch, who has done such things as having his church’s band play AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” on Easter Sunday, say, “I’m willing to offend the church people to reach people for Jesus.” When asked where he drew the line at what was too offensive in church, he went on to say, “I probably wouldn’t have a stripper on stage…” and continued to justify using worldly and irreverent antics in church in order to “bring people to Jesus.”

But Perry has missed the point. Worship isn’t about people and what they like or don’t like. It isn’t about entertaining people and making sure they have some sort of enjoyable or emotional experience. It isn’t about attracting the attention of people.

Worship is about God.

What does God think? How does He want to be worshiped? What does He find offensive?

God is not the God of “anything goes.” If you doubt that, go back to the Old Testament and read His precise instructions on constructing the tabernacle, offering sacrifices, the behavior and duties of priests and Levites, and so on. Anything goes? Far from it.

Christ should be the sun in our solar system of worship. Just as the sun’s gravity exerts just the right force on each planet, keeping them revolving around it in exactly the right path, so, when Christ is at the center of our worship, every song, every prayer, every word spoken will fall into exactly the right orbit around Him.

What about your church? The next time you attend a worship service, sit back and view it through the lens of discernment. Is it designed to make you happy? Comfortable? Entertained? Emotional? Or is every element of the service centered on Christ– His holiness, His sacrifice for sin, His love and grace — leading you to exalt Him and forget about yourself?

Pastors and worship leaders, one day you will answer to God for the way you led your church. Do you design worship services to attract and hold the attention of people, manipulate their emotions, and entertain them, or do you sit at your desk, pray, and consider what will please God, how you can best lift up the name of Christ, expose His glory, and keep things centered on Him? God has not called you to be a shock jock, stand up comedian, or motivational speaker. He has called you to preach Christ and Him crucified.

Let’s stop the silliness and stupidity, and repent. Worship is serious business.

Church

Throwback Thursday ~ Persecution in the Pew

Originally published August 7, 2015

Beheadings of Christians by ISIS. Crosses forcibly torn off churches by the Chinese government. Pastors imprisoned. Believers tortured for leaving Islam or sharing the gospel.

The treatment our brothers and sisters across the globe receive at the hands of pagans is nearly unfathomable. They are made to suffer – simply for claiming the name of Christ – by those who openly hate God and want nothing more than to stamp out Christianity.

This is how we, as the American church, have come to define persecution. Outsiders, non-Christians, and the government, all on the attack against the Bible, our faith, our practices, and other beliefs we have long held dear. It’s a correct definition, but it’s not a complete definition.

While we already see a “light” form of this type of persecution in the U.S. – mainly over the issue of homosexuality – there’s another kind of Christian persecution that is mushrooming right under our noses, which most church members either seem oblivious to, or are actually participating in. It’s the persecution in the pew.

If you’re a Christian who has ever dared to vocally take a stand on the truth of God’s word against the false teaching so prevalent in today’s pop Christianity, you’ve almost certainly experienced this type of persecution at the hands of people who call themselves “Christians.”

Don’t believe me?

Try posting a Facebook status that says the Bible prohibits women from being pastors or teaching men.

Demonstrate from Scripture to a Beth Moore, Joyce Meyer, or Joel Osteen groupie that she’s following a false teacher.

Talk to a church member who supports Planned Parenthood “because they provide health care”.

Explain why Christians ought not attend same sex weddings.

Discuss the Bible’s account of Creation with someone from your church who has embraced Darwinian evolution.

Certainly, there are new and immature Christians who simply don’t know these things are unbiblical and are still struggling to embrace God’s word in these areas. And there are those who know what God’s word says, but rebel against it in these areas, who silently ignore Christians who espouse biblical truth, or can politely discuss why their “Christian” views differ from Scripture. However, the willfully biblically ignorant, “screaming banshee” contingent is growing, both in volume and in number.

Surprised? Me too. I’ve been on the receiving end of verbal abuse (and I do mean abuse – name calling, swearing, mocking, the questioning of my salvation, and any number of other nasty and condescending remarks) from “Christians” defending these and other unbiblical views numerous times and I still can’t get over my shock every time it happens.

Call me crazy, I guess I just expect people who call themselves “Christians” to love, obey, and uphold Scripture, not attack those who actually do.

But this kind of thing really shouldn’t be cause for wonder and amazement. We should expect it. Persecution of God’s people by those who claim to be God’s people has been happening since the Old Testament.

Jeremiah:
Now Pashhur the priest, the son of Immer, who was chief officer in the house of the Lord, heard Jeremiah prophesying these things. 2 Then Pashhur beat Jeremiah the prophet, and put him in the stocks that were in the upper Benjamin Gate of the house of the Lord. Jeremiah 20:1-2

Amos:
Then Amaziah the priest of Bethel sent to Jeroboam king of Israel, saying, “Amos has conspired against you in the midst of the house of Israel. The land is not able to bear all his words…12 And Amaziah said to Amos, “O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, and eat bread there, and prophesy there, 13 but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.” Amos 7:10, 12-13

Isaiah:
For they are a rebellious people, lying children, children unwilling to hear the instruction of the Lord; 10 who say to the seers, “Do not see,” and to the prophets, “Do not prophesy to us what is right; speak to us smooth things, prophesy illusions, 11 leave the way, turn aside from the path, let us hear no more about the Holy One of Israel.” Isaiah 30:9-11

Perhaps Jesus had in mind some of these instances of Israel’s persecution of the prophets when He said in the Sermon on the Mount:

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:10-12

The balance of the New Testament is rife with examples of Christians, and even Jesus Himself, being persecuted by those who claim to be God’s people:

Stephen was martyred by “the people and the elders and the scribes,” while Paul, “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee;” who went on to be a zealous “persecutor of the church” held their coats.

