Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Gate is Narrow

It doesn't take much to notice, I think, the amount of talk that is going on about the times we live in. I have also noticed people talking more frequently of the Lord's return. And while I certainly believe that, I can't help but wonder how much reflection goes on in the lives of the very people who do so much of the talking. And this, I think, is a poignant time to do such reflection.

If there is any label that could be put on my life at this point, it would be reflection and the need for it. And the Lord has led me through a time with my work and other things that has shown me the utter faith it takes, at times, to do what is right before God regardless of what man or human tradition says. Happily, I can report that with very few exceptions I believe I've made the right choices, especially of late.

You see, it's an issue of the heart.

In more direct connection with my earlier statement about the Lord's return, I've been thinking of something said by John MacArthur some years ago. I regret that I cannot link to it, I don't remember where I heard it but he said, and let me paraphrase, that when the rapture comes, most ministries will go on as before. His was a commentary on the infiltration of tares in professing Christianity.

I think what I'm getting at is a follow-up on that statement. Let me say that I not only agree with John's statement, I would expand on it. Specifically, I would go so far as to say that, especially in the U.S., the rapture may well go unnoticed except as a foreign news event.

Yes, you read me rightly. I sincerely think that if the rapture were to happen today, the professing body of Christ would be largely, and tragically, unaffected by the rapture. Yes, I mean a very low percentage of American "Christians" are true converts. I believe that there will be a lot of false converts who will hear a news story of large numbers of persons overseas disappearing. And of course, there will be reports of the same here in the states.

You see, there were two sons. Jesus talked about them. The one son was outwardly serving his father. He kept the rules, but his heart wasn't in it. Then there was the son we have all heard of, who took off and blew his father's money. But he came back. He repented and was restored to fellowship with his father. Many mistakenly take that to mean a returning "backslider" but actually, Jesus was comparing those who came to Him in repentance to the Pharisees (and others) who would not because of self-righteousness.

And we see a lot of this in the contemporary church.

In America, we have a damning luxury. We have the luxury of observing tradition as if it were God's Will itself. See, in China, the Sudan and other countries where persecution is rampant, they don't have the luxuries we have, including the luxury of inventing your own brand of "Christianity". But we do have that here. In China and Korea (which I believe is the worst country regarding persecution of Christians), you may very well die for your confession of faith. Got caught with a page from a Bible in China? You go to jail, unless of course you are a member of the registered (phony) church, which controls what you get to hear even when you attend. The Devil's Church would be a good title for the registered church.

But here in the states, at least to this point, we have "Burger King Christianity" where you can "have it your way". No demands, no death to self, no inconveniences made on the "convert". Just observe the list of traditions.

But back to the two sons. As I said, one at least was honest enough to show his disobedience. The other did, in a superficial way, what was more or less "expected". His obedience was perfunctory. And what passes for Christianity in America is permeated with this hypocritical cancer. And that is what is is; a cancer.

See, the younger son actually repented and obeyed his father from his heart. The other son didn't think the heart mattered, as long as he followed the technicalities and did his "performance".

Over the past years, the Lord has been pressing this into my heart. And He has been changing me to, regardless of what people think, do what He wants me to do. Specifically, this has to do with evangelism. If you have been following this blog, you know that personal evangelism has become a focal point in my life. And so it should be. I'm thankful that the Lord would even consider taking someone like me and use me for His purposes. It's not about me. It's about what the Lord has done.

But the downside is that, as I continue to press on, I see the other side. It's like the blinders come off. You begin to see things more as the Lord sees them. You get frustrated. You just don't understand why others don't get it. And so it has been with evangelism.

Evangelism is one of those subjects that gets a gentle nod from professing Christians in this country. But that is about it. The number one reason I hear as an excuse to not do evangelism is "It's not my gift!". Ok, then you are saying that if you are not gifted in an area, you don't have to do it, right? Ok. Let's see if you like this statement: I know that I don't have the gift of showing mercy. So, according to the previous logic, I don't have to show mercy. If I don't have the gift of giving, I guess I don't have to give anything to the local church or anyone else, do I? Kind of silly, isn't it? Yet, that is the silly excuse people use to be disobedient to God. This might be a good time to read the parable of the talents...are you making excuses to avoid using what God has given you? Yes, this is another hard "warning parable" from Jesus.

