Monday, April 23, 2007

Come as You Are; Leave as You Were
...the current state of American Churchianity

Your Weekly Dose of Gospel

Obtaining salvation or sustaining the Christian life by "law-keeping" is an effort in futility. The Law was never meant to be given as a Savior, was never intended to provide forgiveness or a demonstration of love and hope for the eradication of the sinful nature of man. The Law was given as a tutor to point us to Christ (Gal. 3:24). The tutor (GK paidagogos) was a slave commissioned by Greek and Roman families whose responsibility was to instruct young boys on behalf of their parents. They were to educate them and train them in their studies. They were strict disciplinarians who were to care for the children until adulthood. When the boy reached the age of maturity (barmitzvah) they no longer lived under the authority of the tutor but were set free from their instruction and thus accountable for their own actions.

In addition to pointing the Jews to the messiah - the Christ, the Law also brought about the wrath of God (Roms. 4:14; 7:7, 10-25). God hates sin and will not tolerate its existence. His holiness must be satisfied. Though "the Law is holy and the commandment is holy and righteous and good" (Roms. 7:12), the Law was God's plumbline to show the sinfulness of man and his inability to live up to God's holy standard of righteousness. Jesus Christ is the standard of God who fulfilled the Law and its demands and then bettered it! He did not leave us under a tutor or shut up to sin under the wrath of God, but He embraced the cross and became the sin offering (2 Cor. 5:21). He was both the perfect priest (satisfying the Law) and the perfect sacrifice (satisfying God's wrath) (Heb. 1:3) - the propitiation of our sins (Roms. 5:1-10; Heb. 12:1-3; 1 John 2:2, 4:10).

John MacArthur pointedly assures us when he says, "holy living doesn't come from our performance for God, but from His performance through us by His Spirit." Christianity is not a religion of human achievement but of divine accomplishment! What did Jesus mean then when He said to the crowds that wanted to be His disciples, "...follow me." Two words that sum up the Christian life...follow Him! He was calling them and us today to walk as He walked. To leave the old life we have been associated with, abandon all and follow Him! I call this the worthy walk.

What does this worthy walk look like?

The Apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 13:5 says these disturbing and penetrating words: "...test yourselves to see if you're in the faith..." What would "that test" look like? What are the measuring sticks by which one can evaluate the legitimacy to the claim os being a Christian? Some state that there are 159,000,000 born again Christians in America today. Here is a sobering question: if we are the light of the world, why is everything becoming so dark? Could it be that many people attending church on Sunday in America are not regenerate and have had only a cultural experience (at best) in regards to the gospel never having denied themselves, taken up their cross and followed Jesus and trusted Him as Lord and Savior of their lives? The rhetorical nature of that last question gives the implied answer: absolutely.

The Apostle John gives us five tests that reveal the fruit of genuine regeneration. May they encourage us all to further Christlikeness this very day.

TEST ONE: Practicing Righteousness
1John 2:29 If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him.

What is the great desire of your heart? Is it to honor the Lord, do what He says and obey His Word? Is it not just to be a hearer of His truth, but a doer also? John says that if we are born again, we will practice righteousness. IOW, pleasing the Lord will become the habit of our lives.

TEST TWO: Stop Practicing Sin
1John 3:9 No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.

This does not mean that we never sin after coming to Christ in salvation. Christians do and will sin; we all do everyday in thought, word, deed and desire. The difference is, when we do, we are quick to ask forgiveness of those whom we have wronged, repent of it before the Lord, and press on in following Him. He is a greater Savior than we are sinners.

TEST THREE: Loving Fellow Christians

1John 4:7 ¶ Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.

Biblical love is not an emotion and is not conditioned upon a response. It is self-sacrificial; unmerited; undeserving; unfailing; and unreciprocated. This is how Christ loved us; and how we are to love one another. This takes a real work of sanctifying grace in our hearts doesn't it? This requires humility, selflessness, patience and gentleness.

TEST FOUR: Jesus is the Messiah
1John 5:1 ¶ Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him.

This is incarnational language that Jesus Christ is truly God in human flesh and that He is the only sufficient One for salvation. That He is the Christ (the anointed One, the Messiah); the One who died in our place as the propitiation for the sins of the people; satisfying God - His wrath, holiness and justice on the cross - for those He came to save.

TEST FIVE: Overcomes the World
1John 5:4 For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.

That we persevere unto the end. This mark of faithfulness and steadfastness is so foreign to many today in evangelicalism. Some in the easy believism camp believe that you just have to give an emotional ascent to the claims of Christ, say a quick prayer and you have your "fire insurance" for eternity. But that would cheap grace beloved. We are saved by grace, by we are also sanctified by grace. Grace doesn't wink at sin or condone our sin. But grace teaches us everyday to deny worldliness and ungodliness and to live soberly, righteously and holy in this present evil age.

