Contending for the faith | Making Disciples | Equipping the Saints for Ministry

by Jeannette Haley

   The necessity of water to sustain life is a well-known fact. However, water is something that people in developed areas of the world usually take for granted. After all, tap water, bottled water, store-bought water, and filtered water are readily available. Some folks even have the luxury of pure well water to quench their thirst.

  Sadly, the once crystal clear mountain creeks and streams from which one could safely drink just a few decades ago now contain dangerous bacteria and parasites, making it necessary for those who venture into primitive areas to pack in drinking water. The fact of the matter is, regardless of whom you are, or where you are, you must have water in order to live.

Over the past few weeks, most of us have watched with shock and horror as massive water-laden hurricanes slammed into the Gulf States, leaving an unimaginable swath of devastation, death and destruction. It was horrifying to see victims of the massive flooding perched atop their roofs, waiting for rescue;  heart wrenching to hear the stories of people trapped, either in their attics, or in the so-called “shelter,” or in other places without food and water.

While a person can survive for quite some time without food, water is another story. It doesn’t take long for dehydration to take place, especially when the temperatures are soaring. If you’ve ever suffered from dehydration, such as I did back in the sixties from what my doctor called the “Viet Nam crud,” then you know what suffering is. Every cell in your body “screams” for water! The craving and misery extreme dehydration cause is indescribable. Needless to say, without water, death is the result. The sad thing is, most people are dehydrated to some extent and don’t even realize it because, instead of water, they substitute caffeinated and sugary beverages. The result is they don’t “feel” thirsty!

   As we watched events unfolding in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, showing thirsty people surrounded by undrinkable polluted, toxic water, it struck me that this presented a powerful spiritual picture. “Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink.” Churches, churches everywhere, yet no living water for the thirsty soul. God’s words to the children of Israel in Jeremiah’s day are just as relevant to us today: “For my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water” Jeremiah 2:13.

Multitudes of spiritually dehydrated people today eagerly “drink down” whatever toxic mixture is offered to them by hireling shepherds and false prophets, which the Bible repeatedly warns against. Postmodern, emergent, seeker-friendly churches offer a sugary, toxic brew of ear-tingling and man-exalting entertainment that bears no resemblance whatsoever to true Christianity.

True worshippers of God worship Him, in

 “spirit and in truth,” and reverence Him in holy fear. 

   The problem today is that any similarity  between what the Church is meant to be and what is passing itself off as “the Church” is practically non-existent. Granted, God still has His pastors who tremble at His Word and who preach an un-perverted gospel from the pulpit, but these men (and, yes, women) are rare.

The Bible makes it clear that in the end times, there would be deceivers, using any means they could, to deceive. We are told that there would, “come a falling away.” We read in 1Timothy 4:1, 3, 4, “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.”

The tragedy is, most religious people, when asked, don’t have a clue as to what the Bible means by “the faith.” People must come to an understanding of what the Bible means by such phrases if they are to not only gain a solid foundation in truth, but possess eternal life. Let’s face it, most professing Christians spend more time in empty pursuits, such as “Christian” television, “Christian” novels, and church-related fun activities than in reading, studying and meditating on the Word of God. This is like playing Russian roulette with your soul. “Christian” television, “Christian” novels, “Christian” entertainment and belonging to a “fun,” “upbeat” church cannot save you. This brings us back to what “the faith” that saves is.  

Saving faith begins with an acknowledgement

that Jesus Christ is God Incarnate. 

   Jesus posed this question to His disciples, “But whom say ye that I am?” Matthew 16:15. When Simon Peter answered and said, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,” he was acknowledging that Jesus was not just a mere man like any other, but the Christ (Anointed One) or God Incarnate. It was upon this rock, or fact, that Jesus is building His true church. This is the question that each one of us must honestly answer in our heart. That the Lord Jesus Christ is God Incarnate is what we must believe by faith.

It’s not enough to believe that the man Jesus was born two-thousand years ago, and that He was crucified on a cross, and resurrected from the dead. It’s not enough to sympathize with His sufferings. It’s not enough to believe that God loves you so much that He’d never send you to hell. It’s not enough to do your religious duty or sing in the choir. It’s not enough to take Scriptures out of context and formulate your own particular brand of theology. It’s not enough to have faith in your faith. It’s not enough to idolize your favorite “prophet.” It’s not enough to have good works, causes or agendas. It’s not enough to faithfully participate in a particular church’s rituals. It’s not enough! If you are depending on any of these things, or upon anything other than the Gospel as written in the Word of God, you are lost and on your way to hell.

In John 3, concerning eternal life, Jesus told Nicodemus, “Ye must be born again.” Being born again is a spiritual rebirth. Jesus said, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God, John 3:5. What does it mean to be born again? Well, it begins with believing what the Bible says about sin and God’s provision to remedy that sin. Peter makes reference to the fact that we have not been born again of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible seed, by the Word of God which abides forever (1 Peter 1:23). Once we believe the Word about Jesus’ redemption, then we are sealed by the Holy Ghost until the day of redemption. This born again experience means we have received a new heart and a new spirit, the Spirit of the Living God. This is why Paul stated we are new creations (Ezekiel 36:26-27; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians1:13-14).