It was the “high priest, the senate of the people of Israel, and the Pharisees” who imprisoned and flogged the apostles and “charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus” in Acts 5:17-42.

Peter and John were arrested by “the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees” and threatened by “Annas the high priest and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family.”

Even Jesus “came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.” He was nearly stoned twice by Jewish leaders. And, even though it was the Romans who actually carried out the crucifixion, it was only because it was illegal, under current Roman law, for the temple authorities to execute their own criminals.

It was one of Jesus’ own followers who betrayed him to the chief priests. It was the “chief priests and the elders” who arrested Jesus. It was “the high priest…scribes and the elders” who presided over the kangaroo court that condemned Jesus to death. And it was “all the chief priests and the elders of the people” who finally handed Jesus over to Rome.

We may think of these people as Jews, scribes, and Pharisees, but they were the “church people” of their day. It was these “church people” – as much, if not, at times, more so than pagans – who were the ones shouting down, threatening, persecuting, and murdering Jesus and Christians who upheld the truth of His word.

Jesus knew this would happen. In John 16:2-4 He warned the disciples:

They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. 3 And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. 4 But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you.

And so it goes today. Deceived, self-proclaimed “Christians”, those inside the church who are often just as unsaved as the pagans outside the church, those who prove that they don’t belong to Christ by fighting against His word instead of loving and obeying it, these “church people” are the ones viciously attacking Christians who dare to stand on and for the truth of Scripture. And they think they’re doing God a favor by acting this way.

Continue to cling to Christ and His word and you’ll be one of their victims. It’s inevitable. Jesus said, “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” But keep your eyes on Jesus, not on your circumstances, and remember He also said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted…theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” When you’re persecuted, even by “Christians” you can “rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven!”

Holidays (Other), Thanks/Thanksgiving

25 Things I Forgot to Thank God For

Originally published March 13, 2015

I’ve just been in a funk, lately. Nothing out of the ordinary is wrong, but it’s been raining for eleventy two days in a row, and the constant darkness and dreariness seems to have wormed its way into my psyche and, I noticed recently, even into my prayer life.

A couple of days ago, I started out my prayer time with a huge sigh followed by a bunch of wimpering and whining about nothing of consequence. I was just moody. And I didn’t feel like praying.

And then God graciously brought a lovely little snippet of Scripture to my mind:

give thanks in all circumstances;
for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

1 Thessalonians 5:18

Want to know God’s will for your life? There it is: give thanks in all circumstances. When you get a new car. When you catch your spouse cheating on you. When you’re on a glorious vacation. When you get laid off from work. When you’re happy. When you’re sad. When you’re in the mood, and when you’re not in the mood.

Give thanks in – not necessarily for, but in – all circumstances.

Well, this was certainly a circumstance. Why not give gratitude a try? I was in the car headed to pick up my boys from school, and I decided to spend the entire twenty minute drive just thanking God for things.

I started with the big stuff: salvation, forgiveness for my sin, times when God has miraculously provided, specific answers to prayer…

I was starting to slow down and I still had about half the drive left. Surely there was more to be thankful for! And that’s when it struck me. How often do we forget to thank God for all the (in our eyes) tiny little unnoticed things He does for us every day? We thank Him for the miracles, but what about the mundane? What “little things” had I forgotten to thank God for?

1. Air conditioning. I live in the South. Enough said.

2. I know where my next meal is coming from.

3. Social media and e-mail. I can keep up with far off loved ones, and I’ve “met” some awfully nice people.

4. I can see. I can hear. I can think clearly. I can walk.

5. I live in a country where Christianity is not yet against the law.

6. Sunsets.

7. Cute baby animals.

8. I can read and write. That’s not the case for women, globally.

9. I was able to conceive and carry my children to term.

10. Warm quilts on cold nights.

11. The Bible is available in my native language, and I have several copies of it.

12. I have no fear of suicide bombers in my community.

13. The beach.

14. A crawfish boil with friends.

15. Reliable electricity.

16. Hearing my children sing when they think no one is listening.

17. My husband is a believer and is good to me.

18. Mountains. I miss mountains.

19. Indoor plumbing and clean drinking water.

20. Laughing hysterically with my family.

21. Level-headed discernment ministries.

22. Peanut butter and chocolate ice cream.

23. A roof over my head.

24. Home schooling.

25. People who are kind (or crazy) enough to read my blog articles all the way to the end.

Well, that was my list, and I think I’ll keep looking for things to add to it. Thanking God for the “little things,” realizing they might be big things to others, and recognizing the pervasiveness of God’s blessings and provision cheered me up and was truly a worship experience.

What kinds of things would you put on your list?

Holidays (Other), Thanks/Thanksgiving, Top 10

Top 10 Bible Verses on Giving Thanks

Originally published November 20, 2015

Next to Easter and Christmas, there’s no better holiday that Christians could celebrate than Thanksgiving. Scripture reminds us over and over that we have a precious Savior and innumerable blessings to thank God for. Here are ten of my favorite Bible verses about giving thanks. Feel free to share them around on social media. You could also print them out to use in your Thanksgiving decor…

  • As place cards at the dinner table.
  • As tags on goody bags
  • Print out two copies of each, scramble them up face down, and let the kids play “Concentration” or “Memory” with them. (Each player takes turns flipping over two at a time until they find two that match.)
  • Have one person read part of his verse and see who can finish it. Or read the whole verse and see who can guess the reference.

1. Psalm 100:4

2. 1 Corinthians 15:57

3. 1 Chronicles 16:8

4. Ephesians 5:20

5. Psalm 69:30

6. Colossians 3:17

7. Psalm 79:13

8. 1 Thessalonians 5:18

9. Psalm 86:12

10. Revelation 7:12

What’s your favorite Bible verse about giving thanks?