In Conclusion
Have I arrived at this kind of life as described by the Apostle John above? No way. Have you? I don't think you have either. But this is how we know we are born of Him. Notice that phrase in each of the verses above "born of God..." This is the evidence that will be there in every true child of God.

Test yourselves to see if you're in the faith. If in your heart of hearts you can honestly say, "Steve, that is not my life nor my deepest desires each day..." Then I would encourage you to repent of your sin; trust solely in Christ; ask God to grant you saving faith; confess Christ Jesus as Lord and Savior of your life; and receive Him this very day.

If it is your desire, ask Him to continue to conform you to Himself and that you would endure until the end. May this be the evidence that demands a verdict in all of our lives...

In His grace, by His grace, and for His grace,
Ephesians 2:8-9


Terry Rayburn said...


Nicely put forth.

Too often people are "assured" of their salvation by other people, instead of by the Lord through His Word and Spirit.

I once knew a Pastor who repeatedly doubted his salvation, so he prayed a "sinner's prayer" for the umpteenth time (this was after graduating from seminary), and hammered a stake in the ground with the date on it. That became his "assurance", I kid you not. Totally unbiblical.

Interestingly, within a couple of years of that act, he departed into some serious heresies.

It never hurts to direct professing believers to 1 John, which was specifically written so that those who are born again "may know that you have eternal life" (1 Jn. 5:13).


Carla Rolfe said...

This was an excellent post Steve - thank you.

Very much appreciated.


SJ Camp said...

Isn't it interesting, that with all the emphasis that we place on being accountability to the local church, that not many leaderships within local churches today will even discipline sin anymore, let alone preach the Word of God with conviction, grace, boldness, power, and love that those present could not walk out of a "worship service" the same way they came in?

I am a churchman at heart; and believe strongly that all genuine ministry should stem from the local church--even itinerant ministry. Sadly though, so many churches have become nothing more than religious clubs... rather than the living, breathing, worshipping, gospel proclaiming community known as the body of Christ.

Thank you both for your comments.

"Lord send revival AND reformation in our time and let it begin with each of us..."

2 Tim. 2:19

kirby said...

"Obtaining salvation or sustaining the Christian life by 'law-keeping' is an effort in futility..."

How are tests #1 (Practicing Righteousness), #2 (Stop Practicing Sin), and #5 (Overcome the World) any different than "law keeping?"

They both look the same to me.

Call it "do what the law says" or call it "stop doing what the law says do not do" both seem to be opposite sides of the same coin.

Carla Rolfe said...

"Sadly though, so many churches have become nothing more than religious clubs... rather than the living, breathing, worshipping, gospel proclaiming community known as the body of Christ."

As I'm sure you well know, this is heartbreakingly accurate. Its one of the biggest reasons it has become a real battle to find a solid church in many communities.

gigantor1231 said...

Here is the crux of the issue, it is true that we do not attain salvation by obeying the law. Salvation is a un deserved gift given to us;

Eph. 2: 8-10;

8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 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.

The New King James Version. 1982 (Eph 2:8-10). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

Christ also says;

John 5: 1-5

Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves Him who begot also loves him who is begotten of Him. 2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. 3 For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome. 4 For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world— our faith. 5 Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

The New King James Version. 1982 (1 Jn 5:1-5). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

Works are a sign, a fruit that those that truly love God, in Christ will produce, and without these works it is a sign that our faith is dead and we need to examine ourselves to ascertain whether or not we are really saved.

James 2: 14-26

14 What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? 17 Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
18 But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19 You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! 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.
25 Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way?
26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.

The New King James Version. 1982 (Jas 2:14-26). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

The point here is that if you love Christ then you will love his word, his law, and you will obey it! The obedience will be a easy thing because you love him so much that there is nothing that He will tell you that will be a burden. This is true faith in Christ, this is true salvation, the freedom to do what He commands us. We have a mighty savior who is strong to save, He died for us and what more could He give. I love him so much that I desire to do all that I can knowing that He has done all that there is to assure my salvation, when He said it is finished on the cross, He meant exactly that and there is nothing more that I can add to that. My service, my works are a love ofering to him!

Michele Rayburn said...

There are two other tests of the believer that 1 John mentions. I would call the first one “Belief in the Truth”. It says in 1 John 4:6:

“We are of God. He who knows God *hears* us; he who is not of God does not hear us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.”

By this we know the true Church from the false churches. There is a difference between just *knowing* the truth and *believing* the truth from a heart that truly knows God and loves God.

The second other test of a believer I would call “We have His Spirit”. In 1 John 4:13 it says:

“By this we *know* that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.”

Michele Rayburn said...

John MacArthur pointedly assures us when he says, "holy living doesn't come from our performance for God, but from His performance through us by His Spirit." Christianity is not a religion of human achievement but of divine accomplishment!...Two words that sum up the Christian life...follow Him! He was calling them and us today to walk as He walked. To leave the old life we have been associated with, abandon all and follow Him!