    The biggest obstacle to salvation is unbelief. People may believe parts of the Bible, but reject the validity of the complete Word of God, redefine God, and alleviate those Scriptures that fail to fit their personal criteria. Such criteria are based on intellectual speculation, and not on the Word of God. The Bible is clear: We do not first understand something before we believe it, for this is not faith. We approach the Word to believe what we read, in spite of whether we understand it or not. It is the Holy Spirit who will lead us to an understanding of the Word. When we fail to believe the Word of God about God, Jesus Christ and sin, we will fail to inherit eternal life. Jesus made this statement: “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3). 

Churches that offer a watered-down version of

the Gospel may be “politically correct” and

appealing to the carnal nature, but they are

“broken cisterns” that cannot offer eternal life.

   The sincere believer who is seeking to locate a Christ-centered fellowship, with godly leadership, needs to ask the Lord for discernment and direction. Following is a short list or guideline that may prove helpful:

What to look for in a church: 

  1. Know what they believe. Ask for their Statement of Faith. Is it Scriptural?
    2.  Test the Spirit and observe their fruit. (1 John 4:1; Galatians 5:19-26)
    3.  Ask yourself the following questions:

Is the church Christ-centered, or is it man-centered with Jesus merely “tacked on?”

Does the pastor go with every new fad, movement, and wind of doctrine that comes along?

Is the overseer (pastor) humble, sober-minded, displaying the fruit of the Spirit? Or, is the pastor an actor, giving a performance on the “stage”?

Is the pastor truly called of God, or is his or her position merely an occupation?

Is the church patterned after the New Testament church, and distinctly separate from the world, in holy manner, dress and conversation? Or, is the world in the church, with the world’s lusts, idolatry and attitudes?

Are the messages God-given (anointed), Bible based, relevant to where the people are in their life before God, calling for repentance, and holy living?

Is the church mission-minded, broken over lost souls, reaching the lost, preaching the Gospel, benevolent, helping the poor, and given to prayer?

Is the worship God-centered, or man-centered? Is it reverent, worshipful and anointed? Does it bring calmness to your spirit and peace to your soul, or is it worldly, fleshly and pagan (vain, hypnotic repetition or chanting)?  Does the worship shut you in with God, drawing you closer to Him in true worship and adoration, or does it stir up your flesh and passions such as rock n’ roll does )? Is it music that you expect to find before the throne of God?

Does the pastor lift up Jesus, or himself, the church, or some other agenda?

Is the goal of the pastor or church to make disciples to Jesus, and to equip the saints for ministry, or rather to use the people to keep the church going?  Are numbers more important to the pastor than feeding the sheep?

Is the pastor afraid of insulting people with subjects such as sin, judgment, the wrath of God, and eternal punishment in hell?

Does the church put more emphasis on the Holy Spirit than on Jesus?

Does the pastor believe in the edification of the church through the working and manifestation of the Spirit through such areas as the gifts?

Does the pastor emphasize godly living, personal holiness, and godly repentance, and his or her life is an example of such?

Does the leadership encourage the people to study the Word of God for themselves, or do they exalt themselves over the people as the final authority?

Do they adhere to the King James Version of the Bible, or do they base their beliefs on an altered or watered-down version? (This is called “dumbing down” the people.)

Does the leadership ask God before making decisions or coming to conclusions about a matter?

Do they believe that all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and do they use it for doctrine, reproof, correction,and instruction in righteousness? (See 1 Timothy 3:16, 17)

Does the church believe that Jesus must be Lord of your life, or are they casual and flippant about Him, living carelessly, and assuming that saying a “sinner’s prayer” is enough to get a person to heaven?

Do the messages appeal to your pride and make you feel good about yourself, or do they cause you to love God more, to realize your need for His salvation in greater ways, to make you hungry and thirsty for more of Him, and to bring you to a place of greater dependency upon Him, with a burning desire to learn of Him and serve Him?

Notice that there is no mention of checking out the pastor’s degrees or seminary training. Jesus called laymento be His disciples, and they turned the world upside down. Think about it. Most were unlearned fishermen. One was a tax collector. None of them were scribes or Pharisees. He also loved and taught the women. On the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was poured out upon all who waited for the promise in the upper room, both men and women. The secret is not in titles or degrees, but in knowing God. Daniel wrote, “…but the people that do know their God shall be strong, and do exploits” Daniel 11:32b.

Beware of pastors and leaders who may know about God, but who do not personally know God. Such will lack wisdom and understanding, for these things only come through the fear of God. (Proverbs 1:7; 14, 26, 27.) Fools are flippant about God, and ignorant of His ways. Using flattery to gain followers, they die in their sins. The Apostle Jude described such as: “These are spots in your feasts of charity, when they feast with you, feeding themselves without fear: clouds they are without water, carried about of winds; trees whose fruit withereth, without fruit, twice dead, plucked up the roots” Jude 12.

  Any who offer a cup of cold water to one suffering thirst, in His Name, or who offer a refreshing “cup of Living Water” (John 4:4:13, 14; 7:38) to a thirsty soul will receive their reward from Him who knew no distinction between Jew or Greek, bond or free, man

or woman, but who loved them all, and shed His blood for all, so that all who are thirsty may come. “And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely” Revelation 22:17.

Are you thirsty?