Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Idolatry - the Most Common Sin of the Church

Following a list of things we can know with absolute certainty, John could have ended this book with 1st John 5:20. It was a high water mark - a joyous verse of triumph which says: “And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us an understanding, that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.” Amen!

So it is surprising, then, that John continues on with this one final warning against idols in 1st John 5:21, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.”

Why, we would wonder, would anyone who had this absolute knowledge of “the true God and eternal life” ever follow after idols? Who would ever follow second best, once they’ve known the best?

Most of John’s readers had known idolatry before. The Gentile church was formed out of pagan idolatry. 1st Thessalonians 1:9 shows that by saying of them, “how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.” They’ve seen both, and should know the benefit, or lack of benefit, of both. No one rescued from idolatry should ever be crazy enough to think about going back.

But yet, I’m going to make a statement that may seem far-fetched to you. Idolatry is the greatest sin of the modern church and the greatest sin of most Christians. Some of you are already rejecting that without even thinking about it. You think that this warning is only historically applicable; that in modern day America, we are too sophisticated to be taken in with idols.

Oh, maybe it is a problem in the orient with their shrines and Buddhas, or in India with the multitude of Hindu gods, or in some jungle where the natives still worship the rocks and trees of nature
We don’t have any of that in our circle of friends. Oh, once in awhile, we see one of those upturned bath tubs with an idol of Mary in it. But us Protestants would never have an idol.

Oh, wouldn’t we? We so often think of idolatry only as bowing down before images, but it’s not. That is precisely why we need to spend time studying this so we can see if it’s in our lives. You need to understand the full breadth of idolatry, and how it may have even tainted you.

First, though, let’s look at the historical problem. Paul had his share of troubles from idol worshipers. You can see this in the book of Acts. Paul is in Ephesus, the home of the temple to Diana. It was the center of their culture and a mainstay of their economy. The silversmiths were making a fortune selling little miniatures of the idol. They didn’t take kindly to Paul’s preaching against them.

Acts 19:23-30 gives the account:
23 And about that time there arose a great commotion about the Way. 24 For a certain man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Diana, brought no small profit to the craftsmen. 25 He called them together with the workers of similar occupation, and said: “Men, you know that we have our prosperity by this trade. 26 Moreover you see and hear that not only at Ephesus, but throughout almost all Asia, this Paul has persuaded and turned away many people, saying that they are not gods which are made with hands. 27 So not only is this trade of ours in danger of falling into disrepute, but also the temple of the great goddess Diana may be despised and her magnificence destroyed, whom all Asia and the world worship.”
28 Now when they heard this, they were full of wrath and cried out, saying, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians!” 29 So the whole city was filled with confusion, and rushed into the theater with one accord, having seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians, Paul’s travel companions. 30 And when Paul wanted to go in to the people, the disciples would not allow him.

That’s classic idolatry. Paul continually taught that there was only one God, and all the rest were false. Worship of false gods (little “g”) through the use of images is in direct violation of the first and second commandments.

Exodus 20:1-6 lists these first two:
And God spoke all these words, saying: 2 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. 3 “You shall have no other gods before Me. 4“You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; 5 you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, 6 but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.

That second command obviously addresses the classic understanding of an idol, but making idols is only a small part of violating that first commandment. As R.W. Torrey said, “An idol of the mind is as offensive to God as an idol of the hand.”

What modern folks don’t realize is that an idol doesn’t have to be made of wood, or stone. The first commandment says that nothing should take God’s rightful place as #1 in your life. Therefore, anything that takes the place of God in our hearts is an idol.

Paul even says something interesting in Colossians 3:5, “Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” Obviously then, idolatry doesn’t have to involve a graven image. Covetousness, the wanting of the things of others, can be an idol.

So, you see, it’s not the image that makes an idol, but the place of that thing in the heart that is important. God must have first place in our lives. He must not be some add-on that we make a little room for on Sunday in our already crowded week.

This is re-emphasized in Deuteronomy 6:4-6:
“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart.”

That’s not just Old Testament drivel. Jesus declared that loud and clear in the New Testament as well.

Matthew 22:35-40 declares:
Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?"
Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

In other words, #1 is still in effect. That is simply another way of saying that first commandment of Exodus 20:3, “You shall have no other gods before Me.” God demands first place in your life. Anything else is sin. Anything that rises above God in your heart is an idol and it has to go. It’s hogging up space in your life that belongs only to Jesus.