Excellent! If these things were preached to believers on a regular basis, I think it would have quite an impact on their spiritual lives and on the church as a whole.

It addresses law vs. grace. It emphasizes life in the Spirit vs. life in the flesh. It reminds us of our identity in Christ, as well as our be like Him. And it reminds us that we have been crucified with Christ and that it is no longer we who live, but Christ lives in us. And that we now live by faith in Him, not by sight.

This is at the heart of life in the Spirit and walking by the Spirit that Paul so passionately addresses in Galatians.

Michele Rayburn said...

Steve and Carla,

Sometimes Terry and I think that Christians really don't know what they are missing from their church life if they haven't been to a church like the one that we were so privileged to be a part of in the mid-80's. It was a small fellowship of believers and the church was called Tree of Life.

Terry and I always enjoyed smaller churches. We especially enjoyed it when we were part of this non-denominational church fellowship, with its informal style of worship. There were about 20 adults and a whole lot of children.

We met in the gymnasium of an elementary school. We would sit in a circle, with the cup and the bread on a table in the center (to show that Christ was at the center of our worship). And someone would play the guitar to lead us in worship. And people would take turns requesting a song now and then. We would pray, sometimes silently, sometimes out loud. And we would share testimonies, prayer requests and praises. Then we would take a break for donuts, coffee and fellowship for 15-30 minutes. After that, we would return to our circle to hear one of several of the church leaders give a teaching as he sat with us. Then, we would close in prayer and fellowship some more.

That was around 1983. But we'll never forget those people. We were just like a family...or I should say....just like a church family should be! It was great.

We've been to a lot of churches, but we still long for one that is like Tree of Life.

It was a place filled with love and good fellowship. And I needed a sense of "family" because I wasn't raised in a Christian home, and never had a good family life.

To me, the church is my home. Or, at least that is what I hoped it would be. But unfortunately, it is not usually the case, and so I spent a great many years going from church to church in search of not only solid teaching but of spiritual life and fellowship.

I think that the Lord really meant for the local church to be like a family and for love to be what we are known for. But instead it has been taken over by the traditions of men that remind me so much of the Roman Catholic Church that I left so many years ago. I would like to see a return to the Biblical form of worship that the early Church practiced.

And, you know, I don’t recall anyone having any besetting sin problems while we were together. Could it be that the love and the intimacy of that small group of believers kept us in the right Spirit and in the right state of mind? That it met our spiritual needs? I think it did.

TJ said...

Hi Steve,

Your article on the five tests for authentic Christianity was a good and a much needed message. Don't take this the wrong way, because as a teacher myself I'm always seeking to sharpen and be sharpened (Proverbs 27:17).

Grace was not and will never be "cheap" because it cost God (the Father) the life of His Son. I believe you meant to say FALSE grace. It may seem like a minor point, but I can assure you it isn't in today's Church, which has far more tares in it than wheat, and is full of those believing in and cleaving to a false "grace" that won't save them.

Oh, how we need to preach a wake up message that will shock and arouse people in the Church to honestly examine their soul! The ten virgins (believers) were waiting expectantly and faithfully for the bridegroom (Jesus) to come. Yet, 50% of them were left behind, calling out “Lord, lord, open up for us”. But the bridegroom said that He did not know them (even though they were certain they knew Him)!

Steve, this event will come after the (great) apostasy (2 Thessalonians 2:1-3), meaning these ten virgins are among the faithful, who have NOT been culled out through the soon coming difficulty and persecution (Matthew 13:21-22)! Yet, half still are in true relationship with Jesus! This should concern any sincere believer and it’s time to rattle some cages brother and wake the sleeping dead before they perish!

Further, (although you may not like this, but it is the true context of Scripture) we need to challenge those who say they believe with one more test. Romans 8:15-17 and 1 John 5:10-13 tell us that we know that we are truly His because His Holy Spirit testifies or witnesses to us that we are His (child). The very context of “that you may KNOW THAT YOU HAVE ETERNAL LIFE”, about the things John was writing, refers directly to “The one who believes in the Son of God HAS THE WITNESS IN HIMSELF” (v.10).

Steve, you know about this witness of the Holy Spirit in you, and you know it is not any kind of charismatic voodoo. This is a test that must be combined with the other tests you mentioned in you article to give this message of testing ourselves the real soul shaking and waking power it needs to be effective.

Why? First, we need to do this in order to reduce the number down to 50% for the virgins left behind (because, if the Rapture took place today we might be looking at 80-90+%). Second, we need to do this in order to make the understanding of FALSE GRACE clear for those who will be left behind, that they may properly repent and choose Christ over the mark of the beast.

Be blessed dear brother,

Terry Johnson