We have a lot of traditions in our American Church. You "Go to Church and Sunday School". If you are A Sunday School teacher that is something special (and in a way, it is). And of course, these are good things. The problem is that they, especially as observed in the U.S., are more traditional than Biblical. These are things we do "because we are supposed to"....even if we know the church or Sunday school class is non-Biblical in its teachings or practices. But in an age where the average Christian has taken the out-of-context Matthew 18 definition of "The Church" as "wherever two or more are gathered", that is no surprise.

And for those of you who haven't heard this, Matthew 18 is not a definition of a church meeting. It is our Lord explaining how God is present as a witness in a church discipline situation. The "two or three witnesses" goes back to the Old Testament, where God set down ground rules for establishing guilt. And where you have those witnesses to verify sin in the Church, God ratifies the discipline. But our Lord wasn't in any way defining a church meeting. So much for understanding the passage.

But then obedience has fallen on hard times. After all, if we start stressing obedience in the local church, we may have to start up doing church discipline...and that would violate many of our traditions, such as unity at all costs. Such as "so and so plows my field for me, so I have to let him be a deacon even if he is no example to others". I've seen this and so have you.

We'd also have to decide that, if the local church will not follow the Scriptures in obedience, we may have to leave for another church. But then we can't do that if we are dedicated to our position in the church we are a part of. So personal obedience to a Holy God takes back seat to my position in the church, which gives me prestige among men. Human opinion, 1; God 0.

See, traditional Christianity in America is in many ways like the Pharisees in the times of Jesus. The only difference in our day is that we don't stress washings and uncleanness (well, we have some of that too, which deals with questionable things). What we do is hold our traditions and positions in a place above God's clear Word. And as long as we perform what is traditionally accepted, we can disobey God and play the religion game. And it is a religion game. That is why, for example, Paul taught that you don't want to seek to be a teacher because, as a teacher, you fall under greater judgment. It's not just because you are responsible for possible error, it is also because the position demands a life that is more obedient in all areas of life.

And, yes, I include myself in this list. This is a "talk" I give myself often, often subconsciously.

You say "Hey, I don't have to fear God because I prayed to accept Christ years ago". Great! But I have a few questions for you. First, where do you find "saying a prayer to be saved" in the Scriptures? I would dare say that many, as I did, had this buried somewhere...and that is "Well, I prayed the prayer so I'm in..." Right?

Well, the only problem with that is it amounts to "I'm saved because I did something", which amounts to salvation by works. Yes. Salvation by works. You see, salvation is by grace through faith. and God is the source of that. And repentance is involved, which comes as a gift from God. So, this "I'm saved because I" thing is a ticket to the broad road to hell. "Because I..." is a Judas statement which will keep you out of the kingdom. It's not "Because you" anything. It's "because God..." did it all, from beginning to end. It's all of God or none of God. And we preach the Gospel, not to "get decisions" but because it glorifies Him to proclaim what He has done. Period. It's not to keep people out of Hell, although God may use the proclaimed message to transform people from death to life. But we don't do it to get people to "make a decision", "walk an isle", "sign a card". Those are all human inventions which find at least some of their roots in the "Christian" heretic, Charles Finney. You know, the one Moody Radio lionizes in "Stories of Great Christians".

The second question is "where is anyone exhorted to "accept Jesus". We are told to repent and believe. We are told we must be willing to die to self. We are told we must come as a child, in total trust in Him. But we are never told to "accept Jesus" for anything. More traditions of men which will damn rather than save. Jesus is depicted as "waiting for you to open the door of your heart" as if He is effeminate and helpless. The "meek and mild Jesus" who couldn't have cleansed the Temple because He is not sovereign. This is not the Jesus who out and out seized Saul and turned him into Paul on the road to Damascus. What did Paul do there? Nothing. There was nothing He could do. But that doesn't fit with our traditional view of "becoming a Christian" which has more to do with adding Jesus as part of your life than an act of transformation from death to life where you literally become a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). In contemporary Christianity, you give Jesus a small room you've tacked onto your life and visit Him when it's convenient, or better yet, traditional.

So much for contemporary "conversion". It's an illusion. And as elder sons, we continue on in our heart disobedience while acting obedient outwardly through observing the traditions of men and the church.