You need the attitude of Ben Davenport, who cried out to God, “Strip me clean, strip me down until there is nothing left that dares to shroud Your glory.” Nothing should be above God

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Don't Be Deceived By the Devil

Here is the second thing we can know from 1st John. 1st John 5:19 says, “We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one.”

Do you see that? “We are of God.” We who have trusted Jesus Christ, we are God’s special people, different from the world.

Ephesians 1:4 says:
“Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love.” As His special people, God wants us to be different from the world.

1st Peter 2:9 says:
“But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.”

God called us for a special purpose. We are to be His special people, different from the world so we can proclaim His praises. We are God’s special people.

Now the next thing we can know from this passage in 1st John is this:
1st John 5:20 – “And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us an understanding, that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.”

Not only do we “know” that Jesus has come - that’s a historical fact - but we know why He came. He came with a purpose – many purposes, actually. But one of the primary purposes was to lead us to the knowledge of God.

God “has given us an understanding.” The word, understanding in verse 20, in literal Greek, is a permanent comprehension, an understanding in order that we may know in an experiential way. It is a settled truth we experience over and over again.

This is truth - Jesus came to reveal His Father. John 1:18 says, “No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.” Through Jesus, we can know the Father. We can experience the Father. We can have a personal, love relationship with Him.

This is also because Jesus leads us to eternal life. He’s the only way to know eternal life. John 14:6 says, “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.’”

All these things we can know with absolute certainty. And so verse 20 ends with this: “This is the true God and eternal life.” Amen!

That all sounds so rosy, but what hinders that knowledge? Why would any of us not believe it? Back up to 1st John 5:18. Look at the last phrase: “and the wicked one does not touch him.” Who is the wicked one? He is Satan. He is the adversary of God. He is the one we are warned about in 1st Peter 5:8, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.”

The devil wants to destroy you, but the good news is, “the wicked one does not touch” you. The word “touch” means to lay hold of, to grasp. But he can’t do it, It’s impossible – not to a believer. God won’t let him. Satan can’t go beyond the limits God allows him. God is all powerful, while Satan is just a puny fallen angel next to Him. Satan is powerful, all right, and incredibly dangerous, and he leads a vast horde of wretched demons. But he doesn’t hold a candle next to God.

Remember the book of Job? Satan wanted to prove that Job would turn against God if his world was torn apart, and God let it happen. But, God set the limits. Satan could go only so far in tormenting Job. There are always limits in a believer’s life beyond which Satan cannot go. He cannot touch you in your spirit. He cannot take away your salvation. But what he can do is make you doubt God. And the way he does it is by deception.

Revelation 12:9 says of Satan,
“So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.”

In writing this, John makes sure that no one can doubt who he is talking about. It’s “that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan.” And what is his primary tactic? Deception! Satan is the one who “deceives the whole world.”

Interestingly, John uses his old identity from the Garden of Eden – “that serpent of old” - because that takes us back to his first deception when he appeared to Eve in the form of a serpent.

The account is given in Genesis 3:1-4:
“Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.’ ” Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die.”

Satan begins by casting doubt on the Word of God. Anyone who casts doubt on God’s Word is acting as a tool of Satan. Then, Satan directly contradicts the Word of God: “You will not surely die.” Now, that is a bald-faced lie. That is a direct contradiction of what God had told Adam.

Why do you suppose Satan lies to them? He wants to destroy them – destroy these two beloved of God. So he strings them a plausible line. “God is holding out on you, He’s keeping back some of the best stuff for Himself.” From Genesis 3:5, “For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

The woman believed it. She was snookered. She was deceived.

Genesis 3:6-7 continues:
“So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings.”

Their relationship with God was destroyed by sin, all because they wouldn’t believe God. And Satan led them to doubt by his deception. Satan is still trying to deceive us, but we must be on guard. Especially, we must be on guard that he doesn’t corrupt our view of the Word of God. On this book we stand, and nothing can sway us.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Keeping Ourselves From Sin

Martin Luther said, “Nothing is more familiar or characteristic among Christians than assertion. Take away assertions, and you take away Christianity.” Martin Luther must have read 1st John, because John claims we can “know” Biblical truth. And once we’re sure of our salvation, John presents three more things we can “know” for certain;

The first, from 1st John 5:18 is, “We know that whoever is born of God does not sin; but he who has been born of God keeps himself, and the wicked one does not touch him.”