Don't think so? Let me ask you a few questions:

How dedicated are you to go to church on Sunday? Or Sunday School? If I heard you right, you'd say you are absolutely dedicated to attendance. Yet, do you deal with issues in the church? I'm not asking you if you are willing to. I'm asking do you deal with issues in the church, or do you just talk to others about what you see as wrong? If you do it, you show you are willing. If you say you are willing, that can be a false profession and wishful thinking. Talk and nothing more. See, going to church and being the church are two different things.

Now there may be times that you can't do anything directly to correct a situation. For example, if you have a discipline issue in the church and your leadership won't back you up, then you really can't do much. And in the contemporary church in America, you will find that, more often than not. Churches here are kind of like "union" organizations as senior members get to run things as they will because "money and longevity talk". Or maybe the excuse is "we don't want to offend anyone" or even "We want to love them" (as if love doesn't involve discipline). But even then, sooner or later, you come to a point where you have to do something to remain faithful to God...or fold and say that "what God has said about this doesn't really matter"; at which point you betray yourself as a Judas by demonstrating you are more concerned with traditionalism than what God has said. Read Matthew 7:21 and following. Could you be one of those who acts as if God never told you what is right to do? That is who He is talking to. And Paul said we are to examine ourselves in 2 Corinthians. And if you have an area of your life that you will not give up to God, what evidence do you have that you are not going to be in that number that cry out "Lord, Lord" before being cast into Hell?

So much of late, I've been giving tracts not only to people who I don't know but also to friends who profess Christ. The shocking thing is the very low number of friends who profess Christ that will actually do evangelism, even if it is something as simple as handing out a tract or two that I have freely provided. Months later, they still have them.

So you say you want to do evangelism? You know that was the last command that our master gave us before the ascension, don't you? That is a command that falls under the rubric of the warning in Matthew 7. And I'm not asking you if you are willing to do it. I'm asking you if you do it.

Are you the prodigal? Or are you the legalistic son in the parable Jesus told? Are you the one who came in repentance or are you the one who justifies yourself by your mere outward obedience? Do you obey God from the heart? Or do you draw a a line when it infringes on traditions, comfort and convenience? The former is death to self. The latter is not.

In the closing lines of John Bunyan's work "Pilgrim's Progress", Bunyan states that there is a gate to Hell, even at the gates of Heaven. You can't just sit back and say you drove a stake into the ground at some point in the past. Could it be that your disobedience (and mine), if ignored, will show us to be nothing more than hypocrites? Does your walk match what you know to be true? I'm not saying "is your walk perfect". Jesus never said "You didn't do everything right". In Matthew 7, he is rejecting those who knew what they were supposed to do but didn't do it. Maybe it was because obedience would have had to take presidence over tradition. Who knows? The point is, they knew what was right and didn't do it.

In Romans chapters one and sixteen, Paul refers to "the obedience of faith". In other words, "obedience that comes from faith". Saving faith, not mere intellectual assent that gives a nod of the head to what God says and doesn't do it unless convenience or tradition allows.

Consider the following from Matthew 21:

"But what do you think? A man had two sons; and he came to the first and said, Son, go work in my vineyard today. 29 He answered and said, I will not. But afterwards he repented and went. 30 And he came to the second and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go , sir; and did not go. 31 Which of the two did the will of his father? They said to Him, The first. Jesus said to them, Truly I say to you that the tax-collectors and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you. 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him. But the tax-collectors and the harlots believed him. And when you had seen it , you did not repent afterwards so that you might believe him."

Two sons, two destinies. One son said "no, I won't go", but repents and obeys (which is what is meant by "believes") and the other gives lip service.

Let me suggest to you that, if you really don't care to hear God and obey Him no matter the cost, you may as well drop the charade. While you can fool men, you can't fool God. Either take Him totally seriously in obedience or give up the game and all the traditions. Anything else is lukewarmness and a slap in the face to the One Whom deserves every molecule of our being.

It's time to stop "playing church".

Charles Spurgeon once said "Your one business in life is to lead men to believe in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Every other thing should be made to be subservient to this one objective".

So, what will you do? Two sons, two choices. Two destinies. Obey God. Die to self. Lose your life to find it. Or, put the game board of human tradition away and face the consequences.

Either be hot, or be cold. There is no middle ground.

1 comment:

Hanani Hindsfeet said...

Hi Tim,

Thanks for that post, wake up call big time.

The spiritual blindness shrouding this issue is astounding.

But praise God who is faithful to redeem a people from out of the nations.

If only His servants could come close to that faithfulness...

Bless you brother,