We’ve covered this several times. Remember? The verb tenses indicate a habitual, continuous action. Christians can and do sin. But when we fall into sin, we can’t stay there forever. Our new birth brings new behavior.

Why is that? The answer is in the verse: “He who has been born of God keeps himself.” That puts the responsibility squarely on us. We are to keep ourselves out of sin. God expects that of us.

But, you know, even though the KJV states it this way, some of the other modern translations change the “himself” to “him,” changing it so it says that Christ keeps us. You know what? Both are true. It’s a joint effort. Which is the better translation? I don’t know.

In John 10:28, Jesus said: “And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.” Jesus is the one who keeps us.

Then, in John 10:29 he says, “My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand.” There is absolute safety in God’s hands. It isn’t up to us to keep ourselves, Jesus will do that. And yet, other places put the responsibility on us. So I guess we have to cooperate with God.

Friday, August 2, 2013

The Wishy-Washy Church of Modern America

If the Bible claims to be the word of God and inerrant, how can you have Christianity without a firm commitment to the Bible? How can you have an anything goes religion? Imagine, believers who don’t believe, believers who have no assurance of what they believe. How wishy-washy can you get?

Once the late atheist Christopher Hitchens, famous and world renown as a great thinker, was being interviewed by the, I say minister in the loosest sense, Minister Marilyn Sewell. She was trying to defend herself in front of this articulate atheist. He was decrying Christians as the worst forms of ignorant boobs, and she didn’t want that label applied to her. She didn’t want to be known as one of those who actually believed the Bible.

So she told him,
“I’m a liberal Christian, and I don’t take the stories of the Scripture literally. I don’t believe in the doctrine of atonement – that Jesus died for our sins, for example. Do you make a distinction between fundamentalist faith and liberal religion?”

She was embarrassed to have him think she was that gullible. And did that make a difference to him and his opinion of her?

Hitchens responded:
“Well, I would say that if you don’t believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and Messiah, and that he rose again from the dead, and that by his sacrifice our sins are forgiven, you’re really not in any meaningful sense a Christian.”

Wow! An avowed atheist sees the essence of being a Christian while this so-called minister, who is claiming to represent Christianity, really doesn’t have a clue. She’s a fake, denying our Lord Jesus as much as this world renown atheist. And she claims to represent Christ?
People like her, and like Rob Bell and all of their ilk in the emergent church movement, think that by denying the claims of Scripture, and by offering a watered down version of Christianity, that the world will like them better. In truth, the world already looks at Christians as soft in the head. They already deny and suppress the truth of Scripture. But to not even believe the foundation of our faith leaves us afloat and adrift on a meaningless sea of nothing. Because they look at the Bible as something soft and pliable, there is nothing to get a hold of.

I just mentioned Rob Bell, one of the leaders of the emergent church movement. In his popular book, Velvet Elvis, he wrote that he’s a “truth stretcher.” According to Bell, truth is supposed to be “stretched” like the “springs on a trampoline,” changing and molding to the one jumping on the trampoline. But that totally destroys the concept of truth, doesn’t it?

Bell is one of the leaders of the emergent church. Yet, he claims that truth must conform to the culture and conform to the individual’s needs, when in reality Scripture is counter-cultural. When in reality, it ignores people’s felt needs and hones in on their real need – a right relationship with their creator. Yet, many of these leaders never present the Bible as something trustworthy we can stand on. If that is true then, what really does the churchy believe? What really does the Bible say? Can anyone know?

But, why would anyone want to put doubt on the Bible? Why would anyone trade in a Bible filled with truth that is a rock, our foundation to stand on, for something that is springy and squishy like Bell presents? Is it cowardice? Is it because we’re too yellow to stand for truth?

Quoting Jeff Myers of Summit Ministries,
“When Christians cave into criticism, [the world] just shrugs and adds one more descriptor: cowardly.”

What must the world think when churches and denominations abandoned Biblical teaching and ordain non-believers, women, and even homosexuals to their pulpits? How can they teach anyone the truth? Or what must the world think when some churches support same sex marriage or abortion rights? Does the world think we’re open-minded? Or Cowards?

But, this is why there is such doctrinal ambiguity within the “church.” Some churches stand on the truth of God’s Word and some don’t. What does the church really believe? Who even knows when there is such ambiguity? That should never be - We must be convinced about the Word of God. We must teach it as the absolute truth it is.